John 15:5-8

 

In our summer series on favourite verses from the congregation, we continue today with Andrew Douglas’ favourite verse:

 

john 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 

Andrew’s explanation…

 

The Message translation of the same verse:

5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

 

 

 

I know we don’t grow grapes down here, it being too cold unless you have a tunnel house or glass house, but you all know the concept of pruning and fruit bearing so I will not go down that line today.

 

I want to focus on the word ‘abide’: “abide in me…”

 

In 2013 I attended a marvellous workshop run by a Catholic sister Kathleen Rushton on the concept of “Abiding, according to the Gospel of John.” It focused on the passages we have before us today.

 

Prior to that I assumed that the word ‘abide’ was an archaic term used in the hymn ‘Abide with me”, which is sung at funeral services and on Anzac Day services.

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

 

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

 

I need Thy presence every passing hour
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's pow'r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.



The rich meaning of the word abiding was lost to us because in some modern translations the original Greek word meno is translated as merely remain (NIV), stay or reside so we miss the depth of the concept.

 

The Greek word Meno can mean remain, stay, reside but it also means lives, continue, endure, be, belong, dwell, hold, keep on, last, left, permanent place, spend time, stand, survives, waited for, would not move.  118 times it is used in the New Testament.

 

It is a far richer word than just remain, stay or reside, so that is why now I love and prefer the word Abide over other translations.

 

Dorothy Lee, the Australian theologian in an article “Abiding in the 4th Gospel” wrote: “Abiding is not grounded in external achievement or action, but derives energy from an interior source, a wellspring, an indwelling that is intimate and personal. The symbolism of the vine signifies growth and fecundity [productiveness], mutuality and homecoming, friendship and self-giving. Yet abiding, as a force for life, does not bypass suffering and death: the vinedresser prunes, the world pours scorn, the seed ‘dies’, the Son created community with his dying breath.”[1]

 

Abiding is the living union or connection, interpersonal relationship between Christ and us[2]

 

Lee continues on this theme of union and connection in relationship to discipleship:

 

“Discipleship is not a self-generating relationship with God or others, but rather entry into a divine, pre-existing relationship with the Spirit-Paraclete. To be a disciple means to be in union with Jesus, and through Jesus with God – a union that is reciprocal and oriented toward community: the antithesis of separation and exclusion.[3]

 

Abiding is the opposite of action for action’s sake; of busyness for busyness’s sake. It follows what we said last week, commenting on Proverbs 8:34:  listen, watch, wait.

 

Abiding does not depend on our strength, growth, feelings, failures, or success, but on his ability to place us in the vine and keep us there [4]

 

Abiding is being enveloped by God.

 

At a Bethel Sozo session you sit with our eyes shut and focus on listening to God. Once I was asked where God was as I sat there, and normally people say that he is on their left/right shoulder, in the corner of the room, down the corridor, whatever, but I felt God was a big white blob and I was wrapped up in that whiteness.

 

The picture for me was of being enveloped and encompassed by God, of abiding within him. And the feeling was of peace.

 

I did not put myself inside that blob, God encompassed me. I just abided in him.

 

Michael Wells in his book tells us that there is contrast between the Christian who imitates and the one who abides. Those who work are noisy and feverish; their efforts do not produce a sweet-smelling aroma to the Lord. Their fruit, which often will fool others at first glance, will be found merely to be counterfeit. But the believer who has learned the secret of abiding is quiet, refreshing, and full of real life - Christ's life![5]

 

Hudson Taylor wrote: There are not two Christs – an easy-going Christ for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling Christ for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to abide in him, and so to ‘bear much fruit?’ [6]

 

 

Charles Spurgeon wrote: You look at man as he is, and what can he do? He can do nothing! Jesus already says, 'Apart from Me, you can do nothing.' (John 15:5) But look at man with God IN him and I will reverse the question: 'What can he not do?'

 

On the reflection sheet at the end of the seminar I wrote to myself a series of questions in response to the question of whether I am abiding in I AM:

 

As the hymn ‘Abide in Me’ plays in the background, I am going to as you the same questions, for you to think about, as the song plays.

 

[play Abide with me]

 

Am I connected?

Am I withering?

Have I ever been connected?

Am I feeding off the root?

If not, what is my source of nourishment?

Am I producing fruit?

Is the fruit to type?

Am I healthy or am I a weedy branch?

Can I be connected to the root, without connecting to the vine?

Can I ever be without doubt about my closeness in abiding?

Is doubt not therefore healthy?

 



[1] Dorothy Lee “Abiding in the 4th Gospel” Pacifica 10 (June 1997), 131

[2] Rasik Ranchord Dare to be a disciple 55

[3] Lee ibid

[4] Michael Wells Sidetracked in the wilderness 169

[5] Wells 158

[6] Taylor, Mrs Howard Behind the Ranges: Fraser of Lisuland, 170