John 15:1-17
The Parable Of The Vine

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Today's passage of scripture is known as "The Parable Of The Vine." We see right off that this parable is describing the church. The church is being described as a living bond between Christ as the trunk and believers as the branches.

Why A Parable Of A Vine?

2. Behind the scenes to the church being addressed with [this] certain image lies a situation that must be addressed after such a fashion. When we consider what this situation is, our eye catches on verse eighteen in the same chapter and the verses that follow. In this text, it speaks on persecution. To be brief, the messages from the Lord as a series in this text are given with the presupposition of a church experiencing persecution and ordeals. When there are persecutions, hardships, and trials, it means each person is being asked through them "Are you connected or disconnected?" Therefore, the parable of the vine appears here in the text, which expresses "the bond between individual believers and Christ."

3. Let's open to another passage. Please look just back a bit to chapter twelve and beginning in verse forty-two. "Even still, there were many who were believing in Jesus even among the members of the court. Only, they were afraid of being driven out of the synagogue, and they did not express it publicly in diffidence to the Pharisees. They preferred honor from humans more than honor from God," (12:42-43). It is not a mere biography of Jesus that the Gospel [Of John] is giving. The conditions of the church at the time when the Gospel [Of John] was written are reflected in it. "There were many who were believing." Now, it was written regarding the situation that although one was fine when one only believed in one's heart, when one "expressed" the faith "publicly" one would be banished from the synagogue, (that is, to be banished from the Jewish community).

4. This type of situation was encompassing the church at about when the Gospel According To John was written more so than saying that it happened at the time of Jesus. The church of Christ was first called "the Nazarenes" and used to be considered a sect within Judaism, but at around the end of the first century A.D. when The Gospel According To John was written the church was completely split off from Judaistic society. That meant that it became a target of persecution by the Jews. It also meant that [since] the church was driven out from the Jewish religious world which was a religion recognized by Rome, the church became a target of imperial Roman persecution. The church started to come face to face with great trials. Amid such trials, they say there were also many who broke off from the church. Or, there must have been some who avoided hardships by way of not making any public confession [of their faith], though they believed in their hearts. It was an era when the church was questioned. It was an era when what it meant to be a Christian was questioned.

5. For that reason, John recorded this parable. He [wrote], didn't Jesus say, "I am the vine and you are the branches"? It is important that it was put like this, that Jesus himself is "the true vine," (verse one). The metaphor of "the vine" is used in the Old Testament to express God's people, Israel. The understanding of the congregation being the true people of God was from of old. In other words, it's that the congregation, that is the church, is indeed "the vine." However, John is saying that Christ is actually "the true vine." Therefore, by being a branch that is alive connected to Christ it is also possible for the branches to begin being the vine. In a word then, amid various difficulties and trials, individual Christians are being questioned more than the church itself. That's this "Parable Of The Vine."

6. So, is this a problem limited to churches that are under severe circumstances as they face state persecution? I don't think [it's just] that. In a different form, a power is at work among us as well, pulling us apart from Christ. Circumstances that call into question what is the church, what is fellowship between disciples, what does it mean to be a Christian are found in any time period. We too, then, will be asked if we are joined to Christ as living branches.

When My Words Abide

7. So what becomes important then is whatever the meaning of "being joined to Christ" as a living branch is. Today, in regard to this matter, I would like for us to remember two points in particular.

8. First please look at verse seven. "When you are joined to me, and my word is always in you, request what you wish. When you do, it will be granted," (verse seven). We don't see it from the translation, but in the original text the word "to be joined" (or "to abide in") is repeated twice. The scripture says, "When you (abide in me) are joined to me, and my word is joined to you."

9. It is important that it says "my words" here in the text. Some may think feeling something special in one's heart as "a connection to Christ." Or, there are others who think that it is to always be thinking about Christ and praying every day to him. But, Christ is declaring here that it is "When my words abide in you." He is stating that a connection to Christ is a connection to the words of Christ.

10. So how and where does being connected to the words of Christ (abiding in his word) take place? When Jesus was [here], quite naturally then, it took place wherever Jesus' voice reached, in his vicinity. But, at the time when The Gospel According To John was written, Jesus was not on earth. In that sense then, we are just like the people of his time.

11. So, how does a connection to the words of Jesus take place? Is it by daily reading the words of Christ which are written in the scriptures? No, it isn't. For starters, it's because each person didn't have printed Bibles like [we do] today. To hear the words of Christ and to abide was the place of worship where they gathered in the name of Jesus. It was the place of worship where the Christians driven out from the Jewish synagogues had assembled.

12. As I mentioned earlier, they would assemble in the name of Jesus and it was always a great hardship for them to have services. Showing up in a congregation to publicly express faith in Jesus and having services together was always more and more of a hardship. It was easier to pray by oneself in private and to think of Christ as an individual by oneself. Offering up worship in the Jewish synagogue, listening to the Torah (the law), and believing in Christ in just one's heart are not a problem. But, John says that one cannot be joined to Christ in that manner. The hardships are going to be there, [some] thing's going to be there, [when] we gather together in the name of Jesus and hear the words of Christ. And the words of Christ that are heard will abide in that person. The words of Jesus are teaching that this, that is, "being connected to Christ" is exactly that.

Abide In My Love

13. Also, please look at another passage, beginning in verse nine. "As my father has loved me, I too have loved you. Abide in my love. As I keep my father's commandments and abide in his love, you too, if you keep my commandments, will abide in my love," (vv. 9-10).

14. Here the word "abide" appears three times in the text. It's the same word "be connected to" that appeared in the text before. But now he says, "Abide in my love (be connected to)." You can change the words "be joined to Christ" to "be joined to Christ's love."

15. Christ loved us first. It is as the scripture says, "As my Father has loved me, I too have loved you." It may be possible for the act of love to be one way, but yet, a relationship in love cannot be one way. It is a relationship of there being a response. The response to the love shown is trust and obedience. Christ showed his relationship of love with God the Father through his trust and obedience unto the father. In the same way, in trust and obedience, a person abides in the love of Christ. The Lord said, "As I keep my father's commandments and abide in his love, you too, if you keep my commandments, will abide in my love." The "my commandments" here is in the plural, but the plurality of the commandments ultimately converge into one commandment. It is as it is recorded in verse twelve. "As I have loved you, love one another. This is my commandment," (15:12).

16. In sum, in our loving of each other, we are abiding in the love of Christ. We are connected to Christ. In "loving one another" the scripture is not merely stating "to keep the peace." Neither does it seem to be on simply the dimension of "helping one another when in trouble." For, the question that we are asked there is whether we are expressing the faith publicly and abiding in a community that listens to the words of Christ together, or if we are split off from it. It is whether we are abiding in love living with other Christians according to love and with the church, or whether we are split off from it. When Christians are "the branches of the vine," it is not possible that "I have been living connected to Christ all by myself." It is possible to be the living "branches of the vine" precisely because I myself am joined "together" with and to the vine to which the other branches are joined.

17. The Lord said, "I am the vine, you are its branches. When a person is joined to me and I am joined to him or her, that person will bear an abundance of fruit because apart from me, you cannot do anything," (John 15:5). These are the words from the farewell sermon of the Lord during the last supper. The Lord gave his life in order to make us the living branches of the vine.

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