Loving God with all of your heart

How to Love God with All Your Heart

We don’t want to live passive lives but long for it to be filled with fascination. We want our hearts to be consumed, to be apprehended. God knows this. He has put this desire in every person. Think about the many things people sink their time and energy into. From hobbies, interests and relationships.

People are looking for things to captivate them and bring a sense of fulfillment.  It’s interesting that when Jesus lays out the most important commandment for mankind that He starts with loving the Lord with ALL of your heart and then continues on down the short list.3861

Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

I would think that if we are told to love the Lord with all our hearts that we ought to pursue it’s meaning.  What does that mean to love God with all our hearts and how do we go about doing it? These are huge questions that need to be clearly answered.

  1. RECOGNIZE THAT OUR AFFECTIONS DETERMINE OUR DEVOTION

First, let’s determine what the heart is all about. The arena of the heart contains powerful emotions, affections and desires. Our affections are deep currents that steer our life. Think of them as a rudder of a ship that literally directs it. To determine where our affections actually lie, we have to discern what occupies our time, what motivates our actions, what shapes our aspirations and what comprises their reward. Affections wait to be captured. They long to cling to someone or something. Wherever these affections are found so will our hearts be.

  1. UNDERSTAND THAT OUR AFFECTIONS FOLLOW WHAT WE TREASURE

The devotion of our hearts is determined by wherever we find value as our greatest treasure.

Matt. 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”

“Where your treasure is…your heart will be”

I would suggest memorizing this short phrase. Jesus just gave us the answer on how to love God with all our hearts. The heart loves what it treasures! We have to seek a great treasure and when we discover it, love (the result of our affections) follows. Ironic isn’t it? The treasure comes first and the heart comes second.

Matt. 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

In order for the heart to love Jesus completely, it has to treasure Him supremely. Our affections are the outcome of what we treasure. When we truly encounter the Lord in His glory and worth, loving Him with all our hearts will be the end result.

  1. AIM TO MAKE JESUS YOUR GREATEST TREASURE

For the Apostle Paul, Jesus was THE treasure of his life. The loss of everything else was nothing compared to gaining Christ.

Phil. 3:8 “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” 

Eph. 3:8 …this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Here is a picture of a man who found a treasure that exceeds all others. Jesus. Nothing comes close! The glory of Jesus is so amazing and so satisfying that once discovered, all else pales in comparison. When we divert our attention away from the Lord, our love will begin to grow cold. It’s that simple. A lethargic Christian can be traced back to a heart that has misplaced affections. The greatest treasure is no longer Christ but something or someone else.

  1. SPEND TIME WITH THE LORD AND LET HIS LIGHT SHINE IN YOUR HEART

2 Cor. 4:6-7 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Only through the persistent gaze on the face of the Lord and His glory do the streams of light pierce our hearts with the same power and force that keep the Seraphim consumed before His throne (Rev. 4:8).

START NOW – INITIAL STEPS TO CONSIDER

  1. We have to decide to pursue Him. Just pray it to the Lord, “Jesus I long for You to be my ultimate treasure, help me and give me power to do so!”  Pray this often throughout the day.
  1. Start with the Bible. Open it and search out what it says about the glory of who Jesus is and what He has done.  If you don’t know where to start, just go to the Gospels.
  1. Make adjustments. What is it you are going to do daily that will allow you to grow into this reality? Write it down. Schedule it.
  1. Be with Him.  He delights in you. He wants to be with you and reveal Himself to you. He enjoys you! Set time aside to be with Him only.
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Help from the Helper

Have you ever been on a long family road trip? I have.

I discovered that there were many advantages for a kid traveling with his parents. I never worried about how we would get from one place to another. I never worried about where our next meal would come from, or if we would run out of gas. I never worried about traveling in the darkness during heavy rainstorms or where we would spend the night. I knew my parents would take care of everything.

For most of us, life is more like a long road trip than a short vacation. There are long days of steady driving; there are times of driving down dark and lonely roads. There are some nice hotels and some absolute dives. Today, you may be at a dark point in your journey. You may be stuck in heartbreak hotel. You may be discouraged, depressed, and even defeated. Perhaps you’re on the verge of calling roadside assistance. Jesus wants you to know that He has given you a Helper who can provide you countless advantages. Most importantly, He can guide you through your earthly life and then take you to your eternal home. Jesus will say:

In John 16:5-15, Jesus is talking to His disciples on the night before He is crucified. The disciples are heartbroken to hear that He is leaving. They are scared to death. They are shocked and baffled, confused and disoriented. Their Master, their Lord, the miracle working Son of God, is going to be taken away from them. He is going to suddenly disappear and go back into heaven. They understand nothing. It makes no sense to them at all. They huddle like scared sheep around their Shepherd in the blackness of night. They are scared to leave Him. They are waiting for an explanation. In these stressful moments Jesus says, “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (16:5-6). Once again, Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to His Father. At this point, however, the disciples don’t dare ask Jesus any questions. In their minds, ignorance is bliss. In 16:6, Jesus explains the reason the disciples don’t ask where He is going: They are sorrowful because of what He has just shared. The phrase “these things” pertains to what Jesus has just spoken of—coming persecution (16:1-4). The cause of the disciples’ grief, lamentably, is largely preoccupation with their own fate. This caused them to miss the positive implications of Jesus’ departure, both for themselves and for the continuation of His mission.

Jesus is seeking to engage His disciples in a discussion about His own suffering and departure, but they are too preoccupied with themselves. There is a principle here: When you and I are consumed with our own problems, it is impossible to focus upon another person’s dilemma. Yet, we have been called to live a supernatural life where we take our eyes off of ourselves and care for others. In what way are you hurting today? Do you have a physical sorrow (e.g., migraines, back pain, cancer)? Reach out to someone who has a physical sorrow and extend care. Do you have a marriage or family sorrow (e.g., rocky marriage, disobedient kids)? Reach out to someone who has a family sorrow and extend care. Do you have a vocational sorrow (e.g., loss of job, low salary, difficult boss and coworkers)? Reach out to someone who has a vocational sorrow and extend care. When you reach out to others and bear their sorrows, you will discover that you don’t really have it so hard. Furthermore, you will realize one of the reasons God has allowed you to experience sorrow: to comfort others (see 2 Cor 1:3-4).

Unfortunately, the disciples haven’t yet learned this important principle. They are caught up with their own sorrows. Consequently, they don’t realize that Jesus’ departure and their own suffering is the best thing that could happen. This is often true in the spiritual realm. What seems like the worst thing may actually be the best thing. In 16:7, Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Why is it better for the disciples to have the presence of the Helper than the presence of Jesus Himself as they do now? Because the Holy Spirit will not only be with them as Jesus has been, but in them as well (cf. 17:23, 26). We tend to think that it would have been more advantageous to have lived when Jesus lived, to have seen Him, touched Him, and heard Him. But it’s actually to our advantage that He left and sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and He dwells within everyone who believes. Clearly, these are the best days to be living in. Through the Spirit, Jesus is here inside each and every believer right now.

However, if the Holy Spirit is to serve as an advantage in your life, you must ask the Helper to help you. This really isn’t so tough. In your daily life, you ask others to help you, right? If there’s a jar you can’t open, you ask for help. If you’re climbing a ladder, you ask someone to steady it. If you run into computer problems, you call someone who knows computers to help you. If you’re driving and you discover that you’re lost, you ask for help (at least most women do). To succeed in life, you need to ask for help. If you don’t, you will continually fail because no person has all the necessary skills to pull everything off in life. Similarly, in your walk of faith, you need help. You can’t do it by yourself. You ought to be continually calling on the Holy Spirit to help you to live this life. Not in the “Hamburger Helper” sense of help, where you throw together a meal with the “help” of Hamburger Helper. Rather, God is looking to “help” you in the sense that He takes over and consumes you. He wants to do His work in and through you.

In the remaining verses, Jesus speaks of two major advantages of the Spirit’s coming: He convicts the world (16:8-11) and He communicates to believers (16:12-15). First, Jesus focuses His attention on how the Holy Spirit convicts the world. In 16:8, Jesus says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Verse 8 summarizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the world. Interestingly, this is the only place in Scripture where the Spirit is said to perform a work in “the world.” The word “convict” (elegcho) comes from the drama of a courtroom trial. It refers to what the prosecuting attorney does when he argues his case. He puts the defendant on the witness stand and begins to pile up the evidence. Fact upon fact, witness upon witness, truth upon truth, slowly, inexorably, irresistibly building his case until finally the enormity of the evidence is so overwhelming that the judge is forced to say to the defendant, “I find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not only that, this word means to present the evidence in such an overwhelming fashion that even the defendant is compelled at the end of the trial to step up and say, “I admit it. I confess. I am guilty.”

Jesus expounds on 16:8 in 16:9-11. In these verses, Jesus explains what it means to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

First, the Holy Spirit will convict unbelievers of their sin. In 16:9, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Jesus is not saying the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin in a general way (though He does that). He is talking here about a very specific sin because He says, “they [humankind] do not believe in me.” What is the greatest sin? Is it murder? Is it theft? Is it adultery? Is it dishonoring your parents (I wish!)? Is it cursing God? Is it coveting? Is it extortion? Is it racism? Is it hatred? No. None of those things would be called the greatest sin in the world because there is one sin which, in its effect, is greater than all the rest. It is the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus is saying in 16:9. “I will convict them of sin.” Not sin in the general sense, but, “I will convict them of the greatest sin of all because they have not believed in Me.” Until people see themselves as sinners they will never see their need for a Savior. However, one’s personal sin is not the focus; Jesus has already paid for sin. The focus is the acceptance or rejection of Jesus. What will you do with Jesus? This is the question that we must pose to people.

The second reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because they need to understand their lack of righteousness. In 16:10, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” The Holy Spirit will convince the world of its need for God’s righteousness by making the world realize the poverty of its own righteousness. In Isa 64:6 of the Greek Old Testament, Israel’s “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is likened to a menstrual cloth. The Holy Spirit needs to convict unbelievers of their need to believe in Christ and not trust in their own righteousness, which is like filthy rags.

The third reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because of the reality of judgment. In 16:11, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” At first glance this might appear to be a reference to some future judgment. But this text is not talking about future judgment. It’s talking about past judgment. Notice the phrase “has been judged.” Jesus is saying Satan “has been judged in the past, continues to be judged, is now judged, and will continue to be judged into the future.” The judgment is past, present and future. Satan may be a great power in this world, but he is already a defeated foe. This will be fully realized when sinful mankind, fallen angels, and Satan himself stand before the righteous God (cf. Phil 2:6-11).

The Holy Spirit will fulfill His responsibility to convict the world, but He also expects and commands you to fulfill your ministry to unbelievers (cf. 15:26-27). When it comes to sharing the gospel, there are three important principles to keep in mind.

(1) Pray for those in your life who have yet to believe in Christ. Keep sharing Christ, but remember that only God can change a human heart. Your first step should be to pray by name for your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, and family members who have yet to believe in Jesus. It’s as simple as writing these people’s names down on a 3×5 card or post-it-note and putting it inside your Bible cover. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict these individuals of their sin and their need to believe in Jesus. When you drive in and out of your neighborhood, pray for your neighbors by name. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and draws them to faith in Christ.

Our unsaved family members and friends are like the wasp that landed on a sandwich and began eating the juice of the jam. The wasp was so busy enjoying the sweet stuff it didn’t even notice that the person on whose sandwich it had landed had picked up a knife to slice the sandwich in half. In other words, the wasp was suddenly in great peril. But you know something? He kept right on eating. An unredeemed person is so busy eating the jam of this world order that it takes a disaster to get his attention. In fact, many people are believers today because God first got their attention in some unique way. They were indulging themselves and enjoying the jam of this world until God sliced through their lives. Then it dawned on them that this world wasn’t as tasty as they thought it was. This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. His job is to get our attention so that we take seriously the things of God.

(2) Proclaim Christ as the only way to God. Let’s suppose that you and I are standing 50 feet away from the edge of a cliff. If you fall off, you will drop 1800 feet before you hit the jagged rocks on the canyon floor. There are no guard rails to keep you from falling. As we stand there chatting, we see an old man walking slowly toward the edge. As he nears the edge, we realize that he is blind and has no idea the danger he is in. Suddenly, he calls out, “Which way should I go?” What would you think if I yelled out, “It doesn’t matter? Go any way you like?” Would I not be criminally negligent when he falls to his death? If I care about him at all, I will call out, “Don’t take another step. I’ll come and get you.” And then I would take him by the hand and lead him to safety. Love compels me to speak the truth and to do what I can to save his life. I recognize that most people throughout the city of our city would laugh at the notion that not believing in Jesus is sin. They would say, “We believe in tolerance, diversity, pluralism. Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. That’s your way of thinking, that’s not my way of thinking. Don’t lay that Jesus stuff on me.” But if you claim Jesus’ words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” (John 14:6) you will tell them the truth.

(3) Share the bad news before you share the god news. When I sit down to eat, I like to eat my vegetables first so that I can enjoy the rest of the meal. It has become commonplace and even fashionable to offer the gospel of Christ to the world as a solution to an inconvenience. We are told we need to believe in Jesus because if we do it will give us purpose in life. It will give peace in our hearts. It will help us make sense out of the world’s chaos. Now as desirable as those things are, they tend to trivialize the gospel. After all, a person might gain a sense of purpose through landing an excellent job that helps people. He might gain a sense of peace from a pill or a bottle, albeit a short-lived one. The Holy Spirit is concerned for more than those things. He does what no job and no bottle ever could do: He awakens lost people to their lostness and that has to happen before they are ever found. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ must be faithfully shared. It is the most important message in the world. A Mercedes-Benz TV commercial shows one of its cars colliding with a concrete wall during a safety test. Someone then asks a Mercedes engineer why the company does not enforce its patent on their car’s energy-absorbing car body. The Mercedes’ design has been copied by almost every other car maker in the world in spite of the fact that it has an exclusive patent. The engineer replies in a clipped German accent, “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.”

So the first major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is His involvement with the world. The second major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is that He communicates to believers (16:12-15). In 16:12, Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus informs His disciples that He’d like to share more with them; however, at this juncture of their spiritual maturity they’re not able to bear His words. They are distracted and disillusioned. This is equally applicable for you and me. Jesus has so much truth and insight that He longs to share with us, but He will only do so as we are able. One of your goals should be to be an eager receptor of Jesus’ words. Pray for a spiritual sensitivity to God’s Word. When you hear it, obey it, so that God will impart more truth to you.

In 16:13, Jesus says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This is not a promise to the church at large. This is a promise to these eleven men, which benefits the church at large. The text literally says, “He will guide you into all the truth.” There is a particular body of truth that Jesus has in mind. This is not a promise to guide people generally in their exploration of physics and horticulture or atomic energy. The truth is the truth about God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the truth with which the Holy Spirit concerns Himself. But, God’s Spirit doesn’t only show us the future in a prophetic sense … He tells us what is to come in a practical sense. He guides us in our decision making. God’s Spirit gives us guidance when it comes to practical matters. In Acts 15, the Spirit brought peace to a troubled church as they had to adjust their style of ministry to reach a new group of people. The Spirit also helps us in the selection of a college, choosing a job, finding a mate, and making investments. But we must have ears to hear. Moreover, we must first obey His revealed will before He reveals His explicit truth.

When we first moved to Longview, our home was less than a mile from the train track.. Initially, this caused us many sleepless nights but after a few months I never heard the train in the middle of the night. (This was not true for my wife.) I just slept through the the whistle blowing. It’s not because the noise was no longer there … I just tuned it out. That’s what has happened to many believers. We have silenced the Spirit’s whispers so many times that we don’t hear them any longer. We have read God’s Word and chosen not to obey it. We have listened to countless sermons, but have ignored the Spirit who was seeking to apply the Word to our lives. When we continually tell the Spirit “no” or “not now,” we eventually stop hearing from Him.

If you want the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth, you have to listen. You have to obey when you’re prompted to turn from wrong behavior. You have to follow through when you’re “moved” to talk to someone about Christ. You have to move forward when you sense a need to visit someone. You have to obey when you sense God’s call to serve in a certain capacity. You have to respond when you feel overwhelmed by a mountainous task.

The Holy Spirit communicates to believers by exalting Jesus. In 16:14 Jesus says, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The Holy Spirit’s primary job description is to glorify Jesus. When you hear a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost, you can be sure that there is a foul spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t attract attention to Himself; instead, He points people to Jesus. When the Spirit is moving mightily in revival and in various ministries, Jesus is the center of attention. Our goal must be the same. Like the Holy Spirit and John the Baptizer, we must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30). Our personal lives and ministries must not be about our glory and our accolades; we must point people to Christ.

This passage closes with a critical truth. Jesus says in 16:15: “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Here the Spirit is seen in complete submission to and in harmony with the Son and the Father. He does not act or speak from Himself. Nothing originates from Him; all comes from the Son, and all is done to glorify the Son. Just as the Son did not do anything from Himself, but only that which He heard and received from the Father, so the Spirit never acts independently from the Son. The Spirit’s function is to reveal the Son in all that He is to believers. Yet, in revealing the Son, the Spirit is actually revealing the Father because all that the Son has comes from the Father. Thus, the Spirit reveals the Son, who, in turn, expresses the Father. It is a clear revelation of the mutual interdependency of the Trinity.

Another emphasis in 16:15 is that the Holy Spirit discloses Himself through the Scriptures. This means you and I must be in the Word in order to hear the words of the Father and the Son. Have you ever walked in the dark along an unfamiliar path without any illumination except a flashlight? A flashlight allows you to see a few feet—not a few miles—ahead of you. It provides just enough light so that you can see clearly to take the next step. In the same way, God rarely provides us with enough light to see every step we need to take in the future (perhaps so that we are not tempted to run ahead of Him). But He promises to give us enough direction to take the next step. This is why the Psalmist says God’s Word is a “light” (Ps 32:8) not a “floodlight” to my path. In like manner, who among us really wants to know what the future holds? If God were to reveal our future, many of us would be aghast at what calamities and/or diseases await us. We must walk with God in His Word step by step.

When I was growing up, my dad functioned like the Holy Spirit in my life. On our road trips and throughout my life he protected me, he provided for me, he guided me, and he cared for me. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will protect you, provide for you, guide you, and care for you. All you have to do is ask for His help. He will then empower you to live the abundant life here on earth (10:10), and then He will take you on a journey to a Heavenly destination. All it takes is the faith of a child to believe in Him and place your trust in His ability to take you home.


How to handle hate

Life is filled with choices and every choice has consequences. In grammar school, a student who befriends an unpopular boy or girl will lose friends and be made fun of. In high school, a student who refuses to give up his or her virginity will lose dates and be laughed at. In the workplace, if you live a life of integrity you’ll be passed over for a promotion. In the senior years, if you invest your time and money in the church you’ll miss out on various memories and material possessions. In the political realm, if you’re vocal about your favorite candidate, there will be those who disagree with you. In the spiritual realm, if you follow Jesus Christ, you will be hated. That’s right: HATED! Whether you like it or not, the Bible is clear that Christians will be hated and rejected by the world.

In John 15:18-16:4, Jesus explains why the world hates Christians. Naturally, I recognize that this will not be welcomed as a “feel-good sermon.” However, it does feel good to know that Jesus warned us in advance. As you reflect on Jesus’ words, ask yourself: Have I adopted a cultural Christianity or a cross-centered Christianity? Today, Jesus will say: It’s better to be loved than liked. In other words, it’s better to experience Jesus’ unconditional and eternal love than to win a popularity contest and be liked by the world.

In 15:18 Jesus declares, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”The particular form of the word “if” (ei) assumes something is true. Jesus is saying, “If the world hates you—and it does.” There is a certainty in Jesus’ words: “You will be hated! You can count on it!” Jesus then reminds His disciples that the world hated Him first. The NASB margin note offers a better rendering: “Or (imperative) know that.” Jesus is commanding His disciples to remember that He was hated from the time of His birth to the time of His death. Think about this: Jesus’ life began with King Herod attempting to kill Him. Jesus’ life ended in a death of sheer hatred. He was crucified at the wishes of His own people—the Jews. Thus, we must not be surprised by hatred. The word “hate” (miseo) is used seven times in the first eight verses (15:18-25). It is the dominant word in this passage. Jesus’ point is: Friendship with Me comes with a hefty price tag—the world’s hatred. Jesus wants you to be forewarned. In some circles, you will be public enemy number one.

There are three main reasons why the world hates Christians. First, we are no longer identified with the world. In 15:19 Jesus says, “If you were of the world [and you’re not], the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Jesus insists that His disciples are no longer “of the world.” They may be “in the world,” but they are not “of the world.” Those who are “of the world” are loved by the world. But the world’s love is fleeting. You can be “loved” one moment and rejected the next. Just stop and think about all the people that the world has loved: O.J. Simpson, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Mike Tyson, and George W. Bush. These were household names. They were popular and influential, but now they are nothing. That’s how the world’s love is; it grows cold, oh, so quickly.

The world’s love is also conditional. If you want to be “loved” by the world, you need to do what the world does. Through God’s grace and protection alone, I was able to survive these temptations relatively unscathed. But the reality is the world wants to watch Christians falter and sin. When we participate in their behavior, it makes them feel better about their sin. However, Jesus insists that He chose us out of the world for the purpose of salvation and service. It’s better to be loved than liked.

A second reason why the world rejects Christians is we are identified with Christ. In 15:20 Jesus says, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Jesus calls His disciples to “remember” (mnemoneuo) that they will follow in His sandals. As followers of Jesus, we can’t expect to have an easier time than He did (cf. 15:18). When our lives truly reflect His character and calling, we will experience either rejection or acceptance from people around us. As Paul says, we will smell either as the aroma of death or life (2 Cor 2:14-16). For most people, we will be aroma of death. Nevertheless, there will always be a remnant that loves Jesus and will love us.

It is worth pointing out that many Christians assume they are being persecuted for Christ, when in reality they are just “Christian jerks” who invite persecution by being obnoxious offensive, and argumentative. We need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to be angry (James 1:19). We need to truly listen and not interrupt people. We need to talk less. We must especially avoid becoming belligerent with people. Many Christians are not sensitive or respectful. Hence, we bring on a lot of our own persecution. In this passage, Jesus is speaking about disciples who are persecuted for His name.

A third reason why the world rejects Christians is they are ignorant of God. In 15:21 Jesus says,“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The world will persecute Christians because they don’t know God. There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Our persecutors don’t know the one true God. They persecute us on account of their hatred of Christ. Jesus is saying, “Don’t take it personally—persecution is not your fault! Persecution is ultimately directed against Me. Instead of becoming angry with unbelievers, we need to pray that we would have compassion for them. Do you realize that many unbelievers have never read the Bible? Many unbelievers don’t even own a Bible. Do you understand that many people only know the name of Jesus Christ as a curse word? Did you know that your neighbor, classmate, and coworker may never have heard a clear presentation of the gospel? The reason that they don’t know God is because they are ignorant. (I do not say this in a disparaging way.) Although the world may choose to reject Christ, we are accountable to share Christ with them.

Sadly, many Christians tend to verbally chastise unbelievers for godless living and then look the other way when believers are guilty of godless living. This is completely backwards. Unbelievers are not held to the same standard that Christians are. Unbelievers are supposed to sin; it’s a part of their job description! If I was an unbeliever, I would be sinning to my absolute heart’s content. I would be a world-class sinner. I would live for myself. But I would certainly hope that someone would love me enough to share the good news of Christ with me. While I would most likely rebel against the message, it would be helpful to know that someone cared enough to share it with me. May we seek to be more tolerant of unbelievers and ratchet our expectations for professing believers. The world doesn’t want the church to judge them; the world wants the church to judge their own. Gandhi once observed, “I might be persuaded to become a Christian … if I ever met one.” Gandhi was impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and he wanted to see evidence of a Christian living out Jesus’ teachings. May our lives showcase Christ.

Having mentioned the world’s ignorance about God, Jesus spends the next four verses explaining why the world doesn’t know God. In 15:22-23 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His words. Jesus puts it like this: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.” Jesus isn’t saying that men and women would have been innocent if He had not come or spoken to them. The world was already sinful and rebellious before He appeared in the manger at Bethlehem. Christ’s coming highlighted sin in human hearts; He pointed it out so people had less grounds to claim ignorance. Therefore, to reject Christ and His words brings greater condemnation. Ever since the Fall, the world has been sinning against Light, but never had the world sinned against so much Light! The world is robbed of its excuses when it confronts Christ.

In 15:24 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected His works. Jesus says,“If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Jesus performed all kinds of miracles. He healed the sick, He cast out demons, He fed thousands, He calmed the sea, and He raised the dead. Yet, the world rejected His works. In some cases, the world even attributed Jesus’ works to Satan (cf. Matt 12:24). No matter what Jesus said or did, the world chose to ignore Him and rebel against Him. Sadly, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have not persuaded most people that Jesus is God. Consequently, the world stands condemned for the rejection of Jesus (John 3:18, 36; Rom 1:18-3:20).

In 15:25 Jesus argues that the world is guilty because they have rejected the Old Testament. Jesus says, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’” The ultimate reason for the world’s rejection of Jesus and His revelation of the Father is found in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus quotes from Ps 35:19 or 69:4. The latter is the more likely source for the quoted words, since it is cited elsewhere in John’s gospel (2:17 and 19:29) in contexts associated with Jesus’ suffering and death. Furthermore, Ps 69 was widely regarded as messianic. Jesus is saying: The world has rejected the Old Testament and My very words and works. This has resulted in their rejection of God.

Jesus’ words could prove to be overwhelming, so He brings up the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection, the Spirit provides comfort, encouragement, and strength. Jesus teaches the disciples that they still have a responsibility to provide a witness to the love and truth found in Christ alone. Although it is important to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44), it is also critical to proclaim Christ as well. Christians need to exhibit both life and lips. After all, our lives are not godly enough to persuade anyone that we are different from Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and moral people. This is why a verbal witness is so critical. As we work for the State and teach in public schools, we must find creative ways to proclaim Christ. This can be as simple as hosting an off-campus Bible study or inviting students or coworkers into your home. If you want to share Christ, there are always ways to do so.

In 16:1-4, Jesus discusses the topic of persecution. However, these verses don’t refer to worldly people in general, but to hostile religious leaders. In other words, the biggest enemies of Christians are not atheists, agnostics, humanists, or liberals. Those who are seeking to persecute and kill Christians are religious zealots and leaders. In 16:1, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.” “These things” refer to Jesus’ words in 15:18-27. The only other instance of the verb “stumble” in John’s gospel is 6:61 where it includes the idea of no longer following Jesus. It appears to have the same sense in this context. Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble (skandalizo) in their discipleship after His departure because the events that would follow took them completely by surprise. Jesus’ point is that, apart from His warning, their faith would be shattered and they would give up in defeat. Remember, they were still going to be scattered that very night (cf. Luke 22:31). While they may have stumbled initially, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the disciples did not fall away; instead, they became emboldened to preach Christ.

Jesus informs His disciples of the consequences of persecution in 16:2-3: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” Those who will expel Jesus’ disciples from the synagogue are referred to in 15:21-25. Being put out of the synagogue means more than merely lacking a place to worship. It means the loss of the entire circle of friends who attend the synagogue. It is a social persecution. But, even death will be the lot for some of these men. In fact, we know what did happen to them. Ten of the eleven were killed for their faith. Paul was murdered by Nero; Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down; and James was beheaded. These deaths were performed by leaders who claimed to be doing God a favor. All except John, it appears, died martyrs’ deaths. John, the writer of this gospel, died in exile for his faith. These verses were fulfilled in the days of the early church when the Jews believed they were on God’s side, though they put Christ to death and persecuted the disciples. However, these verses also seem to have an extended relevance to today. Throughout the world, Christians are being persecuted and martyred by zealous Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. The reason that religious folks persecute and kill Christians is because they don’t know God. Their religious motives do not spring from devotion to the one true God, but to their religion.

Jesus concludes in 16:4 by saying, “But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The way Jesus states this verse makes clear that future persecution is a certainty, not merely a possibility. Jesus spoke these words to prepare His disciples for inevitable persecution. Rather than destroy their faith (cf. 16:1), persecutions had the potential of deepening the disciples’ trust, if they remembered Jesus’ prediction. Over the course of His earthly ministry, persecution intensified. By the time Jesus died and raised, persecution was at an all-time high. This type of persecution has continued in many parts of the world today. Undoubtedly, intense persecution will come to the United States, most likely in my lifetime, certainly within my children’s lifetime. We must remember the words of Jesus and guard ourselves from growing spiritually soft. If we don’t strengthen ourselves, we will be swept under the tidal wave of persecution. So be bold, be strong, and trust Christ. It’s better to be loved than liked.

So how can we counter the hatred and persecution of this world order? How do we prepare ourselves to stand strong for Christ in the days to come? The following three principles will help us apply this passage to our lives.

  • Reflect the love of Christ.We must learn to love the world when we are hated and persecuted. We must continually avoid the temptation to fight back and be combative, harsh, and vindictive. When we behave in this manner, we lose our witness. We must recognize that Jesus’ love is the only proper response to hate and persecution. Only He can soften hearts and cause our enemies to be receptive to Him. A man was working a crossword puzzle and asked, “What is a four letter word for a strong emotional reaction toward a difficult person?” Someone standing nearby said, “The answer is hate.” A lady interrupted and said, “No, the answer is love!” Everyone is working that same crossword puzzle, but the way you answer is up to you. When you and I display the supernatural love of Christ, God is glorified, and we may even have the privilege of influencing our enemies for Christ.

It is also important to express love for our fellow believers. One of the reasons that Jesus exhorts believers to love one another is because we will need each other’s strength to combat the world system. Unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends will turn against us on account of our faith in Christ. When this happens, we will need the strength and security of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Heb 10:24 NET). This will enable us to persevere in our Christian fruitfulness.

  • Read about the persecuted church.One of the ways to cultivate Christian perseverance and boldness is to read about our courageous brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Take an opportunity this week to read through the websites of Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com/persecution.com) or Open Doors USA (http://www.opendoorsusa.org/www.opendoorsusa.org). Commit to pray for a persecuted country (e.g., North Korea, Sudan, China, India). Ask the Lord to give you holy boldness to follow in the examples of these brothers and sisters. As you read about the lives of these modern day heroes of the faith, you will grow stronger and stronger in your faith.
  • Revel in persecution. It’s been said, “Prosperity has often been fatal to Christianity, but persecution never.” Instead of dreading persecution, learn to revel in it. In Luke 6:22Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Jesus promises those who suffer for Him both temporal and eternal rewards. Consequently, it makes sense to pay the price in this life and experience Christ’s pleasure and joy in the life to come.

A soldier goes to Ranger School in the Army in order to become a member of the Army’s elite corps of shock troops who spearhead the attack on the battlefields. To be able to meet the rigors of combat the soldier is put through intense training that pushes him to the very limits of his strength and will. When he comes out of those weeks of suffering and stress he is a different person. He is a Ranger. None of the process is pleasant or easy. But all of it is necessary. The same is true for believers. We are God’s shock troops in a hostile world. To serve in His army we must have strength of character which cannot be gained by reading books. It must be learned by living it. Thus, persecution and suffering have been proven historically to be blessings from God. It has been through this that faith has often grown stronger and more souls have been won to the Lord as Christians have responded with the boldness of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness all the way to death.

Centuries ago, a wealthy, young Christian was in love and engaged to be married. He had everything going for him. But he lived in the Roman Empire and the emperor had declared Christianity to be an illegal religion. Saying, “Caesar is Lord,” like everyone else, would have made him politically correct, but he would not say it. Instead, he said, “Jesus is Lord.” He was, by virtue of his faith in Jesus, guilty of treason. As the story goes, this young man was arrested in a crackdown against Christians. While awaiting execution in the arena, he wrote love letters to his fiancée. They were beautiful, passionate letters assuring her of his great love for her. But the two were never married, for in A.D. 269, the young man was put to death for being a Christian. His name was Valentine, and the day of his execution was February 14. Valentine’s Day is not about chocolates, hearts, roses, and jewelry; it’s about a man of God laying down his life for Christ. St. Valentine understood: It’s better to be loved than liked.

You’ve Got a Friend

What do you want from a church? If you’re like most people, you want dynamic preaching, awe-inspiring worship, and great ministries for children, teens, and adults. You want the whole kit and kaboodle. Yet, most Christians have a pet preference in what they want from a church. For me, it’s preaching. When I was younger, I began listening to Dr. Tony Evans preach expository sermons. As a result, I fell in love with God’s Word and biblical preaching. When I have looked for a church in the past twenty years or have visited other churches, I am always interested in the caliber of the preaching. I have learned over the years, however, that many Christians don’t share my preference. They deem worship, programs, and even facilities as more important. Now, we can quibble about what area of ministry is most important, but it may very well come down to personal preferences.

Nevertheless, there is a church priority that we can all agree on: friendship. Whenever we ask a new member why he or she decided to become a member, the person didn’t say, “I just love the preaching.” “The worship is amazing.” “There are great kid’s programs.” Quite the opposite, nearly every single new member would say, “I love the friendliness of this church, and I’ve made some great friends.” It began to dawn on me that friendships are incredibly important. I think of the friends that my family has made and the love that we have for this body. The thought of telling certain people that we are leaving the church is honestly beyond my comprehension.

When everything is said and done, deep down, all of us value friendship and community. We can’t deny it, we can’t suppress it, and we can’t shake it. God wired all of us with a need for friendship. Jesus’ words in John 15:12-17 apply to everyone—to those who have friends and to those who feel they don’t, to the extrovert and the introvert. As we seek friendship with Jesus and one another, we can develop deeper and deeper relationships. Friendships make the church go forward.

In 15:12-13 Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends. “There are three observations worth noting in these two verses. First, Jesus focuses on the priority of love. John brackets Jesus’ words at the beginning (15:12) and the end (15:17) with the command for Christians to love one another. John’s emphasis in this passage, and the whole Upper Room discourse, is love for believers (cf. 13:34-35). Therefore, I will not be discussing love for your unbelieving neighbors or coworkers. Instead, I will be emphasizing the importance of loving the family of God.

Second, Jesus commands disciples to love one another. Jesus doesn’t issue a suggestion or a recommendation. He commands His disciples to love one another, because Christian love isn’t a feeling; it’s an act of the will. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “This is My commandment, that you like one another.” That isn’t a choice. Let’s face it, there are some Christians you like, and there are some you don’t like. You don’t like their personalities, their preferences, or their priorities. You don’t have any chemistry. That’s okay. You still can love them even though you don’t like them because love is a choice to seek their highest good. This is an issue Jesus can command us to do, because it is a decision of the will.

This type of love goes against the grain of our society. Love, we are told, cannot be turned off and on like a water faucet. You either love someone or you don’t. Yet, agape love can be turned on like a water fountain. If I am thirsty, I can leave our classroom and walk down the hall to our water fountain, turn the handle, and drink. It’s a decision of my will. Likewise, love seeks others’ greatest good and God’s highest glory. Today, will you practice agape love with those in your family and church?

In marital counseling, couple are sometimes asked to use a legal pad and pen and write down their expectations of one another. Some partners would say, “I have an unconditional love for my spouse.” Of course, in as gentle of a tone as possible, I say, “You’re lying to yourself.” All finite, sinful humans have expectations of others. We even have expectations of God. When God doesn’t do exactly what we think He ought to do in our personal lives, we get mad at Him, or at the very least disappointed with Him. This is especially true in our relationship with others. You and I have expectations of those we love, and when they don’t meet our expectations, we become frustrated. So I have couples write down all their expectations of one another, and then I say, “If your spouse fails to meet all of these expectations, will you still love him or her?” Will you exhibit agape love to other believers in your life (e.g., your children, your siblings, your parents, and your fellow church members)? Friendships make the church go forward.

Third, Jesus has demonstrated love through selfless service. In 13:1-17, Jesus selflessly washed the disciples’ grimy, grungy, grotesque feet. On the one night of all nights that they should have put Jesus first, He served them in memorable fashion. Jesus’ entire life consisted of putting others first. In 15:13, Jesus refers to His death—the ultimate expression of His love for the disciples. So Jesus lived and died as a selfless, sacrificial servant. He’s the example that we are to follow. Interestingly, most people of character would willingly lay down their lives for their spouse or children. But honestly, this isn’t too terribly impressive. Unbelievers and believers alike are willing to demonstrate this momentary act of courage and bravery. For the believer, this means immediate entrance into Jesus’ presence, so there is ultimately no loss… he would even die as a hero, to boot! It’s far more difficult to die to yourself on a daily basis for those whom you love. True sacrifice isn’t just dying for a loved one, but more importantly, living for that loved one. Sacrifice is essential to genuine friendship and love.

Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was, for many years, the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. In about 1980 Dr. McQuilkin began to see signs of memory loss in his wife, Muriel. For the next decade he watched as his wife’s career of conference speaking, radio shows, and television began to erode and disappear. In the mid 1980s she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her deterioration continued to advance rapidly. This situation naturally posed a crisis for Dr. McQuilkin. As president of a thriving college and graduate school, how could he meet the needs of both his wife and his job? Many well-meaning Christian friends and colleagues encouraged him to put Muriel into an Alzheimer’s unit, but McQuilkin couldn’t bear the thought. As Muriel’s condition worsened, he made a decision that was “a matter of integrity” (his words). He resigned from Columbia to care for his wife full time. Some people thought McQuilkin was choosing this task at remarkable social and professional cost. They felt like he was throwing away his career—one that God had provided. But McQuilkin found tremendous joy in serving his wife who had unselfishly demonstrated forty-two-years of love for him.

Would you choose to care for your spouse in a case of long-term sickness? Would you be willing to sacrifice your career or your interests? Would you turn down a promotion or even quit your current job in order to spend more time with your children and grandchildren? Would you choose to say no to some of your social activities in order to spend more time with others? Would you selflessly step out of the ministry limelight and let another brother or sister occupy your church position? When you carry out these types of selfless and sacrificial acts of love, God’s program moves forward, because friendships make the church go forward. Friendships are important to everyone, but they’re especially important to Jesus, the creator of friendship.

In 15:14 Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus is speaking to His eleven disciples. In short order He will use these men to change the world (just read the book of Acts). Jesus is seeking intimate friendship with His disciples, so He gives His closest friends the condition for friendship—obedience—primarily to love other believers. This has nothing to do with the disciple’s salvation; but it does have to do a lot with their sanctification (i.e., Christian health and growth). “Friend” is just another experiential term such as “abiding” or “fellowship.”

Jesus is a friend to us by His grace. He has removed the enmity that separated us from God through His death on the cross for our sins. Those who place their faith in Jesus’ work experience His friendship. But this does not mean that Jesus considers you a friend to Him. We are a friend to Jesus by living a life characterized by obedience. Although no one is perfect, as we grow in our obedience to Christ we experience different degrees of friendship. We all have different types of friends. A person can be a casual friend, a social friend, a close friend, or an intimate friend depending on his or her love and loyalty. Likewise, all believers are God’s friends in one sense, but abiding believers are Jesus’ friends on a deeper level because they seek to obey Him consistently (cf. Ps. 25:14).

Jesus fleshes out this theme of friendship further in 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Jesus said that He no longer calls His disciples slaves, implying that He had done so in the past. One of the common titles God used for the prophets in the Old Testament was “my servants the prophets. “There is nothing wrong with the description “servant” or “slave” (doulos). Jesus and the New Testament writers use this term frequently of believers. However, there is something intimate about the title “friend.” In the Old Testament, only Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Abraham was declared justified in Gen 15:6, but he was “saved” earlier. Yet, it wasn’t until Gen 22 when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac that he was called “the friend of God.” Abraham had walked with God for about thirty-five years before He passed this spiritual test. Clearly, this was not salvation, which Abraham already had; this act of obedient faith was true friendship with God. As a result, Christians, Jews, and Muslims identify Abraham by the title “the friend of God.”

Like Abraham, we have the same privilege of friendship with Jesus if we yield to His will in our lives and remain occupied with Him. The result is intimacy. In former times God had not revealed His mind fully to His people. However with the coming of Jesus He revealed His plans, as to friends rather than as to slaves. A slave is expected to do what his master instructs him to do, whether or not he likes it, and whether or not he understands why he is commanded to do it. The best analogy today would be found in the armed forces. The change would be from the status of a “private” in the army to a “pal” of the sergeant. When new recruits are sent to boot camp, it is to train them to be “slaves.” That is, it is to train these men to obey orders, instantly, and without question. If the sergeant orders a private to dig a hole four feet square, the private is to do it. If the sergeant then orders the private to fill the hole back in again, he is to obey without hesitation. The private is virtually the sergeant’s slave. The private would never think of expecting the sergeant to explain his reasons for giving any order. But that same private may become a “pal” to that sergeant. They may become drinking buddies or workout partners. The sergeant may share things with his pal that he would not share with other privates.

Similarly, as we become Jesus’ friends, He will disclose His plans and purposes to us. He will share His thinking, His goals, and His motivations for doing things. As a result, we will come to know His heart and mind. We will experience a greater degree of insight into the Scriptures. We will hear the voice of God more clearly. Our thoughts will become more like His thoughts. We will carry out His purposes on earth as they are in heaven. He will express His love to us in new and fresh ways. On account of our obedience nothing will block the flow of fellowship and friendship. Our intimate friendship with Christ will make the church go forward.

This builds up to Jesus’ powerful words in 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” In Jesus’ day, a would-be disciple chose the rabbi under whom he wished to study and sought acceptance as one of his followers. Rabbis didn’t take the initiative to choose and pursue their disciples. This would have been considered beneath men of such position. However, Jesus broke all societal norms and chose His disciples and then called them to follow Him. Clearly, the implication is that Jesus chose His disciples for salvation. So whenever you hear anyone claim, “I found God,” remind such a person that God found him or her! We were all running away from God, but He (“the hound of Heaven”) chased us down and captured our hearts. As a result, we believed in Jesus for salvation. But God is never content to let us sit on our salvation; He expects us to fulfill His purposes. First, we are appointed to go and bear fruit. Jesus uses Great Commission language, “Go.” In this context, to “go and bear fruit” refers to loving other Christians. As we fulfill the Great Commandment, the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples. Evangelism will naturally and inevitably take care of itself. The result will be fruit that remains for all of eternity. The second purpose in our service is to pray for fruitfulness. Asking the Father through prayer in Jesus’ name is necessary for fruit-bearing to happen. Jesus linked prayer and fruit-bearing in a cause and effect relationship. Prayer plays an essential role in the believer’s fruitfulness.

The final verse of this section (15:17) once again hits the familiar theme of love and friendship. In case we have forgotten, Jesus says, “This I command you, that you love one another.” Again, the command goes forth: We are to love one another. Friendships make the church go forward.

I once read an article about a baseball player, Albert Pujols (pu hohs), the first base for the LA Angels. Pujols is arguably one of the greatest baseball players in the world. He is also a Christian gentleman who strives to share the gospel with every player who reaches first base. Pujols is a selfless man who puts the needs of the team first. Even though he could command all kinds of money and make himself the top priority, he wants the best for his team. In our day and age of athletes holding out, renegotiating contracts, wanting more and more money and more and more guarantees, Pujols is a breath of fresh air. He reminds us that sports are not about me, myself, and I … they are about team.

Missionaries devote their lives to fulfilling the Great Commission. Most go to Bible College and even seminary. Many have to go to language school. Nearly all have to raise their own financial support. Yet, research indicates that most missionaries who return to the States and discontinue mission work do so because they can’t get along with other missionaries. Sadly, some missionaries put their own goals, personalities, and philosophies ahead of God’s kingdom agenda of teamwork.

Typically, people who leave churches don’t depart because of the preaching, the worship, or the programs. Instead, they leave because they don’t sense the church is a team, or better yet, a family. What they want are friends. We are all responsible to take initiative and show love for one another. As we do so, we provide the greatest witness for Christianity. Friendships make the church go forward.

The art of fruit bearing

My wife Karen enjoys gardening. Over the years, she has planted all kinds of fruits and vegetables. As an observer, I can tell you there is a science and an art to what she does. She must cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, and nurture the crops. Yet, no matter how well Karen does, she can lose a crop to spring rains that rot the seed, slugs or bugs that eat new shoots, and birds that devour everything. She may even lose a crop because of a sudden burst of extreme heat. On account of all of these variables, Karen never knows whether her garden will be fruitful or not.

Do you ever feel this way in your daily life? You work hard at your job, yet there’s no guarantee that you will succeed. You may get demoted or even lose your job. You work hard at being a godly spouse, yet your marriage is mediocre or filled with grief. You work hard at raising godly children, yet your children are lukewarm or even rebellious. You work hard at your ministry, yet you may feel discouraged. You work hard with your finances, yet, your portfolio may still plummet or the American dollar may become worthless. You work hard to stay physically fit, yet there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to keep the weight off or avoid cancer or Parkinson’s. These scenarios can all be incredibly discouraging. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guarantee of success in your life? Wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s at least one area that you can count on?

In John 15:1-11, Jesus states that if you abide in Him you’ll experience spiritual success. It’s guaranteed! So the only pursuit in your life that is guaranteed, the only area that you can truly count on is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Fortunately, there’s no greater measure of success than to succeed where it matters most. In these eleven verses, Jesus teaches His disciples the spiritual art of fruit bearing, which is the purpose of our earthly existence and the definition of spiritual success. The key to fruit bearing is found in the theme of abiding in Jesus. In this context, “abide” means to stay, remain, or continue with Jesus.

Jesus is in the final evening of His life. He has been sharing with His disciples what matters most to Him. Jesus and His disciples are walking by torch light toward the garden of Gethsemane (cf. 14:31). Jesus most likely leads His disciples into a vineyard outside the city walls. There, Jesus pauses and says, “I am the true vine” (15:1a). Notice He doesn’t say, “I am a true vine.” He says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is saying there is only one true vine. You can’t choose your vintage. It’s not a wine tasting to see which variety you prefer. Jesus often used a grapevine to describe the nation of Israel. The Old Testament writers also used the term “vine” to describe Israel. But it was used to denote her sinfulness, not her fruitfulness. They were sour grapes. Here, Jesus uses the figure of the vine to remind Israel of her past failures and to indicate that He is the one faithful Israelite—the “true vine.” In contrast to Israel, Jesus is saying: I will be the one true source of rich and deep blessing.

In keeping with the viticulture (i.e., grape growing) metaphor, Jesus rightly assumes that no vine will produce good fruit unless someone competent cares for it. So Jesus states, “My Father is the vinedresser” (15:1b). The original disciples, and you and I, have the world’s greatest vinedresser—God the Father. He’s the one who cares for vines that are connected to Jesus. In John’s gospel, Jesus is never portrayed as independent from His Father; rather, the Father and Son are always cooperating with one another in every activity (cf. 5:19-23). If this is true of Jesus, the Son of God, how much more so should this be true of you and me? In the various areas of your life, are you dependent upon God the Father and God the Son? Who is in control of your family relationships, your ministry, your work, your health, and your finances? Who bears the overall responsibility for their success or failure?

In 15:2a Jesus says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [i.e., have love for other believers], He takes away.” Jesus’ disciples are branches connected to the “true vine” and cared for by the master “vinedresser.” The phrase “in Me” is used sixteen times in John’s gospel. In each case it refers to a life of fellowship or a unity of purpose. In John’s gospel a person “in Me [Christ]” is always a Christian. This also finds support in the fact that the branches of a vine share the life of the vine. Jesus is speaking of a Christian who is in fellowship with Him who is not yet producing fruit. This may refer to a new convert or an immature or struggling believer. In any case, Jesus says that God “takes away” or “cuts off” (NIV) every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. The Greek word translated “takes away” (airo) can also be translated “lifts up.” Since the focus here is fruit bearing, the rendering “lifts up” is preferred.

It is important to understand that Jesus is teaching His disciples in the spring when vinedressers did what He describes in this verse. Even today, if you go to any vineyard, you’ll find grapes tied to poles or posts called trellises. If the vinedresser doesn’t do this the grapes may be stepped on and smashed into grape juice! A good vinedresser will prop the vines up so that they can receive the maximum amount of sunlight possible. The vinedresser does not “cut away” (contrary to the NIV) a vine because it has no fruit but gently lifts it up to sun so it has an opportunity to bear fruit in the future. In the same way, God’s first step is not judgment but encouragement. God encourages new believers. He answers prayers. He performs miracles. He brings someone or something into their lives to lift them up.

Jesus now mentions another type of branch, one that “bears fruit” (15:2b). Jesus explains that God “prunes” this fruit-bearing branch “so that it may bear more fruit.” It is important to recognize that there are two different types of pruning: the spring pruning, which takes place here, is for cleaning purposes. The fall pruning that takes place after the grapes have been harvested will be discussed in 15:6. They are not synonymous. The word for “pruning” used here is kathairo, from which we get the English word “catharsis.” It means to cleanse. As it relates to viticulture, it describes cleansing the branch of insects, diseases, and parasites. This would have been the ancient equivalent of using insecticides, as is done today. This pruning also includes cleaning or pinching off little “sucker shoots” from the branch—sprigs that draw away resources from the production of big, juicy grapes. Left to itself, the branch will favor more leafy growth over more fruit, so the vinedresser has to prune or clean away unnecessary shoots and extraneous growth to promote even greater fruitfulness.

What does this pruning represent in the life of a believer? I believe the bugs, diseases, and unwanted sprigs represent things like bad habits, wrong thinking, unimportant activities, and lesser priorities—anything that distracts us from being completely fruitful, anything that hinders us from loving others to the fullest, the way Christ loved us. As we abide in the Vine, the Vinedresser removes these things from our lives to promote more fruit. Maybe you’re too busy. In fact, maybe your busyness is veiled selfishness. Maybe you’re packing your schedule with socially acceptable things that make you look good, all the while avoiding the harder work of loving others who are difficult to love, like your spouse or your children, or fellow believers in your church family. Maybe your busyness must be pruned. Maybe you’ve got a secret. Maybe you’ve been nursing a secret sin. Maybe it involves substance abuse, or compulsive spending, or pornography on the internet. Maybe it needs to be removed from your life. Maybe it’s a selfish drive for control in your marriage. Perhaps it’s neglect of leadership or running from conflict. Maybe it’s excessive time spent on things that count for nothing. Maybe it’s laziness or a bad attitude. The Vinedresser may want to prune any number of things from your life.

In 15:3, Jesus reminds His disciples, “You are already clean [katharos, cf. 15:2] because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Jesus is reiterating to His disciples that “the word” He spoke to them in chapters 13-14 cleansed them for fruit bearing. The disciples are spiritual clean, and they are ready to produce fruit. Jesus is optimistically calling them to a task. If you get a new job, you don’t sit down and say, “Ah, I’m so glad that I have a job.” That’s when the work really begins. In the same way you have been made clean to bear fruit.

Jesus continues His emphasis on fruit bearing and shares how to abide in 15:4-5: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” In 15:4-10, the word “abide” (meno) is used ten times in seven verses. Jesus’ first use of the verb “abide” (15:4) is an imperative. He doesn’t assume that His disciples are abiding, so He commands them to abide. The act of abiding is not true of every believer; it’s also not true of every believer all the time. We can earn a living, raise a family, and practice generosity without abiding. It’s possible to pastor a church or serve without abiding. We must recognize that there’s a difference between work and fruit. It’s possible to perform a lot of work for Christ that isn’t necessarily fruitful. It’s also possible to do many things without Christ. It’s possible to do many things for Christ. However, anything of lasting value can only be done through Christ, by abiding in Him. This is why Jesus says we’re not called upon to produce fruit, but simply to bear it. Bearing fruit is a natural outcome of being in Christ and letting Him live His life through us. Notice the progression from “fruit” (15:2) to “more fruit” (15:2) to “much fruit” (15:5).That’s what God wants from us. A detached branch in the physical or spiritual realm can’t live on its own.

Maybe your life is filled with stress. You’re a teenager living in a dysfunctional home and you can’t seem to find a safe haven. Or you may be a mother up to her eyeballs in children. You need a break, but you can’t seem to find one. Perhaps you’re performance driven and all you want to do is work and perform. Maybe you’re independent and it’s hard for you to rely on anyone. Regardless, if you want fruit that will last for all of eternity, you must abide in Christ. What’s the primary reason unbelievers don’t come to Christ for salvation? They don’t recognize their need. What’s the primary reason believers don’t come to Christ for sanctification? Exactly the same reason—we don’t recognize our need. When we read our Bibles without bothering to ask for God’s enlightenment, we don’t recognize our need. When we make plans and decisions without genuinely waiting to hear from God, we don’t recognize our need. Pray that the Lord will help you to abide in Jesus.

In 15:6, Jesus mentions the consequences of not abiding: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” In order to understand what Jesus is getting at here, you have to remember that this entire passage is filled with figures of speech. Jesus has been speaking metaphorically (e.g., vine, branches, fruit), so it’s not necessary to interpret terms like “thrown away,” “fire,” or “burned” as referring to hell. A branch that doesn’t remain attached to the vine withers, and out of necessity, is thrown away.

Grapevines, in contrast to other types of wood, don’t have many uses. Their total value is that they can produce grapes. Vines don’t yield timber from which people can make other things (Ezek 15). They are good for either bearing or burning, but not for building. Similarly, a Christian who loses contact with Christ becomes useless and fruitless. If I offered you a chewed up piece of gum that had been sitting out for several days or weeks, would you chew it? No! If you touched it at all, you would throw it into the nearest wastebasket! It would be dry, hard, and flavorless, not to mention, gross. Jesus is saying the very same thing about believers who don’t abide in Him. Your purpose in life is to bear fruit. It’s not to earn a decent living. It’s not to be a happy. It’s to abide in Christ and bear fruit. As far as God is concerned, there’s no reason for you to live, except to bear fruit. If you’re not fruitful, you are useless to Him. He might as well just take you to heaven right now. But instead of doing that, He brings divine discipline upon useless believers. Fire is a common symbol in the Bible for God’s temporal judgment on His people. God lights a match under us and begins to burn us with fiery trials. His purpose is to draw us back to the vine. He may use depression, loneliness, and financial trouble. We think we’re just unlucky, when in truth, God is the one burning us. God will not let the fire go out until we reattach ourselves to the vine. God takes His relationship with us very seriously, so when we stop abiding or pursuing intimacy with Him, He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, and it could get hot. When I was growing up and I misbehaved, my Dad used to tell me, “I’m going to heat up your backside.” Although it did feel like fire, the point that my father was trying to make was he was going to discipline me.

In addition to temporal judgment, Jesus will judge believers in eternity. John 15:6 and 1 Cor 3:15 both use “fire” in connection with the judgment of believers. Believers who do not abide in Christ or build well on the foundation of Christ will suffer loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Thus, it matters in this life and the life to come whether or not you abide in Christ.

In 15:7-11, we’ll discover four benefits of abiding in Jesus.

  • Perfect prayer (15:7).Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus is not offering a blank check for answered prayer. It is conditioned upon abiding in Him. The verb “ask” is an imperative. Jesus is not encouraging us to pray, He is commanding us to pray. The one who abides in Christ and His words will naturally pray the kind of prayer that is in line with God’s will. The context suggests that the prayers should pertain to fruit bearing and glorifying the Father. If you abide, then you can ask! It’s not the other way around. God gives His answers to those Christians who are abiding!

54% of Christian students surveyed confessed to “neglecting important areas of their life” due to spending too much time on social media sites. Not long ago, young people were glued to their computer screens, checking e-mails and online games. Now e-mail is the new snail-mail, and few teenagers bother with it. It’s all about cell phones, texting, tweeting, and instant messaging. Studies show that the average teenager sends and receives over 2,270 text messages a month. What if we had a relationship like that with our Bibles?  If we stayed in touch with God’s Word as frequently and tenaciously as we text and touch base with our friends, we’d have a much healthier spiritual life and a stronger grasp of the Bible. The best texting is studying the biblical text. Today, will you recommit yourself to studying God’s Word and ensuring that you are abiding in Christ? Will you make Jesus the priority that He yearns to be? If so, you may see Him provide you some of the answers and assistance that you’ve been longing for.

  • Proven discipleship (15:8).Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” The phrase translated “so prove to be” is only one word—“become” (ginomai). In producing fruit we’re becoming Christ’s disciples to an even greater degree (8:31-32). To glorify God is to show Him off and make Him look good. The “fruit” in this context refers to our love for our brothers and sisters. This is seen in the phrase “by this” in 13:35 and 15:8. We prove to be Jesus’ disciples when we love each other.

Bearing fruit by loving believers is something that you can do the rest of your life. I have always thought golf and tennis are great sports. What I love about both of these sports is that you can play them all of your life. I’ve also observed that many times older folks can spank the younger generation in these sports. I’ve seen seventy-five year old obese men beat younger men at tennis. I know men in their eighties who are still golfing up a storm. It’s not necessarily about raw skill and athletic ability; it’s experience that counts. God wants you to take your spiritual experience in Christ and depend upon Him for everything. He wants your best years to be future. How will you show love to the body of Christ?

  • Unlimited love (15:9-10).Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also 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.” Jesus has provided us a visual aid of what it means to abide—He loved the original disciples, and He loves you and me today. Here we come to the best definition of what it means to abide in the Bible—obey Jesus’ commands! There’s no abiding apart from obedience (cf. 14:15, 21, 23).
  • Full joy (15:11). Jesus concludes with these amazing words,“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Happiness is the result of happenings; joy is the result of Jesus. Joy is an inner contentment despite one’s outer circumstances. Joy isn’t primarily an emotion, it is a conviction. It is the inner contentment of the soul that is actively responding to Jesus Christ. G.K. Chesterton called this “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” It’s important to see that joy is from Jesus, not something we have to try to drum up ourselves. Someone says, “I can’t find joy.” Jesus says: My joy is available to you, and it will make your joy full. So don’t go looking for joy; look for Jesus. Joy is found in obeying Him and bearing much fruit. If you’ve got “Jesus joy,” notify your face. You may be thinking today: There’s a difference between happiness and joy, so I don’t have to walk around with a happy face. I can just be my miserable self. No, no, no! Jesus joy ought to affect your face and body. Regardless of your circumstances, you can have joy. If Jesus could have joy as He endured the cross (Heb 12:2), you too can have joy in the midst of every circumstance in your life.

Today, Jesus wants you to recommit yourself to abide in Him. He desires a moment by moment relationship with you. Will you submit yourself to Him? Will you say, “Jesus, I’m inadequate, incompetent, inferior, and insufficient for every task. I can’t. You can. Please help!” When you call out to Jesus like this, He shows up in your life in a mighty way.