“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:6-11 ESV)
There are so many red flags in this passage, I thought it best to stop and take a look at a few of them. It’s often easy to gloss over questions or issues and just assume someone knows or understands the real truth behind these issues, but when eternity rests on our understanding them correctly it’s best to make certain we understand.
I was asked an interesting question the other night that I think might help illustrate my point. Someone wanted to know, “does God love the Devil?” Now, at first glance that seems like either a silly question or, at least, an irrelevant question. At first, I thought that’s like asking “whether God is great enough to make a rock so big that even he couldn’t lift it?” But, after considering the source of the question (one of our youth), and the actual answer to the question, I knew it wasn’t really an irrelevant or rhetorical question. The answer to that question, along with the answer to the real, underlying question, is answered in our text… let’s take a look.
When someone asks the question, “Does God love the devil?”, are they really wanting to know about God’s love for the source of evil in our world, or are they asking another, more basic question? I think they’re asking whether it’s possible for God to really love them and all the mess and crazy, messed up circumstances of their lives. Fortunately, the answer to both questions is the same, yes He does.
Wait, am I seriously saying that God loves Satan and all of the fallen hordes of evil demons that serve him? The Christian understanding of God’s character is that God is Love. It isn’t a part of who He is, it is the essence of who He is.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16 ESV)
God is Love and he loves everything he has created because that is His nature. The real issue (and question) is not whether God loves the devil, or us, but whether we love Him. That IS the focus of this passage before us. Jesus specifically points out that the important thing is our response to God’s love. Why is that the most important thing? God has expressed His love to us in a specific, tangible way and now he awaits our response to that expression of love.
What is that tangible expression of God’s love? Ultimately, Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love. But more specifically, Jesus is preparing the disciples to see and understand the truth surrounding the cross as the expression of God’s love for us. What is God’s desired response from us? Abide in my love. What does that mean? No need to get fancy and talk about Greek verbs here. It simply means to live there continuously. Make it your home. There’s an old saying that “home is where the heart is.” Home isn’t about a place or even things, it’s about people who love us.
My wife and I grew up in very different circumstances. Tina’s family lived in the same house her entire childhood. In fact, her Mom and Dad continued living there until just recently. My family moved around a lot. I can remember at least nine different locations we lived during the first 18 years of my life. But, home isn’t about the building, it’s about the people. When people ask me today, “where’s home?” I respond, “I grew up in Tulsa, but Shawnee is home.” Why? Most of my immediate family is there. Two of my three children live there and all four of my grandkids live there. That’s where my heart is.
That is precisely the challenge we face with God. Where does our “heart” or our love and loyalties lie? God loves us and desires that we engage Him in a love relationship. He has expressed His love for us and he awaits our response. Will we love Him? Will we “abide” in that love? In this passage, Jesus emphasizes that branches which don’t remain connected to the vine will cease to live. That’s not what he wants, but it is the nature of life.
None of us would be surprised by a broken branch that has begun to whither and die. Once the branch has lost that vital, life sustaining connection to the vine or tree we all know the natural, expected outcome; death for the broken branch. Since life comes from God, any life that is disconnected from Him will also begin to whither and die. How does someone truly love God and have assurance of life as a branch on God’s vine? We have God’s promise…
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17 ESV)
But notice the second half of abiding in God’s love, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Abiding in God’s love ought to drive us to obedience, or His words abiding in us. When we love God then our love for God is demonstrated through obedience to His commands. In fact, Jesus tells us that this is the way that God is glorified. If we are obedient and bear the fruit of godliness then God receives glory. Notice that love of God is not the same as obedience, but obedience flows out of our love for God and glory flows out of obedience.
There’s one more thing that flows out of our obedience, evidence or proof of our love relationship with Christ. We prove that we are Jesus’ disciples by the evidence of our obedience and the presence of godly fruit. We often get this backwards, and doing so is spiritually dangerous. We often think God’s Love is the result of our obedience, but that means we would have earned and deserve God’s love. That’s not scriptural and it is an extremely dangerous position to take. Why? Because it leaves us outside of grace and in opposition to Jesus’ incarnation and atonement. In reality, our obedience is the result of God’s love and is evidence of our discipleship. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10 ESV)
So, obedience doesn’t earn us God’s love but it does prove our love for God. Remember my story about Tina and flowers from a few weeks ago? (link here) She doesn’t love me because I send flowers, I send flowers because I love her. God doesn’t love me because I obey Him, but I obey Him because He loves me.
That leads me to my last observation… Jesus says he tells us these things so that His joy may be in us and our joy may be full. This is like our discussion about situational peace or relational peace.
The JOY Jesus gives is not the same as the “happiness” the world seeks. Happiness is situational and joy is relational. We are happy when things are going our way, or the circumstances of life are enjoyable. But, joy is possible even when the circumstances of life are challenging and things aren’t going as we hoped or planned. If we begin to understand these things Jesus is teaching us, then His joy will permeate our lives.
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11 ESV)
Let me leave you with one last verse and one question…
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalms 16:11 ESV)
Are we missing the joy Jesus promised because we are all looking in the wrong place? Remember, we can’t serve two masters…