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Doing something that is something

John 15:1-8

     The great Leo Tolstoy once spoke of something that, I think runs deep in the heart of most human beings.  It’s in his book, On the Meaning of Life.  He wrote:  We should with every day and every hour become better, living a life that is more self sacrificing and loving and participating in making the world at least a grain better than what it was when we entered into life. I believe all agree that in this lies the main purpose of human life… I do not ask of you any belief in anything we may say except that we must try to become better and make the world better.

     I agree with Tolstoy’s longing.  But, when I read it, I just get tired.  I know that I seem to be unable to make myself better in my own strength.  The thought that I can make this broken world better is exhausting.  But – have no doubt about it, we who are human have a longing to have our lives make a positive difference in this world.  It’s not just the great author Leo Tolstoy who wrote about it.  For those of you much younger than I am, you know how the idea “YOLO” has made its way into youth culture around the world.  YOLO:An acronym for "you only live once". Similar to carpe diem, it implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks.  And the philosophy of YOLO has led to some crazy risks – sometimes to being an excuse for irresponsible and outlandish behavior -- even last week when a 17 year old young man in Torrance, CA took a YOLO risk and played Russian Roulette – and killed himself.

     Let me simply say this at the beginning of this message: Very few people live their lives with the hope that they will live boring and meaningless lives.  From childhood on, we find ourselves wanting to “seize the day” and to live lives that really matter.  And, when you grasp that, you can understand the significance of the passage we’re going to look at over the next two weeks here at LAC, i.e., John 15:1-17.

Imagine Being There

     Remember again that from John 13-17, we’re listening in to a very personal conversation Jesus is having with those closest to him on the last day of his life.  He will soon be going through the cross to the Father to prepare a place for all who believe in him.  But, these disciples are confused as they try to grasp why the one they had left everything to follow would soon be leaving them.  Jesus tells them (and us) how to live in this world while he is physically away.  What has he said?

  1. We must love and serve one another.  Jesus may be gone but he’s left us a church family. We should experience the love and presence of Jesus through his people, i.e., through the church (13:1-35).
  2. We must trust Jesus.  Jesus knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it for our good.  We must learn to trust that Jesus knows what he’s doing, and wait for him and be faithful to him (13:36-14:14).
  3. We must count on Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit -- the Person who lives in us and among us and is sufficient for anything we face (14:15-31).

     Having said all that, Jesus looked like he was done with his teaching as he said in 14:30-31: I will no longer talk much with you… Come, let us leave.” 

     But, Jesus was not finished with his teaching.  As he and his 11 disciples walked out into Jerusalem, I envision a vineyard being on the side of a hill they passed.  (I’ll show an Israeli vineyard here.) He used that visual reality to teach them something they must have desperately wanted to know about.   Jesus taught them (and now us) how to know how to live meaningful and productive lives in this world.  You must remember that these disciples had left everything behind to follow Jesus – their families, their careers and their hopes.  Matthew would not be able to go back to tax collecting.  Simon wouldn’t be able to go back to politics.  What were they going to do?  How would their lives have meaning now that Jesus was leaving?  Most men have our identities so centered in what we do.  What would they do?  Can you relate to them?

     Jesus said that being productive in this “YOLO” world in which we only live once is like the relationship of a grapevine to its branches and fruit.  Jesus probably pointed to the vineyard and said, I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (15:1,4-5).


What Does Jesus Mean by Fruit?

      If abiding in Jesus flows into much “fruit”, then what specifically is that fruit?  Often people say that it is the fruit of others coming to Jesus or of the church getting bigger.  Others say that it is the fruit of a changed character.  But, I read Jesus’ words here that tell us the fruit is what flows into a life that glorifies God (v.8). So, I am convinced that what Jesus means by fruit in John 15 includes a number of beautiful “Jesus-like” qualities that Jesus wants to produce both in us and through us.  Like what? Fruit is a life of:

  • Freedom -- Set free from bondages so that we might obey Jesus’ commands (v.10),
  • Joy – experiencing joy in this all-too-frequent joyless world – as Jesus did (v.11),
  • Shalom – flourishing as we live each day with confident trust in the Lord (14:27),
  • Love – Loving the people of the world and, especially God’s people as Jesus does (v.12),
  • Effective witness to the world – People will be drawn to Jesus as they see him in us (vv.16, 27).

     All this is what Jesus called glorifying God in v.8:  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.  In other words, when people see us living our lives, they will, of course, they will see normal human beings. But, they should also increasingly see fellow human beings who are becoming different.  The difference will be that they should see the ways of Jesus developing within our lives.  Don’t you want that?  “But, how, Jesus?” I ask.  “How will you produce your kind of life in people like us?”

     Today, I will point you to the main key Jesus speaks of in us being productive like this: by being organically connected to Jesus.  If you say, “That doesn’t sound so life-transforming”, or “that just sounds like religious talk”, then I ask you to listen carefully to Jesus’ words today.

The Life-Principle:  We bear fruit when we are “organically” connected to Jesus -- As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (15:4).

     Jesus speaks of our relationship to him being like the relationship of a vine to the branches and the fruit.  (I’ll show a picture here.)  This is what I am calling an organic relationship.  Branches must be organically connected to the grapevine or there can be no fruit.  In fact, the branches won’t even be alive without this kind of connection to the vine.  In saying this Jesus is making an enormous claim: He’s saying that our relationship to him must be closer and more life-transforming than the relationship of a friend to a friend, a student to a mentor, a child to a parent or even a spouse to a spouse.  He’s saying that our relationship to him is the thing that will transform those other relationships from self-centeredness to health-giving.  This relationship with Jesus is a relationship that begins when we receive Jesus into our lives by faith.  As Jesus said in John 3, when we do that, we are born again.  We become alive to God and, as Jeff pointed out last week, the Spirit of Jesus comes and takes residence in us. 

     When we receive Jesus into our lives, what comes to life in us is a beautiful mutuality in our relationship to Jesus:  We the branches derive our life and strength from the vine; the vine produces its fruit in and through us.  The organic growth of Jesus flowing into and through our lives is different from inorganic growth.  I remember my chemistry class in high school when we let charcoal and bits of pots sit in a solution we had concocted. (Show picture here.)  The bits in the solution seemed to grow as potash crystals accumulated on the outside.  But, then when we put the whole thing into a dissolve solution, the exterior coatings didn’t last.  It had looked like there was lasting organic growth on the surface – but it wasn’t real.

     There is a powerful lesson in Jesus’ words: It is possible to look like a genuine Christian on the outside but not be Christians at all.  (I’ll come back to this next week.)  You can go to church and dress like a Christian, talk like a Christian, sing the songs Christians sing but not be organically alive to God through faith in Jesus. Take a young person who goes to a church youth group.  To fit in with the group, he does what the group does.  He listens to Christian music, goes to Bible studies, and goes to retreats.  He does all the Christian things and looks like he’s growing.  It looks so real, but it’s inorganic growth.  He’s just copying what’s happening around.

     It should be no surprise that when you take that young person out of that saturated religious environment of a youth group and plunge him into a group of non-Christians, the Christian stuff dissolves away.  The growth looked so real but there is no real growth there at all.  Jesus says that real growth comes from knowing Him, being with Him, loving Him.  As a living branch is organically connected to the vine – and not just pasted on or taped on – so we must be organically connected to Jesus through faith.


The Practice:  Jesus suggests “spiritual disciplines” as our response to his indwelling.

     Once you have come alive to God by bringing Jesus into your life, then you hear Jesus say nine times in this text that we have a responsibility, i.e., to abide in him or to remain in him.  And, from from Jesus’ words, we get some good ideas of how to do this.  It has to do with some of the basic things the followers of Jesus have always done to abide, sometimes called spiritual disciplines:

  1. Practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit – As Jesus said in 14:18, “After I leave, I will come to you by the Holy Spirit.”  Growing Christians have always learned to have our lives shaped by Jesus by consciously acknowledging the presence of God’s Spirit each moment of each day.
  2. Experiencing the love of Jesus by worshipping & serving with your local church – This is the point that permeated 13:1-31 and will come back again in 15:9.  One practical way of abiding in Jesus is abiding in worship and service with your church family.  One certain way of knowing you are not organically attached with Jesus is failure to abide with your church family as John said in 1 John 2:19 about a group that was no longer involved with the church:  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
  3. Consistently receiving God’s Word – As Jesus said in v.7, we are to abide in him, and let his words abide in us…   In our very visual world, I think we have forgotten the power of words to harm or to build up.  Jesus is saying that as we let his words, as revealed in His Word, fill our minds, we will know how to pray and how to live.  The application of this is that you need to spend regular time in Bible reading and Bible study so that the Word of God can fill you and direct you.  I recommend beginning to read daily from the Gospel of John as we go through Lent.
  4. Spending regular times in prayer – “Ask what you will and it will be done… (v.7).”  Notice carefully that this kind of promise in prayer is prayer that flows out of Jesus living and ruling in our lives and out of minds filled with the desire to produce spiritual fruit.  Prayer is not at all a magic formula to manipulate God into giving us the material things that often become our “gods”.  This is a prayer that seeks Jesus’ way and seeks his glory to be seen in our lives (v. 8). 

     As the mind and values of Jesus flow in us, we seek what he seeks.  For example, we want people to come to Christ.  We want his kingdom to be seen in our hurting world.  We do not pray anything “in his name” (v.16) that is simply self-seeking or is counter to the ways of Jesus.

     The teaching about prayer in John 15 is exactly what Jesus spoke of in Mt 6:33:  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

     To be productive, every day get on your knees and tell Jesus you need Him.  You need Him to help you with your business, your school; you need Him to remain pure and to have good thoughts rather than bad.  You need Him to help you with your temper…  Nurture your relationship with Him.  The fruit of your life will shrivel the moment that relationship with Jesus becomes distant or sporadic.

     Keeping in mind that we are spiritually productive only when we are intimately and organically connected to Jesus, let me speak to you now about the problem in being spiritual productive that the disciples had and most of us have that I call “our somethings that are Jesus’ nothings”.  Look carefully at Jesus’ words in v.5If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

     Don’t miss Jesus’ words: “Apart from me – nothing…”  Let’s be honest in our thinking today and acknowledge that there are a lot of people in our world who have no connection with Jesus at all and yet are doing a lot.  They’re growing businesses, building big homes, gaining fame…  That sure sounds like they’re accomplishing something.  In fact, their “somethings” are the very things we often want Jesus to help us to accomplish.

     So, how can the fruit that Jesus produces in us actually be something instead of nothing?  One answer to that takes us all the way back to the foot-washing in 13:1-17.  Jesus sends us as his followers into all sorts of places.  To some he gives the callings and gifts to lead companies, write books, play sports or receive significant roles in the entertainment industry.  But, most of Jesus’ followers throughout history have been sent into less visible places.  To the genuine believer, the place we are called to doesn’t really matter. We know that wherever Jesus sends us, we should work and serve fully with all the gifts he gives – working, as Paul would write, “as unto the Lord.”  But, while we are there, we are to serve those who come across our paths.  Employees – serving our employers as the best workers possible.  Employers – caring for those under our authority with the love of Christ.  In other words, we are to see every relationship and every encounter as a divine appointment and we are to serve as Jesus served.  We are to let the ways of the servant Jesus flow through us.  Then, the “nothing” of temporary success or material gain can become a “something” of eternal value.  Do you see that?


The Result: The fruit we bear is the glory of God.This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.

     What Jesus says in v.8 is that when we are connected to him in this way, he will flow through us and change us in such a way that the world sees the glory of God.  To “glorify” here means to reflect what God is like – his values, his love, his mercy, his holiness… We cannot do this on our own.  In fact, our natural inclination is to think and live the way we’ve learned it in the world.  This is why we must be so closely connected to Jesus if we will bear this kind of fruit.  Otherwise, we will work hard to accomplish “stuff” and we will get tired but we will not glorify God.

     I’ll apply this to myself first.  The natural tendency for a pastor in our society is to think that God will be glorified if I build a big church.  And, I believe, God could be glorified as lots of people flow into our church.  However, it may be just as much the case that the pastor wants personal glory by thinking, “Look how effective I am.  God must be pleased with what I am building!”  So, I look at our Worship Center with its 5,000 seats and I see it’s not full and I begin to worry. I think, “If only I could philosophize like Tim Keller, this place would be full.”  Or, “If only I could have as much courage as Rick Warren, then…”  Or, “If only I had as uch passion as Francis Chan…”

     So, I work at those things.  I read and read and try to become more philosophical.  I take risks (like “YOLO” calls me to do) and try new things.  I rev myself up and try to be more passionate.  What happens?  Mostly, I get tired.  And, what I do seems fake (because it IS!).  And, even if the church grows, it is not to the glory of God but to the pastor.  Jesus tells me, “Abide in me.  Be connected to me.  Pray and be faithful to me and you will bear much fruit.”  And that fruit, whatever it is, will be to the glory of God.

     You can apply this to any part of your life – even to playing football.  After I had spoken about this in a college chapel years ago, I went into the pre-game meeting of our football coach with his players.  He said, “We heard our president speak to us about glorifying God by allowing the presence of Jesus flow through us into everything we do.  That includes what you’re going to do on the field today.  Playing football is like being in an intensified laboratory of life.  You have to handle the times when the player next to you fails – or when you fail.  You have to respond to the authority of the coach.  You have to handle the injustices of bad calls with grace.  Life is lived out on the field.  I want you to play to the glory of God.  Use all the gifts God has given you.  Play to the best of that God-given ability.  And handle each situation in ways that honor

The One who is the Lord of your life.  Play to God’s glory and feel his joy.”

     That day we killed the other team – in a spiritual sort of way.  That doesn’t always happen because the fruit we long for as Christians is not something as small as a win in a small college football game.  We long for and pray for the glory of God to be seen in all we do.

     I’ll stop there today and leave you to allow the words of Jesus to penetrate your live:

If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (Jesus, John 15:5,8).

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

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Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church