How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 7

“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

    ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

    ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

   ~ Praying for their presence with Him in His coming kingdom where they will see His glory displayed before them (John 17:24-25).

The third thing Jesus prayed for future believers is for them TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S ETERNAL LOVE FOR JESUS (17:26). Finally, Jesus prayed, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26). Jesus “declared to” the disciples His Father’s character (“name”). When Jesus said He “will declare” the Father’s name, He is referring to doing this “through the Word of God, and especially through the Fourth Gospel.” 1 Christ then prayed that the same “love” with which the Father “loved” Jesus “may be in” future believers and Christ “in them.”

“The essence of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus made the Father and His love known to the world by His death. And the Father made known His love for the Son by raising Him to glory. Jesus’ purpose in revealing the Father was that Christians would continue to grow in that love (that the Father’s love for the Son may be in them) and to enjoy the personal presence of Jesus in their lives (that I Myself may be in them).” 2

Christ longs for believers to experience the Father’s love for Him through fellowship. We have two eternal Persons who are loving us and wanting the best for us. The more we spend time with God the Father and God the Son, the more we will experience their outrageous love for us which will cast out our fears and deepen our love for one another (I John 4:7-21).

What an incredible prayer in John 17! Christ prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), His believing disciples (John 17:6-19), and then for future believers, including us (John 17:20-26). Not by name of course, but He asked that all “who believe in Me” would “be one.” This final request for all believers shows the importance of widening the circle of our prayer concerns. Not only are we to pray for ourselves, and our close friends, but we also need to remember to pray for those who will believe in Christ in the future. Remember, prayer moves the Hand that moves the world. 3

Take time today to thank Jesus for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise Christ for all of eternity as we discover the prayers He prayed for us that we did not hear. Prayers that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that You would cause our lives and our churches to be an answer to this prayer that You prayed. Lord, the rest of this week whether we see it or know it or not, would You use us to bring You glory? Would You help us to pray like You prayed? We pray that very humbly. But we pray it because we know that is what You want to do. We pray, Lord, that our lives would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your security and not in fear. Jesus, we pray for a real sense of growth and maturity in our lives to be happening as we keep abiding in Your Word. Help us to see some ways that we are growing. And Lord, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that the world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. We pray that Your love would make the difference in our relationships with others. Jesus, thank You for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise You all the more because we will have eternity to look at the prayers that You prayed for us that we did not hear, that are not written down, but that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. We thank You for this. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 549.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

3. See John Wallace’s Poem, “Prayer Moves the Hand that Moves the World,” at https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/prayer-moves-hand-moves-world.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 5

“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His eleven believing disciples how Christ can transform our grief into gladness. So far we have discovered He does this when we …

– Ask Christ to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).

– Allow our grief to direct us to the Father in prayer (John 16:23-24).

The final way Jesus transforms our grief into gladness is not based on a specific verse in this passage, but on the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus transforms our grief into gladness when we ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH THE PATTERN OF TRANSFORMED PAIN. This pattern finds its fullest expression in Jesus. He transformed the bad into the good.

Because of Jesus, we can never say about a person, “He or she must be suffering because of some sin he or she committed.” Jesus, who never sinned, also suffered. God never promised that typhoons or twisters will skip over our houses on the way to our non-Christian neighbors or that COVID-19 will flee from our Christian bodies and invade a non-Christian’s body. We are not exempt from tragedies in the world just as God was not exempt. Christ was willing to suffer in order to accomplish a higher goal. He trusted His Father to use His death for good. And God took the worst thing that could happen – the brutal execution of His only Son and turned it into the final victory over sin, death, and the Devil (I Corinthians 15:1-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). God turned the design of evil into the service of good, an act that holds in it a promise for all of us.

Because God transformed Jesus’ suffering into good, He can do the same for us. Jesus’ resurrection transformed the pain of His disciples into joy. No trial, illness, unemployment, broken relationships, death of a loved one, or grief extends beyond the range of Jesus’ transforming power. He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward Him.

Childbirth is ironical – an event that causes some of the greatest physical pain, but also opens the doorway to one of life’s greatest joys – new life! Someone once said, “The more grief inflicted upon you, the better fitted you are to appreciate joy. More often than not the so-called negatives are assets. There cannot be a front without a back, an up without a down, a cold without a hot, a love without a hate.”

When speaking of the effects of His own death on His disciples, Jesus compared it to a woman in labor. She travails until the moment of delivery, when suddenly anguish is transformed into ecstasy. Death is like birth – it causes great emotional pain, but in reality, it opens a doorway into the great joy of eternity because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Author Philip Yancey writes, “Imagine birth from the perspective of the fetus (unborn baby). Your world is dark, safe, secure. You are bathed in a warm, cushioning liquid. You do nothing for yourself. You are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you is meeting all your needs. Life consists of simple waiting – you’re not sure what to wait for, but any change seems faraway and scary. You encounter no sharp objects, no pain, no dangers. A fine, serene existence.

“One day you feel a tug. The walls seem to press in. Those soft padded walls are now pulsing, wildly, crushing you downward. Your body is bent double, your limbs twisted and wrenched. You’re falling, upside down. For the first time in your life, you feel pain. You’re in a sea of roiling matter. There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is squeezed flat, and you are pushed harder, harder into a dark tunnel. Oh, the pain. Noise. More pressure.

“You hurt all over. You hear a groaning sound and an awful, sudden fear rushes in on you. It is happening – your world is collapsing. You’re sure it’s the end. You see a piercing, blinding light. Cold, rough hands grasp at you, pull you from the tunnel and hold you upside down. A painful slap. Waaaahhhh!

“Congratulations, you have just been born.

“Death is like that. On this end of the birth canal, it seems a scary, dark tunnel we are being sucked forward by an irresistible force. None of us looks forward to it. We’re afraid. It’s full of pressure, pain, darkness… the unknown.

“But beyond the darkness and the pain lies a whole new world outside. When we awaken after death in that bright new world, our tears and hurts will be mere memories.” 1

Perhaps you have lost a love one recently who believed in Jesus or was too young to believe in Him, and your heart is numb with grief. Christ’s resurrection guarantees you will be reunited one day in His presence (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Knowing this can comfort and sustain you during this dark and painful time. Jesus wants you to take heart because the day is coming when the darkness will be gone forever and your pain will be transformed into endless joy (Revelation 21-22).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You never promised that suffering would not be part of our lives. In fact, You promised just the opposite if we follow You. But it is not a hopeless kind of suffering. Your resurrection guarantees to all of us who believe in You a hope-filled beginning when we die and go to be with You. A perfect, sinless, world awaits us in Your presence when we take our last breath. Knowing this empowers us to endure the darkness and pain before us with the confidence that something much better and greater lies beyond our time here on earth. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that the hurts and tears we have now will be transformed into endless joy and laughter in the world to come where we will be reunited with You and those who have gone before us. Please help us to lean into You when troubled times come. Your presence can calm our hearts when we surrender to You. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 258-259.

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? Part 3

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13

After Jesus forewarned His disciples of the world’s coming hostility and persecution of them (15:18-16:4), He began to encourage them with the Holy Spirit’s ministry that would take place while He was gone (John 16:5-15). From Christ’s instruction, we are learning how to overcome fear in evangelism. We can do this when we…

– Grasp that we are not alone when we witness (John 16:5-7).

– Give unbelievers the truth of the gospel and let the Holy Spirit convince them it is true (John 16:8-11).

The third and final way to overcome fear in evangelism is when we GET GOD’S GUIDANCE THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 16:12-15). Jesus now focuses on the Holy Spirit’s ministry to His disciples. He says to His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12). Christ had more to teach them, but they were not ready to understand or apply the remaining teaching that Jesus had for them apart from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, the Lord does not reveal all His truth to us at once. He reveals things to us gradually. He knows what we can handle better than we do.

Then Jesus said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13). Jesus would eventually tell them things through the ministry of Holy Spirit Who “will guide” them “into all truth.” The word “guide” (hodēgēsei) consists of two words, “to lead” (hēgeomai) and “way” (hodos). This word conveys the idea that “the Holy Spirit, who is a source of truth, will lead the way into truth as a guide.” His guidance is into “all truth.” There are no errors or mistakes in the truth the Spirit communicates.

This truth is without error because the Spirit “will not speak on His own authority” and teach something contrary to what Jesus taught. Instead, “whatever He hears” from the Father and Son, “He will speak.” “This points to the interdependence of the Persons in the Trinity. The Father would tell the Spirit what to teach the apostles about the Son.” 2  

Specifically, the Spirit “will tell them things to come” in the future. This future revelation from the Spirit is what the apostles would record in the New Testament canon. This is why the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. “The Spirit would ensure that the apostles’ writings were true, guaranteeing that they wrote Scripture, the very words of God.” 3  In a similar way today, the Holy Spirit continues to enable believers to understand the meaning of the biblical text (cf. I John 2:27).

Next Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14). The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “glorify” Christ by “taking what is” Christ’s from the word of truth. The Holy Spirit wants the spotlight to be on Jesus Christ, not on Himself, His spiritual gifts, or other people. The Holy Spirit wants the focus to be on the Person and work of Jesus Christ and nothing else. This verse provides insight on discerning what ministries are genuinely of the Holy Spirit. If a ministry is not glorifying the Person and work of Jesus Christ, we must be cautious about supporting such a work because the Holy Spirit does not glorify someone or something other than Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

Most people have a special item which they place on the top shelf or on a prominent wall in their house for everyone to see. It may be a picture of your family or a favorite Bible verse. It is placed on the shelf all by itself so that nothing else will challenge its prominence. In the same way, we are to put Christ on the shelf of our lives to show Him off. We are not to place anything else there, including ourselves so that all people may see any or all of Jesus’ attributes.

The reason the Holy Spirit finds Christ worthy to be glorified is seen in the next verse. “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:15). Christ is worthy of being glorified because “all things that the Father has” are His. This would include the Father’s glory. Hence, the glory that belongs to the Father also belongs to the Son. The last part of this verse implies that “all things” of the Father and Son are also the apostles’ (and ours today) in that they will be disclosed to them through the Holy Spirit. 

“Once again we see the Trinity in action in that the Son took revelation from the Father and would declare it to His disciples through the Holy Spirit (16:15).” Clearly the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all involved in the writing of the Old and New Testaments (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:15-16). 5

Evans writes, “Though the Spirit provided the apostles with perfect revelation in order that they might write Scripture, this does not mean that we are excluded from His ministry. This text applies to us in two ways. First, we are recipients of the Scriptural revelation that the apostles received. Second, the Holy Spirit provides us with personal illumination, enabling us to understand Scripture and to see how it applies in the details of our lives. This work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is called “the anointing” (see 1 John 2:20, 27).” 6

These truths about the Holy Spirit in John 16:13-15 also apply to us today especially as we focus on evangelism. Knowing that we have an ever-present Teacher in the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth about the Person and work of Jesus Christ can give us boldness as we share the gospel with the unsaved. Instead of being afraid of not knowing what to say, we can be confident that God’s Spirit will guide our conversations with unbelievers.

For example, a few years ago, when my wife and I were shopping for pearls in Metro Manila, we met a Muslim vendor who showed us her pearls. During our conversation with her, the Holy Spirit led us to share Matthew 13:45-46 where Jesus said,  45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” We explained to her that Jesus Christ was the merchant who found one pearl of great price. When it says He sold everything to buy the pearl, we told her that Jesus sees her as a precious pearl. She said, “That is true.” After we explained to her the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection with her, we invited her to believe or trust in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life. She then told us she was now trusting Jesus alone for His free gift.

The Holy Spirit knew what this woman needed to hear. He will guide us as we seek His leading in our lives when we tell others the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember, however, if we are not witnessing about Christ, the Holy Spirit cannot be convicting. I believe the gospel of John is the primary source of truth that the Holy Spirit wants to use to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) since it was written to persuade non-Christians to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have life in His name (John 20:31). The Holy Spirit uses the spoken word to convict people about their need for the Savior.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, thank You so much for bringing to the apostles’ remembrance all that Christ taught and did during His earthly ministry so we now have an accurate record of all that Jesus said and did. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for continuing to give us understanding with regard to the Bible and how it applies to our daily lives. Thank You for bringing it to life so that we are transformed from the inside out into the likeness of Christ. Thank You for the boldness and guidance You give to us in our conversations with non-Christians. You know their hearts better than anyone and You can lead us to share what they need to hear so they can be persuaded to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, so they may have everlasting life in His name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are truly amazing! Thank You for never abandoning us. I praise You for giving us all we need to represent You on earth. May all the glory go to You.  I pray this in Your Triune name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 291.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 668.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1810.

4. Ibid.

5. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 540.

6. Evans, pg. 1810.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 4

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” John 15:26

From Jesus’ instruction to His eleven believing disciples, we are learning how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world. So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

– Recognize that the world is not opposed to us personally, but to our relationship with Christ (John 15:21-25).

The fourth way to be an effective witness to a hostile world is to REMAIN IN VITAL CONTACT WITH CHRIST THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 15:26-27). Jesus knew that when His disciples would be faced with the hatred of the world, they may be tempted to escape from it or remain silent about the gospel. After all, the world can be very brutal toward Christians. The world does not care about your personal well-being. Even though the world would be antagonistic to the disciples’ ministry and message, they were to bear witness of Jesus.

Christ reminds them (and us) that they would not be left alone to fulfill their responsibilities when He goes to the Father in heaven. There would be two witnesses from God to the world. Who is the first witness that Jesus mentions in verse 26? “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26). The first witness is the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us several things about Him. He is “the Helper” (ho paraklētos) or one “called alongside to help.” 1  He is the One who will assist, empower, and encourage the disciples to be a witness for Christ in a hostile world. If we try to overcome the hostility of the world with our own strength, it will be one huge struggle laden with failure. Satan will oppose us through the world’s system and we are not wise enough or strong enough to overcome him on our own. We must abide in Jesus and yield to the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives to experience victory over the hostility of the world.

To be effective witnesses, we must remain in vital contact with Christ through His Holy Spirit and the Word. That’s why Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth.” He tells the truth about Christ through the truth of God’s Word (cf. John 14:6; 17:17). Jesus says, “He will testify of Me.” The primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Jesus through God’s Word. The Spirit’s ministry is not to testify about Himself or you or me. His purpose is to magnify Jesus Christ! If a church or ministry is not magnifying the Person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross, it is doubtful that church or ministry is being led by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit magnifies Jesus Christ, then His disciples should do the same.

Notice that verse 26 refers to all three Persons of the Godhead. “The Helper” or “Spirit of truth” will be sent by Jesus “from the Father,” and the Spirit will also “testify of” Jesus. The Holy Spirit will empower the second witness.

Who is the second witness? “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:27). The word “you” refers to the disciples in this context, but it also refers to all believers since that time, including you and me today. The word “also” indicates that the witness of the disciples is important. It shows that the disciples and the Spirit together would “bear witness” to Christ. The word translated “bear witness” (μαρτυρεῖτε) is a courtroom term that refers to speaking the truth. What would happen if you took the witness stand in a court of law and never said anything? The judge would hold you in contempt of the court. So this term demands that we speak the truth. Christ is saying that we are to tell the truth about Jesus, so people can be saved.  What is the truth about Jesus that saves people from an eternity in hell?

That He died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:1-6). Why did Jesus have to die? Because all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23) with their thoughts, words, and actions. Our sin separates (“death”) us from God (Romans 6:23) because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around our sin. Therefore, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for all our sin when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus now invites everyone to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus is not inviting us to be baptized or go to church because He never said, “whoever is baptized or goes to church should not perish but have everlasting life.” Nor is Christ inviting us to pray every day or to live a good life because He never said, “whoever prays every day or lives a good life should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is simply inviting us to believe or trust in Him alone because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

No amount of our good works can save us from our sins because they are all like “dirty rags” in the sight of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).  We must trust in Christ alone as our only hope of heaven and He will give us eternal life and a future home in heaven.

As disciples, we need God’s Spirit for empowerment and the Spirit needs us as a means of expression. Why were the disciples chosen to be witnesses? Because they “have been with” Jesus “from the beginning” of His ministry when He was baptized by John the Baptist (John 15:27; cf. 1:29ff). These men would be credible witnesses to the Person of Christ because they had been loyal to Him. They could have abandoned the Lord when persecution intensified, and they did for a short time, but then they came back to Him and He used them to change the known world.

Two things in verses 26-27 are foundational to be an effective witness for Christ. 2  First, we must clearly witness. Those of us who have been richly blessed by the grace of God for salvation are compelled to clearly share this grace with others. We must focus on the finished work of Christ on the cross as the basis of salvation (John 19:30), not our good works (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). Since salvation is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Romans 3:24; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17), we must emphasize faith alone in Christ alone as the means of salvation (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Romans 3:21-4:25; Galatians 2:16; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.), not a “faith plus” formula. The more we understand and experience the grace of God, the more passionate we will be to share the clear gospel of grace with the lost.

Second, we never witness to others alone. The Holy Spirit is always with us and in us to give us a power that is not our own. When we are afraid to speak up for Christ, He can give us the boldness we need with those who may intimidate us (cf. Acts 4:29-31). When we don’t know what to say, He can give us the words that our listeners need to hear (cf. Matthew 10:19-20). It is His responsibility to persuade people through the Word of God to believe or trust in Christ alone as their only way to heaven (John 16:7-11). But it is our responsibility to yield to His control (Ephesians 5:18).            

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending God the Holy Spirit from God the Father to be our Helper in witnessing to a hostile world. I never ever have to be alone when I tell others about Jesus because the Holy Spirit permanently indwells me. And when I feel afraid of what others will think, say, or do if I share Christ with them, the Spirit of truth gives me the boldness and the words to share with them unashamedly. So many times I lack insight when sharing the gospel with others, but You intervene and bring to my remembrance the truth that the listener needs to hear. Thank You Holy Spirit for the power You give to me when I yield to Your control. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 282.

2. Ibid., pg. 283.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 1

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18

Today, just like in the book of Acts, believers are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus. According to Open Doors USA, “A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

“A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.

 “A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.

 “A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

“These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Russia, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.” 1

Do you realize that in just the last year (2020 World Watch List reporting period), there have been:

– Over 260 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution

– 2,983 Christians killed for their faith

– 9,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked

– 3,711 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned 2

While Christians are not suffering extreme persecution in the USA, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for Christian beliefs and practices in our country. During COVID-19, certain government leaders in America are trying to use this pandemic to try to shut down churches. For example, on July 1, 2020, the governor of California banned singing and chanting in places of worship in the name of a pandemic. Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) states, “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.” 3

Have you ever been falsely accused or betrayed by a friend? Have you had people plotting against you? Or have you ever experienced some other form of personal hostility? Jesus experienced all these things and so will we as we follow Him.

For the next few days, we are going to receive instruction from Jesus Christ about how to be effective witnesses for Him in a hostile world. Earlier in John 15, the Lord Jesus spoke to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another – they are to love each other as He loved them (John 15:12-17). Now He speaks to them about their relationship to the world (15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

The first way is to REALIZE THAT YOU WILL FACE THE SAME CONFLICT WITH THE WORLD THAT JESUS DID (John 15:18-19). Christ never said that following Him as a disciple would be easy. Earlier, when Jesus had sent the Twelve disciples on a special mission, He warned them that they would be as sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).

Now He was sending them into the world on a mission, and again Christ warned these men of conflict with the world. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). “The world” in John’s gospel is “the system of organized society hostile to God, which is under Satan’s power (John 14:30).” 4

In anticipation of the world’s hatred, Jesus warned His disciples that they would experience the same hostility from the world that He had experienced. He did not promise a painless, effortless experience as a disciple. He says, “If the world hates you [and it does], then it should come as no surprise to you because it hated Me first.” From His birth when king Herod sought to kill Him, to His death on the cross, Jesus experienced opposition from the world. Therefore, a person cannot be intimately related to Christ without being hated by His enemies. The main issue here is not whether we will experience rejection and persecution as Christ followers, but how we will respond to it.

Disciples of Christ are known by their love (cf. John 13:34), but the world is known for its hatred toward God. Followers of Christ are unpopular in the world today because of the world’s hatred toward Christ who lives in every believer through the Holy Spirit. Jesus now gives a reason why the world hates His followers. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19). The world hated Jesus’ disciples because they were chosen out of the world by Jesus to follow Him. Christ says, “If you were of the world [and it’s doubtful that you are], 6  the world would love its own.” They were once a part of the world as unbelievers, but now they are set apart from it as committed followers of Christ.

Perhaps some of you were rejected or even persecuted for beginning to follow Christ as a new believer. When I first got saved, I stopped drinking alcohol with my non-Christian friends and they got mad at me. They no longer called me their friend. They made fun of me and avoided me. This should not surprise us in light of what Jesus is saying here.

Some churches teach that when you become a Christian, you will have no more problems or difficulties. Is that true? Of course not. If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, experienced rejection and persecution for perfectly following God’s will, why would we think we are exempt from such treatment as we imperfectly follow the Lord?!

Christ wants us to adjust our expectations about following Him as His disciples. Discipleship is costly, but eternal life is absolutely free. Discipleship involves rejection and persecution from Satan’s world system which is hostile toward God. After all, the Bible says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). This is not a popular message today. But it is a needed message, isn’t it?! If we don’t adjust our expectations so that they line up with what Jesus taught, we are going to become very discouraged when we experience opposition for following Christ.

Christ said to His half-brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7). Jesus called sin, sin. He came to tell the truth and that is why the world hated Him. And if we are going to be like Him, we must do the same. If we find ourselves fully accepted by the world it is cause for concern. We are to be loving, kind, sensitive, and understanding. But if our lives do not challenge the wickedness of the world around us, if our lives do not provoke some persecution, criticism, and opposition – something is probably wrong. We have probably become too friendly with the world around us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Does the world hate me? If it does not, why not? Is it because the world has become more Christian or because Christians have become more worldly?” If we are not experiencing opposition from the world, it may be because our lifestyle is no different than the world’s lifestyle. James 4:4 says, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4). If the world is our friend, then God is our enemy.

James likens friendship with the world to spiritual adultery with God. It is like a married man who decides to engage in immorality with a woman to whom he is not married. In that very decision he chooses to reject faithfulness to his wife. When Christians crave for worldly acceptance and living, they have committed spiritual adultery and have rejected friendship with God. On the other hand, if God is our friend, the world will be our enemy. We cannot be a friend of God and the world at the same time.

How do we become friends with Jesus? We saw this when Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). If we are going to be Jesus’ friend, we must keep Christ’s commandments. Not all Christians are Jesus’ friends because not all Christians are obeying Christ. But if we are Jesus’ friends through obedience to Him, then we can expect more hostility and opposition from the world.

Younger Christians may mistaken the world’s hatred toward them as a reproach for not being more Christ-like. So they conclude that if they were more gentle, generous, loving, or compassionate, then they would receive more favor from unbelievers. But the truth is, the more we become like Jesus, the more the world will hate us. Christians are not mistreated or shunned by the world because they are superior, but because they are servants of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom the world has rejected. 7

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the hostility in the world toward those who follow Jesus, I am reminded of these important words Christ gave to His disciples. Knowing the world’s hatred for Jesus empowers me to endure its hatred toward Christ living in me. Please help me to adjust my expectations so they align with Jesus’ teaching. Opposition from the world will happen when we follow Christ because the world hates Jesus Who lives inside us. By Your grace and love, Lord God, I choose to follow my Lord Jesus no matter what the cost. Use me to be Your voice of grace and truth to a hostile world so millions may come to know Jesus as the Giver of life everlasting. Please be with my brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world who are suffering for Jesus’ sake. I ask that You give them abundant grace to love their enemies and to boldly make Christ known to them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Taken from  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/ on December 13, 2020.  

2. Ibid.

3. Taken from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aclj-files-lawsuit-challenging-california-ban-on-singing-in-church-301094471.html on December 13, 2020.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 664.

5.The phrase in the Greek language, Εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ, is a first-class condition and means that the world does actually hate the disciples. See J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 279.

6. The phrase Εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἦτε is a second-class condition expressing improbability. See Laney, pg. 279.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 294.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 2

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:14

Last time we learned the first way to be Jesus’ friend was to live in His love (John 15:9-11). Today we discover that the second way to be Jesus’ friend is to LOVE as HE LOVED (John 15:12-17). To help His disciples understand this command to abide in His love, He repeated something He had said before. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). You may ask,What is Jesus’ love like?”

a. IT IS UNCONDITIONAL (John 15:12; cf. 13:1-11; Luke 22:24). Earlier, the disciples had been fighting among themselves about who was the greatest among them (cf. Luke 22:24). Jesus then humbly washed their dirty feet (John 13:1-11). Christ loved them even though they did not deserve it. Christ’s love was not a response to our love. He loves us even if we never loved Him back. Jesus loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes Jesus love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If Jesus waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that Jesus loved you and me first. His love does not require that you love Him back.

If we are going to love one another as Jesus loved us, then we must love one other whether we deserve to be loved or not. God’s love is not an emotion. “You can love people whom you may not necessarily like because love is not dependent on your feelings. That’s why Jesus can command  to ‘love your enemies’ ” (Matthew 5:44).” 1 Love is a choice to do what is best for another person. Christ living in us wants to unconditionally love others through us.

b. IT IS SACRIFICIAL (15:13). Next Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The greatest love of all was to give up your life for your friends. In the context, this must refer to Jesus’ upcoming death on the cross (cf. John 10:11, 15, 17-18; 12:32-33; 13:1ff). This is the greatest expression of friendship.

“There was an orphanage near an American Marine Base in Viet Nam. One day the Viet Cong fired mortar shells into the orphanage, killing dozens of children and wounding many more. A boy named Kai had a seriously wounded friend who needed a blood transfusion. Kai’s friend had a rare blood type and only Kai’s blood matched it. Little Kai had never heard of a blood transfusion but when the American doctors explained it would save his friend’s life, little Kai volunteered.

“As the blood began to flow from Kai to his friend, Kai began to whimper. When the doctors asked if it hurt, he said no. A little later he whimpered again. Again, he told the doctors it did not hurt. The doctors asked, ‘What’s wrong, Kai?’ With tears coursing down his light brown, dusty cheeks, Kai asked, ‘When am I to die, sir, when am I to die?’ You see, little Kai didn’t know that you only give a little blood. He thought you gave it all, and he was willing to do so for his little friend.” 2

Are we willing to sacrifice for one another? Men, it may mean giving up a game of basketball or a TV show to listen to someone share their problems with you. Ladies, it may involve laying aside that intriguing novel to listen to your neighbor process a misunderstanding they had with someone. When a need arises among the people in your life, reach out to help them in love.

c. IT IS OBEDIENT (John 15:14). Jesus would give His life for His friends. Who are His friends? “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus’ friends are those believers who keep His commandments. We may say that Jesus is our best Friend, but would He say we are His friends? The true test of friendship with Christ is obedience to “whatever” He commands you to do. Friendship with Christ is a discipleship issue, not a salvation issue.

Twice Abraham was called a friend of God in the Old Testament: by God (Isaiah 41:8) and by men (2 Chronicles 20:7).  James 2:21-23 explains why Abraham was justified before men by works when he offered up his son, Isaac. Works justify us before men, but not before God (cf. Romans 4:2). Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) over twenty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). The faith that justified him before God was matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac (James 2:22) and filled full of meaning (James 2:23a). Men could declare Abraham to be a “friend of God” because they saw that he had an intimate relationship with God through his obedience. So friendship with God is based upon obedience.

Do people know that we are friends of Christ because of our obedience to Him? Our obedience to Jesus is a compelling testimony to the world that we are vitally connected to Him, especially when we keep His commandment to love one another. Our friendship with Christ is realized by others through our actions. This means we love one another whether we feel like it or not. But instead of ignoring our feelings, we are to deal with them so we can be available to love others. We need to experience God’s love and power before we can love others with His love.

d. IT COMMUNICATES TRUTH (15:15). Then Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). During their time together, Jesus viewed these men as servants and Himself as their Master. The responsibility of a servant was to submit to the will of his master. A servant is nothing more than an instrument. He simply does what he is told because he has no other choice. He does not have a close relationship with his master, as friends do. The servant does not know the personable issues about his master’s life. He just follows orders.

But now Jesus calls His disciples “friends.” Why? He says, “For all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” These men who had been Jesus’ servants were now His friends because He had kept nothing back from them. He had revealed all that the Father had made known to Him (cf. John 14:21). A master shares his will with his servants. But a friend shares his heart with his friends. “There are no secrets between friends.” Christ shared His heart with His disciples, so they could bear fruit to the glory of His Father.

Many years ago, a Christian writer went through a deep period of doubt and temptation. He questioned his ministry, his qualifications, his marriage, his salvation. Anguished and burdened, he finally went to a friend and confessed his feelings. As they talked and prayed together over the course of several weeks, his perspective returned. Peace came into his heart, and he experienced the joy of the Lord again. 

If we can receive this kind of help from talking with a friend, how much more beneficial would it be to be completely open with the Lord Jesus? He is the Best of friends. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “If we are friends of God, we shall have no secrets from Him. There are very few of those who are dearest to us to whom we could venture to lay bare all the depths of our hearts. There are black things down in the cellars that we do not like to show to any of our friends… But you should take God all through the house. And if there is the trust and the love that l have been speaking about, we shall not be afraid to spread out all our foulness, and our meanness, and our unworthy thoughts of, and acts towards, Him, before His ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment,’ and say, ‘Nobody but my best friend could look at such a dungheap, but I spread it before Thee… Tell God all, if you mean to be a friend of His.” 4

Christ did not withhold any truth from His disciples. There were no secrets between Him and His friends. Close friends communicate openly and honestly. Even though the truth may hurt at times, it is better to share it than to conceal it. Concealing the truth allows the situation to worsen. I appreciate it when my wife is open and honest with me about her true feelings. It shows me that she cares about our relationship. Friendship involves open communication. As we abide in Christ, He can enable us to share openly with one another.

e. IT TAKES THE INITIATIVE (15:16). Jesus continued and said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16a). Christ took the initiative in choosing His disciples to “go and bear fruit.” Normally disciples choose their own teacher, but Jesus chose them. All around the world today, students seek out the teachers of their choice and attach themselves to them. But Christ’s disciples did not take the initiative. After spending all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12-16), Jesus “chose” His disciples and “appointed” them to their mission to “go and bear fruit.” Notice that Jesus did not “choose”them to be saved or to have eternal life. His selection of them was related to their mission and ministry, not their salvation. John’s gospel never refers to people “being chosen from all eternity for eternal life or death.” 7

The divine election of God in the Bible is related to service, not salvation. In the Old Testament, God chose individuals to serve Him such as Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3:12; Numbers 16:5-6, 28), Aaron (Numbers 17:5), King David (2 Samuel 6:21; 1 Kings 8:16), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and the Messianic Servant (Isaiah 49:5-9; 52:13-53:12). He chose a group of people, Israel, to continue the mission He began with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8; Psalm 33:12; 106:5; Isaiah 43:10; 45:4; 65:9, 22; cf. Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20; Luke 18:7; Romans 9:11; 11:28; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 2:4).

In the New Testament, Jesus chose Twelve men to serve as His apostles (Luke 6:12-16; John 15:16). The fact that Judas was chosen by Christ demonstrates that this election was to service, not salvation since Judas never believed in Jesus (cf. John 6:64; 13:10-11; 17:12). Christ said that Paul was “a chosen vessel of Mine” to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Peter was also chosen for service: “God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7-8). 10

Just as Jesus took the initiative in choosing His disciples for their mission and service, so we must do the same in our relationships with one another. The importance of choosing believers to train in discipleship is underscored by the fact that Christ prayed all night to God on a mountaintop before He selected His disciples (cf. Luke 6:12-16). We need God’s wisdom and leading to choose men and women who will be “faithful” followers of Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).

Are we sharing the gospel with non-Christians and then asking them to meet with us for discipleship? We must be intentional about sharing the gospel with the lost and then teaching those who believe in Christ to obey all of His commandments (Matthew 28:20) because disciples are not born, they are made. 11  Christian growth is not automatic. It requires a commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the costs (cf. Luke 14:25-33).

Finally, f. IT BEARS FRUIT THAT LASTS (15:16b-17). “And that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16b). Christ also “chose”and “appointed” His disciples that they “should… bear fruit… that… should remain.” This fruit is related to the fruit of evangelism because it remains and cannot be lost (cf. John 4:36; 10:28-29). One of the most unloving things we can do is keep God’s love and His gospel to ourselves. This lasting fruit is also connected to answered prayer – “that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” To ask the Father in Jesus’ “name” means to pray for what Jesus would pray. God desires that all people be saved from hell (I Timothy 2:3-4). When we pray to that end, God answers that prayer. Prayer is the backbone to reaching the lost with the gospel of Christ. As God’s people pray, the Holy Spirit prepares the lost to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11).

When we pray and preach the gospel, God saves people as they respond in faith, resulting in lasting “fruit.” How exciting to see people come to faith in Christ! As we allow Jesus to live through us, our desire to see people obtain eternal life will increase. This week you may be asked by another believer to go with them to share the gospel with a family member or friend. Or maybe someone will ask you to pray for an individual that they just shared the gospel with. Next Christ says, “These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17). The way to honor Christ’s Lordship in our lives is to obey Him especially as it relates to loving one another. And as we obey Him, people can see that we are His friends.

After one of the worst battles of the American Civil War, a small remnant of a Confederate regiment stood alone on a grassy knoll. A Southern officer on horseback approached the small band of soldiers. “Where is your captain?” the officer inquired. “There he lies,” they said, pointing to his lifeless form a few feet away. “And what are you men doing here?” the officer asked. “Sir, we are paying our respects, giving him our final salute. He told us to hold this hill, and we have done just what he said.” What loyalty! The proof of their allegiance was complete obedience to his orders.

As Christians, we should also remember our great Captain, Jesus Christ. Although He died, He does not remain on the field of battle. He rose again and lives victoriously at the right hand of God the Father! He freely gave His life that He might save us and bring us to God. This is all the more reason to give Him our total commitment to obey Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, no one deserves our allegiance more than You! Thank You for laying down Your life for me. No greater love has ever been shown to me than this. Right now I give You everyone and everything to use for Your purposes. Please help me to abide in You and You in me so Your love will flow through me to others. This world could use a lot more of Your love. May they know I am Your friend by my love for You and others, especially the lost who need to hear Your life-giving gospel message. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

2. See https://bible.org/illustration/john-1513 on April 17, 2018.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 443.

4. Taken from Alexander Maclaren’s sermon on James 2:14-26 entitled, “Faith Without Works” at http://www.preceptaustin.org/maclaren_on_james_2.

5. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 326.

6. Shawn Lazar, Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017), pg. 140.

7. Ibid., pg. 147.

8. Shawn Lazar’s article, “Election for Baptists: Why Biblical election is to service and privilege, not to eternal life,” at https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/election-for-baptists-why-biblical-election-is-to-service-and-privilege-not-to-eternal-life/; cf. Robert Wilkin, “THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE ELECTION RECONSIDERED: ELECTION TO SERVICE, NOT TO EVERLASTING LIFE,” at https://faithalone.org/journal/2012ii/Wilkin.pdf; cf. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 151-212.

9. Lazar, Chosen to Serve…, pp. 41-55, 175-199.

10. Lazar, “Election for Baptists…”

11. see Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Notes, no. 23, “Are Disciples Born, or Made?” at http://www.gracelife.org/ resources/gracenotes/?id=23.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 5

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:6

The Bible makes a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is a free gift based on the finished work of Christ that we receive by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; 19:30; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). But discipleship is based on our good works and it is costly (John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8). In John 15:1-8, Jesus is not talking about how to get to heaven. He is talking about how to bring heaven down to earth through the bearing of fruit in a discipleship relationship with Christ. We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8 how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

Jesus instructed His disciples, “Abide in Me.” (John 15:4a). This command to “abide” implies the alternative – it was possible not to abide in Christ or obey Him. What happens if a believer continues to disobey Christ? This leads to the sixth way we can produce more fruit for the Lord and it comes in the form of a warning: REPENT WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR DISCIPLESHIP RELATIONSHIP (John 15:6).

Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6). This cannot refer to the loss of a believer’s salvation because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught about the eternal security of a believer in the gospel of John. Christ promised that everyone who comes to Him in faith will never be “cast out” (John 6:37). A believer in Jesus can “never perish” (John 10:27) nor is anyone able to “snatch” him or her out of the hands of God the Son and God the Father (John 10:28-29). If a believer could lose eternal life, then it was not eternal to begin with and Jesus would have failed to do His Father’s will (John 6:35-40). Also, it would contradict the context which addresses discipleship (not salvation) with Jesus’ believing disciples (John 13:30-15:8).

Some Bible students interpret verse 6 as an explanation of verse 2. “The viticulture process that Jesus described in verse 6 took place in the fall, whereas the process He mentioned in verse 2 happened in the spring. In the fall, the vinedresser would prune (Gr. kathairo) the vines for the winter by cutting off the dead wood. He would not cut off the unfruitful branches that could produce grapes the next season, but only the branches that did not have a healthy connection to the vine. The point of the verse is that branches with other serious problems, not just non-fruit-bearing branches (v. 2), also experience pruning.” 1

When we knowingly disobey the Lord (“If anyone does not abide in Me”), look what happens to our relationship with the Him. First, we break contact or fellowship with Him – “he is cast out [of fellowship] as a branch.” We cannot be close to Christ if we are living in disobedience to Him.

If we continue in disobedience to Christ, we lose our spiritual vitality and freshness –“is withered.” The process of withering suggests a lapse of time prior to the experience of “fire.” As we continue in disobedience to the Lord, we want little to do with Christ or with other believers. We may dread being around God’s Word or other Christians.

If we continue to disobey the Lord, Jesus says we will experience being “burned.” The word for “burned” (kaiō) is used twelve times in the New Testament. Two times it refers to burning in hell (Revelation 19:20; 21:8) and ten times it refers to temporal judgment or discipline on earth (Matthew 5:15; Luke 12:35; 24:32; John 5:35; 15:6; I Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 12:18; Revelation 4:5; 8:8, 10) which is the way it is used here in verse 6. 

Wilkin observes, “Since the Lord did not use the verb to be burned up, but rather the less intense verb to be burned, He is holding open the possibility that the unproductive believer may respond to the burning and return to fruitfulness. The grace of God is not a license to sin. Believers who play with sin will experience fiery judgment that may well culminate in death.” 2

The “fire”(pyr) in this passage is not literal just as the vine, branches, and fruit are not literal. The word “fire” often symbolizes God’s discipline or temporal judgment of His people in the Bible. Some examples:

“Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24

“Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 5:24-25

“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.’ ” Jeremiah 4:3-4

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:26-27

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29

Since Jesus is talking to His believing disciples about discipleship in this passage John 15:1-8), it is best to understand this “fire” as a reference to the trial of God’s discipline in a disobedient believer’s life (cf. I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13; Hebrews 10:27; 12:28-29). God uses discipline in the disobedient believer’s life to remove sin. This discipline may take the form of difficulties with work, family, finances, guilt, and health, etc.

If the believer does not repent, his disobedience could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-30). Although the analogy of the vine and branches does not deal with restoration, what is not possible with nature is possible with God. He can restore a wayward disciple back to fellowship with Himself.

It is also possible that the reference to “fire” could refer to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15; 9:24-27). Believers who continue in disobedience to Christ will suffer the loss of more rewards, but they themselves will be saved from an eternity separated from God in hell. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). The more disobedience characterizes our lives, the more painful the Judgment Seat of Christ will be for us in the future.

Another way to view verse 6 is to see the burning not as judgment, but as uselessness resulting from failure to abide in Christ. 3 At the beginning of the dormant season in a vineyard, anything not attached to the vine is useless and discarded. A part of the discarding process at the end of the productive season is the burning of dry materials.

If we disconnect from the vine for too long, we may find ourselves experiencing God’s discipline, getting burned, and seeing our spiritual life withering. Such a believer is useless to himself, God, and others. So, if we find such things happening to ourselves, repent, so our fellowship or discipleship relationship with the Lord can be restored! “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). 4

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that I am guaranteed a place in Your house because Jesus freely gave me eternal life the moment I believed in Him. Thank You for placing me in the Lord Jesus Christ so I may bear fruit for Your glory as I learn to abide in Him. I appreciate the warning given in today’s verse that speaks of the consequences of continued disobedience to Jesus. I do not want to lose my closeness to You. Nor do I want to be useless to You or to others. I need You in my life for without You I can do nothing that honors Your name. Please help me to abide in the True Vine so much fruit is produced in my life to the praise of Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 286-287;  see also Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996), pp. 50-51.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 535.

3. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2001), pp. 97-98.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 4

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8, how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).          

The fourth way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to REMAIN IN CHRIST BY OBEYING HIS WORD (John 15:4-5). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,2b Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:2, 5). Jesus wants us to go from bearing “more fruit” (15:2b) to bearing “much fruit” (15:5). How? By abiding in Him.

Jesus said, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5). The word “abide” (menō) means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” 1  Jesus defines abiding as obeying His commandments. “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.” (John 15:10). John also defines abiding in this way, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him.” (I John 3:24a).

A branch on a grapevine has no life in itself because it draws life from the vine. As long as there is an uninterrupted flow of life from the vine into the branch, the branch is capable of bearing fruit. But the moment the branch is severed from the life of the vine, it cannot bear fruit. What is true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual realm (cf. John 15:4-5). Jesus is our vine or source of life and fruit. The moment we believed in Christ for eternal life, He placed us in Himself as branches so we may bear fruit. As long as we “abide in Him” we can “bear much fruit.”

It is our responsibility to “abide” in Jesus by obeying His commandments (John 15:4-5, 10; I John 3:24a). Jesus promises that He will abide in us when we abide in Him (“Abide in Me and I in you… He who abides in Me, and I in him.). When we abide in Jesus by keeping His commandments, we can enjoy close fellowship or intimacy with Him. We cannot experience Jesus’ abiding presence in our lives if we are living in disobedience to Him. We must stay connected to the Vine so Christ’s life in us can produce fruit that honors the Father. If we stop abiding in Christ, we “cannot bear fruit” because branches can only bear fruit when they are connected to the vine. 2

When Jesus says, “For without Me you can do nothing,” He means that believers cannot do anything that glorifies the Lord when they are living in disobedience to Him. Every day Christians have a choice to obey the Lord or disobey Him. When we choose to live in obedience to the Lord, He can produce “much fruit” in our lives that glorifies God the Father. Since Jesus  is the only One Who can provide the spiritual sustenance and vitality we need to be useful believers, we must spend time with Him. “You can’t avoid Jesus all week and then show up on Sunday morning expecting growth. We only produce much fruit when we remain in Him (15:5).” 3

I have discovered in my own Christian life that as I grow older in the Lord, I may have a tendency to rely on my own abilities and competency. It is common for us to struggle with self-reliance in areas of our greatest strengths. For example, in February/March 2017 on a couple of mission trips in the Philippines, I began to experience more difficulties in areas of my greatest strengths which were evangelism and teaching. God used that painful time in my life to show me how much I was relying upon my own abilities and wisdom instead of His.

Jesus Christ has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). These commands are not content for our minds, they are commands for our will. When Jesus says to do something, do it! He is more interested in our obedience than our opinions.

In February 2018 before I went on a mission trip to the southern Philippines, I thought I was losing my zeal for evangelism. I thought if I led thousands of people to Christ on that trip, it would increase my enthusiasm for evangelism. But God had other plans. At our very first evangelistic film showing, only one person came forward to indicate she was trusting Christ for His gift of salvation. At first, I was so disappointed. “Only one person?” I thought to myself. “What am I doing wrong?”

The Lord convicted me by reminding me that it is not how many people that come to Christ that determines my fulfillment and enthusiasm in evangelism. It is not the fruit! My enthusiasm and fulfillment come from staying connected to Jesus Christ – the only Source of Life! We can be just as fulfilled leading one person to Christ as a thousand – if we stay connected to the True Vine – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I cannot do anything that glorifies and pleases God the Father apart from You. When I try to honor the Father in my own strength, life takes a turn for the worse and I have no sense of joy or fulfillment. Forgive me for focusing more on the fruit than on the Fruit Producer. Please show me how to abide in You and You in me so Your life can flow through mine and produce much fruit for the glory of the Father. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 534.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 3

“And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b

The third way to becoming more fruitful for the Lord is to RECOGNIZE THE PRUNING PROCESS (John 15:2b-3). Jesus said to eleven believing disciples, And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2b). Pruning grape vines is necessary during the growing season. So picture this: You are in fellowship and producing fruit, but God wants to produce more fruit in your life so He prunes you. The word “prunes”(kathairō), means “to make clean, purge.” 1  The natural tendency of a grapevine is to grow so vigorously that the leaves and branches block out the sun where the fruit should form. The vinedresser must cut away the excess growth so that more grapes will be produced.

In a similar way, God will cut away excessive commitments or lesser priorities in our lives (which are not necessarily wrong) in order for us to produce even more fruit for His glory. This involves the removal of self from our lives. God prunes us to encourage us to let go of that which might prevent us from accomplishing even more for His glory. God may use pain in our lives to remove excessive commitments.

Ask yourself, “Where do I hurt?” God may be pruning you in that area. He may be calling you to go where the lost people are but your excessive commitments are preventing you from going. He may want you to create more space in your life to meet alone with Him, but your priorities have become imbalanced making it difficult for you to do this. Even though we are in fellowship with the Lord, we are not perfect by any means. So the Lord must prune us.

One of the ways God may prune us is seen in the next verse. Jesus says to them, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). The word “clean” (katharoi) is the adjective form of the verb “prunes” (kathairō) in verse 2. God prunes us through His Word (cf. Ephesians 5:26).

Constable notes, “‘Cleansing’ the branches involved washing off deposits of insects, moss, and other parasites that tend to infest the plant. Jesus gave this teaching in the spring when farmers did what He described in this verse.” 2

Jesus assumed His disciples had already been pruned (“You are already clean”) by His recent words at the Lord’s Supper (John 13:1-14:31). They had already been cleansed positionally by believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:35-51; 2:11; 3:16; 11:25-26; 13:10a), except Judas who refused to believe in Christ (John 13:10b-11; cf. 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). At that moment of faith in Christ alone for salvation, these eleven disciples were cleansed of all their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. John 2:11; Acts 15:7-9; Revelation 1:5b). But these believing disciples (and us) needed daily cleansing through the pruning of God’s Word in their lives. Jesus’ teaching was and is a cleansing agent that would make it possible for them (and us) to bear more fruit for Him and the Father’s glory.

While we are in fellowship with Jesus, God’s Word exposes our sin, our misplaced priorities and commitments, to promote growth in our Christian lives so we can become more fruitful for the Lord. Take time today to ask the Lord where He wants to do His pruning in your life. You will be glad you did.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving me enough to prune or cleanse me of things in my life that hinder me from bearing more fruit for Your glory. Now I understand why I have been hurting so much in certain areas of my life. You have been trying to remove the excessive commitments and misplaced priorities in my life so I can spend more time with You, doing the things You created me to do – loving You and listening to You speak truth into my heart and mind. Forgive me, O Lord, for thinking far more of myself than You. Thank You for the pain You have allowed in my life to nudge me closer to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 386-387.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282.