Introduction

True ministries and true ministers abide in Jesus Christ.  However, church people have become so desensitized of the importance of abiding in Jesus Christ that it isn’t even a priority in many cases.  Most church people from my experience are more concerned about church activities such as anniversaries, conferences, and services than they are of ministering to the people.

It is easy to stray away from true ministry and pursue the building of a kingdom if one’s focus is not Jesus Christ and one’s objective is not doing what Jesus told the true church to do, namely make disciples of all people and teach them to observe what Jesus had taught his disciples.  If a ministry isn’t in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is not in the ministry then we cannot say that it is a true ministry with true ministers that perpetuate the truths of the Christian faith.

There are so many misconceptions about Christianity because most people really do not know what Christianity is.  They know church and think that is Christianity even those from other religions.  However, how would any one know the truth unless they hear it?  How could anyone hear the truth unless someone told them the truth?   How could anyone tell someone the truth unless that person knows the truth?  Lastly, how could anyone know the truth unless they are truly disciples of Jesus Christ that abide in Him?

John 8:31-32 (NKJV) — {31} Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. {32} And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

I am going to discuss the importance and necessity of abiding in Jesus Christ for the sake of the ministry.  By ministry I mean the ministry of the Word of Jesus Christ and the accomplishment of the specific objectives that God has placed on you or your ministry.  We cannot be successful in ministry if Jesus Christ is not the focal point and we surely cannot bring glory to God if we do not abide in Christ.  So let’s talk about this now and hopefully you would come to know the importance of abiding in Jesus Christ for the sake of true Christian ministry.

 

Scripture Lesson

John 15:1-8 (NKJV) — {1} “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. {2} Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. {3} You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. {4} Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. {5} “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. {7} If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. {8} By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Let’s go through this scripture to extract its meaning.  Let me highlight the key points at least as I see them.

  1. Jesus is the true vine
  2. The Father is the vinedresser (a vinedresser is one who tends vines or vineyards).  Note that we see possible hear a clue to the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Father.
  3. Unfruitful branches of the vine are taken away
  4. Fruitful branches of the vine are nurtured so that they would bring more fruit
  5. Branches can only bear fruit as it abides in the vine.
  6. Those who abide in Jesus Christ bear much fruit and we cannot bear fruit without him.
  7. The desires of those who abide in Christ will be fulfilled
  8. We bring glory to God when we bear much fruit
  9. Bearing fruit for God is a sign of a disciple of Jesus Christ

Now let’s discuss these points in a little more detail so that we can learn much more from what Jesus said.  First of all I think it is very important to establish the context of these verses because I have seen interpretations that do not fit the context.  The fundamental question that we should ask ourselves is, “Who is Jesus talking to?”  The answer to this one question would help to put the statements that Jesus makes into proper perspective, which would lead to us interpreting the scriptures in such a manner that we would acquire the intended meaning and message.

Jesus appears to be talking to his disciples in these scriptures.  This is evident from verse eight where he says, “So you will be my disciples.”  Also, we find that the theme of these statements appears to be bearing fruit, which in turn brings glory to God the Father.  The reason I brought these up is that I have seen some commentary on these scriptures that place the context on salvation and not disciples bearing fruit.

Some commentaries interpret these scriptures to mean that if a person who professes Jesus Christ does not bear fruit then that person is cast away or even in danger of hell.  Let me quote the Bible Knowledge Commentary on this.

What did Jesus mean by these symbolic words about vine branches being burned? These words have been interpreted in at least three ways:

(1) The “burned” branches are Christians who have lost their salvation. (But this contradicts many passages, e.g., 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:1.)

(2) The “burned” branches represent Christians who will lose rewards but not salvation at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). (But Jesus spoke here of dead branches; such a branch is thrown away and withers.)

(3) The “burned” branches refer to professing Christians who, like Judas, are not genuinely saved and therefore are judged. Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire (cf. Matt. 25:46). Judas was with Jesus; he seemed like a “branch.” But he did not have God’s life in him; therefore he departed; his destiny was like that of a dead branch.

Again the context of Jesus statements to his disciples does not appear to be contained in any of the three interpretations listed above.  We should also keep in mind that this was a type of parable that Jesus was given and therefore every component should not be considered representative of something.  Parables should be interpreted as a whole for their overall message and not in pieces as might be the case for an allegory.  If we were to look at this parable then we would see two major distinctions.

  1. What happens to branches that are connected to the vine
  2. What happens to branches that are not connected to the vine

The branches that are connected to the vine bear fruit and the branches that are not connected to the vine die.  This is true when we look at any plant life and in this case a vine and its branches.  If the branch abides in the vine, that is to say, that it is connected to and is part of the vine, then it will bring forth fruit.  If a branch for whatever reason is separated from the vine then it will die and of course not bear fruit.

These statements have nothing to do with salvation as salvation itself has little to do with bearing fruit and all to do with faith in Christ.  Sure there are Christians that may do little in their lives, but the bible does not give any indication that those people are somehow destined or in danger of hell.  The statements that Jesus made in our subject scripture are directed to his disciples and therefore the context of those statements fall in the realm of discipleship.

A disciple of Jesus Christ that abides in Jesus Christ will bear fruit because he or she is connected to the vine, namely Jesus Christ.  A disciple of Jesus Christ that does not abide in Jesus Christ will not bear fruit and is like the dead branch in the parable.  This doesn’t mean that the unfruitful disciple will go to hell, but it does mean that he or she will be unfruitful unless he or she is part of the vine.

However, it is interesting to note that a disciple of Christ by nature of being a disciple would abide in Christ.  A disciple is a follower of Christ and that means more than merely following his teachings as if they were some kind of ethical or moral paradigm.  Consider what John wrote previously.

John 8:31-32 (NKJV) — {31} Then Jesus said to those Jews  who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. {32} And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Also, consider the following scripture.

1 John 2:4-6 (NKJV) — {4} He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. {5} But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this, we know that we are in Him. {6} He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

We should walk just as Jesus walked, which means that our lifestyle and course of life that we have should be consistent with the walk of Christ and not that we merely use his teachings as a guide to living.  Jesus himself is the guide that we should live.

One more thing that I would like to point out in our scripture lesson text is that true Disciples of Christ who abide in Christ will tend to live and act according to the will of God.  Therefore their desires and requests would tend to be in line with the will of God.  We know from 1 John 5:14-15 that if we pray according to God’s will then our prayers will be granted.

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV) — {14} Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. {15} And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

 

Summary

I have pointed out that Jesus was talking to his disciples in John 15:1-8 and that would properly establish the context and therefore lead to accurate interpretation.  We said that a disciple of Jesus Christ bears fruit.  A disciple of Jesus Christ abides in Jesus Christ.  That makes sense if you would think about it for a moment.  Anyone who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ would not bring forth fruit and would not be able to survive just as a disjoined branch would wither away.

 

Fruits of Disciples

You may have come up with a question in regards to those who wither away.  We already said that this does not apply to salvation as if someone who is saved would somehow wither away and die (lose his or her salvation).  That is not the case here.  However, we must ask ourselves; “What does bearing fruit refer to?”

Does bearing fruit refer to the number of people that you lead to Christ?  Does bearing fruit refer to the number of people you preach to, witness to, or otherwise minister to?  Again we must look at the context of this scripture and in order to do this, we must read the entire dissertation.  Let’s gather some clues so that we could better identify the fruit.

What does it mean to bear fruit?  Consider the following scripture.

Matthew 7:15-19 (NKJV) — {15} “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The concept of bearing fruit here identified with the process of producing something.  A false prophet could not bear good fruit and in this case, good fruit could be thought of as fruit that derives from the Spirit of God.  Fruit is simply what is produced by something.  An apple true produces fruit called apples and an orange true produces fruit called oranges.  Another interesting thing about bearing fruit is that the fruit appears to be identified with that which has some use.  For example, that same apple tree also bears leaves, but those leaves are not considered fruit.  The same orange tree produces leaves, but those leaves are not considered the fruit of the true.  I think that is a significant point when we think of fruit because it helps to identify what is the true fruit of a tree compared to something that merely comes from the tree.

Okay.  So the fruit is a useful product of something.  We could also say that the fruit of something is the purposed product of it.  That is why the leaves of an apple tree are not the leaves because the purpose or design of the apple tree is to bear apples.  Now if we apply this to what Jesus said in our subject scripture (John 15:1-8) then it seems reasonable to say that the fruit that Jesus was referring to is the purposed product of the disciples.  Well, what is the purposed product of the disciples?

Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV) — {19} Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

The fruit of a disciple is disciples.  A disciple ultimately produces more followers of Jesus Christ through a number of different methods.  Now I’d like to make a distinction here between the fruits of disciples and fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  The Spirit of God produces such things as joy, peace, love, longsuffering, etc.  These are the things that grow out of us as being Christians (having the Holy Spirit living within us).  However, the fruits of a disciple are those things that are particular to a disciple.  It goes without saying that a disciple is saved and therefore should also produce the fruits of the Spirit, which is personal to the disciple (that person).  The fruits of a disciple are for all disciples.

So again what is the fruit of a disciple?  A disciple’s primary objective is to move people to become disciples of Jesus Christ.  The fruits of a disciple are disciples.  A disciple produces people that want to follow Christ and who actually do follow Christ.  I say want to because no person can make someone become a disciple of Christ.  The only thing we can do is to preach and teach the word of Jesus Christ to the people and they will respond however they respond.  Does this mean that if a Christian does not directly lead someone to Christ that they have not bore fruit and are therefore not a disciple?  Let’s take a look at that now.

 

Disciples and the Church of Christ

Now another interesting thing happens here.  It appears that there is a distinction between disciples and those who are saved.  Are all those who are saved disciples of Jesus Christ?  We can safely say that not everyone who professes Jesus Christ are truly saved and surely are not necessarily disciples of Jesus Christ (See Matthew 7:21-23).

Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV) — {21} “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ {23} And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

A disciple is a follower of Christ and it is hard to conceive of someone that would call themselves saved and not follow Jesus Christ.  It seems even illogical for someone to profess Christ and at the same time does not do what Jesus said to do.  So in a general sense, all those who are saved are indeed disciples of Jesus Christ.  This is how we can discern a false prophet (disciple) from a true disciple.

What does a disciple produce?  He or she produces that which leads to discipleship.  For example, an apple tree is designed to produce apples and it tries its best to produce those apples.  However, there may be conditions that arise where those apples are never produced.  It’s not because of the tree because it does what it is designed to do, but other circumstances prevent the fruit from being produced (disease for example).  Matthew 13 in the parable of the sower and the seed gives illustrations of what may inhibit fruit from growing.

The fruit of a disciple is more precisely that which leads to discipleship.  The fruit may be the Word of God the proceeds out of their mouth and life.  It may be the teachings that he or she does in regards to the Bible.  The life of Christ springs forth from the life of a true disciple of Christ.  Anything that prohibits the presentation of the truth is contrary to true discipleship.  This is why lifestyle is such an important aspect of Christianity and therefore discipleship.

All those who are truly saved are therefore Disciples of Christ.  As disciples, they will promote the Word of God and contribute to bringing people to Christ and therefore producing more disciples.  Another thing that Jesus said really illustrates this point.

Matthew 12:34 (NKJV) — {34} Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

What is in us is what comes out of us and therefore influences or even defines how we live.  A disciple brings for those things that pertain to life that would bring someone to Christ and therefore become a disciple of Christ.

 

Abiding in Christ

The main thing that we have to keep in mind is that without Jesus Christ we can do nothing.  Any preaching, teaching, witnessing or whatever is meaningless and fruitless unless we abide in Jesus Christ.  A church branch cannot bring forth disciples of Jesus Christ.  A church branch (a branch that is connected to religion) is only capable of producing more “church folk.”

Therefore we see it is very important that we abide in Jesus Christ and that those who are a true disciple of Christ indeed abide in him.  They have to else they could not be disciples.  A ministry that does not abide in Christ cannot produce leading to discipleship or fruits of disciples.  We as ministers have to remember that Christ is the center of the Christian faith.  Anything else that precedes Jesus Christ is false and a distraction to the truth.

If you find that your life centers on church-life then you are not acting as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  You, therefore, need to get back on track or else get on track in the first place if you have never really known Jesus Christ.

Let’s abide in Christ and bear fruit to bring glory to God.  If you are a disciple of Christ then bring forth those things that would lead to more disciples.  Jesus said to make disciples of all nations so let’s make that our goal.  We can’t make anyone follow Jesus, but we can still minister with zeal as though we could.

I should also point out that we should not consider ministry to be a church organizational or religious thing.  Ministry is simply the act of administering the word of God, the way of Christ, and life to those who are lost even to those who think they have found the way.  Let’s minister the life of Christ to people and the only way we can do that is if we abide in him ourselves.

So let’s abide in Jesus Christ and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  Let’s bear fruit as true disciples of Jesus Christ and bring more people to faith in Christ.  Amen.

 

True Ministry:  Abiding In Jesus Christ
By William R. Cunningham
October 8, 2006

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