Issue No 2B
Address by Paul Burton Warrenpoint Northern Ireland – 7 October 2017
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. As to] every branch in me not bearing fruit, he takes it away; and [as to] every one bearing fruit, he purges it that it may bring forth more fruit. Ye are already clean by reason of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, thus neither [can] ye unless ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye [are] the branches. He that abides in me and I in him, hebears much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. Unless any one abide in me he is cast out as the branch, and is dried up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall come to pass to you. In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become disciples of mine.
As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you: abide in my love. If ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye practise whatever I command you. I call you no longer bondmen, for the bondman does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard of my Father I have made known to you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have set you that ye should go and [that] ye should bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should abide, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
One thing that is absolutely fundamental to your Christian life and to mine, defining us as believers – is our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not minimising or belittling other blessings, because they are very precious, but I believe that if you strip away everything else, our relationship with Him is that which defines and forms us as believers. All other blessings and the promises of God flow from that. Of course, we do not stop there, but if we haven’t started there, or if in some way we have moved away, or lost that fundamental link with Christ, I think we will have missed the point of true Christianity. We may well be carrying on an outward form, but with no living reality. Without a personal, individual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, what is our life?What arrested me in this passage is that the Lord says in John 15:5, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’.This whole passage speaks of that vital intimacy of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. As we challenge our hearts and minds as to the relationship we have with Lord Jesus Christ, we realise that if our relationship is broken, everything else becomes meaningless.
I want to start at Verse 1because the chapter does not start with us, it starts with Christ: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman’. John presents things in a very lovely way. The bible finishes with Revelation, and the scriptures are beautifully and personally signed by the Lord with the words, ‘I Jesus’ (Rev 22:16). I think perhaps John’s gospel was the last scripture to be written. It seems to me, in its personal presentation of Christ, to be morally the final testimony of the Word of God to us. If Revelation gives us the Lord’s signature perhaps we can think of John’s gospel as the signature block. When you receive a letter or email, you get the writer’s name and job title at the end, followed by his or her professional qualifications. Often the qualifications contain more letters than the name!
John gives us titles of the Lord, such as, the Word, and, the Lamb of God, that are not developed elsewhere in scripture. But in the ‘I am’s’ of this gospel, we have His great qualification and skill to be working in His ‘Father’s business’.
In ch. 6 you have hungry and famished persons. Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’(v. 35). In John 9, if you get a man who is blind and cannot see, Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world’(v.5). There were persons who said that they were not blind, and the Lord had to say to them, ‘If ye were blind ye would not have sin; but now ye say, We see, your sin remains’(v.41). They needed a Saviour, so He goes on to say, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’(John 10:11). To disciples in need of instruction He is ‘the Lord and the Teacher’ (John 13:14) and to a confused person like Thomas Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6).
So we find that the Lord has the resources to meet every need. When He says, ‘I am the true vine’, (ch. 15:1),He is saying, ‘I am the resource that will answer that barrenness, emptiness and drought in your heart as you walk through a spiritually lifeless scene.’ There are times I feel like that. I may have been occupied (sometimes necessarily so) with things that are not fruitful, things that have not brought life, peace or satisfaction. The Lord Jesus would say to us ’I am the True Vine’ so that we may be revived and refreshed again.
But how do we get the blessing of the Lord as the True Vine? The Lord answers that in three simple words, ‘Abide in me’(v. 4). Now If I were to sum up what I said earlier on as to our personal, individual relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ, they would be the three words, ‘Abide in Me’. That is not a difficult thing. It does not need a whole course of doctrine and theology. Just, ‘Abide in Me’.
If I broke off a branch or a stem from a plant or tree, and thought that I could just connect it back to the main plant every now and again and it would keep alive, you would tell me that I was being very foolish. The moment you break the connection, the source of life is gone, and that part of the plant or tree will die. Perhaps sometimes we think we can equate Christianity with modern technology. We think it’s like recharging a mobile phone battery. We plug ourselves in once a week, get a spiritual charge, then unplug ourselves, go away, and then come back next week and plug in again. Christianity does not work that way.
Abide in Me. Not once a week, not once a day, but every minute of every hour of every day of every year. You may ask, how do I abide in Him? I am not going to try and give you a step-by-step guide because I don’t think that’s the way Christianity works. God does not give us a process or a set of instructions to follow, in order to abide in Christ.
We might become like the Pharisee in Luke 18. He thought he was doing what God wanted him to do: ‘I fast twice in the week, I tithe everything I gain’(v. 12). Somebody had given him an instruction manual for walking with God, and he thought by following it, he would be justified before God. But it would appear that this man had no real link with God at all. Then there is something even more solemn. The Lord speaks of those of whom it is said, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied through thy name, and through thy name cast out demons, and through thy name done many works of power? and then will I avow unto them, I never knew you. Depart from me, workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:22-23). There are persons today who maintain that you have to have done these things in order to prove that you are a Christian and have the Spirit but the persons the Lord was referring to were clearly not abiding in Christ. I would also say as a warning, let us be very careful what we attach the Lord’s name to.
All I can say about abiding in Him is this, that you need to have your own relationship with the Lord Jesus. Make it real, and make it constant. You will say, ‘How can I possibly do that? Are you saying that you want me to sit in a room all day, read my bible, kneel on my knees and pray, in order to be able to say that I’m abiding in Christ? I have to work or do my studies at school, how can I always abide in Him?’
My answer is that you have been given the blessed Holy Spirit who will help you. You can abide in Christ while doing the most mundane things in secular life. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person living in you, and it is He who gives you that abiding link with Christ. You don’t have to be talking to the Lord Jesus, or thinking about the scriptures every minute of the day to be abiding in Him. What it does mean is that you have a spiritual power linking you livingly with Christ every moment of the day. We have to learn to listen to Him and understand the promptings of the Spirit of God in us.
What comes out of this is our walk, and scripture speaks a lot about our walk. There is a close connection between walking and abiding. We see this in1 John 2:6, ‘He that says he abides in him ought, even as he walked, himself also so to walk.’ So even if I can’t tell you how to abide in Him because you have to come to that yourself, I can tell you that evidence of your abiding in Christ will be seen in your walk. Your walk is very important, and you learn to walk as a consequence of abiding in Jesus.
We have many mothers here. A mother will have been used to putting her very young baby down knowing it will stay exactly where it was put, because it has not learnt to move yet. Then there comes a point in the infant’s development when you put it down and it no longer stays in the place you have put it. It begins to learn to move for itself and life is never quite the same again. A new element of watchfulness has to enter into the care of a little one. The Christian life is a bit like that, before you could ever learn to walk as a believer, you were in Christ.
I want to take you back, if I can, to that moment that you trusted Him. That you knew you had that personal relationship with the Lord Jesus – that you were His. When you could just settle down in His arms and all those worries and fears are gone. Did you ever want it to go away? You were abiding in Him and what better place is there than in the Saviour’s arms?
I know that this scripture I am about to refer to is in a different context, but in the Song of Songs, the lover said, ‘When I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go’ (Song of Songs 3:4).Did you not feel like that when you found Him at the start of your Christian pathway? Christ’s love embraced you, and it was so precious to you that you held Him and you would not let Him go. Go back to that moment, and remember what Christ meant to you. He meant everything to you, didn’t He? Such was the joy of having Him.
But then life goes on. Things have to be worked out in your responsibilities here. You can’t just sit there in the embrace of the love of Christ and ignore everything going on around you. The Lord has not asked us to do that.
Let us return to the analogy of the little child. There becomes a point in time when they are not just content just to be left where you put it. It begins to explore; first crawling, then walking. Generally, a child learns to walk from the arms of the parents. Have you ever taught a child to walk by standing it up, and physically moving one leg and then the other? There is a beautiful verse in the prophet Hosea where God speaks of this as though He was a parent with a child; ‘And I it was that taught Ephraim to walk, — He took them upon his arms, — but they knew not that I healed them’(Hosea 11:3). I remember a brother saying that it’s like a real father holding a tottering child as it begins to find its legs. He goes behind with outstretched arms while they take the first two or three tottering steps and then collapse in a heap into his arms. Thus is the loving, patient care of our Lord and Saviour as we learn to walk. How gracious He is! He doesn’t teach us in a mechanical way; He doesn’t give us the manual and say, ‘Put forward one foot and then the next, then the next”. You learn through the experience of life with Him. You learn to walk as a believer and God is very gracious, even when we fall. How often we fall into those arms that gently pick us up and teach us to walk again!
Our child begins to walk, but it still doesn’t have any real awareness of its surroundings. If you left the gate open unsupervised, it would run right out into the road. As a young believer you begin your Christian walk, but you don’t understand the dangers around you. God is very gracious and protects you. He may use your Christian parents to provide you with an environment of care and protection, even though you may kick against such restraints.
Then as you develop, you begin to walk independently. You don’t see many teenagers on reins, though those of us who are parents may sometimes wish we could still keep them; but we have to leave them to develop their own responsibilities in life.
Now young believer, you have developed your link with Christ. You are beginning to exercise the walk of faith. God has given you faith, and he’s asked you to walk, as an individual, responsibly in faith, before the Lord. You do that by developing your abiding link in Christ. You do not have to rely on someone telling you what to do. You have the privilege and joy of walking here in faith, with Christ; but it is also a responsibility. You belong to Christ and you have to prove that walk of faith yourself. But remember, it is never to be outside of that exhortation; ‘Abide in me’.
In that walk of faith you will find company with other believers, John’s writings tell us that. If we abide in Him, we will walk as He walked; ‘if we walk as He walked we shall walk in the light; if we walk in the light, as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another’(1 John 1:7). The fellowship is a very precious blessing, but it does not remove my individual responsibility of abiding in Him. We cannot rely on the mere structure of theChristian company for our spiritual life. We cannot find our abiding merely through the company of others. It is rather our individual, personal relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ that are the source of our life in a Christian fellowship. If those ‘abide in me’ relationships are maintained, what joy and vitality there will be! But if they are not maintained, there will be no lasting life. Please don’t just rely on others links with Christ to maintain the life of the company. Your personal, maintained committal to Christ, abiding in Him, is vital to your spiritual life, and also the encouragement and joy of those you have the blessing to walk with.
The scripture goes on to say, ‘Abide in my love’(v. 10). I am not going into that subject now. I am just leaving you with the words, ‘Abide in me’. That is your responsibility, privilege and joy as a believer, and it is mine too. It is the bedrock and foundation of your individual Christian life individually and as worked out with others. ‘Abide in me’. Do just that, for His name’s sake!
Edited by: Daniel Roberts, Strood, Kent (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Revised by Paul Burton and checked by others