Jesus Applies His Teaching on the Vine and the Branches (15:7-17)

Jesus now explains more of what it means to remain in him (v. 4). This section forms a chiastic pattern (Brown 1970:667), with Jesus' teaching (vv. 7, 17) and the promise of answered prayer (vv. 7, 16) forming the two ends and Jesus' joy at the midpoint (v. 11). Themes from throughout the farewell discourse are woven together within this carefully constructed exposition of the image of the vine (Brown 1970:666).

The first section (vv. 7-10) draws out once again the relation between love and obedience (cf. 14:21, 23-24) and views this relation in light of the theme of mutual indwelling. Jesus' dwelling in the believer is now referred to as his words remaining in them (v. 7). If they remain in him and his words in them, Jesus promises their prayers will be answered (v. 7; cf. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). To have his words remaining in them means to share his mind and his will. They are to be caught up into his own focus on the doing of God's will. Accordingly, they will pray for his purposes rather than for their own selfish desires. Jesus' purposes have been to reveal God and share his life and love so people will be brought into union with him in his new community. Such will be the concerns also of the disciples who have Jesus' words in them, and God will answer their prayers as they live according to their life in Christ and his life in them.

They bear the fruit of this shared life, which is evidence that they are Jesus' disciples (v. 8), unlike others who claim to believe but do not (2:23-24; 8:31). Since the fruit refers to the knowledge and love of God, it follows that as the disciples produce fruit the Father is glorified (v. 8; cf. 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1, 4). The glory of the Father is Jesus' chief delight and has been the focus of all he has said and done. Since the disciples are now going to live in union with Christ, the Father's glory will be the goal of their lives as well.

The other side of the mutual indwelling is the disciples' remaining in Christ (vv. 4, 7), which is now described as their remaining in his love (v. 9). Jesus describes this love as like the love with which his Father has loved him (v. 9; cf. 17:23). The Father is the source and pattern of all love, so, as always, Jesus is doing that which he receives from the Father. Jesus' disciples must remain in his love (cf. 13:1, 34; 14:21), and they do this by obeying his commands (v. 10). In part this means they are to remain in Jesus' love for them, but further it means they must remain in his own love for the Father. Jesus' own love for the Father was seen in his obeying the Father's commands and remaining in his love (v. 10). For the disciples to remain in Jesus' love for the Father, therefore, they must share in Jesus' obedience. Their obedience is itself the fruit of their remaining in Jesus because it is a characteristic of his love (1 Jn 2:5-6).

Jesus has spoken about love and obedience that they might share in his own joy (v. 11). As his word remains in them through their obedience they are actually sharing in his life with the Father, which is characterized not only by obedience, but also by joy. The Jewish delight in God's law (Ps 1:2; 119:14) is here fulfilled in sharing in Jesus' own obedience to the Father. Indeed, the joy in God's salvation, both in past events and in the future, ultimate salvation, referred to in the Old Testament and later Jewish texts (Conzelmann 1974b:362-66), finds its completion here in Jesus' joy. But joy is not what springs to mind for many people when they think of obedience. They see obedience as conforming to rules, which produces drudgery or chaffing. Rules often induce guilt in those not keeping them and a prideful delight in those who do obey. But the obedience Jesus is talking about is an obedience not to societal rules, but to the Father who is all love. To obey him is to conform one's life to the very pattern of God's own life. Such obedience shares in his life, which is characterized by harmony, grace, goodness and beauty. We are in intimate union with him and swept up into his dance for which we were created and which brings the deepest fulfillment and deepest joy to our lives. Jesus' joy came from such intimacy with the Father and his delight to do that which pleases the one who is all love and goodness. Jesus is showing how our joy may be complete. If we have no joy in obeying the Father, then we should consider whether we know him as Jesus knows him and whether we understand his will as the description of our true freedom (8:31-36) and joy. Indeed, we might ask ourselves what does bring us joy. The answer will reveal to us our own hearts.Jesus loves just as the Father loves (v. 9), and he commands his disciples to love one another just as he has loved them (v. 12). Thus, the community is characterized by divine love. If this love were just a feeling, such a command would be impossible to fulfill. But the love Jesus refers to is an act based in a certain state of heart. Specifically, it is the laying down of one's life based on willing the good of the other. By God's grace we can indeed choose to will the good of the other, and we can choose to act accordingly. This is the love Christians are called to in Christ, for Jesus says we are to love one another just as he has loved us, which he immediately defines in terms of laying down of one's life for one's friends (v. 13; cf. 10:14-15, 18; 13:34, 37; 14:31).

The word for friends, philoi, is related to a verb meaning "love" (phileo) and conveys a greater sense of intimacy than does our modern use of friend, though our word is actually related to the Anglo-Saxon verb freon, "to love" (Brown 1970:664). The idea that one should lay down one's life for one's friends was well known in the ancient world (for example, Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 9.8; cf. Stahlin 1974:153). Jesus reveals that this human ideal is in accord with the divine ideal. It might be thought that laying down one's life for one's enemies is a greater love. Jesus does indeed have such love for his enemies (see comments on 5:5; 6:51; 13:21-26), but the focus in the present setting is on the disciples and their change of status from slaves to friends.

Jesus says his friends are those who obey him (v. 14). This is not a definition of friendship itself, but it follows in this instance given who Jesus is; just as love for the Father and the Son involves obedience, so does friendship. All this talk about obedience seems more fitting for a master-slave relationship, but Jesus no longer calls them slaves (douloi) but friends (v. 15). This does not mean that the relation of slave is not also appropriate for Jesus' disciples (cf. 13:16; 15:20). Paul refers to himself as a slave (doulos) five times, though he also notes that in some senses the Christian is no longer a slave (Gal 4:7). Even the worshipers in the heavenly city at the end, who will reign for ever and ever, are called God's slaves (Rev 22:3, 6). So although the idea of slave is valid, it is limited. Jesus' point here is intimacy.

His disciples are his friends because he has made known to them everything he heard from his Father (v. 15). The disciples thereby fulfill the ideal of Abraham and Moses. Abraham was called God's friend (2 Chron 20:7; Is 41:8), and he was one from whom God did not keep secret his plan for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:17). Moses likewise was God's friend, for "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend" (Ex 33:11; cf. Deut 34:10). The opponents in this Gospel have exalted ideas of Moses and Abraham (chaps. 5, 8), based in part on such texts. But such intimacy with God is now open to all in Christ. For Jesus fulfills the role of Wisdom, which "passes into holy souls from age to age and produces friends of God and prophets" (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27).

Jesus says he has kept nothing hidden (v. 15), an important claim for the all-sufficiency of Jesus' revelation of the Father. All that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus (16:15; 17:10), and he has passed it all on to his disciples. There is nothing more to be known about the Father apart from Jesus and his revelation. We await no new revelation to reveal more of God, nor do we need to search the world's religions and philosophies to fill in gaps in Jesus' revelation. Study of other religions and philosophies can be valuable, but all the truths of God present in them, such as the ideal of self-sacrifice just noted, are recognized to be true by their congruence with Jesus. Here we have the exclusivist claims of Christianity at full strength.

Jesus has been discussing love and intimacy, but that does not mean that his disciples' relationship with him has somehow become that of equals (rightly, Bultmann 1971:544; Haenchen 1984:132). The relationship between Jesus and his disciples includes friendship, but is far more intimate than friendship. Nevertheless, he is always the Lord. They did not choose him, but he chose them (v. 16; cf. 6:70; 13:18; 15:19). This is not a reference to salvation, but rather to service, since the rest of the verse speaks of being appointed . . . to go and bear fruit (Beasley-Murray 1987:275). If this fruit is eternal life, which is knowledge of God and sharing in his love (cf. comment on 15:2), then Jesus is saying he chose and appointed his disciples to go and manifest the life of God. The primary expression of this fruit that Jesus speaks of here is the love within the Christian community. The fruit that remains is thus the love that flows from, and bears witness to, life in union with God. This love has come into the world in Jesus and now is to remain in the world in the community of his disciples. This divine love manifested within the church will bear witness to Jesus before the world (17:21, 23), which will enable some to find eternal life and will also reveal the judgment of those who reject it.

The result of such fruit bearing, of living in union with God and sharing in his love, will be answered prayer (v. 16). Prayer in Jesus' name is prayer that is in union with him and in keeping with his character and his purposes (see comment on 14:13). Thus, while the disciples themselves must go and bear fruit or risk being cut off (v. 6), they have the assurance that Jesus has chosen and appointed them for this activity and that the Father will answer their prayers. These assurances correspond to the fact that apart from Jesus the disciples can do nothing (v. 5). A person's sharing in the divine life begins and continues only by God's gracious activity. The grace of God that has characterized Jesus' life and ministry will continue to characterize the life and ministry of his disciples.

The reference to Jesus' command in the final verse (v. 17) picks up the reference both to Jesus' words (v. 7) and to his command (v. 12), thus tying the unit together. Obedience to Jesus' command is the evidence that we love him (vv. 9-10), and the content of his command turns out to be love. This final reference to love for one another ties together this passage and provides a striking contrast to what immediately follows—Jesus' description of the world's hatred of the disciples. Jesus has been speaking of the enormous blessings of knowing and loving God in a community of love. However, the church is not to be an isolated hothouse, but a garden in the midst of the world.

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