By Cailey Morgan
The theme of CBWC’s upcoming Banff Pastors Conference is Life on the Vine. I find this tagline quite fitting, as John 15 was the focus of study at my church recently. Man, what a gutwrencher!
Not only is this teaching of Jesus full of beautiful imagery, but His simple if/then invitations have poked and prodded me in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. My Mission Group has helped me process by examining the chapter together piece-by-piece but also in the context of the broader Scriptural narrative and of our own lived experience. Even with the Group’s help, though, I still found verse 5 to be particularly prickly:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
In some ways, this instruction from Christ is extremely straightforward. I’m the Cord; you’re the bulb. As long as we stay entwined, there will be light in and through you. But without Me–your Source–you’ll be dark and useless (See Ephesians 5:8-13 for the basis of this paraphrase). Do A, and B will happen. Open invitation; simple response; clear outcomes. Remaining = fruit.
But in other ways, I got so tripped up. Take for instance that word remain. My initial reaction to the concept of remaining–or abiding as other translations say–was that it sounds kind of passive and maybe even a bit boring. It would seem Jesus is presenting us a lose-lose situation: either remain (which sounds boring), or go apart (where “you can do nothing.” Talk about even more boring!). However, through yet another processing session with my Group, I came to see the possibility that I’ve got this whole thing upside-down.
Staying Put in the Current
What if my understanding of abiding was less like a passive lack of movement and more like the labour of a fish in a raging river? My life is so easily pulled along in the currents of a culture that is not only yanking me away from Christ’s Kingdom way that I am called to walk, but also panders to my short attention span, my laziness, my habit of watching non-existent people’s problems explode on a screen rather than dealing with my own, my pursuit of self-important busyness, and my robust case of millennial individualistic egomania that lets me believe I am so special that I accomplish anything I put my mind to (and all by myself, might I add). For this fish that is me, the act of actually remaining, abiding in the true Christ-like life that comes from the Vine, facing upstream and staying put as the river pulls past, takes infinitely more effort and intentionality than passively letting the water take me where it may.
Ok, we’ve gotten past presumptions of boringness to an active picture of remaining. But my next hangup came with the fact that my new definition of remaining sounds like a life of lonely and impossible striving. Kind of like religion for the sake of religion. But thankfully, at that point I had not considered the rest of the characters in this story.
Not Alone in the River
Abiding in Christ is not passive (Ephesians 6:10-17 and Colossians 3:12-13), or easy (John 16:33), or boring (John 10:10). And it’s also not one-sided. I’m not alone in this river. The Message version of John 14:4 suggests that Jesus was saying “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” As we learn to cling to the Vine, to our Source of life, love, identity and purpose, He is clinging right back.
And how is it that we actually do remain? John 15:9-10 reminds us that we remain in His love by keeping His commands. Thankfully, He spells out what He means by “commands” in verse 17:
My command is this: Love each other.
So Lord, what you’re saying is this: You give me Your love so that I can love others as a way for them to receive Your love while I show You my love by obeying Your command to love others as they love You by loving me. Huh? Sounds like these Vine and branches are a big, tangled, intertwined mess, maybe like the structured-organic Kingdom family I wrote about last time.
My prayer for all of us as we seek to abide in the Vine is that we would have the patience and endurance to bear much fruit:
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do…
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory (Psalm 1:1-3, Isaiah 61:3).
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