Life As Members Of God's Household
John 15: 9 — 17
Remember that the first part of John 15 is about the relationship between the Vine (Jesus) and the branches (his followers) and the need to "remain in me and I in you".
The final discourses of Jesus in his teaching life point us towards his goal of union:
In John 15: 9 — 17 Jesus continues to expand the understanding his disciples need to have of what it means to be a member of God's own household.
We say household because St. John's use of "remain" or "abide" is mystical. It means dwell within and continually operate in him by his divine influence and energy.
Some Notes On The Text
In the earlier part of this chapter, Jesus has instructed the disciples to remain in full union with him as the branches remain united with the vine. In our reading he passes from the vine metaphor to abiding or remaining in his love. To remain means more than to stay. It means to rest and be truly who you are and grow in his likeness; i.e. be restored in God's image.
Verses 9 — 10
As Jesus expands his theme he begins a number of exciting parallels between the Father and him, and between himself and his disciples. In a sense the first of these contains all that unfolds to verse 17. And so we could ponder his words for the rest of eternity:
Immediately he adds "Remain in my love". In other words, continue in it. But how? What do we have to do? In response to our anticipated question Jesus gives another couplet: obey my commands and remain in my love just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
This is a very lofty calling and no small challenge. But the result is worth the effort and cost, for he assures his listeners that his joy will be in them all and remain there in all its fullness. This really is another couplet. He is saying, "I have great joy in loving the Father and being loved by him. This joy of mine will rest complete within you". The word "complete" is often translated as "full" and is a metaphor taken from a vessel into which water is poured to the brim. It means full and complete in every way. We note that joy is associated with obedience to his commandments. And what does Jesus command?
"Love each other as I have loved you". Glance back at verse 9 and see the connection, the parallel.
Christian love has as its model nothing less than the example of the Good Shepherd himself. It is the love of Jesus which enables his disciples to love in like manner. Time and time again, we will come up against a seemingly impossible demand of our Lord. The problem is with us, and the unbiblical way we tend to read Sacred Scripture. Our error is in thinking that what he commands is unrealistic i.e. impossible.
One of the greatest writers and teachers of Christian antiquity was St Augustine of Hippo (North Africa, 4th Century). One of his most memorable sentences is one we might well keep in mind:
As we said above, it is the love of Jesus which enables his disciples to love as he loves and to remain in his love.
We arrive now at a new focus point. People who love in this way are his "friends". This is a special moment in Jesus' final time alone with his chosen disciples. He has opened their minds, made known his plans, acquainted them with the whole design of his coming, his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Having given them the clearest proof of friendship, he now gives them the name: "my friends".
And now follows another amazing linkage: "All that the Father has taught me I have taught you". But this is for a purpose and not just the honour as he soon explains.
Jesus implies in another couplet, "Just as the father chose me to go and bear fruit, so I have chosen you to do likewise. It is now your turn to go forth and bear fruit; fruit that is sound and of permanent value". Jesus returns to his symbol of the vine. It is the disciples, not the trunk, who are now to bear fruit. The trunk will provide the vital sap, but the grapes will grow from the new branches.
"But", adds Jesus at the end of verse 16, "in actioning this command, you must constantly maintain prayerful union in my name".
And finally in verse 17, Jesus as good as says: "I command you to abide in me, that by so doing you may have the power to love one another" (giving and receiving love).
Here is another of those well springs of Christian evangelism. The church will grow and serve its purpose and remain united within only in so far as it is faithful to the Lord's command.
We close this most encouraging lesson with two quotations from St Augustine. These reflect the powerful spirituality of the early Church which spread rapidly around the world. Those who constantly criticise that Church had better take an honest look at the sad state of their own as it falls apart under pressure from modern paganism.
St Augustine took this Gospel very seriously. His writings reflect this in a way which has never been quite matched since. Perhaps, in humility, we might let his prayer below help us to take in the full power of our Gospel reading; to take in the Lord Jesus himself.
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