Thursday, December 18, 2008

Are You Plugged-In? John 15:1-6

One of my fellow elders, Kevin, has been teaching through Jesus' upper room discourse (John 14-16) over the last few months for our Wednesday night service (and it has been superb by the way). He has been in John 15 now for over a month. As he was teaching through the first few verses of John 15 the Lord impressed upon my mind a helpful way of looking at John 15.

First of all, if you have read John 15 you know that it is an image-laden passage. Jesus was communicating to his disciples their ultra-need of remaining/abiding in him. In essence, Jesus was teaching his disciples that he is the very source of their life. He communicated this rich truth by using imagery from the agricultural world. After all, he likens himself to a "vine," the disciples to "branches" and the Father to a "vine dresser." Jesus' principle point is that the disciples are quite a lot like branches in that they need the life-giving sap from the vine (Jesus) to help them produce fruit (produce love).

Because we in America do not have a massive amount of experience working in vineyards, we can often times be confused about what Jesus is talking about. In so doing we can miss his most principle point.

As I was sitting there listening to Kevin teach I began to think of a better, more accessible illustration than a vine and branches (Not that Jesus blew it by giving a horrid illustration, but rather because we do not live in the same context as the disciples). After the study I drove home, sat down with my Bible opened to John 15 and began to rework it with different imagery--imagery that connects with the everyday lives of Americans.

Anyway, here is my reworking of John 15:1-6 with up-to-date, Americanized imagery (by the way, this is adapted from the NIV):

"1 I am the true generator and the Father is the electrician. 2 He unplugs and throws away every extension cord which does not channel electricity, while every extension cord that does channel electricity he cuts, splices the wires, and then tapes back up so that it might channel electricity more efficiently in order that it might light more light bulbs (bear fruit). 3 You are already clean because of the word I preached to you. 4. Remain plugged into me and my energy or life will remain in you. No extension cord can generate electricity on its own, it must remain plugged in to the generator. Neither can you bear fruit (light light bulbs) unless you remain plugged in to me. 5 I am the generator you are the extension cords. If a man remains in me and I remain in him, he will light many light bulbs; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain plugged in to me, he like an extension cord which is thrown away and looses its electricity-channeling capabilities; such extension cords are picked up and thrown away and taken to the dump and melted in the incinerator."
How useful is an unplugged extension cord when it comes to channeling energy? Extension cords cannot generate electricity on their own. They are dependent upon a generator for the electricity. In fact, just like us, extension cords exist simply for the sake of channeling--channeling life which flows from another source. In the same way, how useful is a believer in bearing fruit to the glory of God if he is not plugged into Christ. The point is that Christ is the source of our life. We are useless if we are not plugged into him--"apart from him we can do nothing."

For those of you who are serious students of Scripture, you may not like the changing of the imagery because it cannot account for the serious historical significance of Jesus calling himself the "true vine" or his people "the branches." In other words, no... this changed imagery is not perfect. After all, one cannot truly understand John 15 without at least a cursory understanding of Isaiah 5. I suggest you to stick with Jesus' imagery and only provide this for you in order to deepen your understanding of his principle point. The imagery is helpful in establishing the main point of Jesus discourse: namely, that the disciples cannot do anything which brings glory to God (John 15:8) if they are not getting their life from Christ, remaining plugged into him. This change of imagery also helps communicate the worthlessness (at least when it comes to bearing fruit to the glory of God) of those who are not actively seeking life in him--everyone knows how useless an extension cord is when it comes to lighting light bulbs if it is not plugged in to a power source.

Now go and read John 15 in your own Bible and see if the changed imagery sheds some light on Jesus' words. Also, notice that the fruit that Jesus wants his disciples to bear is love (see John 15:11-17). In other words, you cannot fulfill the Greatest Commandment if you are not plugged into Christ. Christ is the life-giving sap which flows through you--he is the life-giving energy which flows through you, enabling you to love others as he has loved you.

1 comment:

Chad said...

Great Work here Jimmy. Very useful.