“Speech From God”

30 January 2005

Texts: John 15:4-10


            John 15:7  "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.


            If My words abide in you, what could these words possibly mean, coming as they do in the sayings related to the true vine.  There are four themes, at least, that flow from this larger passage: 1. First that our union with Christ is fruitful; 2. Second, that separation from Christ causes withering and destruction; 3. That the satisfaction of desire lies in this direction, in abiding in Him ; and 4. That our fruitfulness redounds to God’s glory.  Each of these themes deserves treatment, but we are going to focus on the third: That the satisfaction of desire lies in this direction, in abiding in Him .  Then we, abiding in Him, may ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.  Again we should proceed in any interpretation of God’s Word by stating the obvious: this passage is all about the reality of connectedness, the ultimate nature and reality of our relationship to Jesus--He is the vine, we are the branches.  Faith is a grounded thing, not some cumulus--an airy or insubstantial thing floating in the mind.  Indeed, one important consequence of .the incarnation is this very connectedness, a stepping out of myth and into historical reality where things have concreteness, substance, duration in time and so on.  “Through His incarnation He was revealed among men in the world as the centre and source of divine life for them.” (the Rev. W Frank Scott, Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 24, p. 423)  Christianity is distinctive from all other world religions in this solid claim in Jesus the Word, eternal and uncreated, became flesh and dwelt as the Christ in our midst..  When we say that He is the vine and we are the branches we are talking about a real, physical connection and not just, as some critics of Christianity would claim, mere symbolism.  So, the passage underscores connected-ness.  It offers us a symbol of organic unity.  That symbol is a grapevine, stem and branches.


            Now, these words (logos)) are, historically, spoken as the disciples leave the upper room where the Lord‘s Supper has been instituted and explained.  Ahead lies the cross upon which Jesus will lay down His life in payment for sin, a sacrifice on behalf of a lost and helpless race.  Yes, helpless , in that we could do nothing to achieve, merit, or earn favor with our offended God.  The cross in view, Jesus is preparing His followers, the inner circle, for what comes next, what will happen to them once the physical connectedness of their former days is translated into the next stage, the resurrection stage.[1]  It’s springtime beneath the Syrian sky and in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem, the new branches, those which will bear the next harvest, are just shooting up.  Everything is full of promise, and full of life.  And that includes the future of the disciples who shall momentarily pass through the most searing experience of loss, abandonment and terror of their entire existences.  And, in view of what is coming, the trial, abandonment and crucifixion, Jesus wants to comfort them, sustain them for the ensuing spiritual conflict--a battle with despair, death and even unbelief.  Not just incidentally, Jesus’ appropriation of this image is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34:29-30: "And I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore.  Verse30:  "Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people," declares the Lord GOD.  Israel itself, in diverse places, had been called by God a fruitful vine:


Psa 80:8  Thou didst remove a vine from Egypt; Thou didst drive out the nations, and didst plant it. Psa 80:9  Thou didst clear the ground before it, And it took deep root and filled the land. Psa 80:10  The mountains were covered with its shadow; And the cedars of God with its boughs. Psa 80:11  It was sending out its branches to the sea, And its shoots to the River.[2]

These fulfillments of prophecy, of pre-figurement are more than ornamental; they are demonstration of the prophetic truth, or veracity of God’s Word.  Their fulfillment in Jesus proves both His divinity and His Messiah-ship even as they show the supremacy of the Bible to all other sacred texts--which in comparison are much more the stuff of literature, fantasy and myth!


            "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.”  Yes, He is the vine, we are the branches.  There exists between us a mutual dependency--it is part of our essential connectedness--and yet we are much more dependent upon Him than the other way around.  As Jesus says, “without Me ye can nothing do.” (v.5)  Nothing?  Really?  Yes, and amen.  These teachings of Jesus are divine--and the test of that, suggested by the Lord Himself, is obedience.[3]  His teachings are speech from God.  They are life and health to us who believe.


            There are tremendous implications here.  One, that the root of social order is the perfected individual--the person united with Christ.  Only persons of perfected character will ever enter into the new and ultimate society that Jesus envisions for the saints--and for believers that is our vine/branch relationship.  Worldly leaders diddle with the externals, they vainly imagine that if we can just get the rules down, if we could legislate the ideal government, then all will be well--peace will reign and the paradise conditions of God’s kingdom will prevail among all--and that all without divine help!  All the utopian schemes ever hatched by the idealism of mankind founder on this same point--morally flawed and imperfect people ruin everything, the nation, the state, and yes, even the church.  But if everyone begins with building upon His words, His “speech from God,” then whatever we come up governmentally with will have a sound foundation.  It will be established upon the rock of our salvation, not the sands of shifting philosophy and human opinion, psychology, sociology or whatever.


            This union, this abiding is effected by obedience[4] and sustained by faith.

John 6:47  "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. John 6:48  "I am the bread of life. John 6:49  "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. John 6:50  "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. John 6:51  "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."

This vital, living relationship is sustained by abiding in Him through faith, prayer and obedience.  And the ensuing union produces fruit, much fruit--yes, abiding fruit.  Part of this fruitfulness consists of the good works prepared for us to walk in, the denial of all ungodliness, steadfastness, endurance in trial and through temptation--all the fruit of the Spirit (See Gal. 5:22-3: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, v. 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.)  In stark contrast the fruit and results of sin all perish; they become nothing.  But amongst those who truly abide, who obey and pray, their prayer becomes habitual, frequent and happy; love fills the heart to overflowing, deeds of mercy and kindness are done spontaneously--yes, as second nature to us now.  The first nature having been put to death!  All our redeemed talents, gifts and powers will be employed in expression of that united life.  We will love what Christ loves and hate what He hates--to do His commands will be a confirming joy and delight.  We will take advantage of all the means of grace, word and sacrament, that both declare His redemption and nurture our souls!  And this manner of life will communicate to us “a temper and tone of mind very far remote from the noisy, bustling distractedness too common in our present Christianity.”[5]

            I am describing that condition which leads to blessedness.  Every good and perfect gift will be the desire of those who are one with Him.  So, we see, the promise of very need supplied is not a reckless offer but a due recompense for our union with Christ.  Our wills being aligned with His we only ask for that which He purposes to supply--and we want nothing else besides that!  Our requests are expressions of our highest interests and not petitions that pander to our flesh and the lusts of the flesh.  God knows what we really, nobly and eternally want and need--and those are the things that He supplies.  And that is why Luther’s famous dictum, “Love God and do what you please!” works.  Those who love God will not soon pursue a course of selfishness, or of evil.  Abiding in Him we no longer covet that which is mean, petty and uncharitable.[6]  To whom else should we turn?  To whom else should we go?[7] 


            Let’s tie down, more precisely if we can, before we close, the meaning of “and My words (my “sayings,” as in rhema) remain in you.”  It would be easier if the word recorded were logos but it is not and we have to see if the context (beginning with the command to Abide found in verse 4) warrants a translation beyond the “ordinary speech” that rhema usually conveys.  I further believe that what this particular verse entails is Jesus’ urging a conscious acceptance of the authority of His Words--as well as constant prayer (ask what ye will), prayer for those things that Jesus would will for His beloved.  Anything that will help you fulfill God’s will is not be refused.  Also when we recollect and rehearse His prayers for us, His words remain in us in a real and practical manner.  More is suggested here than a daily memory verse, more than an hour, or even two on Sunday morning (when someone else points out what he has learned).  Perhaps saturation describes what we are looking for--saturation in Christ’s words, desires, understand-ings, affections and will as made known through the Scriptures--like dye put into a river it turns everything downstream into a particular hue.  Your life is to be that river richly colored, touched by the beauty of Him--and yet there is more, we must be continually replenishing the dye, continually becoming more and more like Him.


            How do we know that these words from John 15:4-10 qualify as “speech from God?”  Let’s examine the following pertinent passage of Scripture:

John 12:44  And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me. John 12:45  "And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me. John 12:46  "I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. John 12:47  "And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. John 12:48  "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. John 12:49  "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. John 12:50  "And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."


And: John 17:8  for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from Thee, and they believed that Thou didst send Me.


The passage from John 12 is an earlier summary passage on Jesus’ teaching and it features the oneness of the Father and the Son--a oneness into which we are invited, too, in the high priestly prayer.  Whether we believe, or whether we behold, we are seeing the one true God.  The Father and the Son are one. (John 17:20 "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; John 17:21  that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.)   Those who do not receive Jesus as God, and as Christ by faith remain in darkness.  John 12: 47-48 and John 17:8 confirm the truth that the Son of God came into the world on a mission of salvation--fully entitled to judge, of course, but choosing not to, Jesus defers to that final judgment any condemnation that follows from rejecting His sayings.  But, at that point in time, His Word (logos) will condemn the unbelieving.[8]


            John 15:7  "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.

You are about to go forth into the world and live out your faith.  What is the word from God’s world into your world?  Is it not that we are to keep the cross in view?  It is the cross that makes it possible for me to even consider abiding in Him.  He died so I can abide.  And, then, in addition to the work He accomplished on the cross, we have His teachings--His logos, the commandments of the Father to us through the Son.  Our great commission reads:

Mat 28:18 . . . "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Mat 28:19  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

We would do well to memorize it--all of it!--and we should note particularly our duty to make disciples, baptize them and to teach them “to observe all that I commanded you.”  To accomplish this great calling, we will need to abide through worship, through prayer, through obedience.  If we do, we will be confirmed in our belief that we have indeed heard from God.  Our lives will be full of fruitfulness--both inwardly as we grow into His likeness and outwardly as we rejoice in seeing others being shaped into Christ-likeness, too.  And, beloved, there is nothing more blessed than knowing, seeing and experiencing these things from now until He return to bring all things to completion in Himself.


[1] There are two Greek words used for “words” in the N.T. and they are logos and rhema.  The former means significantly more than the latter, which can be loosely understood as “sayings.”  But logos carries a two-fold significance: it means both a method of expression (as in rational, orderly and sequential) and it also means the truth conveyed.  When the words of Jesus convey truth, they are substantial and weighty whereas the rhema sayings of Jesus are closer to what we would call ordinary speech--the kind used chiefly to convey basic information.  This may appear to be an inconvenience, but the distinction is vital if one is to understand what Jesus meant in certain passages of Scripture--I shall maintain this distinction in passages I might cite below.

[2]  An even better example, perhaps, is found in Isaiah 5:1-2, 7.  The last verse reads: The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel/and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight.”

[3]  See John 12: 49-50  G. Campbell Morgan writes: Thus Christ said that the only way we can test His teaching is by obeying it; not by our own intellectual cleverness can we ever test the truth of His teaching; not by any philosophy or wit or wisdom of our own; but if we will do what He says, in doing, we shall come to certainty as to whether or not the thing spoken was speech from God. The Teaching of Christ (Revell, New York, 1913), pp 11-12.

[4] Since leaving the Upper Room, in chapters 14 &15 many commandments/precepts are laid down: 14:1 Let not your hearts be troubled; 4:11 Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; 14:15 Keep My commandments.  In Chapter 15, we have 15:4 Abide in Me; 15:8 Bear much fruit; and 15:9 Continue in My love. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words (logos) shall not pass away.  (Luke 21:33)  Christ has the authority to command obedience.

[5]  A. Maclaren, Vol. 11, pp. 12-13. “We want quiet, patient waiting within the veil.  We want stillness of heart, brought about by our own distinct effort to put away from ourselves the strife of tongues and the pride of life.  We want activity, no doubt, but we want a wise passiveness as its foundation.”

[6] Even forgiving becomes lighter work--I say this chiefly by way of comparison!--whereas before our salvation, we could hardly bring ourselves to simply apologize!  Beloved, we tend to become like those we hang out with and if the One we hang out with is Jesus, others will see Him in us before long.  Constant companionship leads to more constant obedience--easier prayer and obedience.  He is the highest wisdom, truth and love. 

[7] W. Frank Scott writes: “To be the object of pure affection is to taste of the highest blessedness earth can give.  To be the object of Christ’s love--not only His compassion for fallen man, but His love of satisfaction--is the earnest of that blessedness which awaits His disciples in His Father’s House.” op cit p.426

[8]   Verse 49 translates emautou, “of myself” as meaning of my own initiative and might be better rendered “of my own authority” because that is the thought here--the same thought as in 7:16 (See also 3:11; 8:26,28, 38 and 14:10).