An Exposition of John 15:1-17
by Anna Hunsaker -- Denver, Colorado, USA
The disciples had just shared in the Passover Supper with Jesus. He humbly washed their feet and began to describe the events that would lead to his crucifixion. It is uncertain how much the disciples understood about what was about to take place, but Jesus proceeds to comfort them and prepare them for his coming death. Through the Last Supper, the washing of the feet, and Jesus’ words in John 14 about the way to the Father and the promised Holy Spirit, Jesus emphasizes the themes of unity, obedience, and love. This section of scripture, along with chapters 15, 16, and 17 continue in these themes and have become known as Jesus’ farewell discourse.
Jesus knew that He was about to leave the disciples, and he takes this time to prepare them “for their mission in the period of his absence between his resurrection and return.”1 It is clear from John’s gospel and the chapters of this discourse that Jesus prioritized both preparing and encouraging his followers. He wanted to inform them of how to remain in connection with Him, encourage them to not fall away, and tell them to continue in the love he had shown. Derickson says it this way: “Jesus was discussing his relationship to them as their source of life and as the one whose ministry would be continued through the Holy Spirit after his departure... the disciples responded with worry and sorrow, Jesus was reassuring and comforting them.”2 In John chapter 15:1-17, he uses an analogy of a vine and its branches to summarize these important lessons. In this passage, Jesus prepares his disciples for his time away from Earth by challenging them to remain in Him through obedience and love. By abiding in this way, Christians will bear the fruit of righteousness and salvation and maintain the relationships that bring glory to God.
The Analogy & Viticulture in Palestinian Culture
John 15:1-17 is centered around an analogy of a vine and its branches; and therefore, it cannot be accurately understood without a discussion of viticulture in Jesus’ day. It is not surprising that Jesus would use an agricultural analogy, since the “culture of the Bible was principally agrarian”3 and “viticulture was an integral aspect of first-century Judah’s culture.”4 This is evident from ancient documents, including the writings of Pliny and a contract for labor in a vineyard (from AD 280).5 Agrarian comparisons were also used often in Christ’s teachings recorded in the Gospel accounts (i.e. The Parable of the Sower, The Parable of the Weeds, The Parable of the Mustard Seed, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.) Because agrarian practices were familiar, Jesus used them so that his audience would be more likely to understand his teachings.
Not only was viticulture familiar in Palestine, but vines and vineyards were a common motif in ancient religions. “Vines were often used to express fruitfulness, dependence, vital union, [and] pruning.”6 It was also “associated with the life of the people.”7 This comparison was frequent in Judaism as well. One evidence of this is that the image of a vine was stamped on coins minted by Jews during the Maccabean period.”8 The writers of the Old Testament also used this image often (Psalm 80:8-11, Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 15:1-8, to name a few). It is clear that viticulture was familiar as a practice and a symbol in Jesus’ day, so it makes a wise choice of analogy for his teachings.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
This important portion of Jesus’ final discourse begins with the analogy of the vine and branches. In verse 14:31, Jesus ends one portion of the discussion with his disciples and says, “come now; let us leave.” There is no transition from this statement to John 15:1, which says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Because of this, there have been arguments about the structure, composition, and unity of this section of John. Some scholars believe that John 15-17 was a later addition to the text. Others argue that Jesus’ words to depart were the later addition. It is also possible that both verses were in the original text and that John excluded detail about where Jesus and the disciples went until later in his account (John 18:1). Ultimately, these questions are of little significance to the meaning of John 15:1-17. This passage relates to the themes of the rest of the farewell discourse and indeed the other writings of John (which will be elaborated further in this paper).
What is interesting to note is that if Jesus and his disciples left the house where the Passover supper took place, they may have walked past some vineyards that prompted Jesus’ analogy. Some scholars hold to this view. Others, however, believe that the vine and branches analogy “does not depend so much on the practices of viticulture in the days of either Jesus or John, but rather depends on the portrayal of Israel as a vine.”9 As mentioned earlier, vines and vineyards were used in many Old Testament writings, and especially in relation to Israel as a nation. This view makes the most sense, especially when we consider how Jesus begins his analogy.
In John 15:1, Jesus begins by saying, “I am the true vine.” The word “vine” would prompt the disciples to recall familiar Old Testament references to Israel as a vine. These include Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:1-5, 17:1-21, 19:10-15; and Psalm 80:8-18. According to John Hutchinson, “in every instance when Israel in its historical life is depicted in the Old Testament as a vine or vineyard, the nation is set under the judgement of God for its corruption, sometimes explicitly for its failure to produce good fruit.”10 Israel as God’s vineyard/ vine was corrupted. It grew wild (Jer 2:21) or became useless (Ezek 15:1-5). With this in mind, Jesus declares that he is the true vine. According to Peter Bolt, “Israel, having begun as God’s choice vine had degenerated, and now Jesus announces that, in this new stage in salvation history, he replaces Israel.”11 He is the fulfillment of the type.
This fulfillment is made clear through the usage of the term “true” and the definite article in the sentence. First of all, the word “true” is the Greek alēthinos, which means real, genuine, or trustworthy. It is used nine times in the Gospel of John: “true light” (Jesus), “true worshippers,” “truly I tell you,” God is true, Jesus’ decisions are true, and his testimony is true. This term is also used twice in 1 John: “truth,” and in saying that God is true. Based on these references, John’s usage of this word seems to best mean “real” or “genuine.” Jesus is describing himself as the real vine in place of Israel. “The true vine is the one that is the highest, most ultimate realization, the perfect replacing the imperfect.”12 Through this imagery, Jesus establishes that he is the “messianic fulfillment of Old Testament imagery,”13 and that he would be the way to produce fruit and honor God.
Verse 1 continues with Jesus saying that his Father, God, is the vineyard gardener. This immediate reference to God is characteristic of the Gospel of John. Leon Morris says that “Father and Son are never regarded as separate entities each going His way regardless of the other. John sees them as working together.”14 Indeed, Jesus makes clear that His connection to the Father is essential and that he relies on God’s authority. As the vinedresser, God rules over the vine and the branches. Unlike in the Jewish mindset of Jesus’ day, “it is God, and not the religious leaders, who will prune and dress the vine and finally received the harvest.”15 This again shows that Israel was not the true vine or the gardener. God is the ultimate authority. Not only so, but he also cares for the vineyard. He “feels a deep interest in its growth and welfare.”16 God desires good for his people, his vineyard, which is why he established Jesus as the true vine.
God also creates a healthy vineyard by cutting off the branches that don’t bear fruit and pruning those that do. Before elaborating on the cutting and pruning, it is important to discuss who the “branches” are. The Calvinist view is that non-fruit bearing branches are “nonbelievers within the visible church who appear to be believers but are spiritually fruitless.” Another way of understanding this is that these branches profess faith but are not truly faithful. A differing view is that the unfruitful branches are believers who are initially cared for by God but are later disciplined by being cast out of the fellowship. According to this view, the disciplined believer still receives salvation. Based on the context, it is most likely that the branches refer to disciples. During this teaching, Jesus is speaking to the apostles, not the general crowds. Later in the passage, he tells them to remain in him, meaning that there would be the possibility of being “cut off.” He even warns them in John 16:1 to not fall away. Disciples, followers of Christ, have the risk of being cut-off from the vine.
The Greek word for “cut-off” is airō. This word means to cut-off or take away, lift, carry, remove, or destroy. It is used 23 times in the Gospel of John. Eight of those times it is used to mean “lift up,” while the other thirteen times have the meaning: “take away.” Because “branches” refers to believers, the translation here is most likely “take away.” If there is no fruit, no evidence of belief, then the branch will be cut off from Christ. They will no longer be united with the true vine. (This will be expounded in the discussion of verse 6).
The followers that do bear fruit, on the other hand, will be pruned. The Greek word for prune is kathairō which means to cleanse, clear, or prune. It is only used in this passage of scripture but is a known vinicultural process. A vinedresser would remove dead or overgrown branches that were inhibiting growth. In the same way “God the Father, through loving discipline (cleansing, purging, purifying), removes things from the lives of believers that do not contribute to their spiritual fruitfulness.”20 These branches are not removed but are cleaned. The Adams Clarke Commentary says it this way, “The branch which bears not fruit, the husbandman taketh IT away; but the branch that beareth fruit, he taketh away FROM it...everything that might hinder its increasing fruitfulness.”21 God wants disciples to remain connected to Christ and to bear fruit.
What does it mean to “bear fruit”? There are varying views on this concept as well. The main debate is whether fruit refers to good works or converts to Christianity. According to most commentators (i.e. Matthew Henry, Leon Morris, Frank Pack, and Albert Barnes), fruit means good works or Christ-like characteristics because of the references to “fruit” elsewhere in the New Testament. Others, like Peter Bolt and Richard Choi believe that fruit-bearing means making disciples. Bolt references John 12:24 in which the kernel of wheat falling to the ground to produce a crop relates to the growth of the kingdom.22 Choi references the parable of the soils in which the growth of seed underscores “the gospel of preaching.”23 All of these are valid points, and “fruit” represents both character and making disciples in different parts of the New Testament. It seems most likely then, that bearing fruit in John 15:1-17 means both. BNN says it this way: bearing fruit means “to show by our lives that we are under the influence of the religion of Christ... also to live so as to be useful to others.”24 In other words, if one lives by the fruit of the Spirit, with Christ-like characteristics and good works, they will also influence the lives of others and help lead them to the salvation that Christ offers. Without the fruit of righteous living, the kingdom of God will not grow. This idea also relates to the pruning that Jesus talks about in verse 2. God cleanses the heart so that good works can be produced.
After expressing this, Jesus tells his disciples (in verse 3) that they are already clean because of what he has taught them. The word “clean” here is the same word used for “prune” in verse 2. As Jesus has been teaching the disciples, their hearts have been pruned. At the time of Jesus’ departure from Earth, they had already been prepared to bear fruit.25 This shows that Jesus is encouraging, not reproaching the disciples. He is telling them how they can continue on spiritually when he is gone: by remaining in him and in his word. The word of Christ is highlighted here because “there is a cleansing virtue in that word, as it works grace, and works out corruption.”26 By holding to Jesus’ teachings, the disciples would continually be pruned and prepared to bear fruit.
The concept of remaining in Jesus is brought to the forefront of the passage in verse 4. The word “remain” or “abide” is used 10 times throughout John 15:1-10, so it is clearly an important concept. Hutchinson says that because of the frequency of this command, “one can conclude that union and communion with Christ, as well as dependence on Him, are important in the vine illustration.”27 The word in Greek is menō and means “to stay” (as in to remain, live, dwell, abide) and occurs 122 times in the New Testament. Its uses in John include references to the Spirit remaining on Jesus, terms of physical location, remaining in Jesus (as in communion), holding to His teachings, belonging to God’s family, remaining guilt, and the Spirit being in the disciples. It is generally agreed that in the context of John 15, this term means to be in close connection with Christ through faith and obedience. Carl Laney says it this way: “To ‘abide’ is to maintain a vital, life-giving connection with Christ, the vine, the Source of life.”28 Pack’s definition adds to this. He says that to “abide means being loyal to Christ, faithful to his commands.”29 Obedience and faith are important to the concept of loyalty, and loyalty allows one to maintain a committed relationship.
Jesus expands on this line of teaching in the verses 5-8. Verse 5 is a “Johannine repetition”30 in which concepts from verse 1-2 are repeated and specified (a technique that John uses throughout his writing). Jesus is the vine and the disciples are the branches, and they will only bear fruit as they remain in Him. The teaching then goes a step further by Jesus saying that “apart from me you can do nothing.” This is the “why” behind the command to abide in Christ. “The Christian is totally dependent on Christ for his spiritual life and achievements.”31
This leads to the conditional statement that if one does not remain in Jesus, if they live apart from him, they wither and are thrown into the fire (verse 6). This verse expands on verse 2a and makes evident that the unfruitful branch is a disloyal Christian. Jesus is speaking to the disciples when he says: “if you do not remain in me...” He is not addressing non-Christians. Adams Clarke says it this way: “No man can cut off a branch from a tree to which that branch was never united.”32 This is a warning to those who are followers of Christ; if they pull away from Jesus (if they stop depending on and obeying him) they are removed. This is not a forceful removal by God but a choice of the person. In viticulture, branches that wither eventually fall away from the vine on their own. It is at the end of the season that these dead branches would be removed and burned.33
The Greek word for “burned” in this text is kaiō, which means to cause to burn, kindle, or light or to consume with fire. It is used 13 times in the New Testament, and twice in John (in this passage and in reference to a burning lamp). It is also a term found in Ezekiel 15:1-5 in which the “useless” branch of a vine is burned as fuel. This is likely the passage Jesus is referencing when making this analogy in verse 6. Those who pull away from Christ become useless. They no longer bear fruit because “apart from [Jesus they] can do nothing.” Disconnection from the vine preludes unfruitfulness which leads to being “thrown into the fire.” This is likely a reference to judgement34 or the “fires of Hell.”35 Although some argue that these fires are only earthly discipline,36 the practice of gathering branches and burning them was an end of harvest event. At the end times, when Jesus returns, those not connected to him will not be saved. Acts 4:12 says of Jesus that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Jesus set out this warning to his followers because he wants them to remain connected to him: the way of salvation.
He repeats the conditional phrase: “if you remain in me” in verse 7, but this time he adds “and my words remain in you.” In order to be in close relationship with Christ, one must remember and live by his words. Although briefly mentioned here, Jesus expounds on obedience in verses 9-17 (which will be covered later in this paper). Verse 7 continues with the result of the condition. If one remains in Jesus and keeps his words, they can ask whatever they wish and it will be done.” Most commentators agree that these things asked for are not any and every prayer. God is not a genie bending to our every wish. Rather, the thought here is that when one abides in Christ, their connection to him guides their asking. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament describes how branches in Christ “become united to him in all our interests, and have common feelings, common desires, and a common destiny with him.”37 In connection with prayer, Morris says, “When the believer abides in Christ and Christ’s words abide in him then he lives as close to Christ as well may be. Then his prayers will be prayers that are in accord with God’s will and they will be fully answered.”38 When a person abides in Jesus and lives by his words, the overflow of their heart will naturally lead them to desire what He desires, and they will ask for that.
What does God desire? Jesus answers this in verse 8: bearing much fruit and showing oneself to be a disciple. This means that discipleship and fruitfulness (good character and evangelism) go hand in hand. It is also a process. Jesus here is still speaking to his disciples and says that they will demonstrate their discipleship by their continual growth. Morris says, “discipleship is not static, but a growing and developing way of life. Always the true disciple is becoming more fully a disciple,”39 and this brings glory to God.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
It would seem that this section of scripture begins a new thought or teaching from Jesus, but it is a continuation of the vine analogy. It turns to love and obedience as an explanation of the imagery.40 Jesus begins this further explanation by first paralleling his previous teaching. Verse 9a speaks of the Father, Jesus, and the disciples, which parallels the gardener, true vine, and branches of verse 1. Then 9b speaks of abiding, which we know is one of the main themes of verses 1-8. Jesus is clearly connecting verses 9-17 with the vine analogy.
Not only is this section a continuation from earlier verses, but it also elaborates on them. Jesus explains how to be branches that abide in the vine and extends the concept of unity. The theme of unity is brought to the forefront from the beginning of this section. Verse 9 says, “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” God, Christ, and disciples are united in love. “Believers are drawn in to a chain of love, into the intimacy and oneness that characterizes Jesus’ own relationship with his heavenly father.”41 Remaining in Jesus means remaining in his love, and it all starts with God’s love extended to Him. “Discipleship rests upon the Father’s love.”42 This love is the foundation and inspiration for all actions that flow from a follower of Jesus.
How do we remain in this chain of love? Jesus explains in verse 10 that the answer is obedience. “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” The word “keep” in Greek is tēreō which means to keep; guard; mark attentively to or obey; keep strictly; preserve. In the times that John uses this term in his Gospel, it most often means to obey or keep commandments. “It is simple obedience. It is when a man keeps Christ’s commandments that he abides in Christ’s love.”43 One is reminded of John’s message in 1 John 2, which says that we know God and are complete in his love if we keep his commands. In verse 6 of 1 John 2 he says, “whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” John may have been recalling Jesus’ final discourse when penning this letter because just as he says in verse 6, so Jesus teaches in chapter 15 verse 10b. The disciples are to obey him and remain in his love just as he obeys God and remains in his love. The phrase “have kept” here is in the perfect tense which emphasizes Jesus’ completed obedience to the Father.44 Jesus did not expect his disciples to do anything that he had not already done. “Just as (and ‘because’) Jesus fulfilled the commands of the Father and thus abides in the Father’s love, so too must the disciples of Jesus fulfill Jesus’ commands if they are to abide in his love.”45 This is not to say that Jesus expects perfection from his followers (he knows our weaknesses),46 but that he expects the continual decision to obey and abide.
The continual obedience in love and abiding in Christ results in his joy, a complete joy. “Complete” in the Greek is plēroō meaning to fulfill; fill up; influence; complete; consummate; and accomplish. Most of John’s usage of this word is in relation to fulfillment of scripture or a full measure of some emotion. The word joy, as used in John, is emphasized in Jesus’ final discourse. It is only used in 3:29 previously in this Gospel. This shows Jesus’ desire to encourage his followers as he prepared them for his death on the cross. In this instance, he connects joy to obedience and abiding in him through love. Joy will not come through things of this world. Matthew Henry says that “worldly joys are empty, soon surfeit but never fully satisfy.”47 Even though obedience is not easy (in following parts of the farewell discourse, Jesus describes persecution to come), it is worth it. Half-heartedness and hypocrisy would not do. “To be halfhearted is to get the worst of both worlds,”48 and “the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment, but the joy of those who abide in Christ’s love is a continual feast.”49 Followers of Christ would have to decide if they would obey him no matter the circumstances. If they would, he promised fullness of joy, an internal joy that is everlasting.
The motivation for the decision to obey and receive joy is again rooted in love. Jesus explicitly commands his disciples in verse 12 to love one another. The chain of love (Father-Jesus-Disciples) in verse 9 is “complete in 15:12 when the disciples learn that the love that binds God to Jesus, and Jesus to his followers, is also to be manifest in their relationship with each other.”50 Love for one another is what ties this passage together. We abide in Christ, who abides in God, by loving him. And that love is shown through obedience. Obedience requires action which is only made possible through loving interactions with others. Again, as in verse 10, Jesus lays out a command that he has already fulfilled. “Love each other as I have loved you.” He elaborates on his type of love in verse 13, saying that his great love is that of laying down his life. “To John’s way of thinking, the power of such love is utterly compelling.”51 The love that he was about to show on the cross was to be their motivation and example in loving one another. Fernando Segovia says, “this specific command of Jesus to the disciples is grounded directly on the mode of Jesus’ love for them.”52 Love for one another ties John 15:1-17 together, but that love for one another is rooted in the ultimate love of Christ.
Jesus also shows love to his followers by calling them “friends” (verses 14-15). The Greek word filos means one who is loved, dear, and devoted; or friend. John uses the term to describe friendship. It is a word that has lost some of its meaning in the English language. According to Frances Gench, “In the Greco-Roman world, friendship was a much-discussed and highly-esteemed relationship. Our own, often quite casual use of the language of friendship does not do justice to it.”53 In other words, this pronouncement that disciples are Jesus’ friends is special. “It is a breath-taking announcement, unique to John: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the very revelation of God’s own self, calls us friends.”54 It is becoming more and more evident through this passage that the encouragement and confidence that the Christians needed after Jesus’ death is relationship.
Followers of Christ are brought into loving friendship through his choosing. In Jewish culture, a student usually chose the Rabbi that they wanted to follow and learn from. In the case of Christ, however, he chose his pupils. “It did not begin on their side: You have not chosen me, but I first chose you.”55 This shows the incredible favor and grace of Jesus and that, once again, he has gone first in that which he expects of his followers. He chose them and expected them to choose him back and to do what they were appointed for. The Greek word “appointed” in verse 16 is tithēmi meaning to place; to lay; to set or appoint; to assign; and commit. In John’s Gospel, it is most often used in reference to the phrase “lay down one’s life.” Based on the context of this verse, however, it seems likely that the word “appointed” is appropriate. Jesus chose his followers and assigned them a task: to bear lasting fruit.
As referenced earlier in this paper, bearing fruit can be applied to righteous character or evangelism. In this instance, it seems that the latter is best. Jesus tells the disciples to go and bear fruit. “Going” is an external action, not an inner state of being. He had also just mentioned, in verse 15, that he made the Father’s will known to them. In other words, “the treasure of the gospel was committed to them.”56 They knew the message of Christ, and they were about to understand it even better through his death and resurrection. Because of this, Jesus appointed them for the mission of spreading the gospel. “The emphasis now is upon their going out and bringing his words of salvation to men.”57 The fruit of evangelism is lasting because it leads others to eternal life.
Jesus promises that, by following their appointed mission, the disciples could pray in his name and receive what they ask for (verse 16). This parallels verse 7: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” According to Bolt, this “must be understood within the context of Jesus’ mission and the promised fruit-bearing...God will answer requests directed by Jesus’ mission so that fruit might come.”58 By connecting to the mission of Christ, one will pray with the desires of that mission, and God will be glorified by answering. In all of this, the chain of love continues. Christians love others by sharing the salvation message of Christ, which is in obedience to Christ. This keeps the disciples connected to and brings others into connection with Jesus, who always abides in the Father.
This is why Jesus’ final statement in this section is an appropriate conclusion. “This is my command: Love each other.” Love is the connecting piece. It connects disciples to one another, to Jesus, and to God. Jesus’ love is the example and motivation for bearing fruit. Love is obedience. Love is the way to abiding in Christ and bringing others into the vine. “No other duty of religion is more frequently inculcated, nor more pathetically urged upon us, by our Lord Jesus, than that of mutual love.”59 Jesus knew that the message of love is what his disciples need to cling to at the time of his death and departure from Earth.
John 15:1-17 recounts an essential message from Jesus to his followers in preparation for his death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven. He challenged them to remain faithful to Him through love and obedience. “Jesus’ message to His disciples was that, though He was departing, the Father was still caring for them. To bear the fruit God intended, they needed to continue to rely on Jesus and to respond to his instruction.”60 He called them to produce fruit, through “the vital union with Christ,”61 of good character and making disciples, in order to bring glory to God. Ultimately, he showed them the importance of relationship through the unifying love of Father, Son, and one another.
This message from Christ, all those years ago, still rings true today. It was not only a message to the apostles who were with Jesus the night before his crucifixion, but it is for all those who are brought into connection with the true vine by becoming disciples. As Christians, we need to consider the text in light of how it applies to us. John 15:1-17 focuses on ideas and themes that are not restricted to a certain culture or time period. Viticultural analogies can still be understood today, and the concepts of obedience and love in action transcend time and place.
With that being said, how does John 15:1-17 apply to me personally? I am a follower of Christ, so I must heed these words, especially since they were addressed to His followers. The command to “love each other” is the biggest lesson for me. I don’t typically struggle with loving God. I enjoy spending time with him and rarely get angry with him. With imperfect people, on the other hand, I am easily selfish with my time and effort. Frustration or anger can flare up quickly with others as well. It is convicting to understand more deeply that connection with Jesus requires love for others.
At the same time, it is important to note that connection with Jesus also allows us to love others. “We have as necessary and constant a dependence upon the grace of the Mediator for all the actions of the spiritual and divine life.”62 In this very passage, Jesus tells us that we can do nothing apart from him (verse 5). This means that I can love other people because of the power and love of Christ. The fruit of love will only be produced as I rely on Christ, and that fruit will in turn bring deeper connection to Him as my vine.
I want to be a branch that is bearing fruit from the nutrients that the true vine provides. This means continuing to spend time reading the Bible and praying in order to know the commands of God to be obeyed. It means spending time with God to be filled up by him. When he is my strength and source of direction, producing the fruit of loving others will be more natural. I also want to bring others into connection with the true vine. This means loving others enough to share the Gospel message about Christ. Teaching about Jesus helps others develop their own relationship with him. Others can be grafted into the vine as I have been. They can come to abide in Christ and be saved from the fire. I am convicted to take seriously the mission which Jesus has appointed me. Ultimately, I am moved by this passage to love others. Not only does love have salvation potential, but it brings glory to God.
The church can also grow in glorifying God through relationships. We live in a society that is all about “self.” Individualism runs rampant in the minds and actions of many. Despite technological connections, humans are more isolated than ever before. It is a problem that Jesus addressed in John 15:1-17 by emphasizing the opposite: unity and love. “The Johannine themes of mutual, self-giving love and the love of friendship are no less profound [today], with power to address our own deep hunger for community amidst the individualism, isolation, and transience that characterize much of modern, Western life.”63 It is God’s plan that the body of Christ be the physical hands of love that reach out to the hurting world. We can do a much better job of extending love to others. Hospitality is a great practical way to extend community to the lonely. Are we welcoming people into our homes? Are we inviting them to spend time with our families and friends? People long for connection, and the church can provide it! We can connect people with one another and to Christ.
In John 13:35, Jesus tells the disciples that everyone will know that they are his followers by their love for one another. The church can have great impact by its love for each other within the body of believers. Showing love helps keep each other connected to Christ. The apostles were with Jesus and one another for three years. They made mistakes, learned lessons, ate meals, and lived life together. It is likely that they felt like family. Are our church members living life together? Maybe we can’t spend an extended amount of time traveling together, but we can still develop close relationships. Through time spent and vulnerability in conversations, people can become more connected. Jesus wants his followers to not only be connected to him but to each other. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”64 Deep, familial relationships will impact hearts both inside and outside of the church, and they will glorify God.
1Bolt, Peter, “What Fruit Does the Vine Bear? Some Pastoral Implications of John 15:1-8,” The Reformed Theological Review: 17, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
2Derickson, Gary W, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (Spring 1996): 47, accessed April 26, 2018. EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
3Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 34.
4Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 44.
5Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 44.
6 Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” Bibliotheca Sacra 168 (Spring 2011): 64, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
7Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11 (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company, 1977), 72.
8Laney, J. Carl, “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Spring 1989): 56, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
9 Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 70.
10Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 67.
11 Bolt, Peter, “What Fruit Does the Vine Bear? Some Pastoral Implications of John 15:1-8,” 11.
12Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 67.
13Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 64.
14Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 669.
15 Choi, P. Richard, “I Am the Vine: An Investigation of the Relations Between John 15:1-6 and Some Parables of the Synoptic Gospels,” 57, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
16Barnes, Albert, Commentary on John 15, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Accessed May 1, 2018, http://classic.studylight.org/com/bnn/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=015.
17 Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 35.
18Clarke, Adam, Commentary on John 15, The Adam Clarke Commentary, 1832. Accessed May 1, 2018, http://classic.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=015.
19Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 41.
20Laney, J. Carl, “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6,” 57.
21Clarke, Adam, Commentary on John 15, The Adam Clarke Commentary.
22Bolt, Peter, “What Fruit Does the Vine Bear? Some Pastoral Implications of John 15:1-8,” 16.
23 Choi, P. Richard, “I Am the Vine: An Investigation of the Relations Between John 15:1-6 and Some Parables of the Synoptic Gospels,” 60.
24Barnes, Albert, Commentary on John 15, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament.
25Bolt, Peter, “What Fruit Does the Vine Bear? Some Pastoral Implications of John 15:1-8,” 11.
26Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete) 1706. Accessed May 1, 2018, http://classic.studylight.org/com/mhc-com/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=015.
27Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 64.
28Laney, J. Carl, “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6,” 65.
29Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 73.
30Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 74.
31Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 74.
32Clarke, Adam, Commentary on John 15, The Adam Clarke Commentary.
33Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 50.
34Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 37.
35Clarke, Adam, Commentary on John 15, The Adam Clarke Commentary.
36Laney, J. Carl, “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6,” 55-66.
37Barnes, Albert, Commentary on John 15, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament.
38Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, 672.
39Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, 672.
40Segovia, Fernando F, “The Theology and Provenance of John 15:1-17,” Journal of Biblical Literature 101, no. 1 (1982): 119, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
41Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology 58, no. 2 (April 2004): 183, accessed April 26, 2018, EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
42Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 75.
43Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, 673.
44Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 75.
45Segovia, Fernando F, “The Theology and Provenance of John 15:1-17,” 123.
47Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
48Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, 674.
49Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
50Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” 183.
51Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” 183.
52Segovia, Fernando F, “The Theology and Provenance of John 15:1-17,” 124.
53Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” 182.
54Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” 183.
55Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
56Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
57Pack, Frank, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11, 78.
58Bolt, Peter, “What Fruit Does the Vine Bear? Some Pastoral Implications of John 15:1-8,” 19.
59Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
60Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” 52.
61Hutchinson, John C, “The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ‘I Am’ Statements,” 65.
62Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on John 15, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
63Gench, Frances Taylor, “John 15:12-17,” 184.
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Gench, Frances Taylor. “John 15:12-17.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology.58, no. 2 (April 2004): 181-184. Accessed April 26, 2018. EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
Henry, Matthew. Complete Commentary on John 15.Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). N.p. 1706. Accessed May 1, 2018. http://classic.studylight.org/com/mhc-com/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=015.
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Laney, J. Carl. “Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6.” Bibliotheca Sacra (Spring 1989): 55-66. Accessed April 26, 2018. EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John.Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.
Pack, Frank. The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel According to John Part 11. Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company, 1977.
Segovia, Fernando F. “The Theology and Provenance of John 15:1-17.” Journal of Biblical Literature101, no. 1 (1982): 115-128. Accessed April 26, 2018. EBSCOhost ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.
Anna Hunsaker grew up in the International Church of Christ in Charlotte, North Carolina and is incredibly grateful for how her parents and community raised her. She moved to Denver three years ago and has been working as an administrator for the Denver Church of Christ but will be starting a teaching job in August. She is a proud member of the DCC Singles Ministry and is excited to be pursuing her Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies through the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.