John 15:1-2 (NKJV) “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Jesus definitely expected that Christians grow; more specifically bear fruit. The measure of true growth is very different than the way church growth is measured in America; numeric growth in people, programs are assets. Our Lord Jesus expectation of growth is much more personal and powerful. If it is achieved and maintained, it will produce numeric results person to person, but we must be careful to not judge Christ’s fruitfulness being present because of numeric growth. We are to abide in Christ and trust Him to produce, prune and produce more.
When we watch the numbers,and justify doing so, we get into a cycle that continues to hinder the life of the Spirit of God, in us. I wrote about this in the first blog of this series: “Many a small to mid-sized church has run itself into the ground, while trying to figure out how to thwart their decades of decline or catalyze themselves out of their population stagnation. Pastors have been badgered increasingly over many of the last decades on how they should work in order to grow the church. It is my contention that growth is the LORD’s responsibility while ours is abiding in Him”. If you would like to refresh yourself with that blog click here (http://dfygrvty.blogspot.com/2016/03/prophetic-produce.html).
Although the fruit produced in our lives can be seen in the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22-23, In John 15:1-25 Jesus gives us 5 characteristics of the Christian fruit of abiding. In the second blog from this series we discussed the fruit of adoptive love. In John 15:9 Jesus stated “As the Father has loved me so I have loved you”. In this truth we examined that the foundational fruit is our lives is a knowledge and experience of God’s love as our Father. This is possible for He adopted us by Christ’s perfect sacrificial death on ou rbehalf for our sin debt. For all who have received Jesus He gave the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). By this wonderful gift we have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry out to God as Father… ABBA (Romans 8:15-16). If you would like to review that blog click here (http://dfygrvty.blogspot.com/2016/03/prophetic-produce-2_25.html).
In today’s writing we will look at the second fruit of abiding: The fruit of love for the brethren. In John 15:9 Jesus tells us we are to abide in His love; that is the love of the Father through Him. That love of Christ towards us is to produce a response where we love Him with all our heart, soul and mind. The expression of that love for God is not just in keeping His commandments, but one in particular pertaining to our discussion. In John 15:12 Jesus declares “This is my commandment that you love one another”. This love would be especially important given that after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, He would be going away into heaven. We would then be His love expressed, so to speak, toward one another. This was not the first time Jesus had spoken this command, as He did in John 13:34.
Interestingly, when considering the natural world, we understand that animals have certain seen traits that set them apart in their identity. A zebra is a zebra because of its stripes… a giraffe because of its neck… an elephant because of its trunk. It is similar with fruit. When considering fruit we know the difference between an apple, an orange, a watermelon, or a pear because of their unique appearance. With a Christian, our identifying feature is to be Christ’s love in and through us toward each other.
John 13:34-35 (NKJV) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This fruit is not characterized by mere brotherly love, which is fraternal and good. Although we are to have brotherly love for one another, based on our common salvation in Christ, and being part in the body of Christ, the expression of the love of which Jesus is speaking, is defined not by philodelphos in the Greek, but agapao which is God’s sacrificial love poured out on us when we don’t deserve it. Jesus love for us, which is to be expressed on the Body of Christ, is manifest in four distinct, yet interwoven actions.
WE PREFER THE BRETHREN TO ALL OTHERS IN THIS WORLD
In John 15:16 Jesus declared to the disciples that He had specifically chosen them. This was not just to commission them, but to be with Him. This had kingdom intentionality written all over it, but let’s remember this was not just to use them as utilities or tools; Jesus preferred to be with His disciples. Jesus spent the largest bulk of His time with them. This did not mean He loved all their little quirks, or that they made Him feel so welcome. That would have been the fickleness of human love. Jesus preferred to be with them for He loved their souls and was fully intent on them reaching their full kingdom potential. The love we express towards our brethren is an intentional love of an investment of time, talent, energy and presence for the purpose of advancing them in the Christ life.
This seem like a no brainer and I John 4:11 seems to imply so “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also out to love one another”. Yet while examining the remaining portion of I John 4 we begin to understand that loving the brethren, as Jesus commands, may be more difficult than first thought.
1 John 4:19-21 (NKJV) We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
In the passage we have two ideas that need explained. The first is where we understand the impossibility of loving God and hating our brothers in Christ. When ascribing the force of the word hate in English, we are possibly at a loss. The problem is that hate in the Greek carries with it the potential of hatred that looks like avoidance of one we despise, yet is also carries with it the idea of simply loving one less than someone else. When we couple this with the second idea of loving God, yet not loving ones brother in Christ, the ease of falling into the trap of hate or loving less is more understandable.
When examining the fruit of abiding in Christ, as seen in the love we express for brothers we can understand it is an intentional love that is specifically and foremost poured out on those in the body. We are to prefer those in the body of Christ, even over natural family bonds of relationship. We are to seek to express Christ love feast on those who are seeking to follow Christ, even if it puts distance between us and natural family whether saved or unsaved. This will become clearer as we look at the second way this love of the brethren as Christ loved us, is seen.
WE BEHAVE AS CATALYST TO THEIR WALKING IN CHRIST
Hebrews 10:19-25 (NKJV) Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
A catalyst is defined as a substance that causes a chemical reaction or a cause that accelerates the onset of an event. Believers are to be catalysts causing positive reactions in other believers in their walk with Christ. We are to be those who act as agents that push forward, at times cause friction and at times pull along, on behalf of Jesus, towards the end of their walking in greater sanctification. From the above passage we can see how our lives with Christ are not to be pursued individually, but in joint ministry to our Lord Jesus, through four statements.
- Let us draw near
- Let us hold fast
- Let us consider one another
- (Let us) not forsake assembling together
The above phrases reveal the nature of our catalyzing ministry to one another. Again it is intentional, consistent and to be pursued with purpose and passion. This is how we love the brethren preferring them over the callings of others and our own pursuits or personal desires.
WE IDENTIFY AND EMBRACE IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING
In Matthew 25:31-46 we recognize Jesus teaching on the difference between the sheep and the goats, or the true believer and the false believer. The only difference between the two, whom both referred to Jesus as Lord, is what they did or did not do in regard to the brethren. Those who were received by Jesus were those who fed the hungry brother, clothed the naked brother, took in the homeless brother, comforted the sick brother and visited the imprisoned brother. All of those conditions of weakness carried with them a social stigma in the ancient world. For a person to take care of those who were poor, sick and imprisoned was to so identify with them, that you became enmeshed with their stigma. Consider how Jesus embraced tax collectors, or prostitutes, or lepers, or the other dregs of society (people just like us). Although He did not involve Himself in their sin, and although those sinners usually walked away from those lives of sin (regard Mary Magdalene or Matthew the apostle or Zacchaeus), Jesus was called a sinner, a drunk and a blasphemer.
In like manner, when the brethren are suffering for the faith, we not only identify with them, but to embrace them, as we enter into their suffering. Consider the man Epaphroditus. In Philippians 4:10-20, Paul is thanking the Philippine believers for their generosity towards him, by the way of the man Epaphroditus. This man came to stay with Paul in his Roman prison. He brought not only necessary supplies, but entered into Paul’s confinement to comfort him. So far was his love and identification, that Paul needed to send him back as Epaphroditus became sick because of the conditions he was in. The love we have for the brethren is to be that of Emmanuel Himself, where He enters into our suffering to draw us into His hope.
WE COMFORT AS WE HAVE BEEN COMFORTED BY CHRIST
Lastly our love for one another as Jesus has loved us is a love of comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
This is perhaps the most wonderful of all the wave of godly love which flows from us to our brothers in Christ. The Greek word of comfort is the same root used in the title for the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. When Jesus talks of the Comforter in John 14:26, He declares He will bring all things to our understanding that Jesus said. When looking at this action of godly love, it is essential to understand the beauty of our role of comfort. As we go through trials, the Comforter calls us to hold to the promises of God contained in His Word and brought to our hearts by Him. As we have overcome and see other in trial, we are able to do the same by comforting them with the comfort that led to our victory. We in essence become living messages of overcoming through Christ, to others. This fruit is only possible as we abide in Christ and seek to pour out with intention.
THE GREAT HINDRANCE IS SELF
The greatest fruit killer in this area of our walk is SELF!!! Self-pursuit, Self-determination, Self-focus, Selfishness. I once preached a message on sin entitled S.I.N. The acrostic stood for… Selfish, “I” centered , Narcissism. The chief opponent to our loving God with all of who we are, as well as our brothers is US, plain and simple. The Holy Spirit made this very plain in many portions of the New Testament, perhaps never more clearly than in Philippians 2.
Philippians 2:3-5 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus
With that passage, let us consider whether we are growing in this second fruit of abiding in Christ.