Thursday, August 20, 2020
One of the many things I like about reading Scripture are the words – sometimes new, sometimes slightly familiar – found in its passages. I like reaching over the writing desk and grabbing my trusty old Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary (circa 1968), and if not in there, turning to my more recently-acquired Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms to find out the origin and meaning of a word that has just passed in front of my eyes. At other times, it is satisfying to just see a word that I could define for someone else, yet know that it is very unlikely to be mentioned, let’s say while watching a solid evening of contemporary television (unless perhaps on PBS).
In today’s reading from John 15:7-11, I encountered one of these refreshing words – abide – not just once but four times in the referenced verses. The first thing that came to mind when seeing this word was the old hymn, Abide with Me written by a 19th century Anglican priest, Henry Francis Lyle, after visiting a dying friend. Putting this bit of musicology aside, I wondered how abide might have particular meaning in John’s gospel reading for today? Turning to my trusted old dictionary, it states that abide means “to continue in some condition or state; to remain faithful or unchanging.”
Just before today’s Scripture passage, John begins Chapter 15 with the familiar story told by Jesus to the disciples that He is the true vine, God the Father is the vine grower and we are the branches that hopefully will bear fruit and be pruned by the vine grower to bear more fruit. In verse 4 Jesus tells his disciples, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” Then in verses 7-11, we get more involved in what abiding looks like in our relationship with Jesus. Based on this passage, Rev. Malcolm McDowell, a contemporary Scottish priest, has provided four examples of how such an abiding relationship is built and sustained between our Lord and us.
Absorbing the Word
At the very start of John’s gospel (1:1), the “Word” is used as a designation for Jesus Christ as the revelation of God. In a 2014 sermon, Rev. McDowell encourages us to devote regular and dedicated time to reading Scripture. This is not intended as an exercise in memorizing, but rather an opportunity to welcome Jesus into our hearts by reflecting on His teachings in the Gospels and meditating on His instructions and promises. You and I are encouraged to take regular time in our day to reflect upon Christ’s teachings in the Gospels. Such dedicated practices can facilitate our state of faithfulness while also enabling us to grow as disciples of Jesus. All Saints’ can provide you with convenient guides, including on-line tools, to assist in daily reflections on Scripture. Our church also runs small group Bible studies that broaden and deepen one’s understanding of Old and New Testament teachings. Interested? Just ask us!
Prayer is a basic element in our relationship with Jesus that entails both speaking and listening to Him. Through prayer, you and I can experience a consciousness of God’s presence, love, direction and grace. One of my favourite daily prayer web sites asks me to imagine Jesus is standing by my shoulder when praying and to tell him about the good things and those troubling matters that face me that day.
In today’s reading (John 15: 7) Jesus tells His disciples. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Biblical commentators have noted a caution here in terms of our Lord’s promise. The context is in relation to our bearing fruit, as branches of the Vine, for His kingdom’s purposes. Thus, to “ask whatever you wish” is not a blanket promise from God that covers, “Lord, I wish for a million dollars! I wish for a happy, trouble-free life!” Rather, Jesus is talking about granting whatever we wish to help further His kingdom purposes through us. You and I are advised that the focus here is to pray for the Holy Spirit to assist us in understanding and developing our gifts – the fruit that we can bear – to further God’s kingdom here on earth. All Saints’ has many gifted individuals who can assist us in developing our praying to Jesus. Interested? Again, just ask us!
Obedience to Christ
Jesus tells his disciples in today’s reading that the way to abide in His love is to obey His commandments (vv. 9-10). Rev. Maclean commented on how obedience to Christ is evidence that we are abiding in Him. “In order to understand what Jesus means here, we must discover what aspect of his love he is referring to. … We get a clue to what Jesus means when we look at what he says about his relationship to the Father. Jesus remained in the Father’s love because of his obedience. He is not implying that he would lose it if he were disobedient (that was impossible). What he means is that he continued to give pleasure and delight to the Father. You will recall that several times in the New Testament the Father stated that he was well-pleased with his Son. In a similar way, we give pleasure to Jesus when we are obedient and we also sense that pleasure and delight from Jesus. The love of Jesus has its enjoyments as well as its sacrifices; one of these enjoyments is watching his people endeavour to obey his teachings from the heart and asking for divine help to do so.”
It is relatively easy to obey the Lord when things are going well. But the test of obedience is when He takes you and I through difficult times. On such occasions, we may not understand why these trials are happening, but like Abraham walking to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, we have to trust Him and obey. Rev. Maclean offers this helpful guidance so that we might abide in Jesus, “As we think of our obedience to Jesus, there are three details connected to it that we should recall. First, our obedience should be comprehensive not selective; second, our obedience should be cheerful, not grudging; third, our obedience should be continuous, not haphazard.”
Jesus said that we will glorify God when we bear much fruit. Paul also wrote (Galatians 5:22-23) that when others see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our actions – that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – God will be glorified. Rev. Maclean notes that Jesus said one of the effects of His teaching is joy. This Scottish pastor goes on to state, “While happiness and pleasure are sought by everybody, the vast majority cannot find it because they do not look to Jesus for it. But believers know where to find it – in Christ and from Christ. In Christ they have the joy of salvation, the joy of forgiveness. From Christ, they have the joy of sanctification, the joy that comes from daily progress in their fellowship with him.”
In closing today, I cannot think of a better way to sum up what John’s gospel passage is telling us about the word abide than to quote John Ryle, a famous 19th century Anglican bishop who wrote “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him – to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.”
Lord Jesus, to be a healthy branch attached to you,
remind me of the importance of setting aside time on a regular basis
to read Scripture and engage in prayer with You.
Help me resist the temptations of modern life that run
contrary to all that you have taught me.
May my actions, guided by the Holy Spirit,
bear pleasing fruit, draw others to know and love you,
and further your Kingdom here on earth.
And by so doing bring joy to my spirit and glory to God.