biblestudy: John (Part Twenty-Three)
John 15:7-25 Our Organic Connection with the True Vine
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 07-Apr-87; Sermon #BS-JO23; 80 minutes
In Christ's vine and branch analogy, Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ, there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the Scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John 15:1 definitely begins a new part of the monologue that Jesus is involved in. He introduces it with “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” That word true, although it is not mistranslated, more correctly corresponds to the English words genuine or real. He is using this in reference to something that is obviously in the Old Testament. As I showed you the last time, in four or five different verses, God referred to the people of Israel as being “His vine.”
In each one of those cases, the vine was in a state of degeneracy. God had planted it; He planted it a goodly vine. He planted it in a good land, a fertile land, a well-watered land. He used all kinds of metaphors so that we would understand that there was a crop that he expected to get from that vine. But instead of bringing forth the crop that He wanted, it brought forth, as He said, wild grapes, entirely different from what He wanted.
That is why we see that every time the vine analogy appears in the Old Testament, it appears in a negative sense. It is in a state of degeneracy.
In John 15, it is obvious by this time that God is not going to try to revive what He planted before, that is, ancient Israel. Instead, He is starting off in a new direction, and Jesus is the main trunk of that new vine, that new plant, that He is planting.
In Galatians 6, there is a verse that directly mentions Israel, but does not identify it very clearly:
Galatians 6:15-16 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
It is very obvious that the Israel of the Old Testament was also the Israel of God, because the speaker in the Old Testament said, “I planted the vine in a goodly land.” What is the Israel of God of the New Testament? In Romans 9, a very clear distinction is made by the apostle Paul.
Romans 9:1-5 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
With that kind of an introduction, there is no doubt about what he is thinking. What follows is very interesting in reference to the Israel of God and the true vine of John 15. It is obvious from Romans 9:1-5 that Paul’s grief is undoubtedly caused by the degenerate state, or the degenerate spiritual state, of the original vine, Israel. Who are Israelites? They are the vine, to whom pertain the adoption and glory. But they have not lived up to promise.
Romans 9:6-7 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
He is making a very clear distinction because he is going to explain the fulfillment of a prophecy, that is, that in Isaac shall your seed be called, that is, the promised seed.
What he is saying is that just because one is descended from Abraham does not mean that one is a part of the promised seed. Just because one is descended from Abraham does not mean that one is a part of the Israel of God. In other words, natural birth does not secure one a place in the Israel of God.
Recall what John the Baptist said, as recorded in Matthew 3. He said, “Think not that because you have Abraham as your father” and then he warned them that God can raise up children out of the very stones of the ground. The Jews were taking their ancestry from Abraham as something of very great worth. Physically, it may have been important, but spiritually, it was almost of no value. No value? It should have been of great value, but it was not of great value, because although they were physically descended from Abraham, as Jesus said in John 8, “If you were the children of Abraham, you would behave like Abraham did.” But they were not.
Romans 9:8-11 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed [the Israel of God]. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)
The Israel of God consists of those whom God has called, granted repentance and forgiveness, and given His Spirit to. These are the same people that Jesus is talking about in John 15, that He is the beginning of a new vine. He is the beginning of a new Israel, the Israel of God, spiritual Israel, which after His crucifixion, resurrection, and sending of the spirit, became the church.
John 15:2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Since He is the vine, it is obvious from the allegory that we are the branches, we are attached to Him. Pruning is obviously a cleansing process, spiritually and physically. When vines are pruned, they are cleansed of that which is excess, and that which is considered to be not necessary or a hindrance to further production. The branch is therefore cleansed of that which it does not need, to produce even more fruit.
He is making an analogy so that we will understand that the process with which we are involved is going to be a continuous process of cleansing. We are cleansed, according to Acts 2:38, by the forgiveness of sin at baptism. That is the initial cleansing. But the process never ends, even as the process never ends with grapes. The farmer or the vinedresser does not trim his vines one time in the lifetime of that vine, but he trims them back every year. And so it is with you and me: the process of cleansing, of the refining of our character, of the understanding, is going to be continuous. It will never end until we are dead and in the grave.
John 15:3-4 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. [The word being God’s revelation, not just one word.] Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
This is kind of a warning that there is no such thing as someone who is an independent Christian. One is either attached to the vine, or he is not a Christian. It is that simple. One is either attached to Christ, or he is not a Christian. There are no “ifs, ands, buts, or maybes.”
Incidentally, this is a characteristic of John in his writings that he just seems to see virtually everything in black and white terms. Either you are, or you are not.
In verse 4, the word abide means continue or remain, or dwell, or live.
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides [remains, continues] in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
That does not mean that we cannot repair an automobile, or send a rocket ship to the moon. He is talking about spiritual things. He is the provider of everything that is needed to produce that which is spiritual. The branches are not to be self-centered, they are not self-sufficient. They have no source of eternal life within themselves—that is you and me. We have no eternal life abiding in us, unless we are Christ’s. Everything in John is real clear-cut, there is no ambiguity here.
John 15:6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
A grapevine is not good for anything except to produce grapes. If you cut it down, it is too soft for anything. After a while, it gets hard and brittle. All you can do is throw it away.
At the time that the Temple and altar were in operation, the Jews record that it was required of every citizen either to make a donation of wood, so that the altar could be operated, or to make a money donation so that wood could be bought from places like Lebanon, where there were great forests. It was stipulated that if the person chose to donate wood, he could not donate a vine. They did not even want it for the fire.
If we are cast-off from Christ, we are not much good for anything.
I have noticed that, in a vague way. If people do leave us, in spiritual terms, they do not seem to be good for anything after that. In almost every case, they disappear from view. Their attitude towards religion, church, spiritual things just seems to go down to nothing. I do not mean that that is a 100% thing, but overall, I have noticed that.
John 15:7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”
There are two effects that are given in this discourse, within the next several verses, that Jesus shows are a direct outgrowth or effect of this “abiding in Him.” Here is the first of the two: the believer’s prayers will be effective.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,” is very important to understanding this. “If My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” The verse presupposes that we are not going to be asking for “pies in the sky.” We are not going to be asking things that are selfish. That is why the word words here is important—“and My words abide in you.”
The effect will be that our prayers will be effective, because they are in fact the prayers of the vine as well. What we are doing in our prayers to God is praying the vine’s, that is, Christ’s words, right back to the Father. That is why they are effective. If His Word is in us, then the chances are extremely great that we are going to give those words right back to the Father, and that is why they are effective, because they are, in effect, Christ’s words.
That also presupposes, that since Christ did not pray selfish prayers, that our prayers will not be selfish. It is not something too consumed on our own lot, but rather, something that is certainly aligned with the will of God.
The second of these two things, is in verse 12.
John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
If we are attached to the vine, and we are being fed by the vine, the divine love that is in that vine, in Christ, will also be reflected in His disciples’ lives. If we are attached to the vine and we are being fed by the vine, we are going to look like the vine. We are going to act like the vine, we are going to speak like the vine.
It will not be perfect like the vine, but it will be working in that direction, like the vine, being produced so that we are like the vine. That is why the effect has to be that His love will show through.
John 15:8 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
There is something that does not come through very clearly in the translations from the Greek to the English. The Greek suggests that until they bore fruit, that they did not deserve the name of disciple.
I previously told you that a grapevine puts out two kinds of branches: one that produces grapes and the other that looks just like the other but does not produce any grapes. What happens to the ones that look just like the ones that produce grapes, but they do not have any grapes? They get lopped off. That is part of the allegory that He is giving here: that unless we bear fruit, we are somebody who looks like the right thing, but we are not really the right thing. It is therefore of no use.
John 15:9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.”
Remain, or continue. You must continue. This is something that does not come through very clearly in the English. It is more in the form of a command in the Greek: “You must continue in My love.” In the English, it just looks like a simple declarative statement, “Abide in My love.” It is not nearly as strong, not nearly as emphatic as it is in the Greek. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, you must continue in My love.”
Love, in the biblical sense, is always moral. It is always an action. It will sometimes contain a positive emotion, but it does not have to. There is always an element of intellect involved in this love, but it is not an intellectual relationship. It is a relationship that is based on an exchange of moral actions. God loves us, by doing things that are good for us. We, in turn, are to love God, by yielding to His commandments, and as John adds in I John 3, doing those things that are pleasing in His sight.
He makes a distinction. Certainly, the keeping of the commandments, the doing of God’s commandments, are pleasing in His sight. But why does he add the statement, “keeping the commandments and doing the things that are pleasing in His sight?” The reason is that there are things that the letter of the law does not cover. The letter of the law does not cover generosity, it just says, “do this thing.” It does not cover mercy. It does not cover forgiveness. All three of those things—mercy, forgiveness, generosity—are all pleasing in God’s sight.
I John 3:22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
When you tie this in with John 15, He is showing the disciples that we have to continue in this, it is a continuous process. We are not converted at one moment and that is it from there until the grave. Rather, we are converted and that is the beginning that ends at the grave. It is the beginning of a process in which our part is to yield to God, in the keeping of His commandments and doing those things that are pleasing in His sight—which we will do, if we are attached to the vine.
John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, . . .”
He is telling you the key to it. There is a reciprocity. If we will yield ourselves in the doing of the commandments of God, we will continue in His love. That is our part of the process.
John 15:10 “. . . just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
Jesus obeyed the Father because there was a mutual and permanent love between the two of Them. Their actions verify the existence of that mutual and permanent love. That is the way that it has to be between a husband and wife. The actions verify whether there is any love there. What good are words if there are no actions to back it up? That is what He is saying: Jesus obeyed His Father, because there is a mutual and permanent love between Them.
Similarly, the disciple obeys Jesus, or loves Jesus, if I can put it that way, when he responds to Christ’s love. That is our verification that we love Him—when we respond. The result is that we can say, with Paul:
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me [that is the verification of it]; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
We reciprocate by giving ourselves back to Him.
John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
That is, “That you may continue to share the joy that I already possess,” to paraphrase what Christ said.
This begins an interesting section, and I think that you have to see this in its context. Here He was, on the evening before His crucifixion. They knew that He was talking about dying, and they were saddened by it. Even though they knew it, it was something that was intellectual. It was not something that they fully grasped.
It is similar to when we get into a situation and we do not fully understand what is going on. Our head is kind of spinning around. We have information that seems to be very pertinent, but it is coming at us from several different directions, and we cannot quite put it together right. It is like reaching out for understanding, but something is always eluding us. The pieces of information that we are getting do not really make the kind of sense that registers on our mind, so that we know what we have to do.
That is kind of the way that it was with them. They knew that He was going to die, yet their mind was rejecting it. They really did not want to believe it. He kept telling them that He was going to die, yet they only half believed it. They were sad.
Here He is, talking about joy, in the midst of their sadness. We need to pick up on this. We feel the crush of the responsibilities, just in carrying out our lives—our work, the things at home, financial responsibilities, things that are going on in the world, we might have some kind of infirmity, we have children—and you add to that the weight of responsibility of Christianity. It is very easy to become overburdened with all of the things that we have going on in our lives.
How can it be joyful, when you are faced with one problem after another, and you do not really understand or grasp what is going on? You only get bits and pieces, and problems are not resolved, either as quickly or in the way that we would like. You begin to feel a crushing weight that you cannot get rid of, at least not readily. So there does not seem to be “much joy in Mudville.”
John 15:11-17 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.”
The key words in there are in verse 16: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” This directly connects with the way the chapter began, with the allegory of the vine, the pruning, and the producing of fruit, because that is what pleases the Father. We see very clearly that we did not stumble upon the vine, that is Christ, accidentally, but rather, we were chosen to be grafted into that vine.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit.” We have an overall principle that clearly agrees with John 6:44.
Let us see a few things that we have been chosen for. The first thing that we see in that section is that were chosen for joy. “These things I have spoken to you.” We were chosen in order to be educated in a way of life. That way of life should produce things. It should produce joy. We are taking them in the order that they are given. The first thing that He mentions is that it should produce joy.
What He is saying in effect is that a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. There should not be such a thing. I do not mean that we will not be saddened from time to time, or that there may not be some sorrow. But gloomy pictures to me a continuous circumstance in one’s life, an outlook that never seems to end. The person always has a negative outlook on things. There are reasons why we should not be gloomy, that is why I say that a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.
Looking at the context here, one of the major themes that He is talking about is love. Love is the keeping of the commandments. Love is outgoing concern. Love is doing those things that are pleasing in God’s sight.
One of the first things that ought to be produced from the keeping of the commandments, in the state that we are to be doing it, or the state of mind that we are to be doing it in, is that we know, and we know that we know, that we are right! It is not something that we have figured out ourselves, it is something that has been given to us.
There are people all over this world who are searching for the meaning of life. They would like to understand why they were created, why they are here, where they are going, how they are going to get there. They would like to know all of the details that have been freely given to you and me, unbidden. We did not ask for it.
If we do not have any joy, part of the reason might be that we are simply unappreciative of what we have. We do have something that is awesome in its value to a person’s sense of well-being. It is so valuable that it is priceless! It cannot be bought. It cannot be found.
All of Solomon’s learning, all of his wisdom, all of his understanding—two different times in Ecclesiastes, he says that there is no way that a man can find out what God is doing on earth. Solomon says that in chapters 3 and 8. In chapter 3 he says there is a time and a place for everything.
There is a time for a person to be called, a time for his mind to be opened. That should give you a sense of deep appreciation to God, and awe that out of all of the billions that He could have called, He chose you to understand this. There ought to be a certain sense of contentedness, of peace, of joy, because we have that. As a result of that, we know and do what is right.
The apostle John said in I John 3, this is how we assure our hearts before God, by doing what is right. He said, then you live your life with confidence, because you are doing what you know, and you know that you know, is right.
Like keeping the Sabbath. The world of Christianity, in all sincerity, is keeping Sunday. They have all kinds of theological arguments about why they keep Sunday. But you know that when God calls you, and opens your mind to His truth, that all of those arguments—as fancy, as convoluted, as complex as they appear to sound—just evaporate into nothing, they are just so many words.
We could go on to each one of the doctrines that we understand. Knowing that you are right, and knowing the goal and purpose of life, are two major reasons why you ought to have joy in your life.
The third reason is that your sins are forgiven. It is God who gives us an understanding of sin, of what it is, and a deep appreciation of what it is doing to the world, and what it can do to us. It can destroy our hope. Because our sins are forgiven, we have access to God. Because we have access to God, we have access to His Spirit. Because we have access to His Spirit, we have whatever it takes to live this Christian life.
We are called to joy, chosen to have joy.
Jesus also mentions that we are called to love. If you look out at the world, I can say to you just a couple of words as to the general way in which the world operates. Number 1 is that self-centeredness might be said to be the key to all operations. Everything is done for the self. “Everything” might be a little bit broad, but most things are done out of selfish motivations.
That is not love, because love is out-going concern.
A spin-off of this self-centeredness is that virtually everybody in the world is competing with their neighbor. They are going to “get it,” whatever “it” is, before their neighbor does, whether it is in business, pleasure, a piece of property, first in fashion—everybody has their own thing. They are competing, and that is the hallmark of the world. Governments compete for wealth, territory, minerals, and so to individual human beings. Everybody wants to grab the prize.
Christ’s life was a demonstration of the way life is intended to be lived. So we were called for love, chosen to love, chosen to learn to live the way that He did.
What is produced is the resurrection of the dead in Himself. Because He submitted to God, and because He loved man, He is already resurrected. He has made it into the Kingdom of God.
A third thing that He mentions is that we were called to be His friend. Abraham was called “the friend of God.” That implies a very unusual relationship. How many people could say that they are the friend of God?
What do you do when you have a friend? You associate with them, and they have a special niche in your heart and mind, that somebody who is not your friend does not have. You may not be antagonistic to those who are not your friends, but you really like, you love, you respect, you honor, those who are your friends. It is much closer relationship, than with somebody who is not your friend.
With those who are not your friends, you may wave to them on the street and say “Hi,” but those who are your friends, you invite into your home, and you sit down and have enjoyable times with them. You share life in a way that you do not share with those who are not your friends.
Suppose that friend is God. That is really an unusual relationship. Not many people in the Bible were called the friend of God.
There is an interesting thing to help us see this change of relationship that took place here, and is also taking place in our lives.
Deuteronomy 34:5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
I want to draw your attention to the word servant, Moses the servant. In John 15:15, it says “No longer do I call you servants.” Is a servant of the Lord a bad title? No, it is not. Moses was the servant of God.
Joshua 24:29 Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died.
Moses was a servant, Joshua was a servant.
Psalm 89:20 I have found My servant David.
David was the servant of God.
Titus 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle.
James 1:1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are all servants of God, and that is not bad. But being a friend is better, because a friend can also be a servant, but a servant may not be a friend. So we can be both servants and friends.
What distinguishes the one from the other? It is the intimacy of the relationship. Jesus explains:
John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
There is the difference between a servant and a friend. Jesus Christ, if we can put it in the vernacular, “spilled His guts out” to His friends. I do not mean that literally, I mean He let His friends know everything that was on His mind. He revealed the Father to them. He taught them the things that He knew. He passed on everything that He could possibly pass on.
It is like He is saying to them, “It is good to be a servant, but I have something greater and better for you.” And that is what has been given to us. We are not a stranger to the Boss, as a slave might be. What He is saying here is that we are partners with Him in the same work.
Maybe this illustration will help you to see this a little bit clearer. In some of the ancient civilizations, they had small groups of people who were especially close to the king, who were called “the friends of the king.” The friend of the king had such a relationship with the king that he was generally allowed to come to the king’s quarters, unannounced, at any time, when even the ministers of government were not permitted to do that. There was an intimacy, a closeness, that did not, by nature—or even by right or privilege of office—extend to someone who was serving the king.
That is what Christ is referring to here. This is a special group that are the equivalent of the friends of the king. There is that intimate intercourse with Him that others do not have. A slave is nothing more than a living tool. He can be used of God, but he is not a friend.
John 15:16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
There are a couple of things that are alluded to here that are actually expanded in other portions of the Bible: “that you should go and bear fruit.” He is still carrying forth the allegory that began at the beginning of chapter 15.
Part of that fruit is that which is going to be produced by their efforts in the proclaiming of the gospel, not just the fruit of their own lives—love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and so forth. Here we have an allusion to the church being produced as a result of these men being appointed and going forth.
Another thing that they were chosen for was to be ambassadors for Christ, as in II Corinthians 5:20. Added to the responsibility of an ambassador, something that every single one of us can participate in, is that we were chosen to be His witnesses. That is part of what we have been chosen for.
Isaiah 43:8-9 Bring out the blind people who have eyes, and the deaf who have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified. ...
The blind people are those who are spiritually blind, and the deaf, those who are spiritually deaf.
Isaiah 43:9 ... Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear and say, “It is truth.”
Here is what God said to Israel, and He also says to you and me: “Let the world bring out their witnesses.” And He says, “These are My witnesses.” Remember, this began with the Israel of God: John 15, “I am the vine,” the Israel of God.
Isaiah 43:10-12 “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen [that fits right in there—here is why He chose us], that you may know and believe Me [remember what the word know means], and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “that I am God.”
That is what we are to witness to the world, that our God is God. We do that with our life, the way that we live. It is not necessarily anything that we have to say. Corporately, as a body, as a work, we are saying it to the world. That was the work of Elijah, to reveal to Israel that Elijah’s God is God.
Back in John 15, what Jesus is saying in effect is that we are privileged members of His family. In summary, that is what He is saying in those six or seven verses, that we have been chosen for that.
John 15:18 starts a new section. He is going to deviate into another thought. It is another thought, but it is directly connected to verse 16, “I chose you and appointed you that should go and bear fruit.” Remember, I said that had to do with the preaching and the building of the church.
John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant 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. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
This is another one of those sections that shows very clearly that the apostle John saw things in black and white terms. “If the world hated Me, it is going to hate you.” Very clear. There is going to be no doubt about it, that the world will hate the Christian.
The enigma is, why?
It is very difficult for us to answer. It is almost impossible for them (the world) to answer. We can come up with ideas, because we can understand a great deal of the Book.
Why in the world did the world hate Christ?
We can say things like, “The scribes and the Pharisees felt threatened.” The whole world was beginning to go after Him. He was saying radical and revolutionary things. They feared that He was going to overthrow the government, so they involved the Romans. The Romans began to fear, “Hey, we have an insurrectionist on our hands!”
But there was never a better man who ever lived. He would not harm a flea. All He wanted was to do good: to teach people the truth about the purpose for life, why they were here, where they were going, how they were going to get there. How sin was going to be forgiven, and all of the good things that God wanted them to have. And they end up nailing Him on a stake until He dies.
The world’s hatred of Christ and Christians is just completely senseless; it does not make any sense at all. You know very well that the intent of this work is for people’s good: we just want to share the good things that we have. We are not threatening anybody with anything. We have no armies, we are not pointing guns at anyone. All we are doing is proclaiming to them what God’s purpose is. Yet there seems to be an inbred, ingrained, inborn hatred. That is why Jesus can say, “If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before you.” It is just something that is going to happen.
We understand the reason why: it is because of the antagonism of Satan’s spirit. The world does not understand that it is being pumped into them. They do not understand it. They just want to do away with anything that does not conform to what they think is right.
It never rains in California, but once in a while, we have heavy dew. When we have a heavy dew, we carry umbrellas, to keep that heavy dew off our hair so it does not collapse. I do not know who invented the umbrella, but I do remember reading one time about Jonas Hanway, a name for you to mark down in your history books.
Jonas Hanway introduced the umbrella to England. If there was any place that had a crying need for umbrellas, it was England (or maybe Seattle). Do you know what they did in England whenever Jonas Hanway walked down the street with his umbrella? They threw rocks at him! He walked down the streets of London and people threw rocks at him, they thought he was “loony.” “Don’t you know, it’s only water!” Here a guy invented something that was useful, and people threw rocks at him.
That kind of fits here. Anybody that does not fit, who seems to be a nonconformist to the customs of the area in the which they live, is somebody that people have a prejudice against. All minorities have to fight this. The only difference might be in the color of their skin, their language might be a little bit different, they might not speak English as fluently as we do. But they are still human beings, they are created in the image of God, but they have to live life always on the defensive, because in some way, they do not quite conform to the rest of the people around them. It is a pressure that is there, all the time, and it has to be lived with.
That is what Jesus is talking about here, in a religious, theological sense, there is going to be persecution.
In our case, the persecution, at least to this point, is not to death. Our persecution is mostly, I would say, a personal/social thing. Sometimes economic, we lose jobs because of the keeping of the Sabbath or the holy days.
But most of it takes place within the family, and it is personal. Looking at it from our perspective, most of it is unreasoned, unnecessary, unkind. We certainly do not intend our families, our loved ones, any harm at all. We do not want to be upsetting their lives, and we do not hold anything against them. But they react in bitter ways against us. They might never want to keep the Sabbath, never had a religious thought in their life, yet they hate the Sabbath.
We can learn a great deal from what happened to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century church. Romans and early church historians left records of what the Romans especially had against the Christians. You know that sometimes they went into the arena with wild animals.
There were five basic charges that were levelled against Christians. The first was that the Christians were insurrectionary. It did no good for the Christian to point out that he was, in fact, the very best of the citizens. It did no good for him to point out that God’s Word requires us to be subject to the laws of the land. If a Christian was really sincere and was really applying things, he was a good citizen, there was no doubt about it.
Yet, they were accused of being an insurrectionist, because in those days, in the days of the Caesars, every Roman citizen, everybody under the authority of a Caesar, at least once a year had to go to the temple and proclaim before the god (a sculpture of the Caesar), that Caesar was lord. So they were not loyal to Caesar.
Regardless of the fact that they did not break any laws, they had no army, they were not getting a group together to overthrow the government, they were not loyal to Caesar because they could not swear that Caesar was lord. The basis of it was that they were loyal to the Kingdom of God. That is what they got Christ on.
That was the number one charge that was levelled against the Christian, that they were not loyal to the government. The reason I am bringing these out is because it is very likely that in the future, similar things will be used to persecute us.
The second thing was, and this may sound strange, that the Christians were cannibals. You know that is ridiculous. It came from the Passover service, that we eat the body and the blood of our Savior. People with no understanding pick up on those things, extrapolate upon them, and say that Christians are eating human flesh and blood.
You understand how these things get spread, because I have no doubt that their services were private, even as our services are private. Because they are private, people think that we are trying to hide something from them. We have “secret things” going on. It must be a “secret society,” and you are planning to overthrow the government, and “I heard that they eat the flesh and the blood of their Savior.”
The third thing is that the Christians were accused of flagrant immorality. Again, there was no basis for it, but it was a misconstruing of the terminology that Christians use. You can see it in the New Testament: “Give one another a holy kiss.” How about your “love feasts”? That also appears in the Bible. All you had to do was tell somebody from Corinth, or a Roman, that they were having a “love feast,” and he could extrapolate without any trouble at all, and that is what they did.
The fourth thing is commonly known: they were said to be incendiaries. Nero had no trouble at all blaming the fire in Rome on the Christians. I have no idea who actually set it. There are people who feel that Nero himself had it set, because he had a grandiose dream of rebuilding Rome in his own ideal. They did not have bulldozers, so the best thing to do was to burn the city down. Nero was crazy. He was insane. He was suffering from syphilis. It had gotten to his brain. But he blamed the whole thing on the Christians, because part of their teaching had to do with the Lake of Fire, it had to do with the second coming of Christ and all of the warfare, the Day of Lord, what we now know of as II Peter 3, beginning in verse 10, about the elements melting with a fervent heat and the earth being burned up.
It is easy to pick up on the doctrine and extrapolate from that into a position of accusation when you are dealing with people who are ignorant of truth, the great bulk of the Romans, a city of somewhere between 1 and 2 million people at that time. There were only a few small congregations in that city; they were the only ones who really knew the truth. So when the city burned down, “The Christians did it!” because they were incendiaries. “Here it is, right in their word, right in their book!”
The last thing is more serious and more common, more serious because it was more common. The Christian church was accused of dividing families and splitting marriages. Indeed, that did happen. The evidence is right in the Bible itself. I Corinthians 7 makes that very clear. Also, Roman historians like Tacitus, Seneca, and others wrote about families being split by this new sect, Christianity. It happened because one was called and the other was not. So it was very easy to believe that Christians were bent on splitting families, when you had things like “love feasts,” and also thing like cannibals, all part of the same group. When you are dealing with ignorant minds, it is very easy to pass things on like that.
There are a couple of other things I want to say about verses 18-21, some clarifications.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”
In modern English, the term “you know” would be better translated “be very sure,” or “do not be surprised.”
John 15:19 “If you were of the world. . . .”
That is, if you exhibited the characteristics of the world, you would be in conformity to them, and they would recognize you as one of them.
John 15:20 “If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”
Paraphrasing it, “They will pay the same attention to your words as they did to Mine—none.” That is the implication.
John 15:21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake.”
The wording does not fit our thinking about “for My name.” What it means is “on My account,” or “because of Me.”—“But all these things they will do to you because of Me.” Or, “All these things they will do to you on My account.”
John 15:22-25 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”
In short, He is saying that there is a conduct that is excusable because of ignorance, and sometimes because of immaturity. We do not expect the same things out of a little child as we do out of an adult. Even if one is an adult, if one is ignorant of many things, you can excuse some of the things that they do.
But once a person knows—now the judgment becomes sterner. That is what He is talking about here. “If I hadn’t come and spoken to them, they would have no sin.” It is not that they would not have been affected by the sins they were doing, but rather, it would not be held against them in the same way. This is very similar to the statement that is made at the end of John 9, when He confronted the Pharisees, “Now you say you know, therefore your sin remains.” With knowledge comes responsibility.
What did He do, when He said “If I had not come and spoken to them?” First, He told men God’s purpose. Another thing was that He exposed sin in two ways: through the talks that He gave and also with His life. He was God in the flesh, and He revealed the Father.
In addition to that, He also showed mankind the kind of attitudes that they ought to have. It was not a matter of mere obedience, it was not a matter of mere words that He was teaching, but combined with that was the kind of attitude.
He also showed them the way of forgiveness, and lastly, something that you and I have been able to take advantage of: He provided the power for them to be forgiven and to do the right.
In one sense, that puts us in the most responsible position of all. In all categories, we have had this revealed to us in a way that the world has not.
Suppose that you had a problem, and you went to an expert on this kind of a problem, and you asked him how this thing ought to be solved. After hearing him tell you how to solve it, it is up to you. You are responsible from that point on. Once the expert has told you, the ball is in your court, and it is your turn to do something with it. That is the way that it is here.
“They hated Me without a cause” appears in Psalm 35 and in Psalm 69.
John 15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
It is the Holy Spirit that moves us to respond in the way that we never did before. Did you read the Bible before you ever heard of the Worldwide Church of God? Most of us did. But until God called you, you never put it together the way that it is now.
That is what He is talking about here: “When the Holy Spirit comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of Me.” This testifying comes in two ways.
The first way is what I call “inner conviction.” That is, we become convicted because we see things differently from what we ever saw before, like the Sabbath. You may have read about Jesus keeping the Sabbath. You were very familiar with the Ten Commandments, and you knew the fourth commandment was about the Sabbath. But until God began to call you, it meant nothing more than, at most, the keeping of Sunday. My father-in-law was raised in a strict Presbyterian denomination. They called Sunday “the Sabbath.”
But until God’s Holy Spirit revealed to you that there is a difference, and that difference above all is important, it never meant anything to you.
That is what He means about the Holy Spirit testifying. That applies to a lot of isolated information which gradually begins to be put together in your mind in a very logical progression. When you began studying God’s Word, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, the first thing that happened was that you began to collect, by seeing or understanding, isolated bits and pieces of doctrines from all over the Bible. Gradually, they began to be put together in a very logical progression. After a period of time, bang! It hits you—“This makes sense! I’ve got to do something about it! There is a God, there is a way!”
That was God’s Holy Spirit doing that. It was testifying of Christ, and of its way, and an inner way. It was not something that depended on the outside at all.
The second way that God’s Holy Spirit testifies to us is by experience.
Both of these ways are important, but in the long run, the second way is more important. It comes by a lifetime of experience, by helping us to relate what we are going through to God’s purpose, and seeing spiritually the fruit of what we are doing. That is something that can only come over a long period of time. Another way of putting it is that because of a personal intimacy with Christ, really coming to know Him, we experience the same kinds of things, at least in principle, that He experienced.