A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on October 16, 2011.
5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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.
Jesus calls us to “bear much fruit” and become his disciples. And Jesus declared that we will bear fruit as his disciples if we abide in his love by obeying his commandments, just as Jesus obeyed God’s commandments and abided in God’s love. According to Jesus, fruitfulness for God is directly related to whether we’re abiding in God’s love. It isn’t about the size of religious buildings, budgets, staffs, and memberships. It isn’t about how much we sing, pray, preach, and carry on. Abiding in God’s love is essential to fruitfulness for God.
This makes sense. If God is love and if Jesus came from God to demonstrate God’s love to us and model how we are to live in God’s love with each other, then it makes sense that our fruitfulness for God will turn on our obedience to God’s love as Jesus demonstrated it.
What doesn’t make sense is how we’ve come to think that we are being fruitful apart from obedience to God’s love. It’s amazing that anyone would get the idea that we can show our fruitfulness for God by distancing ourselves from God through disobedience to the love commandment.
Obeying the divine commandment to love God and love others is the key to life in God and fruitfulness for God. When we obey the divine commandment of love, we function in harmony with God’s life, the source of divine fruitfulness. When we disobey the divine commandment of love, we exist out of harmony with God’s life, and, therefore, function in deadness. This message runs throughout every era and division of Scripture.
Jesus emphasized this love-fruit connection by using the term “disciples” to describe people who live according to his command to obey God’s love commandment. We prove ourselves to be followers of Jesus—disciples—by obeying the love commandment. That is also what makes us fruitful for God. We can’t be one without the other. Obeying the love command makes us followers of Jesus. Obeying the love command also makes us fruitful for God. Followers of Jesus are fruitful for God by our obedience to the love command. Disciples are people who obey the teachings of another person.
Jesus hasn’t called churches and church people to become and produce ushers, deacons, choir members, trustees, mission circle members, pastors, youth leaders, or other religious functionaries. Those functions have their place, but they aren’t what we’ve been called to become. Jesus called us to become his followers in obeying the divine commandment of love. That is what Jesus meant at John 13:35 when he said that all people would recognize us as his disciples (followers) by the fact that we love each other.
The Holy Spirit nurtures us to obey the love commandment. Loving as God loves isn’t natural for us. We were created to love that way, but the Holy Spirit must lead us, correct us, teach us, and guide our deadness produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This fruit is Spirit-cultivated, Spirit-led, Spirit-powered, and Spirit-activated.
People who live in obedience to the love commandment by the power of the Holy Spirit glorify God.
- They are agents of divine fellowship—love—in an estranged world.
- They are agents of divine joy in a sorrowful world.
- They are agents of divine peace (shalom) in an unhealthy world.
- They are agents of divine patience in an intolerant and vengeful world.
- They are agents of divine kindness in a cruel world.
- They are agents of divine generosity in a self-centered and unhelpful world.
- They are agents of divine faithfulness in an untrusting world.
- They are agents of divine gentleness in a hurtful world.
- They are agents of divine justice in a world out of control.
This living glorifies God. It obeys the commandment and example set by Jesus. It is nurtured by the Holy Spirit. This is living that redeems, liberates, empowers, nurtures, refreshes, uplifts, heals, and saves. God created us for this kind of living. Jesus calls us to follow him in this kind of living and showed us what it means. And the Holy Spirit empowers and equips us for this kind of living.
And this is the kind of living that religion is supposed to nurture in us. Any religion that does not call and nurture people into the life of love cannot and will not lead people to become fruitful agents of love.
This was the great contrast between Jesus and the religion of his time and place, and it is always the great contrast between the religion of Jesus and all other living. The religion of Jesus is a life of love, not rules. It’s a life of relationships, not regulations. It’s a life of interactions, not institutions.
However, love-centered living is controversial for several reasons. In the first place, it demands that we live to glorify God rather than indulge our own cravings for power, pleasure, and profit. Love-centered living is self-sacrificial, not self-serving. It’s highest aim is to give rather than to get. And love-centered living is inclusive.
If you want to know how controversial love-centered living is simply remember what happened to Jesus. Remember that the people who had the most difficulty with Jesus were people who defined life and religion by self-centered rules, regulations, and institutions instead of love-centered relationships, and interactions.
So we must decide what kind of living we want to offer God. Do we want to be people of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and justice? That’s the life God wants for us and from us, but is it what we want to give God?
Jesus calls us to follow Him.
- Jesus calls us to follow Him into the live of love.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of joy.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of peace. Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of patience.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of patience.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of kindness.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of generosity.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of faithfulness.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of gentleness.
- Jesus calls us to follow him into the life of justice (self-control).
This is a call into God-glorifying life and love-centered life. It’s a call into world-changing life. It’s a call into life that is so radically different from everything else that it dares to call everything else death! It’s a call away from life and religion defined by rules, regulations, and institutions. It’s a call to be vulnerable, engaged, interactive, and sacrificial. It’s a call to believe the world can be changed. It’s the call into a life of divine hope even when surrounded by evidence of death.
This is the life that God has created us to embrace. Jesus has shown us how to do it. The Holy Spirit will empower and equip us for it. The great issue is whether you and I will obey God’s call, follow Jesus, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit as agents of love-centered obedience and fruitfulness for God.
God, help us to follow Jesus into life that’s love-centered in You. Help us to turn loose of life defined by rules, regulations, and institutions so we can become people of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and justice. We want to produce that fruit for you. We want to participate with you in producing that kind of fruit in others. We want to glorify you by living to create that kind of world. We trust your Spirit to equip, empower, and guide us for this kind of living so that we can glorify you. Use us to make the world a love-centered place in you, we pray, in obedience to the commandment of Jesus that we live as agents of your love and be fruitful. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.