John 15 has proven to be one of the more beloved chapters in Scripture, and for good reason. Personally, I’ve spent more time in this chapter than any other portion of Scripture. Unfortunately, I think many who also value it have missed a critical point Jesus was making in that renowned conversation.
Jesus told his disciples to abide, and if they did, they would bear fruit, and it would glorify God the Father.
Doesn’t sound very complicated.
So what are we to take away here? The goal? The point?
The Abiding Life
It is the profoundly simple, yet complex command that makes or breaks everything for us.
To expound, in my studies and time soaking in this text, I’ve come to understand abiding to capture three essential qualities of the spiritual journey: identity, intimacy, and obedience. In short, when we abide, we root our identity in Christ, we remain intimate with him, and we do what he asks. And when we accomplish that, fruit-bearing is the natural result.
Now, while the message is fairly straightforward, the point is easily missed if we don’t slow down enough to get our feet wet.
Sadly, I’ve experienced far too many church leaders attempt to use this passage as a formula for their strategic growth plans.
The assumption: if we abide, we will bear fruit.
Translation: if we remain in Christ, if we make him our home, “this thing” will grow.
The problem is that Jesus doesn’t distinguish between good fruit and bad fruit, nor does he say that we’re responsible for the fruit. He simply suggests abiding, and that the result will be fruit-bearing.
What does this mean?
Fruit is none of your business.
“Fruit” being, anything resulting from your obedience to Christ.
All outcomes, all consequences resulting from your obedience, is none of your business.
I’ve found that church leaders tend to struggle with this concept because of the difficulty in separating what we believe is obedience, and what we believe should be the results of that obedience. However, what Jesus seems to be suggesting here is that his followers have one job: abide. Not bear fruit.
Disciples are in the abiding business, not the fruit-production business.
Fruit, in the end, is not our responsibility; it’s the Father’s.
To expound a bit more, the line, “Fruit is none of your business” was an axiom spoken into me by my pastor and mentor, Bill Dogterom. For years he’s been a non-anxious presence in my life; someone not impressed by me one bit – we all need at least one person like this.
In my early ministry years, I found myself regularly laying my stress and confusion before Bill. He rarely/never told me what to do. He simply asked questions, re-presenting my life back to me, listening myself into my own story.
One day he told me fruit was none of my business. I thought I understood. I had no clue. I came back weeks later with more stress and anxiety about the possible future. He responded the same: “Fruit is none of your business, Josh.” I replied, “Yeah, yeah, I know…” I didn’t. Not yet.
He told me this for years, actually. Each time I thought I understood it a little more. Maybe so, but I remember the day it hit me a level deeper. I came to him while in my first ministry position. I told him, “Bill, I spend hours in preparation for my sermons. I study in lexicons and commentaries. I spend time with the Spirit, listening intently. I study hard, prepare well, and then get up to speak. And what are people doing during my sermons? Some talk. Some text. Some fall asleep. Few take notes. In fact, I wonder if anyone remembers what I preached on last week. But it’s good preaching, Bill. I’m a good communicator and I offer helpful application. They don’t get it.”
Once more he responded, “Josh, fruit is none of your business.” But this time he probed into it more than he had in previous conversations – maybe he knew I lacked the range to understand it before.
He asked, “Last week, in your preparation and delivery, did you do what the Father asked you to do?” I nodded. For some reason, what he said next stuck: “Then you can lay your head to rest at night worry-free because you did what the Vinedresser asked of you. The fruit of your obedience is his. The fruit of your sermon – whether people laugh, talk, sleep through, understand well, or are completely transformed by it – is the Father’s. Your only job is to do what the Father asked of you. Fruit is none of your business.”
The light bulb went on. I got it, and I’m still getting this: the results, the outcomes, the consequences of my ministry are fruit. As a branch, my only job is abiding well and then doing what the Vinedresser asks.
“Come To Me”
That next week, I remember praying, preparing, preaching, and then sleeping better than I had in weeks, because I did what was asked of me.
This is one of those concepts I wish I could download into every pastor and ministry leader’s heart, especially those under the pressure of increased numerical results.
Chasing fruit is exhausting, and it never satisfies, because as soon as the results are attained, the bar rises one notch higher, and the fruit becomes that much more the goal. Over time, even with good intentions, obedience to Christ becomes less and less satisfying, and the weight of ministry becomes more and more debilitating.
Maybe this is why Jesus also said, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
He didn’t say, “Come to ministry.”
He didn’t say, “Come to the next church growth conference.”
He said, “Come to me,” because abiding in him is the only place we find true rest for our souls.
While this concept has completely transformed my life and ministry, learning to release fruit is one of the hardest disciplines I’ve learned. But it’s worth it. Not merely because it has caused my ministry increased fruit, but because it has freed me from the weight of ministry I was never intended to carry.
So may we be continually and wonderfully wrecked by this transformation.
May our ambition to abide be ever satisfied with our obedience to Jesus.
And may we hold dear to this truth, that fruit is none of our business.
– Josh Houston