Jesus says farewell – Part Twelve (John 15)

We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. This week is all about friendship with Jesus. We’ve seen how friendship with Jesus was friendship of the highest order, in that he was prepared to lay down his life for us, his friends. The response to this act of friendship ought to be loyal obedience, yet this is done not as a “slave” but as an intimate friend who’s been let into the inner circle. Today, we see how friendship with Jesus means that we have a task to do.

Friendship with Jesus means we have a job to do

John 15:16a “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

In a first-century friendship between unequals, friends were often given tasks to do on behalf of their benefactors; to act as their agents. In Greek thought, friends were referred to as a ‘second self.’ Letters that survive from the period show that it was common for writers to urge that a friend be welcomed and treated ‘as if he were me.’

As we saw in chapter 14, we have been given the task of continuing Jesus’ role as God’s ‘agent’ or ‘authorised representative’ to the world:

John 20:21b “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

As Jesus’ friends, we are to act on his behalf. And that’s some of what’s behind this command in verse 16. Having been appointed as Jesus’ agents, we are to go and ‘bear fruit.’ That’s the task he has assigned us. That’s what he has ‘pruned’ or ‘cleansed’ us in order to do – as the vine image back in verses 2 and 3 says.

But what is this ‘fruit’ we are to bear? It’s all very well talking in metaphors, but how do we actually apply it? How do we ensure we are ‘bearing fruit’? Some commentators want to pin this ‘fruit’ idea to something specific in context. But the trouble is, there are lots of possibilities in the verses and chapters around. Which is why I think it’s sensible to see the ‘fruit’ as simply a life that obeys Jesus’ teaching in all facets; where Jesus’ words ‘remain in you.’

For starters, fruit is obedience: ‘you are my friends if you do what I command.’ Fruit is loving other Christians deeply: ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ And fruit is bearing witness to the world, as we see in ch16: ‘And you also must testify.’

We are to be God’s agents; the way people can get in touch with God. And we have to be prepared for that to happen any time.

Friendship with Jesus influences our prayers

Before we finish our look at chapter 15, there’s half a verse I haven’t dealt with. But it’s significant. It ends the section by referring to prayer:

John 15:16b so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

This echoes verse 7, at the end of the vine image:

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

What are these verses about prayer – about ‘asking in Jesus’ name’ – doing here? From the rest of the Bible, and from experience, we know that this isn’t a blanket promise: be a good Christian and all your prayers will come true. Or say the right magic formula – ‘in Jesus’ name’ – so that your prayers will ‘work.’ In context, it’s saying that prayer is all about friendship with Jesus.

So let me conclude with three brief observations on prayer from this week’s passage:

Firstly, prayer is for those who are Jesus’ friends & who demonstrate that by obedience. There’s no point in asking Jesus for something if you’ve chosen to remain in rebellion against him. Prayer is for true friends, who pursue obedience.

Secondly, prayer flows out of the intimacy we have with Jesus. Specifically, out of the fact that he has told us what he is doing in the world. So when we pray along those lines, we know we are praying ‘according to his will’. Prayer should be informed by what God says he is doing and will do in Scripture.

That means we pray for holiness, for the power to be obedient. We pray for God’s promises to be fulfilled – that he will do what he has said he will do. We pray for God’s glory and honour among the nations – for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth. Because these are the things that our intimate friendship with Jesus has revealed as being ‘the master’s business’ – what God is up to in the world. And when we pray for such things, we can have confidence that it will come about.

And thirdly, prayer is how we are to go about being Jesus’ agents; how we go about representing him in the world. Prayer malfunctions when it’s all about us. (Cf. James 4:3.) When it’s focused on increasing our own comfort and happiness. But prayer works when it’s focused on God’s honour and the salvation of the nations.

That’s what being Jesus’ friend is all about. Responding to the one who laid down his life for his friends by being obedient. By living in light of what Jesus has revealed to us, his friends. And by doing our job as his agents, advancing his name and renown all over the world.

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