As I was reading John chapter 15 recently and musing over the whole thing of “abiding in His love” in verse 10 and how that played into bearing fruit in verse 16, verse 17 smacked me right square in the head!
“This I command you, that you love one another”John 15:17
Yeah, ouch! In reading this you may have thought “well, duh, hello…we’re supposed to love one another!”, but let me try and explain why I was slow to think, and why some others may be as well. It’s called the “traditions of men” (see Mark 7:8, Colossians 2:8, and Matthew 15:2), and this time the tradition surrounded the fruit of abiding. What I believe to be a modern example of these traditions is the over-emphasis on the gospel of salvation and the under-emphasis on the gospel of the Kingdom. “But Lisa”, you might think, “that’s sacrilege”! Is it really? I’m not downplaying the miracle of salvation at all, only the expectations surrounding our role in it.
Whenever you see Jesus speaking about the gospel, most of the time He is speaking about the gospel of the Kingdom. When exactly did the gospel of salvation either get exchanged for it or become greater than it? To say they are both one in the same relegates the gospel of the Kingdom to salvation only (or is to say that salvation by itself is the gospel of the Kingdom). They are intertwined, yes, but they are not one in the same.
What is the gospel of the Kingdom? Romans 14:17 tells us that the Kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Could that give us a clue? Yes I think so, because if you continue reading John 15 you will see how this whole chapter is about bearing the fruit that comes naturally as a by-product of abiding in the vine, which hints at unity – something else that this chapter also covers.
Growing up in Baptist churches that have a heart for evangelism, on more than one occasion I was given the impression that verse 16 (to bear fruit and have it remain) was in direct reference to soul winning. In other words, salvation of souls was the fruit we should be bearing. But when you read John 15 in context with Galatians 5, we discover (in Galatians 5:22-23) that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Sounds reminiscent of Romans 14:17, doesn’t it? So is it possible that John 15, Romans 14, and Galatians 5 are focused on the same fruit?
“Wait a minute, Lisa, just wait a minute… are you saying that I don’t have to forcibly concoct opportunities witness? That winning souls is just a by-product of my relationship and unity with Christ? That I don’t have to have ‘elevator speeches’ ready or know the Romans Road by heart, or find ways to verbally witness to strangers”? Well, if that is what you find yourself asking, consider that our relationship and unity with Christ is organic, and maybe that will help to answer your question. Illustrated nicely within a book titled “Destined for the Throne”, author Paul Billheimer notes to “think of members of a board of directors of a corporation and how they have only functional relationship to one another. But an arm or hand or foot has an organic relationship to the body because each member draws its life from the life of the body“. As we are in vital connection with Him, we are also in vital connection with one another, and the source of our life is found in Him. Unity in and of itself is not something those who abide in Christ have to strive towards. It just is. In the same manner, so is the fragrance and essence of who we are and what we do. As a result it is our lives themselves that become a witness. Everything we say, everything we do is being observed by someone, and I would wager that far more souls are won through relationship than through direct verbal evangelism. Now if you have been gifted as an evangelist, that is truly awesome!! But if overt evangelism is not one of your current giftings, and you have at any time felt condemned by that, then I hope you find this an encouraging challenge to press into Jesus (abide in the Vine). Purpose to submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in you and cultivate an intimate relationship with Him. You just might be surprised by the fruit!
All can be summarized in Mark 12:30-31. If we get verse 30 right, then verse 31 comes naturally.
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.Mark 12:30-31