The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 2, 2021
It is important that we extend to Jesus an invitation to come into our life, but it is even more important that we respond to His invitation to come into His life.
Jesus wants to give us a fruitful life. Six times in today’s 8 verses He talks about bearing fruit. He means to bring forth from us the fruit of good conduct, good character and a good impact upon our community.
Jesus knows what alone can enable us to do that: a deep, enduring, close connection with Him. When in verse 5 He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” He asserts that lacking that connection guarantees fruitlessness; and when in the same verse He says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,” He asserts that having that connection guarantees fruitfulness. If we make our home with Him – and rest in Him, reside with Him and receive from Him – we gain a productive life.
Jesus likens us to the branches of a grapevine, and Himself to its “stock” – that is, its main stem or trunk. When a branch proves fruitful, the vinegrower cuts it back to the stock. That stub of a branch “abides” in the stock for months while the stock grows around it. Then, at the magic moment, the branch grows rapidly and bursts forth with big, bright grapes of sweet beauty. Since the power lies within the vine, each grape relies on its branch’s “abiding” in the vine in order for it to come into being.
The word “abide”, meno in the Greek, is used 8 times in verses 4 through 7. The word meno can refer to sheltering for nighttime rest. For example, when Andrew met Jesus and asked where He was “staying”, the root of that word is meno. The word meno can also refer to residing in a place and making it one’s home. For example, when Jesus told His disciples He was leaving them to prepare for them in His Father’s house ”dwelling” places, the root of that word is meno. He was promising them a “meno-ing” or abiding place.
A “meno-ing” place is a place where we settle in, where we recuperate, rejuvenate and receive new life.
No branch is the source of the fruit that springs from it. That becomes obvious in an examination of the branch. The branch which produces sweet fruit would taste bitter if you took a bite from it. Similarly, the branch which produces a smooth-skinned, brightly colored fruit is rough to the touch and dull gray in appearance. Something other than the branch makes the fruit. The branch is not the creator of the grape, but the channel through which the vine’s life force passes and from which the sap brings forth its creation.
A grape is more than a branch could ever produce on its own. In fact, the grapes that come from it do so unbidden, unforced, without any effort from the branch. The branch does nothing but rest in the vine, reside within it and receive from it a power beyond itself. The branch doesn’t produce its fruit; it just bears it.
In the same way, we bear our spiritual and moral fruit by doing no more than keeping in close contact with Christ.
Yes, the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, corporate worship and service of neighbor can expedite our bearing fruit, but the difference maker is trusting Jesus to do what all our trying never could.
To “abide” in Jesus then is less exerting ourselves in strenuous effort than resting in faith-filled, patient expectation. It is to remain aware of Jesus’ mighty love and to rely on Him to bring forth the fruit. Thus, as it says in Isaiah 30:15, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Likewise, to abide in Jesus is less running long and hard in pursuit of a worthy goal than residing with Jesus in a life-long friendship. The God who lacks no capability doesn’t need our efforts and contributions, but He still wants us and wants to do what He alone can do in collaboration with us. Thus, Psalm 147:10-11 says, “[The Lord’s] delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” What matters is that we’re in a right relationship with Him and have hope because of that, believing that as an act of grace He’ll do all the work, including the work of enabling us to work alongside of Him.
Finally, to abide in Jesus is less about our putting out with steadfast diligence than about our drinking in His life in utter dependence. Abiding in Jesus is not about our giving as much as about our receiving in the interplay of mutual indwelling. It is our trusting Jesus and becoming open to His pouring Himself into us and having His Spirit course through our soul’s capillaries to produce fruit. The fruitful life is, as Galatians 2:20 says, not our living on our own, but Christ’s living in us. If we rest in Him, reside with Him, and receive from Him, we will truly live and bear much fruit.