A Bible Lesson on John 15:1-17

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is another lesson from John’s account of the night of the Last Supper.  Jesus has been comforting the disciples, giving them last instructions and promises before the crucifixion and resurrection.

John 14:31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

It’s not absolutely clear where this takes place.  Perhaps they move from the upper room at this point.  John 18:1 says When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.  It may be that they are still in the upper room.  Or it may be that John 15 is spoken while they are outside walking, and if so, they could conceivably be walking through a vineyard.

John 15:1  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

Here is another (the last) of the great “I AM” statements.  “I AM the true vine.”  The Old Testament background for this statement is that Israel was often spoken of as God’s vine, vineyard, and son.

Psalm 80:7  Restore us, O God of hosts;  let your face shine, that we may be saved!

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.  

10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.

11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.

12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?

13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,

15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.

16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face!

17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!

18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!

19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

 

Isaiah 5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.

2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.

4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.  I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

 

Ezekiel 19:1 And you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,

2 and say:  …

10 Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water.

11 Its strong stems became rulers’ scepters; it towered aloft among the thick boughs; it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches.

12 But the vine was plucked up in fury, cast down to the ground; the east wind dried up its fruit; they were stripped off and withered. As for its strong stem, fire consumed it.

13 Now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land.

14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots, has consumed its fruit, so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling. This is a lamentation and has become a lamentation.

 

Ezekiel 15:1  And the word of the Lord came to me:

2 “Son of man, how does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?

3 Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it?

4 Behold, it is given to the fire for fuel. When the fire has consumed both ends of it, and the middle of it is charred, is it useful for anything?

5 Behold, when it was whole, it was used for nothing. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it ever be used for anything!

6 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

7 And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them.

8 And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord God.”

The Old Testament figure is that Israel has been an unfaithful/unsatisfactory vine.  Jesus announces that He is the TRUE vine.  He is not “true” in contrast to being some kind of impostor, but real in the sense of John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  Jesus is the reality of which Israel is only a foreshadowing or picture.  Where Israel failed to consistently obey God, Jesus is perfectly obedient.  The picture here of the Father as the gardener is perfectly consistent with the Old Testament figure.

John 15:2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

He cuts off/casts off every branch that bears no fruit.  In our soft/sloppy 21st century way, we think that sounds harsh.  Bit what is the purpose of branches?  Who needs them if they aren’t fulfilling their purpose?  Compare the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

Luke 13:6  And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.

7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’

8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.

9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

The whole purpose of a vine/of a vineyard is to bear fruit.  If it’s not doing that, it is literally good for nothing.  The Ezekiel 15 passage points out the uselessness of an unfruitful branch.  It isn’t good for carpentry.  It isn’t even really any good for burning for heat.  You make a bonfire with them just to clear them away.  The intention here isn’t to send us into a fit of paranoia over possibly being cut off or to extract a few additional good works from us.  It should only drive us back to the vine.

The rest of this passage tells us how it is that we will bear fruit.  Verse 2 tells us that God prunes or trims clean every fruitful branch.  God will shape, mold, discipline us.  He will cut away that which hinders.  It is inherent in who we are that left to our own devices, stuff will grow that is not fruitful.  The promise here is that those who are vitally connected to the vine will be pruned.  Nobody says that’s pleasant for the moment, but in the end it is wholly good.

Ryle said, “Trial, to speak plainly, is the instrument by which our Father in heaven makes Christians more holy.  By trial He calls out their passive graces, and proves whether they can suffer His will as well as do it.  By trial, He weans them from the world, draws them to Christ, drives them to the Bible and prayer, shows them their own hearts, and makes them humble.  This is the process by which He ‘purges’ them, and makes them more fruitful.  The lives of the saints in every age are the best and truest comment on the text.  Never, hardly, do we find a saint, either in the Old Testament or the New, who was not purified by suffering, and like his Master ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.’ (Isaiah 53:3)  Let us learn to be patient in the days of darkness, if we know anything of vital union with Christ.  Let us remember the doctrine of the passage before us, and not murmur or complain because of trials.  Our trials are not meant to do us harm, but good.  God chastens us, ‘for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness.’ (Hebrews 12:10)  Fruit is the thing that our Master desires to see in us; and He will not spare the pruning-knife if He sees we need it.  In the last day we shall see that all was done well.”

3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Already you are “clean.”  That should remind us of: John 13:10  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”  There is comfort in this verse.  The promise is that Christians are free from all that prevents fruit-bearing … because of “the word I have spoken.”  This is the logos, the whole body of Jesus’s instruction and revelation to them.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Verse 4a expresses the same thing 2 different ways.  There are not two realities here.  There is one reality, remaining in Jesus and He in us.  Paul says much the same thing in:  Galatians 2:19b-20 I have been crucified with Christ. 20It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Apart from the vine a branch is nothing, only a dead twig.  We are utterly dependent upon Jesus.  Outside of Him we are dead twigs.  A branch produces no fruit outside the vine.  We produce nothing good apart from Jesus.  Again, this is not a means of coercion or threat, but is rather comfort and promise.  As we continually depend upon Jesus, the Father WILL prune us and there WILL be “fruit.”

What is this fruit?  It is real faith in Jesus, obedience, Christian character, good works, the fruit of the Spirit, multiplication of the Kingdom, the love that Jesus is about to command.  The fruit is, in effect, the likeness of Jesus seen in us.

7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Verses 7 and 8 belong together.  Verse 8 gives the context of the answered prayer promised in verse 7, namely the Father’s Glory.  Jesus is talking about prayer in accord with His purposes, on His behalf.  Note that the words of Jesus are important.  We don’t get to come to a made-up Jesus that exists only in our own dark imaginations and suits our fantasies.  What He said to us is not separable from this vital union with Him and the Father.  That is true of the things that we fancy we like, and it’s true of the things against which our human natures obviously rebel.

Fruit bearing is not an end in itself.  It is not some kind of “personal growth” trip where essentially we are selfishly concerned with our own well-being or development.  Jesus’s constant purpose is to honor the Father.  By obvious implication, if we are branches connected to the vine, that will be our purpose and the effect of our lives as well.  The vine and branches make one plant, with one purpose.

“so prove to be my disciples,” says Jesus.  The obvious meaning is that “no fruit” implies “not a branch.”  We can look at ourselves and see.  We are either vitally connected to the vine and bearing His fruit or we are not.  Verse 8 is forward-looking.  This glorifying of God is now possible and real through Jesus.

Verses 9-17 have the themes of love and obedience, but are connected to and part of the vine/branches/abiding/fruit-bearing picture of verses 1-8.

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

“As the Father” … in as much as the Father, or because the Father … “has loved me, so I have loved you.”  Ryle comments at length on the remarkable thing that is said here.  You and I cannot really begin to comprehend that depth of love that has always existed between the Father and the Son.  With this kind of love, Christ loves us, and He tells us to keep this always before us.  He says “remain in my love (for you).”  Disciple, keep in mind the great love of Christ for you.  Ryle put it this way, “Christ’s free, and continued, and mighty love should be the home and abiding place of a believer’s soul.”

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

Biblical love is not abstract, or some kind of mystical experience or mushy feeling.  It is simple, concrete, and tied to action.

John 14:31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

That was true for Jesus, it must be true for us.  Our love for God is revealed or denied in terms of our obedience to God.

Jesus’s love for the Father was seen in His constant obedience, and brought with it the constant awareness of the loving approval of the Father.  That was joy in the life of Christ.  The same will be true for us.

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

The Westminster Catechism rightly says that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him eternally.”  Knowing/having relationship with God is highest joy.  It is what we were made for.  If God is our Creator and Sustainer, the great and all-powerful person the Bible says He is, anything but obedience amounts to rebellion and the breaking of that fellowship.

abiding/relationship/love/obedience/joy are all part of a single whole.  Morris, quoting Strachan said, “… ‘joy’ and ‘pleasure’ must not be confused.  ‘The joy of Jesus is the joy that arises from the sense of a finished work.  It is creative joy, like the joy of an artist.'”

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Jesus turns this love horizontal.  The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, in turn we are to love each other.  It is a matter of sharing the family characteristic/nature.  And we are to love “as I have loved you.”  This is a most startling proposition.  We are to love like Christ in intensity and sincerity.  As we see Him demonstrate love, we are constrained to similarly give ourselves to tangible and self-sacrificial action.  We can’t really duck John’s words in

1 John 3:16  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

So we’re brought back to the servant mentality of the foot washing.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.

Jesus has already humbled Himself to do the most menial of tasks for the disciples.  He is about to carry His servanthood to the most extreme/intense level possible.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

The friends of Jesus are those who habitually obey Him, plain and simple.

15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

A servant is literally a “human tool,” a hammer or screwdriver that happens to be a living person.  One doesn’t consult with or explain to his hand tools what is intended or how something is to be done.  Jesus says that you aren’t like that.  There is more here than just a master/servant relationship.  Jesus uses the word “friends.”  More literally, it is “loved ones.”  Our English is really too casual at this point for us to quickly get the right meaning.  This “friends” is “ones beloved of Christ and God.”  This too is something almost too wonderful for you and me to take in.  That we would be called “friends” of the self-existent One, our Maker and Redeemer, ought to take our breath away.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The initiative was and is with God, and the result is first that we “go” as His emissaries and second that we bear fruit.  This is not fruit that fades or turns to dust when touched, but real enduring fruit.  It is in this context that prayers are answered.  And part of the obedience that produces such enduring fruit is love of the body of Christ.

17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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