Last night the Desiring God Conference for Pastors kicked off with John Piper preaching from John 15:1-11. The message is available here. To help communicate how much his words blessed me, let me say this: despite taking over five pages of notes – which may be a new single-sermon record for me – I still feel like there is more treasure to be found in the sermon. Here is a high-level, condensed version of what I heard…
The best thing in the universe is to be united with Christ, to be “in Christ,” to enjoy union with Christ. When this is fully understood, nothing is greater experientially or theologically. If you grasp this fully, you will have no higher experiences than the enjoyment of this. The reason for focusing on this text is that for many, this place is where the reality of union with Christ moved from being a doctrine to being an experience.
In the paragraph preceding John 15, Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” In other words, as Jesus comes to the last hours of His life, He puts the last few hours of His ministry under the Father’s command. The Father is overseeing the whole thing, tending to it all, seeing that everything happens exactly according to plan. When Christ said right after this that He was the vine and His Father the vinedresser, He was using a metaphor to further explain what He had just said.
What is the point of the metaphor? Why did Jesus even give us verse 1 and introduce His Father as the vinedresser? Why didn’t He start with verse 5, if this metaphor is really all about us and Christ? Because the whole paragraph is not explained by, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
Our abiding in the vine is helped by knowing what the vinedresser is there to do. There are two very important works the vinedresser does that Christ wants us to know, and they are directly linked to defection and persecution. What does He do?
1. He takes away fruitless branches
The Father cuts away the lifeless, destroying them (v. 6). The first work of the vinedresser is judgment, and this raises a problem. Can a branch, a disciple of Jesus, have union with Jesus and still be lost and burned? Can we be “in Christ” and then accursed, cut off from Christ? Absolutely not.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:37, 39)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29)
These are the strongest possible statements of assurance for those whom the Father gives to the Son. But there is a kind of attachment to Jesus that is not saving. The difference between the true and false disciple is abiding. In the gospel of John there are “believers” and “disciples” who are not true believers and disciples.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:30-31)
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:66)
The branches in John 15 who are broken off are not true sheep. They are fake Christians, those who defect from the truth.
2. He prunes fruitful branches
The vinedresser’s second task is to cultivate the living. Pruning is cutting, which makes it a sobering picture for a branch.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:6, 10-11)
This pruning is suffering, persecution.
‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
Jesus is saying that His ministry to us is like a vine to a branch – life is flowing, joy is flowing, the experience of His fellowship is flowing – and we may think that’s the sum total of growing in grace, but it is not. Outside of this is the work of the vinedresser. Union with Christ takes place on the inside, and the pruning of the Father is on the outside. Our Father rules the world to magnify and deepen our joy in Jesus. External circumstances serving our internal satisfaction in Jesus.
Don’t begrudge your Father’s pruning work on the outside. The Father is more jealous for our fruit-bearing and communion with Christ than we are. Vinedressers do way more than cut. They water, care for, and do whatever it takes to bring about fruit!
Verses 1-2 begin to set the stage for the imperatives beginning in verse 4, but they don’t do the whole job. Jesus makes it a point to say first in verse 3, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” In the Greek, the word for “prune” is also the word for “clean;” it can be used both ways. The word in verse 3 is in the same Greek family. So we see that John has a play on words going here. This is paralleled a couple chapters back in Jesus and Peter’s conversation over the washing of feet (John 13:8-11).
The willingness in your life to be pruned is a sign that you’re cut, you’re clean, you’re whole, it’s done – already! Jesus has already cleaned His sheep, by the power of His word.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
Verse 3 comes before verse 4 because Jesus wanted us to view His commands with the right perspective. He doesn’t want us to think we’re earning salvation, but instead to remember that salvation is already ours. The pruning is done, the cleansing is done, so that we can now embrace the pruning and cleansing! “I will embrace God’s pruning as evidence that I am pruned.”
What is abiding? Verse 11 – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Sharing in the joy of Christ. It’s not just Jesus saying, “I want you to be happy, I want you to have joy.” It’s, “I want you to have my joy!” This is the Son of God, whose experience of joy is perfectly full, whose pleasure and delight exceeds all other beings in the universe, saying to us that He wants us to have His joy.
When Jesus says, “Abide in me,” He is saying, “Keep on enjoying with my joy. Don’t disconnect and start enjoying with your joy. You are in me, and I am in you as your all. Receive me and my joy as your joy, hunger and thirst for me and my joy as your joy.”
There are other ways to say what abiding is. Verses 9-10 – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.” What is the Father’s commandment? Keep on loving with His love. Verse 12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He’s saying, “Live in my love as the flow of your love. I am abiding in my Father’s love, and He is loving through me, so now you do the same with me.” Abiding is to keep on enjoying being loved by Jesus.
One more observation, in verses 6 and 16 – “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Fruit is in the foreground, and that fruit is love and joy. Praying for people means praying they would enjoy Christ with the joy of Christ.
Piper has asked himself, “Is the fruit of this text love, joy, peace, or is it people?” And he’s said in response, “What kind of people? People who love with Jesus’ love, people who have the joy of Jesus, the peace of Jesus.” The point of verse 7: “My Father is not idle in His vinedresser duties, so you don’t be idle in praying for my love, joy, and peace to be given to others.”
This sharing in Christ’s love, His joy, His peace, it is not a sharing of essence, but a sharing of nature. God is by nature infinitely loving, infinitely happy, and infinitely calm. So when the branches are united to the vine, they do not become the vine, but they do have Christ’s love, joy, and peace.
To abide is to keep on enjoying Him and His joy as your joy, keep on enjoying Him and His peace as your peace, and keep on enjoying Him and His love as your love.