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how to live a fruitful life!

Message by Tom Cowan, Interim Lead Pastor Sunday Sermon for March 18, 2012 Scripture Passage John 15:1-11 Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church Vancouver, Canada


None of us wants to get to the end of our lives and say,  now that was a waste of time!  Life is far too important for that.  We want to know that our lives have been fruitful, beneficial, productive, that we have made a significant contribution to others. We do not have to have been famous or wealthy to achieve this. In fact few of us will ever be wealthy or famous. But within the circle of our influence, we want to have made a contribution to the lives of others. So how can we live a fruitful and productive life? The essential factor is that we need to be connected to Jesus.  And as we will see,  we need to be connected to this Jesus who describes himself the Vine, and we are branches.  This is the secret of living a productive life. John  15:1-11 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.     2 | How To Live a Fruitful Life

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.     9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. T h e n t o fi n i s h o f f t h e thought, verse 16. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This picture/metaphor of the vine was central to Israel. It really was their national emblem. It appears about the doors of the Temple. Everyone would have recognised it

immediately. It appears in Jeremiah, Psalms, Hosea, Ezekiel. And best picture is found in Isaiah 5: The Song of the Vineyard  1 I will sing for the one I love      a song about his vineyard:   My loved one had a vineyard      on a fertile hillside.   2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones         and planted it with the choicest vines.   He built a watchtower in it         and cut out a winepress as well.   Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,      but it yielded only bad fruit.   3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,         judge between me and my vineyard.   4 What more could have been done for my vineyard      than I have done for it?   When I looked for good grapes,      why did it yield only bad?   5 Now I will tell you        what I am going to do to my vineyard:   I will take away its hedge,      and it will be destroyed;   I will break down its wall,      and it will be trampled.   6 I will make it a wasteland,      neither pruned nor cultivated,         and briers and thorns will grow there.  


I will command the clouds      not to rain on it.”   7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty      is the nation of Israel,   and the people of Judah      are the vines he delighted in.   And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;         for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. He looked for justice but i n s t e a d s a w b l o o d s h e d .  Hebrew words are almost the same.  A play on words. It is saying Israel was God’s great hope but became God’s greatest disappointment. God is saying, what more could I have done?

Question #1 What does a fruitful life look like? Jesus calls us to be more than efficient.  He wants us to be effective.  He calls us to be more than successful.  He calls us to be fruitful.  He calls us to be more than moral people. He draws us to be people whose lives reflect what we call the fruit of the spirit. Many people think that the “fruit”  of our lives = bringing p e o p l e t o C h r i s t .  N e w Christians.  That is a nice idea. But I suggest it is not the primary meaning of fruit.  Because of our relationship with Jesus, we are called to reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

Gal 5:22-23 – great summary   22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 9 qualities that describe the fruit (note it is singular, not fruits)—a brief summary. If it said FRUITS, we could pick the ones we like. But FRUIT singular means we have to pick the whole bunch. LOVE  This is neither shallow sentiment or cheap emotion. Finest description comes in 1st Cor. 13.   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. JOY  Same root as the word GRACE. PEACE  The presence of the spirit is more than the absence of war some kind of uneasy truce. It is the blessings of peace, SHALOM. All of us who are married know the experience of saying to your spouse when things are quiet. What’s wrong? And we get the

reply NOTHING! We know that’s not peace.

PATIENCE  Far too weak a word in English. 2 words in NT for patience: each has a different quality. 1. P a t i e n c e w i t h d i f fi c u l t circumstances. Often translated endurance or perseverance. 2. P a t i e n c e w i t h d i f fi c u l t people, used here. It really means having a long temper. KINDNESS  We can do things that are right on the outside.  But yet they can be unkind and harsh. KINDNESS is a quality of doing the right things with a gentle spirit. GOODNESS  This word used only 4 times in the New Testament. It is the idea of moral value in an action. We are seeking to produce and reflect the moral value of goodness in what we do. FAITHFULNESS  Our lives are trustworthy. People accept our word. GENTLENESS  Same word as “meekness”. Our problem is that it sounds like weakness.  That we are some kind of wimps.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The root of the word MEEK means to train a horse.  It means to bring its strength and power under control.  So the Spirit 3 | How To Live a Fruitful Life


wants to harness the raw energy and gift that is within us.  Harness it for the glory of God. God wants the unharnessed energy in our lives to be trained for his use. People whose lives have talent and gift. But whose lives are unharnessed often are in a mess. God wants us to give the best of our energy to Him.  Recent death of Whitney Houston in some tragic circumstances. You have to think: what if that incredible voice and talent was more fully harnessed for the glory of God. SELF-CONTROL This word used only twice in NT. But selfcontrol is essential for freedom. The less inner self-control we h a v e ,  p e r s o n a l l y a n d corporately,  the more we need external discipline. Think of the recent Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver.  It was driven by people who surrendered/gave up self-control. But the greater self-control we have, coming from within, the more we follow the law in our heart and the less we will need external discipline. So this fruit of the Spirit describes the kind of person that God wants each one of us to be and become.  This is why God has chosen and called us, John 15:16. You did not choose me – but I choose you and appointed you

4 | How To Live a Fruitful Life

that you should go and bear fruit... Did you notice? None of the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit are actions. They are all attitudes. It is not just what we do. It is how we do things. A word of warning. Here is something we must recognise.  It is possible to reflect and produce each one of these attributes in a moral sense. But devoid of the life/power of the Spirit.  In other words,  we can look like this on the outside without the inner power of the Spirit at work in us. For example,  when we try to walk in love,  do things in love, but without the power of the Spirit,  the result of that is not hate. It is DUTY.  Duty is when we do things with external motive,  but lacking the inner power of the Spirit. Pause for a moment and think over this past week.  How did you do?  In some areas did you blow it?  Or just get a passing grade?

Question #2 –  How do we produce that kind of fruitful life? As in everything,  Jesus does not ask us to do what he has not done.  He does not ask us to go where he does not go.  He always leads the way.

The life of Jesus revolves around 2 centres in his relationship with the Father and that is what he passes on to us to lead a fruitful life. LOVE  As the father has loved me so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. The secret of Jesus’  life was that he walked in a loving relationship with his Father. The source of all his life and ministry lay in the deep truth that he walked in step with His father’s love. The love of the Father was his life and strength. And Jesus says, as the Father loves me, so I love you.  This is the model that he gives us for how to walk with him and with each other.  The source of sin in us always starts when we think we are self-sufficient and self-powered,  as though we have some little spiritual generator running inside us.  OBEDIENCE This is the second dimension of Christ’s relationship with his Father. John 15:10 –  if you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed the Father’s commands and remain in his love. O f c o u r s e w e s a y ,  J e s u s obeyed because he was a good boy at heart. But catch this verse. Hebrews 5:8  Although he was a son he


learned obedience from what he suffered...

us. He never asks us to go where he was not willing to go.

lives in us walking in love and obedience with the Father.

It means that Jesus learned obedience by obeying. Jesus placed his will or his disposition under the will of the Father.  Decision by decision. Act by act.  Day by day.  I am convinced that his ability to pray in the Garden –  not my will be done but yours ... – could only be said out of a lifetime of learning to do that.  This prayer of ultimate obedience was the culmination of many, many prayers saying the same thing.

These two central dynamics, love and obedience,  weave in and out in a dance in our lives. Each giving to the other and receiving from the other.

Question #3: What does a disciplined life look like?

It teaches us that following the heart of God in daily small things is our apprenticeship for obedience when some large and life-shaping decision comes before us.  Very simply, if we are unwilling to learn to yield to the will of God in small issues, then we will not have been training our lives to yield to God when some life issue stands before us.  Think with me:  if you are struggling over some issue,  feeling unenthusiastic about what God wants you to do  or you know what that is and can’t seem to get your feet moving i n t h a t d i r e c t i o n .  T h i n k back,  does this struggle have its roots in smaller decisions of unwillingness? We learn obedience by being obedient. Jesus models that for

John 14:15  If you love me, you will obey what I command  John 15:10   If you obey me, you will remain in my love. It is love that converts obedience into acts of j o y .  B e c a u s e w i t h o u t love,  obedience can become a hard burden. And it is obedience that gives us love focus and direction. Because without obedience, love easily is reduced to acts of mere sentimentalism. Many times it seems that we struggle with the idea of discipline, being disciplined.  But we all want to be disciples of Jesus. Well,  guess what? Being a disciple means disciplined. Inviting God to come and prune some of the useless stuff out of our lives so that we will be productive. Hebrews 12  ...but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. Grace comes into our lives,  to change us,  to produce fruitful

John 15:2   2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. I will translate this idea/picture of pruning. The cutting back of branches to produce even more fruit  into the thought of discipline. 1. The fruit of a disciplined life In one of his books Pastor John Ortberg points out the crucial difference between trying hard to do something, and training to do something. He says, spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely. Paul wrote to a young pastor called Timothy and said,  train yourself in godliness. In the spiritual life discipline is to bring change in our lives.  And the change is always the character of Christ growing in us. I have a sense that if we were honest,  every one of us would admit to some laziness or carelessness in some aspect of our lives. We shrug our 5 | How To Live a Fruitful Life


shoulders and say,  whatever,  who cares, why bother?

the synergy of love and obedience.

Our disorderly and at times undisciplined lives can manifest themselves in a thousand different ways. 

2. The fruit of answered prayer

❖ Little or no prayer or Bible study. Just show up on Sunday. ❖ Being unreliable. Failure to do what we committed to. ❖ Overindulgence in a multitude of things: food, television, sports, work. ❖ We waste time. ❖ We start things and don’t finish them. Trying harder has failed so we just give up. The tragedy is then that we settle down for some level of mediocrity.  We get comfortable there.  We accept being less than who God wants us to be. That is the fruit of being undisciplined. Training/Discipline is simply any activity that will help me to gain the power to live life as Jesus taught and modelled it. Can you identity one area of your life? Not just your spiritual life but your whole life. But all your life as you know it, that you would like to change. And honestly ask God to prune you back in that area. Genuine discipleship and healthy discipline flow out of 6 | How To Live a Fruitful Life

The fruit of answered prayer appears twice. Verse 7   If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you Verse 16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. Prayer needs to be changed from our childish lists of our wants to become the prayer of maturing adults. But Jesus says that we will know the fruit of that kind of answered prayer. 3.  The fruit of JOY Verse 11 says:   I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Joy is one of the big really big words of the Christian life. The birth of Jesus was announced with great joy. CS Lewis:  joy is the serious business of heaven.  

  In the OT, Nehemiah organised an entire day in Jerusalem where the law of the Lord was r e a d .  P e o p l e w e r e s o overwhelmed to hear what they had been missing for years that they started crying — Nehemiah told them to stop crying and to start celebrating. He told them,  the joy of the Lord is your strength. In a grotesque way, Adolf Hitler lifted this theme, this idea, and made the phrase,  strength through joy,  the motto of the Hitler Youth Movement. Joy is much more than fun and games and it is miles beyond happiness. I define joy as connecting the events and experiences of life to the purposes of God. Joy is modelled for us down though history by a multitude of men and women who suffered for their faith. But who held on to hope in the darkest of circumstances.  And even died.  In all their struggles they had a model. Someone who led the way for them and who showed them how to live in Joy.  His name was Jesus. Hebrews 12:  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the


cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. One of the dangers we face is that we cannot seem to experience joy we create what I call a kind of “pseudo-joy”. We pretend. We fake it. Some years ago, a mantra was often used. PTLA = praise the Lord anyway. It is better to be honest. Because when we are honest, then God can start to work in us and change us. So in this relationship with the Father, expressed by vine and branches, Jesus teaches us that out of the twin relationships of love and obedience.  We can live in and experience the power of joy.  The joy of the Lord is our strength. Its absence will create weakness in us. No one can create joy for us. No one else is responsible to make us joyful.

Go back to where we started. None of us wants to get to the end of our lives and say, now that was a waste of time!  Life is far too important for that.  We want to know that our lives have been fruitful, beneficial, productive, that we have made a significant contribution to others. We do not have to have been famous or wealthy to achieve this. In fact few of us will ever be wealthy or famous. But within the circle of our influence, we want to have made a contribution to the lives of others.  The essential factor is that we need to be connected to Jesus,  and as we will see,  we need to be connected to this Jesus who describes himself the Vine, and we are branches.  This is the secret of living a fruitful and productive life.

Where do we start?  Well, we can start today. This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. It is not yesterday or tomorrow. It is today. True joy is always joy in spite of what is wrong with the world. Things may be wrong with the world but things are right in heaven. If we don’t learn to rejoice today, we will never discover joy. Joy is living out of love and obedience with the Father. 7 | How To Live a Fruitful Life


How To Live a Fruitful Life