John 15

15:1 [the last of Jesus’ “I am” sayings] “I am the true [genuine] vine, and my Father is the gardener [farmer; vinedresser; the owner of the vine; the one who cultivates the vine so that it will produce its maximum yield].

This is the last of Jesus’ seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel. Jesus either spoke these words in the upper room or as He and His disciples walked to the garden of Gethsemane (14:31). Jesus presented Himself as the true vine and the Father as the gardener—the One who owns and cultivates the vineyard. Vineyards were a common sight in Israel and important to the nation’s economy. The prophets had described Israel as a vine planted and tended by God. However, Israel yielded bad fruit by refusing to love and obey God (see Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21).

15:2 He cuts off [to lift up; to take away; to trim clean; to prune] every branch [shoot of a vine; in this case a reference to people; removal of dead wood] in me that bears no fruit [perhaps those who have not made a genuine commitment of faith to Jesus or unproductive believers], while every branch [trimming of live wood to increase fruit-bearing potential] that does bear fruit he prunes [cleanse by pruning] so [purpose: to produce more fruit] that it will be even more fruitful.

The Father removes dead wood and carefully trims live wood to increase the potential for fruit bearing. He cuts off or removes every branch that is unfruitful. Jesus’ words should not be interpreted to mean that it is possible for believers to lose their salvation (see John 6:37; 10:27-30). The Father also prunes or cuts back the branches that bear fruit in order to increase fruit bearing.

Pruning involves the removal of dead wood, unnecessary buds, and shoots that rob a plant of nutrients. We can be certain that God will prune us by removing from our lives the things that keep us from bearing fruit. The term fruit sometimes refers to converts to Christ (Rom. 1:13). Jesus probably used the term in a broader sense to include the fruit of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23) and the deeds His love inspires us to do (see Matt. 25:31-40).

15:3 You are already clean [sincere devotion; describes the condition of being forgiven of sins; same as justified or born again; cf. Jn. 13:10] because of the word I have spoken to you.

The word clean comes from the same root as the verb meaning “to prune.” Being clean describes the condition of being forgiven of sins. The disciples were already clean because they had accepted the Lord’s word. They were now ready for fruit bearing. Judas however, was not included in this cleansing (John 13:10).

15:4 Remain [abide or continue; denotes a vital union between Jesus and believers; same relationship as being “in Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:17); cf. 1 Jn. 2:19; an imperative] in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself [or apart from the source of life that is in the vine]; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain [have a vital, spiritual union with] in me.

Jesus commanded His disciples to remain or to abide in Him. Jesus used the verb “remain” several times in this passage to denote the intimate union that must exist between Him and believers. This union is essential to bearing fruit. Jesus did not command His followers to produce fruit but to remain in Him. When believers remain in Him, fruit comes naturally. But, just as a branch cannot grow or bear fruit apart from the vine, so believers cannot grow or bear fruit apart from Christ.

15:5 “I am the vine; you [Jesus’ disciples] are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will [certainty; the inevitable result of being in vital union with Christ] bear much fruit [fruitfulness is normal for believers]; apart from [without] me you can do nothing [nothing worthwhile or lasting].

Jesus said believers are the branches. He emphasized the vital union that must exist between the branches and the vine. God wants believers to be fruitful.

Positively stated, each branch that remains attached to the vine will bear much fruit. As believers submit to Jesus daily and follow His will, they bear the fruit that He produces.

Negatively stated, any branch that does not remain attached to the vine can do nothing—or at least nothing worthwhile or of eternal value.

Like Paul, we must always keep in mind that our strength for living and serving comes from Christ (Phil. 4:13).

15:6 [cf. 15:2] If anyone does not [we have a choice in this matter] remain [have and maintain a vital, spiritual union with] in me, he is like a branch that is thrown [cast] away [out of the vineyard] and withers [to become dry]; such branches [cf. Jn. 17:12 re: Judas] are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned [cf. warnings re: punishment of the wicked: Matt. 13:42,50; Mk. 9:48; Lk. 16:24; 2 Thess. 1:8; Jude 7; Rev. 20:14,15].

Jesus said that an unfruitful believer is as useless as an unfruitful branch. A branch that does not bear fruit is thrown away and withers. The fibrous grapevine cannot be used to make furniture nor can it be carved or shaped into any useful object. Jesus said that such branches are good only for fuel. Jesus was not talking about salvation, but about fruitfulness. Branches that do not bear fruit will experience the sting of God’s disciplinary hand.

15:7 If [this word reminds us that it is possible for a believer to turn away from Christ; note two conditions] you [1] remain [abide] in me and [2] my words [the Scriptures] remain [abide] in [cf. Ps. 119:11; Col. 3:16] you, ask whatever [that which is in line with His words or with what Jesus would desire] you wish, and it will be given you.

Jesus shared two requirements for answered prayer. The first is remaining in Him. The second is allowing His words to remain or dwell in us. Paul admonished the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). How is this possible? Set aside a quiet period of time daily to read your Bible. Discipline yourself to memorize Scripture. Treasure in your heart the truths of the passages you read and memorize (Ps. 119:11).

When our hearts and minds are saturated with His words, we will pray in line with His will and purposes. The words ask whatever you wish suggest that our prayers should pertain to fruit bearing. What characterizes your prayers? Do you ask God to use you to help others believe? Do you ask Him to help you show more of the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Do you ask God for things that will glorify Him?

15:8 This is to my Father’s glory [praise], that you bear much fruit [personal godliness, loving deeds to others, witnessing to the lost], showing yourselves to be my disciples [proof of discipleship is fruit-bearing].

Composers have written stirring symphonies for the glory of God. Architects have built magnificent cathedrals and artists have painted beautiful works of art—all for the glory of God. But Jesus said that God is glorified when believers bear much fruit. Do others see Christ reflected in your character, in your loving deeds, and in your concern for those who are without Christ? What identifies you as a genuine disciple or follower of Christ?

15:9 “As the Father [the source and the model for all love] has loved [Gr. agape; without ceasing] me, so have I loved [without ceasing] you. Now remain [continue or abide; continue to live in] in my love.

John 3:16 begins with the words, “For God so loved.” God’s love is the source and model for all love. No one can love to the extent or to the degree to which God loves. God’s love always actively seeks the best for others and is a timeless, unceasing kind of love. Jesus assured His disciples that He loved them in the same way the Father loved Him—with the greatest love possible. Such love should inspire our complete commitment and obedience to His commands.

15:10 If you obey [to guard, to observe; the evidence of love is obedience] my commands [what He had been saying to His disciples;all other instruction He had given to them], you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands [concerning the incarnation and the cross that lay just ahead] and remain in his love.

Jesus said that we remain in His love by obeying His commands—just as He kept His Father’s commands (see John 14:31). The evidence of love is obedience. Jesus always sought to obey the Father. “I seek not to please myself,” said Jesus, “but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus also said, “I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29).

Paul later said that Jesus “became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). We should seek to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Just as Jesus obeyed the Father’s commands, so we should earnestly seek to obey His commands.

15:11 I have told you this [cf. Jn. 15:1-10] so that my joy [His own joy or the joy He imparted to others] may be in you and that your joy may be complete [to fulfill].

Jesus wanted His disciples to experience to the fullest the kind of joy that is possible only through a faith relationship with Him. The joy Jesus offers does not depend on outward circumstances. The joy He imparts comes from within and sustains us in the face of all kinds of difficulties and pressures—just as it did Jesus at the cross (Heb. 12:2).

The most joyful believers I know are those who love God and willingly obey His commands. Paul knew the kind of joy that only Jesus can impart. He wrote the most joyous book of the Bible, Philippians, while chained to a Roman guard.

15:12 My command is this [repeats substance of 13:34]: Love each other as I have loved you [summation of Jesus’ commands (15:10), as taught in Gal. 5:14].

Jesus repeated the command He had given earlier in the evening (13:34). Loving each other is not an option. Jesus expects His followers to love one another continuously, not just sporadically or impulsively. The love Jesus spoke of is more than a feeling; it is an act of the will, a decision to always seek the highest good of others.

We are to love others even when we don’t feel like it or when others are unlovable. The words “as I have loved you” remind us that the quality and kind of love Jesus expressed is the standard and guide we are to follow.

15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life [cf. Rom. 5:7-8; 1 Jn. 3:16] for [a substitute (as Jesus was our substitute on the cross)] his friends.

Actions demonstrate love. In a matter of hours Jesus would demonstrate His love by voluntarily (10:18) laying down His life for His friends—and for His enemies, too (Rom. 5:10). The word for means “a substitute” and reminds us that Jesus was our substitute on the cross.

John, who witnessed the crucifixion, later wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)”

We may never be called on to actually die for someone, but we must always be ready and willing to demonstrate sacrificial love in other ways. Loving others sacrificially in Christ’s name is the most productive use of our lives as believers.

15:14 You are my friends if you do [keep on doing] what I command [cf. Lk. 6:46].

Jesus called His disciples His friends. Jesus had called His disciples friends at least once before (Luke 12:4). Friendship involves mutual obligations. Jesus would lay down His life for His friends. As Jesus’ friends we are obligated to obey His command, in particular, the command to love each other as He has loved us. Loving Jesus is a prerequisite to loving others. If we fail to love one another as Jesus loves us we will not be able to convince the world that we are friends of Jesus.

15:15 I no longer call you servants [slaves; a slave is not expected to maintain an intimate friendship with his master, but to carry out the master’s orders], because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything [does not mean the disciples knew all that Jesus knew; likely indicates that they understood all things necessary to carry out their work] that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Jesus had referred to His disciples as servants in John 13:16. In a master-servant relationship, a servant was not privy to his master’s business. A servant’s responsibility is to faithfully carry out his master’s orders without question or complaint. Jesus elevated His disciples to a higher plane by calling them friends. Jesus’ disciples were still obligated to obey His commands, but were privileged to know the reason for the commands.

Jesus had shared with His disciples everything that He had learned from His Father. What Jesus shared, as well as what He did, became the content of the gospel message His friends would share with the world. Do you consider yourself a friend of Jesus or a reluctant servant?

15:16 You did not choose me, but [unlike rabbis and philosophers whose disciples chose them] I [Jesus took initiative] chose you [cf. Lk. 6:13] and appointed [a specific calling] you to go and bear fruit [purpose to which they were called] — fruit that will last [cf. Isa. 55:11]. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name [phrase limits our requests to that which is consistent with His will].

In Jesus’ day, would-be disciples often chose the rabbi they wanted to associate with. However, that was not the case with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had chosen and initiated a friendship with each of them. Jesus also appointed or commissioned them to bear fruit for the kingdom—fruit that will last.

Jesus would later command His followers to go into every corner of the world to invite others to become followers and friends of Jesus (Matt. 28:16-20). Jesus also promised that the Father would give them whatever they asked in His name.

Prayer is essential to bearing “fruit that will last.” Apart from prayer, no productive ministry exists through the life of a believer. Prayer is the key to a believer’s spiritual development and productive ministry.

Note: If you want to bear real fruit, then practice the spiritual disciplines that will enable you to be spiritually productive.
• Remain in vital union with Christ.
• Remove anything that keeps you from bearing fruit.
• Respond to Christ with obedience.
• Request only those things that will help you to bear fruit that will last.
• Review the Scriptures daily and allow its truths to dwell in your heart.
• Reproduce yourself by sharing your faith in Christ.

15:17 This is my command: Love each other [appropriate in light of Lk. 22:24].

Jesus repeated—for the third time (John 13:34-34; 15:12)—the command to love each other. Those who are Jesus’ friends keep this command and every other command of Jesus. John later wrote, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

15:18 “If [clause expresses a condition assumed as true; presents a fact rather than a possibility] the world [denotes the world order which takes no account of God or His will and purpose; society apart from and opposed to God; sinful people in their rebellion against God] hates [to detest, to abhor, to regard with ill will, rejection; cf. Matt. 5:12; hate is a choice] you, keep in mind [be aware of; discern; understand] that it hated [hated and still hates] me [Jesus; cf. 1 Pet. 4:1,12-13] first [King Herod sought to kill Jesus (cf. Matt. 2:13-16)].

Jesus, after speaking on the importance of love in the preceding verses, introduced the subject of hate. The if clause in this verse presents a fact rather than a possibility and should therefore be understood to mean “since.” The word world denotes sinful people who live in rebellion against God and give no consideration to Him, His will, or His purposes.

The world hates or detests those who claim allegiance to Jesus. This should come as no surprise because the world hated Jesus first. Herod tried to kill Jesus when He was only a child (Matt. 2:13-16). Religious leaders criticized Jesus, rejected His message, and “plotted to take His life” (John 11:53). In a matter of hours, religious leaders and the people would call for His crucifixion.

The book of Acts records accounts of the persecution experienced by the early followers of Jesus. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death by an angry mob (Acts 7:54-60). Saul breathed out “murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). After Paul’s conversion, the Jews in Damascus “conspired to kill him” (Acts 9:23). King Herod had James, the brother of John, “put to death with the sword” (Acts 12:2). Years later, Peter reminded Christians to expect persecution (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

In the last century, more Christians suffered persecution than in the previous centuries combined. The warning that the world hates and will reject us should serve as a motivation to fulfill the command to love each other (15:17). After all, if we do not love each other, who will?

15:19 If [clause expresses a condition which is unfulfilled or contrary to the fact] you belonged to the world, it would love [Gr. phileo] you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world [believers must be distinctive], but I have chosen you out of [we are in the world physically but not spiritually] the world. That is why [the world hates those who are identified with Christ] the world hates [keeps on hating] you.

The if clause in this verse expresses a condition that is contrary to fact. The disciples belonged to Jesus (17:6), not to the world. Jesus had chosen them out of the world. Those who place their faith in Jesus become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17) with the opportunity to “live a new life” (Rom. 6:4). They become citizens of “the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13) and are given a new destiny. They serve a new master and are under no obligation to obey or fulfill the desires of their old master (1 John 5:19). The world therefore hates or rejects those who refuse to be pressed into its mold (Rom. 12:2) and who are unwilling to be “a friend of the world” (Jas. 4:4).

If the world does not hate us, perhaps we should ask why? Rejection is painful and difficult to take. However, we must not hide our Christianity in order to avoid the pain of the world’s rejection. We must not remain silent about our faith in order to get the approval of the world. We must not hide our light (Matt. 5:15) because we fear offending those who hate the light (John 3:20). Too much is at stake when we choose to not reveal our Christian faith. Blending in with the world may make life more comfortable for us, but may keep others from ever seriously considering the claims of the gospel.

15:20 Remember the words [cf. Jn. 13:16] I spoke [earlier, Jesus had spoken to His disciples about imitating His acts of humble service] to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted [“to chase like a wild beast” (Robertson)] me [disciples had witnessed the criticism, opposition, and hatred Jesus faced], they will [inevitably] persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Remember refers to Jesus’ words spoken earlier that evening when He had told the disciples that no servant is greater than his master (13:16). In the previous context, Jesus had been speaking of their need to imitate His example of humble service. In this context, Jesus used the same expression to warn His disciples of one of the major risks of following Him—persecution.

To persecute means “to pursue” or “to chase like a wild animal.” The basic idea of the word is to pursue with the intention of doing harm (see Acts 22:4-5). Jesus wanted His disciples to remember the inevitability of their persecution and rejection. They would not be treated any better than Jesus. They would experience persecution from some of the people who rejected the gospel and acceptance from those who embraced it. Like the disciples, we should not be surprised when opposition comes because of our faith.

15:21 They [the world] will treat you this way [cf. Jn. 15:18-20] because of my name [or because of Jesus], for they do not know [the world is spiritually ignorant and blind] the One [God] who sent [on a redemptive mission; cf. Jn. 17:3] me [Jesus].

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand why persecution would occur. Understanding the cause of the world’s hatred would provide the disciples with the needed perspective to remain faithful to Christ. Jesus identified ignorance of God as a major cause of the world’s hatred and opposition. They do not know the One who sent me, said Jesus.

In an earlier confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus had clearly stated that the Father had sent Him (8:16,18). However, the religious leaders failed to understand the significance of Jesus’ words (8:19). While they knew a great deal about God, they did not personally know God nor the Son He had sent on a redemptive mission. Consequently, they acted on their ignorance (Acts 3:17) and openly hated, opposed, and rejected Jesus.

15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin [of the sin of rejecting Jesus (God in the flesh)]. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

15:23 He who hates me hates my Father as well.

Jesus did not mean that His enemies were sinless before His coming, but rather that His coming manifested the rebellion that previously existed within them. If Jesus had not come into the world, those who rejected Him would not even be aware of their sin. The Father had sent the Son into the world. In His incarnation, Jesus revealed and explained God. Those living at the time of Jesus had the awesome privilege of hearing His words and seeing His works. Jesus had come and spoken to them of the will of God. His life and words brought a flood of light into their sin-darkened hearts—light that left them with no excuse for their sin. Yet, in spite of that light, many stubbornly refused to honestly face their sin and chose instead to hate and reject Jesus.

The presence of Christians often produces guilt for many people. Before becoming a Christian I used to try to avoid contact with a particular young man in my high school history class. Knowing the young man lived an exemplary Christian life made me uncomfortable about my own life. Somehow his presence made me painfully aware of my own sin and shortcomings. Does the way you live your Christian life make anybody uncomfortable? Does your lifestyle challenge others to consider the claims of Christ?

15:24 If I had not done among them what [works; miracles] no one else did, they [religious leaders and people of Israel] would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles [cf. Nicodemus’ words in Jn. 3:2], and yet they have hated both me and my Father.

Jesus did what no one else did. When Jesus healed a paralytic carried to Him by four friends, the crowds were amazed and said, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12). When Jesus healed a man born blind, the once-blind man remarked to the religious leaders, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind” (John 9:32). Every miracle pointed to Jesus as being the Christ and God’s Son. Yet, in spite of these and many other miracles Jesus did, some called Him a sinner (John 9:16), others attributed His works to the devil (John 10:20), and still others “plotted to take his life” (John 11:53).

15:25 But this is to fulfill what is written [cf. Ps. 35:19; 69:4] in their Law [the entire OT]: ‘They hated [the cross shows the extent of that hatred] me without reason.’

Rather than hating Jesus, the religious leaders and the entire nation should have echoed Nicodemus’ words, “For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (3:2). After all, they had ample evidence to believe in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled what their Scriptures said about the Messiah. Ironically, many of those who knew the Scriptures best hated Jesus without reason and thus helped fulfill what was written in their Law (Ps. 69:4).

15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I [the Father and the Son together would send the Spirit (cf. 14:26)] will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify [to bear witness; a ministry of the Holy Spirit] about me [Jesus is the focus of the Holy Spirit’s ministry].

Jesus had been speaking with the disciples about the hatred and opposition they would experience because they belonged to Him (15:18-25). He reassured the disciples by reminding them that He would send the Counselor or the Holy Spirit to help and encourage them.

Earlier, Jesus had said the Father would send the Holy Spirit (14:26). There is no contradiction since Jesus and His Father are one (10:30). Jesus also identified a ministry the Spirit of truth would do—testify about me. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus. He testifies that Jesus is the Christ and God’s Son and that people have life by placing their faith in Jesus.

15:27 And you [in the power and under the guidance of the Spirit] also must [believers have moral obligation to testify] testify [or witness that Jesus is the Messiah], for you [refers to Jesus’ original disciples; by application this verses extends to all Christians] have been with me from the beginning [of Jesus’ ministry].

Jesus told the disciples that they too must testify. The word must serves as a reminder that believers have a moral obligation to tell others about Jesus. We must not keep silent about Jesus. We have a responsibility to testify about Him to an unbelieving and hostile world. The cost of our silence is high, for as someone wisely cautioned, we are only a generation away from paganism.

Like Paul, we must understand that we owe Christ to all people (Rom. 1:14). The greatest crime we can commit against others is to withhold the gospel from them. Jesus reminded the disciples that they had a distinct advantage in testifying to Him. They had been with Jesus from the beginning and could personally verify all He had said and done.

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