FRIENDSHIP WITH JESUS

Bible Reading: John 15:9-17

Facebook has given a whole new meaning to friendship, when we can befriend or unfriend someone within seconds, but true friendship goes far deeper than this. In my own experience I have thousands of acquaintances, but a few deep and treasured friendships. The writer of Proverbs sums up the meaning of true friendship in the following verses:

Proverbs 17:17 – “A friend loves at all times” [NKJV]; “A friend is always loyal” [NLT].

Proverbs 18:24 – “a real friend sticks closer than a brother” [NLT]; “a [true, loving] friend who [is reliable and] sticks closer than a brother” [Amp. Bible]

Proverbs 27:6 – “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” [NKJV]

Proverbs 27:9 – “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense” [NLT]

In summary, God’s Word says that a true friend is loyal, reliable, honest, counsels wisely and is a delight. In our text today Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants; but I have called you friends” [John 15:15]. Friendship is always a two-way thing, and in both parties these characteristics of loyalty, reliability, honesty, wise counsel and delight apply.

Abraham was called the friend of God because of his close relations with God and his faithfulness to Him [2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23], but now Jesus calls all those who are His disciples, and who abide in Him, His friends. They are loyal, reliable, faithful, honest and delight in Him. They abide in His love, love one another, and seek to honour and obey Him [John 15:9-13].

As King of Kings you might expect Jesus to regard us as His servants, but instead He calls us His friends. Servants do what they are told. They do not necessarily know the reason why their master wants something done – they just do it. But Jesus, treating us as His friends, reveals to us His purposes, and His Father’s plans. This is what He created us for – for fellowship, closeness, friendship and intimacy. He created us to walk with Him, delight in Him and enjoy Him. “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel” [Psalm 103:7]. It is one thing to see the acts of God, but to His friends He shows them His ways. In conclusion, the word friends that Jesus used, [v.15] in both Greek and Aramaic [the daily language of Jesus] is very intimate and actually means “those cared for from the womb.” That’s how much Jesus treasures us as His friends!

Questions:

We sometimes sing an old hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” What does friendship with Jesus really mean to you?

Because Jesus calls us friends He delights to reveal to us the deep things of God. How is this seen in the prayers of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 & 3:14-21?

What is your response to Jesus calling you His friend? How should that be life changing?

HIS JOY OUR JOY

Bible Reading: John 15:11

I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing” [John 15:11 Amplified Bible]

One of the fruits of abiding in Christ is joy. It is supernatural – the world cannot give it, and our joy becomes full as we experience Christ’s own joy within us. It is literally the joy of the Lord!

Joy was only mentioned once in John’s Gospel [John 3:29] before the last week of Jesus’ life, and then, in that last week Jesus spoke about joy four times [John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13]. Jesus was filled with joy, even when He faced the cross. The Bible says that He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him [Hebrews 12:2]. It was His joy to do the will of His Father – that carried Him through immense pain and suffering.

Just as Jesus had great joy in obeying His Father, so we will only find that joy when we are abiding in Christ, and living in obedience to Him. I have personally experienced that there is no joy like the joy of walking in God’s will and pleasing Him. When we live in a way that displeases Him we lose our joy. King David lost his joy when he sinned. In his prayer of repentance he prayed,   “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” [Psalm 51:12]. The joy of salvation is the joy that you have when you know that you are safe and secure in God.

Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice” [Philippians 4:4]. He gives it double emphasis, but probably the most difficult word in that verse is always! Incidentally, Paul was writing from prison and facing death!

James wrote to the Jewish Christians going through great trial, and said, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” [James 1:2]. Paul and Silas, beaten and bruised and in a dungeon praised God at midnight [Acts 16:25]. It is in those tough times that you need strength, and God’s Word says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” [Nehemiah 8:10]. Whatever our circumstances maybe we can rise above them with the joy of the Lord as we abide in Christ.

The command to rejoice means we have to make a choice. As we choose to rejoice, so the Holy Spirit comes and causes the joy of the Lord to overflow within us.

Questions:

How would you describe the joy of the Lord to someone who was not a Christian?

Are you going through a difficult time and struggling to keep your head above water? Why not begin to praise God for even the small blessings in your life, and experience the Holy Spirit’s joy begin to fill and overflow you?

What are some of the things that might cause a person to lose the joy of the Lord? What steps would a person need to take in order to recover the joy of the Lord?

AND GOD CHANGED HIS MIND

Bible Reading: John 15:1-17; Exodus 32:1-14

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” [John 15:7]

If God knows the end from the beginning, and all that will happen in between, then some people might ask what is the point of praying – isn’t it is a case of whatever God has determined will be, will be! We looked at this verse yesterday from the perspective of knowing God’s will and desire and acting accordingly, but there is another possible way of looking at this verse. What if our praying can change God’s mind?

Some people might raise their hands in horror at this question, because of their view of the sovereignty of God, but a wise earthly king will listen to his subjects, so why should the all-wise King of heaven not also listen to the heart cries of His children and change His mind and direction? The question clearly has to be answered from a Biblical perspective, so let’s consider three cases in which God changed His mind.

The first case was Abraham as he interceded for Lot. The Lord had revealed to Abraham that Sodom would be destroyed [Genesis 18:16-31]. Because Lot lived in Sodom, Abraham interceded with God that Lot would be spared, and as a result of Abraham’s praying the angels rescued Lot, his wife and two daughters before destroying the city. God responded to Abraham’s prayer!

The second case was Moses interceding for Israel after they had grievously sinned. God wanted to destroy Israel but Moses pleaded with God not to do so. “So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people” [Exodus 32:14 NLT]. The prayers of Moses persuaded God not to do what He had planned!

The third was Hezekiah. He was sick and God clearly told him to set his house in order because he was about to die. Then Hezekiah prayed, and remarkably God extended his life a further fifteen years [Isaiah 38:1-9].

Moses, Abraham and Hezekiah were known to be men who were righteous, radical and who refused to accept the status quo, or to be passive in their walk with God. He knew that their hearts were for Him and because of that He listened and answered in such remarkable ways. They dared to believe that God could be persuaded to change His mind! This must of course be balanced with the fact that God does not always work in the same way. He has a thousand ways to answer every prayer! In the apostle Paul’s case the answer to his prayer was different. God did not take away the thorn in his flesh but said, “My grace is sufficient for you” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Here is the privilege for those who abide in Christ – through prayer God may change His mind but God’s will will be done. His ultimate purpose will always be fulfilled.

Questions:

If prayer is a two-way communion and relationship with God, then why should God not listen to His faithful children and be open to change His mind?

Why do you think that prayer is so neglected by so many believers, when God has made this amazing way for us to approach Him and to see situations and circumstances changed?

Prayer is the natural and obvious outworking of a life that abides in Christ. How are you doing in this area of your spiritual life? What can you do to improve it?

ABIDING IN CHRIST & ANSWERED PRAYER

Bible Reading: John 15:1-17

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” [John 15:7 Amplified Bible]

Here is one of the most remarkable promises in the whole Bible. Jesus said, “Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Why is it then, that some of our prayers are not answered according to what we desire? It does seem that God does not always answer our prayers in the way that we think He should. Landa Copes has written, “We want justice. We want peace. We want love. We want everything that God offers. But do we want Him?” [God and Political Justice, page 17]. There are two conditions that accompany the remarkable promise in our verse today. The first condition is that we abide in Christ.

In the Old Testament we read, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” [Psalm 37:4]. In Hebrew this can more correctly be translated as, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you His desires!” To delight in the Lord is to seek our happiness in God – to desire Him above all else, His being, perfections, friendship, and love. It is to want exactly what God wants! When Christ abides in us and we in Him, then what we want becomes what God Himself desires. God answers our prayers when we are praying in accordance with His desire, because we have made His desire our desire. This only happens as we are abide in Christ.

The second condition for seeing our prayers answered is that God’s Word abides in us. The more we spend time in God’s Word, the more we will be able to pray according to His will. But what if it is something we face and we don’t know from God’s Word what His will is? I think that the principle is that we live right before God, abide in Christ, live in His Word, and pray, asking God to show us what He desires. If you are fulfilling all the conditions that I have just stated, then do what is in your heart to do, but believe that God can stop you if you are moving in the wrong direction. Paul planned to go into Bithynia, but it was not what God wanted, and the Spirit did not permit them. Shortly afterwards God made His will clear to Paul through a vision.

Questions:

How would you answer someone who asked you the meaning of abiding in Christ? Why do we so often emphasize what we can get from God rather than seeking after Him?

Why is abiding in Christ and allowing His word to abide in us so important in praying effectively? What does it mean to abide in His Word? How important a part of your life is it that you abide in God’s Word?

An effective prayer life is dependent upon living in a right relationship with God. What are the things that can hinder that relationship and make our prayers less effective?

THE FRUIT OF ABIDING IN CHRIST

Bible Reading: John 15:17; Matthew 7:15-20

The result of being connected to Christ, the True Vine, is that we are in Him and He in us, and His life flows through us. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20], and the result of abiding in Christ is that we are fruitful. Jesus chose and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit and that our fruit should remain [John 15:16].

The question arises, “What does Jesus mean by fruit?” Undoubtedly it includes the fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus makes this clear as He connects love [v.9] and joy [v.11] with abiding in Him.

In the New Testament good fruit represents the product of a godly life. There should always be fruit when a person repents and turns from sin. John the Baptist commanded, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance” [Matthew 3:8]. Jesus made it clear that the evidence of a godly life is good fruit [Matthew 7:15-20]. When Jesus has His way in a person’s life the Holy Spirit produces the beautiful fruit that Paul spoke about when writing to the Galatians. He writes, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [Galatians 5:22].

There is another aspect of fruit, that again is the work of the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ. It is to bring blessing and benefit to the lives of other people. Jesus speaks of those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger [foreigner, migrant], clothing the naked, and visiting those who are sick or in prison [Matthew 25:34-40]. The outworking of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is clearly practical works of love and justice, but it might also be the winning other people to Jesus. This does not mean that everyone who is a Christian will bring lots of people to Christ. We know of missionaries who have spent much of their life living and working among resistant people, and at the end of their life might be able to point only to one or two people who came to Christ directly through their ministry. However, Jesus made it clear that those who sow and those who reap will each enjoy the reward in eternity [John 4:36]. The Bible says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30].

Questions:

What is the evidence that a person is vitally connected to Jesus? Why is that we can do nothing without Him [John 15:5]

Would you take time to meditate today on the fruit of the Holy Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23], and ask the Lord to specifically speak to you about areas in your life where His fruit is lacking?

In what ways are you practically ministering to others and in doing so ministering to Jesus? Have you personally ever led someone else to Christ? If God’s Word says that a person who wins souls is wise, why not ask Him to lead to someone who needs Christ and lead them to Him?

It Is Well With My Soul

Here are the words to the hymn I wrote about last week.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

 

PRUNED TO BE MORE FRUITFUL

Bible Reading: John 15:1-8; Genesis 32:22-32

Some years ago I planted several rose bushes but they did not give the many beautiful flowers that I had hoped for. A gardening expert told me that the reason was that I did not prune them. When he pruned them I was shocked because he cut each bush down to almost ground level. It seemed far too harsh but the following season there were far more beautiful flowers than in previous years. The secret was in the pruning!

The Heavenly Father prunes the fruitful branches – the ones that are already producing fruit, so that they may produce more fruit [v.2] and much fruit [v.5].

Notice that these believers are already fruitful and that it is the Father, not the branch that does the pruning. Without Him we can do nothing to achieve lasting spiritual results that glorify Him [v.5].

God loves us enough to hurt us. His discipline is done in love because He desires to purify us and strengthen our character. Sometimes this pruning can be very drastic, especially if there are things in a person’s life that hinder their intimate relationship with God. Job’s testimony was that, “When He [God] has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” [Job 23:10].

Jacob met with God but continued to be on the run from his brother Esau, and remained a very selfish businessman. In one night God changed him in a powerful and painful encounter. First of all He got Jacob to a place of loneliness [Genesis 32:24]. He removed all the props that Jacob depended upon. Then He wrestled all night with Jacob and at a touch put his hip out of its socket [Genesis 32:25]. Now broken and desperate, Jacob refused to the let go of the Lord. Finally he is realising his need to depend upon God, but God also wants absolute honesty and asks Jacob his name. He lied to his earthly father [Genesis 27:18-19], but he cannot lie to God! In a place of loneliness, brokenness, desperation and honesty Jacob is changed forever. He has a new name, and a new vision of God. This is God doing His work of pruning.

God uses trials to prune us and to change us. James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” [James 1:2-4]

Questions:

Jesus said, “for without Me you can do nothing,” [John 15:5], so why do you think it is that we try to do so much in our own strength instead of depending upon the Lord?

What are some of the attitudes and actions that cause us to be less fruitful than God intended that we should?

Are there parts of the story of God meeting with Jacob that you have experienced personally in your own life? What has been the long term effect of God dealing with these things in your life?

THOSE WHO DO NOT BEAR FRUIT

Bible Reading: John 15:1-8

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away….If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them throw them into the fire, and they are burned” [John 15:2,6]

Sometimes we come across a verse of Scripture that is difficult to understand. We have such a verse before us today. The temptation is that we just pass over verses that we don’t understand and move to something more easily interpreted. That does not, however, help us to grow. It is good to dig deep and investigate in God’s Word verses that we don’t understand.

For a long time I misunderstood these two verses because I linked them together, but more lately, in separating these verses I discovered a deeper meaning. It is clear from our Bible reading today that the evidence of abiding in Christ is fruitfulness. In John 15:2 Jesus is speaking about those who do not bear fruit being taken away. There is, however, an alternative meaning to the words takes away. In the Greek these words can be translated as “He lifts up” or “He takes up (to Himself) every fruitless branch.” This gives a very different perspective to the verse. Those believers who are drooping, struggling and do not bear fruit the vinedresser lifts up. The wise farmer lifts them up from the ground to enhance their growth. Failure to bear fruit, or to make serious mistakes is not final. Peter’s denial of Jesus did not mean that he was cast off. Following the resurrection Jesus lifted him up and restored him. A few days ago I met an elderly woman who was broken over the mistakes in her life and her failures. What a joy to lift her up and say that today is a new day, and the past that we repent of is gone, forgiven forever!

In John 15:6 Jesus is almost certainly speaking about believers who do not desire to abide in Him. They may outwardly appear to be believers but John makes it clear that not all who follow Jesus for a time and hear His teaching are genuine believers. “From that time many of His disciples went back [away] and walked with Him no more” [John 6:66]. Judas Iscariot is an example of someone who was with Jesus but chose not to abide in Him. Jesus said, 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. 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?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

[Matthew 7:21-23]. Here is a very serious warning, not to just be superficial in following Jesus but rather to live, move and have our being in Him. [Acts 17:28]

Questions:

Why is it important that we genuinely abide in Christ and not just be a follower who is superficial and shallow? God is merciful to those who are drooping and struggling. Why not ask Him to lift you up and bring you into a new, fruitful relationship with Him?

Why is it important to dig into God’s Word to find the deeper truths of the Word? Are you prepared to take time to do this?

ABIDING IN CHRIST

Bible Reading: John 15:1-8; Isaiah 5:1-7

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” [John 14:23].

The dwelling place of God is in the hearts of men who love and obey Him. It is such a wonderful thought that Jesus and His Father promised to make their home with us. Paul also writes that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. God created us to be His dwelling place. Just to meditate upon this amazing thought brings a great sense of joy and peace. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit make their home in us. This makes me just want to make the Godhead feel at home by living a life that totally pleases them.

In chapters 13-16 of John’s Gospel we see how Jesus was preparing the disciples for His death. Jesus said, “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine dresser” [John 15:1]. This was a picture that Israel would easily recognise. In the Old Testament God was pictured as the owner of the vineyard. Isaiah wrote a prophetic song about God and Israel, in which He called Israel His vineyard. He tended His vineyard and hoped to find good grapes but it yielded only wild grapes. He looked for justice but found only selfishness and oppression. He was disappointed with His people [Isaiah 5:1-7].

In the New Testament the metaphor changes, and it is Christ who is the vine. Here is the last of the seven I am sayings of Jesus recorded in John as He tells His disciples, “I am the true vine.” Notice the emphasis on the word true as opposed to unfaithful Israel. The Father is still the owner of the Vineyard and He is the vinedresser. Those believers who abide in Christ are the branches of the vine [see John 15:5]. Their life comes from Him.

This image of the grapevine illustrates both intimacy and fruitfulness and focuses on our union with Christ. If we are to maintain spiritual life we must be intimately connected to Christ. To abide in Christ means to dwell in Him, to feed on Him, and to remain in Him. The word remain indicates a daily relationship with Jesus and not a superficial or temporary commitment. The fact that it is a command to abide in Christ means that we have to be intentional in doing the abiding – it is our responsibility to abide in Him. As we abide in Christ, so He abides with us. Tomorrow we will look at how the Father prunes His children so that they become increasingly fruitful.

Questions:

What does it mean that the Father and the Son make their home with us? What does this mean personally to you in your daily living?

What does it mean to be intimately connected with Christ and to be in union with Him?

How do you intentionally abide in Christ? What steps do you take in your daily life to maintain this relationship?

GIVE NO ROOM TO THE DEVIL

Bible Reading: John 14:25-31; Ephesians 4:25-32

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” [John 14:30].

One of the devil’s titles is the ruler of this world. Jesus specifically spoke of him using that title in John 12:31. This present world is at enmity with God. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world [John 18:36]. James wrote, “Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” [James 4:4]. The world is more than smoking, heavy drinking, carousing in nightclubs, or wrong sexual activity. These are wrong, but are only symptoms of what the world is. The world is a spirit. It is an invisible, yet surrounding atmosphere in which we live. It erodes faith, dissipates hope and corrupts love. This is the kingdom of darkness that is ruled by the ruler of this world.

The devil did his utmost to get an entrance into Jesus’ sinless life, but totally failed. Because Jesus was sinless, Satan had no power over Him. Jesus had never given in to him. The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the last part of our verse today as, “He has no claim on Me!”

Many years ago I heard a preacher say, “Satan is only as big as you allow him to be – give him an inch and he will take a yard!” Satan is a legalist and can only function where he is give the right to do so.

Just as Jesus allowed no room for the devil in His life, so we, as we enter in to the victory of Jesus, should also give him no room or entrance into our lives. You might think this to be impossible because we are not sinless like Jesus, but Paul commanded, “Give no room to the devil” [Ephesians 4:30]. Writing to the Ephesians in that same passage Paul lists a number of things that will give an open door to the devil. They can be summarized as, lying [v.25]; anger [v.26]; stealing [v.28]; corrupt words [v.29] – (The Amplified Bible helps us to understand the meaning of corrupt words, “Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].” The opposite of corrupt words are words that build up, strengthen and bless); bitterness [v.31]; clamour [loud quarrelling] [v.31] and malice [spitefulness] [v.31] and slander [v.31 Amp. Bible]. This is a list of those sins that will so easily open the door and give the devil a foothold in a person’s life. Conversely, we are to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving [v.32]. May we be people who shut the door on the devil, and give him no foothold in our lives!

Questions:

Why was it important that the devil had nothing in Jesus that he could use to hinder Him from the work that His Father had given Him to do? Why is it equally important for us that our lives give the devil no foothold?

What is the meaning of the world? What does it mean to you to be in the world but not of the world? Are there any sins in the list Paul gives that specifically challenge you, and that God wants you to do something about?