Spring is coming, I’m convinced! And with it will be mild temperatures, green grass, beautiful flowers and the reminder that it is good to be alive. Growth will set in. The growth season in our area begins after the last frost, sometime usually after April 1 and ends at the last frost of the year, usually before October 31st. In between those times, trees will bud, shrubs will sprout, flowers will appear and things will appear new.
We serve a God who brings about growth. John Newton said:
“I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”
I believe that God has us positioned for a season of growth for our church. But it will depend on the question: “Is our church a contagious church?”
Charles Swindoll states:
“…we need to define what it is that makes a church contagious. How should a church grow biblically? What environment causes a community to take notice? It isn’t just the building, or the sound system, or the music. It’s not even the preaching. I repeat, it’s the context that makes a church contagious. It’s the people.”
Today’s text speaks of gardening as an illustration of spiritual vitality. This concept was important for the disciples to understand. In the context, Jesus was preparing to leave them. In chapter fourteen, Jesus presents the necessity of His death, resurrection and departure to be with the Father. He also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the gospels, Jesus forecasted His arrest, torture, death and resurrection. But this troubled His disciples; They thought of death as abrasively final. But His disciples had the capacity to focus only on His death. They couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, so they did not hear of His resurrection and ascension. They could only think on the fact that they would be alone, without their leader. How would they survive in a hostile world that hated God? How would they carry on in a culture that misunderstood Him?
With that a bridge is provided to the connective-growth language of chapter 15 and the subject of spiritual health and love. If we were to divide this chapter, we might see the following: Verses 1-8 have to do with our relationship with God, touching specifically on the means of spiritual fruit. Verses 9-17 have to do with our relationship with one another as followers of Christ, a product of spiritual fruit. Such a relationship is laid with a foundation of love because Christ has loved us. Today, I’d like to continue with considering our priorities as a church over the next three years in a message entitled as “One Church, One Family: The Common Element.” First,
THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE THAN THE FATHER PROVIDING FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST.
In other words, there is no greater love shown than God’s preemptive care over our spiritual vitality. John 15:5 tells us:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Here, Jesus talks about vines, branches, vinedressers and bearing fruit. Jesus speaks about “bearing fruit” several times, but he is not speaking of gladiolas or tomatoes. In this section, “bearing fruit” is a metaphor for a life-bearing spiritual qualities which indicate a relationship with God. This is why Jesus uses the “vine” illustration, which was not foreign to these Jewish disciples. Thomas and Gundry state: “The vine as a symbol for Israel was well known from the Old Testament, (and their connection with God) …Only by abiding in Him who is the true vine does one belong it.” From this we understand that our entire being, our existence, our day-to-day survival is dependent upon Jesus Christ working in us.
Just as a branch cannot survive without being anchored to the main vine, so we cannot survive without anchoring ourselves in Christ. This is primarily through prayer, Bible study, public worship and putting one’s faith into practice. “Abiding” is a life word. The Greek verb means “to remain, stay, abide; to live, dwell; endure, and continue.” This verb is used roughly 33 times in the Gospel of John, with a concentration in chapters 14 and 15. Just by position, Jesus is speaking of the disciples remaining in the Father’s love because in a little while, Jesus would no longer “remain” with them. D.A. Carson notes: “…there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity….”
And churches must also be fruitful in order to be healthy. Charles Swindoll shares that the acrostic W-I-F-E stands for the four most common elements of churches that are contagious.
• W stands for worship;
• I stands for instruction;
• F stands for Fellowship;
• E stands for evangelism.
The determiner of whether the branch can survive is only if it is attached to the vine. Abiding in Christ was the key to bearing spiritual fruit. The alternative was death and decay: “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” From this we know that bearing spiritual fruit is not a result of human effort but comes from the life we receive from Christ as the Holy Spirit works among us as a body of Christians. Secondly, …
THE GREATEST LOVE, DISPLAYED AT THE CROSS, ENABLES US TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Spiritual fruit and Jesus working within us are things that enable us to love one another. John 15:10:
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Abiding in Jesus’ love includes obedience and obedience is the key to joy. When we don’t obey the Lord, our conscience bears witness; we feel heavy on the inside. Conviction can consume us. And if it does, we must ask “why?” What have we done to bring it on? Our Lord would give us the supreme example of love when He referred to His approaching death on the cross. Jesus said that the best example of love is when one gives up his life for his friends. Jesus was referring to what He was about to do on the cross. Earlier, in John 10, Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Love was something that naturally came from the Son of God, but it is not something that comes naturally for us. Rather, it is something that transforms us as we come to know the Lord, as a result of the Holy Spirit working in us. And after you come to know the Lord, you must intentionally practice-love. We must “put it on,” like a garment and wear it, that it might cover everything we do, as the Apostle Paul teaches us to do in Colossians 3:12:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Someone once spelled LOVE like this:
L- Listening when another is speaking,
O- Overlooking petty faults and forgiving all failures;
V- Valuing other people for who they are;
E- Expressing love in a practical way.
• Certainly we love our friends. Healthy relationships are known by a reciprocal love, a give and take, without anyone taking advantage or taking for granted.
• But Jesus gave us what may be the most difficult of His commands when He taught us to love those that are complicated to love. He said in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you….”
• And we are to love the lost. We do this because Jesus does (John 3:16). We are not a “holy huddle,” designed only to maintain ourselves. The love that God has shown us should spur us on to be outward and outreaching as a church.
MAY GOD GIVE US GRACE TO BE A CHURCH BODY, WHERE LOVE IS INTENTIONALLY PRACTICED.
In order to intentionally practice Christ like love, we want to intentionally create time, space and opportunity for us to enhance the fellowship that God has blessed us with. Whether it is through the presence of small groups, both on Sunday mornings and at other times and venues; or casual connections in the weekly life of our church body, we want to value relationships. Did you know the number one reason why people leave the church? They did not feel connected. And of those looking for a church, 83% responded that feeling welcomed was one of the top five answers. If we want our church to grow, we must understand that relationships play a big part.
One great example is a ministry started by Mrs. Amie Kipp and Tara Scavetti. These ladies felt the call of God a couple of years ago to start a MOPS chapter at Central. MOPS stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers.” One of its major components is to build community over a shared experience. Today, there are over 20 ladies gathering on weekly basis to study topics from God’s word and build relationships.
The survival of the Christian church depends, in part, on an inner, mutual preference. To take advantage of opportunities to pray with each other, hear each other’s burdens, encourage one another. Paul said in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” What was the law of Christ? All of what He taught, but especially to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love one another!
In our upcoming annual congregational meeting, to be held on February 25, we are going to be telling you about some exciting things coming to this church, producing a new vision. Hopefully you will have something in your hands to tell you more. Please come on the 25th for our 10:30 a.m. blended service, have lunch and stay for the presentation.
Our heritage is well over 300 years old. It could not have lasted that long without changes along the way. Change can be very healthy. We cannot stay the same. Nor can we go back to what the church was 20, 30 or 50 years ago. God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.
There is no greater love than what God has shown us through providing for our spiritual productivity in Christ. And there is no greater love than what was shown to us by Jesus on the cross. Yet, we are constantly confronted with a friction between Jesus’ love, and the tendency towards a lack of love in our own hearts. Let this short poem by Amy Carmichael speak to you, as it has to me. It is called: “If.”
“If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made you to differ? And what have you that you have not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.
If I take offense easily; if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.
If I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.”
May God give us the grace to do so that we can be fruitful and productive in Christ.