“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4)
An ikebana is a beautiful thing, often exquisite, always exotic to the western eye. But it is misnamed. Two words, “flower” and “living,” combine to name the Japanese way of arranging flowers. But ikebanas are made with cut flowers. More living than plastic or silk flowers, to be sure, but the connection with life is broken – hardly “living,” at least not for more than a few days. Jesus says that’s the way with our lives. They may be beautiful, even awe inspiring, but cut off from the source of life they can never be all they were meant to be nor last more than a few days. At least when measured by the calendar of eternity. The connection with real life and the secret to fulfilling life’s potential is to connect with Him, says Jesus in John 15. And that connection is a relationship so intimate you could describe it as being in Him.
Getting into or “being in” Christ involves two things: a new creation and a new relation. What “exceeding magnifical” new persons we have become! What an astonishing new relationship we have entered! Paul emphasizes this union with Christ as the key to successful Christian experience. But Jesus emphasizes an even deeper “in-ness” – if you abide in Me, He says, a bumper crop of fruit will be yours (vs. 5): love, joy, peace, victorious Christian living and effective service. And that is what you were made for, true fulfillment.
We know the biblical terminology, but what it means literally and practically is not always clear. As a graduate student once wrote to me, “What, what, WHAT am I supposed to do, how, how, HOW can I actually experience this life He promises?” There are three abidings in this chapter, not one, and each throws light on the others: abide in Christ (vs 4, 5), let the words of Christ abide in you (vs. 7) and abide in love (vs 9, 10). Today let’s consider our “abiding in Christ.”
The key word of John 15 is translated “abide” in earlier translations, “remain” in some more recent translations. Remain is indeed a basic meaning of the Greek term meno. For example, the promise in verse 16 is of fruit that will remain, using the same word. Meno was used in secular Greek writing to indicate a holding out against all odds, of standing fast when others might waver or buckle.
Britisher Derek Redmond had this characteristic. Redmond provided the emotional high point of the Barcelona summer Olympics when he popped his right hamstring and fell to the cinders 160 meters into the 400 meter race. We watched in growing wonderment as he fought off the officials who came to escort him off the track. Redmond rose and began to hop on his one good leg to the cheers of the crowd. Soon his bad leg dropped to the ground and he dragged it behind him, face contorted in pain, hobbling toward the finish line. Said Redmond, “There was no way I was going out on a stretcher, and there was no way I was going to let all those official people keep me from finishing.” That’s meno — staying in the race no matter what. And those who meno in Christ will not only win the cheers of the “cloud of witnesses,” they will win the gold!
To abide in Christ is first of all, then, to hold steady, to stick with one’s commitment to Him. Fidelity, you might call it. Jesus repeatedly defines “abiding” as obedience: “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love (10).” “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you (14).” To abide in Christ is to keep on obeying Him no matter what. Fidelity.
We are responsible to make the choices, to keep on “abiding” in our relationship, but we do not do so unaided. Not only do we have a new capability to choose the right, an ability infused at our re-creation, we also have the intimate relationship of one who comes alongside and enables, who will not let us go. Derek Redmond had someone who came along side, as the Associated Press reported:
Redmond’s father, Jim, jumped from the stands, brushed past the officials who tried to stop him and ran to his son’s side. The two walked together for a few yards, father consoling son, and then Redmond stopped, covered tear-filled eyes with his hands and buried his head in his dad’s shoulder. Then he lifted up and pointed with one finger to the finish line, too close to stop now.
Jim Redmond drew Derek’s arm around his shoulder, and the pair slowly made their way up the track as the applause grew louder. Finally, tears of disappointment and pain streaming down his face, Redmond staggered across the line, still leaning on his father’s shoulder.
There’s the secret: “still leaning on his father’s shoulder.” And that is the key to success in the Christian life- “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (vs 5). His responsibility is to hold us up, to see us through to the finish line. But ours is the responsibility to maintain the connection with tough endurance. It is our responsibility to make the right choices, to obey. No basis here for saying we can’t, for blaming our dysfunctional family background or our present impossible circumstances. “If you obey my commands, you will abide…” (vs 10).
That is to abide – to keep faith, to hold steady, to bounce back, to endure. The first element of abiding, then, is fidelity. Tomorrow we will consider two additional abidings: “let the words of Christ abide in you” and “abide in love,” so that we can gain an even fuller sense of what Jesus commands.