As we talk together today, I want to remind us of something important. In John 15:4 Jesus states, 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. Disciples are persons who have made a firm, settled commitment to abide in Jesus. The only way to bear fruit that represents the message of Jesus is to be in relationship with Jesus.
As this time of “sheltering in place” drags on with no end in sight, it seems that fewer and fewer of us are abiding in Jesus. Tempers are flaring. Angry, ungracious, and unloving words are being thrown about without regard to the damage they can do. These words are often spoken by persons who claim to be disciples of Jesus.
We all know the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:12 In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. This text is known as the Golden Rule and most of us would quickly give intellectual affirmation to its veracity. Intellectual affirmation is not the same as living out the basic premise of this command. In our lives as the children of God we need to be practitioners of this rule, not merely robots reciting a creed.
Let’s consider these two questions. First, what does it mean to abide in Jesus? Second, what does it mean to bear fruit?
To abide in Jesus means that we have decided, to live our life as if Jesus were living it. In other words, when people see us, hear us, or read our words they are seeing, hearing, or reading the words of Jesus. Now that’s a problem. It is difficult to reconcile our angry outcries and name-calling with the life of Jesus as Jesus would live it in me.
I have a close friend with whom I sometimes disagree. Neither one of us resorts to name-calling or hateful language. We love and respect one another and we seek to abide in Jesus, therefore name-calling, angry words, and threats have no place in the conversation. We can effectively agree to disagree without damaging the relationship. We have been friends for more than thirty years.
Abiding in Jesus means that we need not stoop to personal attacks. Personal attacks obfuscate the underlying issue. Using an abusive name in an argument destroys the integrity of our position. More damaging, it diminishes our witness as a disciple of Jesus.
The most striking example of this is found in political discourse. A policy or position is put forth with which I strongly disagree. Rather, than analyzing and explaining my opposition, I blurt out, “You’re stupid!” In that comment I did not address the issue, I simply attacked the person.
This response is known as Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”) or against the person. This term is applied to several different types of arguments, most of which are fallacious. As indicated in the example the argument is fallacious because genuine discussion of the topic is avoided by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.
If I truly abide in Jesus the language of personal attack is never appropriate. The fact that we disagree does not make either of us stupid. The disciples of Jesus had arguments over who was the greatest or most important. Jesus refereed the disagreements without resorting to name-calling. To abide in Jesus means that I live my life as though Jesus were living it through me.
Do my words, either spoken or written in the safe space of social media represent the Lord I claim to love and serve?
The second question, “what does it mean to bear fruit?” is most adequately answered in the words of Paul recorded in Galatians 5:22-23: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
When I abide in Jesus, I can bear the fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t easy. My blood boils, and I angrily react to much of the political rhetoric that swirls around me in the age of a twenty-four-hour news cycle, that is short on news and long on rhetoric. I’m tired of being told where I can go and when. Frustration overcomes good sense and I thoughtlessly rage at people rather than circumstances.
If we choose to abide in Jesus, we choose to change our thinking. That sounds simple, but it is not simplistic. Jesus commands that we abide in him. That requires a complete reordering of our lives and priorities. The battles we face are not of flesh and blood but are spiritual. That is, they are won or lost in our mind, by our attitude. By an act of the will. We choose to abide in Jesus. Listen to Paul’s words to the Ephesians: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8)
The apostle says to think about these things. That is to change the focus of our thinking away from disillusionment, disappointment, and the failure of other people to meet our expectations. It is to change our attitude to be like Christ who humbled himself to the point of death.
As we face this anxious time which requires us to practice social distancing, wear a mask, and shelter in place we do so in the presence and power of Jesus the Christ.
Let me share with you a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Jesus is the Lord of the ages and is always with his own, even when things are difficult, and will abide with us; that is our comfort. If tribulation and anxiety come upon us, Jesus is with us and leads us over into God’s eternal kingdom.”
We do not walk this walk alone. We abide in Jesus who is with us, and leads us into God’s eternal kingdom.