John 15 - Fellowship with Christ – what is it and what does it cost us?

Erkki Koskenniemi
Reija Becks

We can have fellowship with God only through Jesus 15:1-17

When Jesus talks about the vine and its branches, the reader who is well acquainted with the Old Testament comes to think of some things that we might not necessarily notice.

In the Old Testament (Psalms 80:8-19, Jer. 2:21), Israel is the vine planted by God. It is easy for us to understand this image. Outdoors, there are lots of wild plants not tended to by anybody. A gardener, on the other hand, takes one slender seedling, cultivates it and nurtures it to the best of his ability, giving it all his attention.

This is exactly how Israel, according to the Old Testament, is a people for God’s own possession and the focus of his attention. But now Jesus makes changes to the image: God is the gardener, Jesus himself is the vine, and only through him, and him alone, do people have fellowship with the holy God. If we do not have fellowship with the vine, neither do we have fellowship with God.

These familiar words of Jesus come to the attentive reader quite unexpectedly, even abruptly. The last verse of the previous chapter might have us expect that the time and place will change, but what follows now is that Jesus’s teaching continues. Apparently the next chapters were later added after the preceding ones, before the writer continued with the story of the Passion. In that case, the editor – who may well have been the gospel writer himself – has made a conscious decision to leave the joint visible. And if the editors of the Holy Bible have allowed this for themselves, we as Christians naturally allow it for the Holy Spirit.

The first point in Jesus’s words is that through Jesus, and only through Jesus, do we have fellowship with God. The second point is that, before Christ, all people fall into two categories. Some people become separated from him, wither gradually like branches, and are gathered up and burnt. The fate of those who go away from Jesus is eternal destruction. Others remain in fellowship with Jesus like a branch in a vine. The vinedresser focuses all his attention to taking care of such a branch. He prunes it and cleanses it, seeks to make it bear fruit, and rejoices over its grapes.

This is how Jesus takes care of his own. He prunes away the things in us that are against God’s will and directs us to live right, in the will of God. Hence we will bear fruit, and the fruit, according to the following verses, is love for our neighbour. To follow Christ is not mere head knowledge. It takes its shape as love.

The chain of examples extends from heaven to earth: the Father loves the Son, the Son, in accordance with this example, loves the sinners even unto death, the sinners, in accordance with the same example, love one another. Where any of this is fulfilled, there the holy and loving God receives praise and honour. Therefore those who belong to Jesus must remember their Lord, who, while being God’s gift to them, is at the same time an example to them, and in their daily lives they must show their love to the Lord by obeying his commandments. Anyone who lives like this is not just some subordinate with no mind of his own but a beloved friend of his Lord.

The words of Jesus lead us to bring up two misconceptions that often come up when we talk about loving one’s neighbour.

Firstly, we tend to see love and knowledge as opposing things. Anyone reading this chapter 15, understands that this is not the case. Right knowledge and fellowship with Christ leads us to love our neighbour. If it does not, the knowledge we have is certainly wrong.

Our Christianity sometimes remains thin and powerless. This is not because we have too much knowledge, but because we have, in fact, lost it, and not kept our eyes fixed on the loving eyes of Jesus, and so we do not act on his love. Powerless Christianity and unscrupulous hardness indicate that the Lord of the Cross does not really reign in our lives.

Secondly, in recent years, we have seen a tendency to make a distinction between love for one’s neighbour and the commandments written in the Bible: legalistic Christians read the Bible as a law book, and Christians with insight into love consider themselves free from these commandments and, instead of being faithful to them, focus on love. This contradiction is also a misconception from the Old Adam. According to what Jesus said, our love to him manifests itself in our willingness to do his will.

God’s word offers, in most cases, straightforward instructions to anyone who really seeks to know the will of the Lord. But those, who want to do their own will in their lives, find every command ambiguous and unthinkable.

The world hates those who belong to Jesus 15:18-16:4

The love that Jesus preached and also showed in practice until the end is not a conventional idyll, which has no impact on the evil of this world, and which is not affected by the evil of this world.

His love is beyond this world, coming from the Father heart of God. As its origin is outside this world, it is bitterly hated in this world. The hatred is focused on the cross of Jesus: because the world rejected Jesus’s teachings and miracles, hated him and nailed him on the cross, this hatred is bound to break out into two directions. First, it is directed to the source of that love, Father God. We say it again: anyone who rejects Jesus will have no share in God. Second, the hatred that the world feels towards Jesus is also bound to be directed to the people seeking to follow in his footsteps, i.e. the Christians.

There cannot be nor will there ever be any agreement between the world and the Christians. In the end, the world will always shun, hate or persecute those who testify to Jesus and to his love. What happened to their Lord will happen to them, too. They will be persecuted, put out of the synagogue, and even killed, and the killers may even think that what they did was quite right and in God’s will.

The western people of today may find Jesus’ words harsh. Still, they have proved true down to the last detail. Not for nothing did the church father Tertullian characterize the earliest history of the church like this, “Truth and the hatred of truth entered our world at the same time”.

When Jesus was taken into captivity, the group of the disciples was broken up. After that, threats, beatings, and bloodshed were brought on them owing to their bold testimonies. Over the first three centuries, the church suffered from continuous persecutions which, variously, were systematic on a national level, or more local in scope.

Behind both of these was Satan’s unquenchable hatred towards those who belong to God. This hatred has subsequently found expression at various times, and around the world: in Japan, Christianity was forbidden under the penalty of death for two centuries, and our century has seen both the Nazis and the Communists severely persecute the apostolic faith.

In many Countries this “hate of the world” is felt as danger of death. In Europe this “hate of the world” is felt in other forms: as the secularisation proceeds, the Bible-based Christian Faith is coming more and more despised and rejected. However, no way has been found to eradicate the Christian Faith from the face of the earth. It will remain here until Christ returns to the world. We are to abide in his love till that, no matter what price we have to pay for it.