John 15 and three dimensional discipleship

(Thanks to Chuck Miller’s book, The Spiritual Formation of Leaders, for providing the following framework for some material I am working on for a church weekend next month.)

John 15 comes in the middle of a series of teaching that Jesus gives to his disciples just before his crucifixion and contains the famous analogy of the Vine and the branches.

Vineyard imagery is well known in the Bible and the problem in the Old Testament is that God’s people had produced bad quality fruit, as Isaiah describes it. The answer is a Vine that will produce good fruit. This True Vine – the fulfilment of God’s desire to see good fruit – is not a nation of people, but one man, Jesus. Hence his claim at the start of John 15, to which he adds that his disciples are the branches.

As well as developing this theme, John 15 adds to Jesus’ earlier command to his disciples that they should love one another; the chapter also introduces the theme of the disciples’ place in a world which they can expect to be hostile towards them.

So here are the three dimensions of discipleship:

  1. The disciples’ relationship with Jesus. The key word is abide and the imagery is drawn from the world of vines, branches and fruit.
  2. The disciples’ relationship with each other. The key command is love one another. The bar is set high: disciples are to love one another as Jesus has loved them.
  3. The disciples’ relationship to the world. In the world the disciples are to bear witness – a task in which they co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

Or, to put it another way:

  • communion (abiding in Jesus)
  • community (love for one another)
  • commission (witness in the world)



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