“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that should remain, so that the Father might grant you whatever you ask in my Name.” (John 15:16)
This verse deals with two important issues — the nature of Jesus’ calling and the nature of our fruit as Christians. Both are important on two levels — on an abstract, theological level and as part of our daily Christian walk.
The Nature of Jesus’ Calling
This verse comes in the centre of the discourse — or the series of discourses — that extend from John 13 (the washing of the disciples’ feet) until John 17 (the “great high priestly prayer.) In these discourses Jesus set forth some of the most profound and important things that he had to say while on this earth. The matters discussed in this verse were no exception.
Jesus starts by reminding the disciples that he chose them, not they him. We say “reminded” because the disciples well remembered when Jesus chose them: “When day came, he summoned his disciples, and chose twelve of them, whom he also named ‘Apostles.’ They were Simon (whom Jesus also named Peter), and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon known as the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who proved a traitor.” (Luke 6:13-16) There are other verses relating to this; it seems that it took more than one call to get some of them to follow him.
Now many emphasize the absolute nature of the call of God. But God himself is more realistic about this: “‘Did not I myself choose you to be the Twelve?’ replied Jesus; ‘and yet, even of you, one is playing the ‘Devil’s’ part.’ He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who was about to betray him, though he was one of the Twelve.” (John 6:70-71) The fact remains that, although God certainly called the disciples, they were in a position to turn their back on him, as Judas certainly did. It is really frightful to consider such a thing but it is something we see all too often.
Jesus goes on to underscore the nature of his calling; not only is he calling the disciples, he is “appointing” them to boot. Today when someone is appointed to a position, be it in the government, church, or the private sector, it is customary to call some kind of gathering (such as a press conference) and have the appointee stand next to the person doing the appointing while the announcement is being made. The idea of course is to emphasize the elevation of the person to a new level of authority.
The word “appointed” used here, though, has just the opposite meaning; it literally means that the person being appointed is placed in a passive or horizontal posture, or is bowing down to the person making the appointment. Rather than elevating the appointee the process Jesus is describing emphasizes subordinating the appointee to him. This is the key to the concept of “servant leadership:” “‘But with you it must not be so. No, let the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who leads like him who serves. Which is the greater–the master at the table or his servant? Is not it the master at the table? Yet I myself am among you as one who serves.'” (Luke 22:26-27) If we are to be real leaders, we must become servants, and servants first to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we think of people who are chosen as the disciples were, we frequently think of people who were created a class apart from the rest of us, who are elevated to a higher state than we can ever hope to attain. But this is not the case; in addition to becoming servants, the word “chosen” in all the verses cited really means “called out,” or selected from the whole of humanity. For the New Covenant Jesus did not set apart a separate family of people such as the Levites to minister to his people; his idea was that those who were to do his work were to come out of the humanity which he had come to save.
The Importance of Fruit
An enormous amount of ink has been spilled and sermon time filled on this subject. Bearing fruit has been a matter of importance to Christians for a long time; we should expect that pastors and teachers would spend a lot of time on this issue. Unfortunately we are so riveted to the subject of producing fruit that we forget the entire meaning of fruit as it appears in the New Testament.
The first thing that usually comes to mind on the subject of fruit is of course the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit produced by the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindliness, generosity, trustfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law!” (Gal 5:22-23) Right here the origin of the fruit — the Spirit — is emphasized. This is reinforced by verses such as “‘So, too, every sound tree bears good fruit, while a worthless tree bears bad fruit. A sound tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a worthless tree bear good fruit. Every tree that fails to bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Hence it is by the fruit of their lives that you will know such men.'” (Matt 7:17-20) With this background most of the time spent on fruit is spent in instructing people in how to bear proper fruit.
While this is certainly important, it only looks at fruit from the standpoint of the bearer. However, the Greek word for fruit as used in John 15:16 ultimately comes from the Greek verb “to seize.” In this way the fruit of a tree or other plant is not designated as the end result of the action of the tree or plant, but by the fact that the fruit of the plant is the part which is picked! Looked at in this way, the fruit is the part which is accessible and which people will want to take of and eat.
When I was growing up in Florida, we had orange and grapefruit trees in the back yard. The cat found the trees fun to climb. The trees also had a lot of leaves, but they weren’t of much interest to us unless a hurricane blew them into the swimming pool. The oranges and the grapefruit were important; when they ripened around New Year’s, we could pick them off of the trees and eat them. Only their quality mattered because they were the only parts of the trees that were accessible for eating.
It is certainly important to insure that the fruit of our lives is of the Spirit and of high quality. But if our fruit isn’t accessible to others — if it isn’t where people can see it or benefit from it — then it isn’t really fruit at all! “‘Men do not light a lamp and put it under the corn-measure, but on the lamp-stand, where it gives light to every one in the house. Let your light so shine before the eyes of your fellow men, that, seeing your good actions, they may praise your Father who is in Heaven.'” (Matt 5:15-16)
So many people in their Christian lives spend so much time in developing their spiritual growth, but if it isn’t obvious — if they don’t share it with others in some kind of ministry — then they are not really bearing fruit. We cannot be known by our fruit if it isn’t out in the open. This isn’t just for pastors and ministers — this is for all Christians.
The Result of Fruit
Now that we have seen the real significance of the idea of “fruit,” we need to know what objective all this fruit cultivation and availability is for. So much of what we do has so little long term value that it would be useless to add another activity with no result. This verse promises two things concerning those results.
The first is that our fruit should remain, or abide as King James would say. Put in simpler terms this means that our fruit should stick around, and moreover those who reach out and partake of our fruit should obtain long term value. Jesus intended that our fruit be of eternal result. One of the fruits of the apostle John’s own ministry, namely his Gospel, was written expressly for this purpose: “There were many other signs of his mission that Jesus gave in presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book; But these have been recorded that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God–and that, through your belief in his Name, you may have Life.” (John 20:30-31) Jesus himself put it to the Father in this way a little later: “‘And the Immortal Life is this–to know thee the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent as thy Messenger.'” (John 17:3; click here for more information about this verse) The ultimate measure of the worth of our fruit is how much of it ends up in heaven.
The second thing is that we have our prayers answered. Now Jesus intended that we be, as Bossuet would say, “clothed in the omnipotence of God:” “‘I tell you that if any one should say to this hill ‘Be lifted up and hurled into the sea!’, without ever a doubt in his mind, but in the faith that what he says will be done, he would find that it would be. And therefore I say to you ‘Have faith that whatever you ask for in prayer is already granted you, and you will find that it will be.'” (Mark 11:23-24) But such clothing was not unconditional: “‘Not every one who says to me ‘Master! Master!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On ‘That Day’ many will say to me ‘Master, Master, was not it in your name that we taught, and in your name that we drove out demons, and in your name that we did many miracles?’ And then I shall say to them plainly ‘I never knew you. Go from my presence, you who live in sin.”” (Matt 7:21-23)
If we expect to do miracles, we must first produce fruit, and fruit that has lasting value. But by that time the miracles may have already started in the lives of those around us.