The Vine and Trying Harder
Wow. Okay. Where to start? There is SO much in this passage that I can only hope to summarize it for you. Jesus starts talking with another one of His "I am" statements, this time "the true vine". He uses an extended metaphor to tell us about what it means to be His disciple. So what does it mean to be a disciple?
1. To "abide" ("remain" in NIV) in Jesus, used several times in vv. 4-10.
2. To bear fruit, vv. 4-5, 8 in particular
3. To keep His commandments, v. 10
4. To have joy, v. 11
5. To love one another, v. 17
I could probably list a few more, but I think those are the main ones. We're going to leave #1 alone for now, but let's think for a moment about the other four. These are what Jesus lists as distinguishing features of His disciples (Christians): fruit, keeping commandments, joy, and love. In one sense, it doesn't seem like a lot - UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY TRY TO DO IT. At least that's been my experience - miserable failure. Joy: maybe for a bit, but then I get discouraged. Love: Until someone is a jerk to me. Keep His commandments: until the temptation gets too great. Fruit: what IS fruit anyway? How do I know if I have it?
So Jesus gives us a tall order to fill. But let's not forget #1: Abide in me. Know me. Be loved by me. This is the power by which we fulfill the others:
2. Verse 4: "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Fruit depends upon being part of the vine.
3. Verse 7: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you..." A connection: when we abide in Him, His words abide in us. Also verse 10: "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." The key here is Jesus' obedience to the Father, which enables our obedience to Him.
4. Verse 11: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." Joy doesn't depend on ourselves, but upon knowing Jesus' words and abiding in Him. Then our joy is full.
5. Verse 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." We love each other only because Jesus loved us.
It's a little difficult to get the picture by just picking out the individual verses, but I did that to make things (hopefully) more clear on each point. The key verse/idea the summarizes the WHOLE of this passage is verse 5:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
Jesus gives us a tall order for discipleship, but it is THROUGH HIM that we fulfill it. God makes heavy demands upon us, but it is THROUGH JESUS ALONE that we can fulfill them. Christ fulfills the Law on our behalf, but also is the strength by which we do anything in this "Christian Life". If you try to muster up joy, you will fail. It is found only by knowing Jesus and being known by Him. Joy/Love/Fruit/Holy Life are not the GOAL of discipleship, they are the PRODUCT. Verse 5 makes it clear to us that Jesus is not DEMANDING these things from His disciples, but saying that they are how you can IDENTIFY someone who is Jesus' disciple, who abides in Him. When we try to do these things on our own, apart from Jesus in an attempt to EARN Jesus, we cut ourselves off from the vine, the head, the power source by which we can ever do them. If a branch is separated from the vine, what will happen? It will wither. No matter what the branch does in CANNOT thrive.
Question: You are spiritually dry and dead. Why?
The answer that I think is usually given is something along the lines of "try harder". "If you were just more disciplined you would be alive." I think it's clear to everyone from this passage what the real answer is:
"You are not connected to the vine. You are not being upheld and changed by the power of Jesus. Know Him and be known by Him."
Run to Jesus. Only He has the power to save and change you.