February 3, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
4rd Sunday after Epiphany
Today we continue our message series on the nine Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This week we will discover the second Fruit of the Spirit in this message series, joy. Now let me make a bold statement here. Our joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. Our joy can be complete when we have the full knowledge and encouragement of Jesus Christ in us, a close fellowship with the Holy Spirit around us, and an affection and compassion for other people in front of us. The Apostle Paul says that those things will make our joy complete. Listen to what Paul said to the Philippian church from Philippians 2:1-2: Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Our one purpose is to develop and maintain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. Joy is the by-product of an obedient and faithful life to Jesus Christ. There is a story of a third-century man who was anticipating death. He penned these last words to a friend:
“It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians – and I am one of them.”
Jesus knew the joy that came from abiding in God his Father. Jesus wanted his disciples, wanted all humankind, wants us today, to know that same joy when we abide in him. Our joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. Would you pray with me?
I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few people, some of them extended family members, who just don’t seem to have much joy in their lives. Do you know people like that? They seem to just meander through life and let life happen to them instead of trying to affect life and change things around them. They have no center. They have no joy.
Now I don’t want us to mistake happiness for joy. It is easy to do that, but it is not the same. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times, but it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. You see, happiness depends upon what happens to you. If all of the circumstances are right, then you and I can be happy. But joy is different. Joy comes from the inside. “Joy” is the evidence of the presence of God in our lives. If God is in my life and I am filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit, “joy,” will be obvious to all of those around me. It is the same for you. Other people should be able to tell if you have joy in your life.
Seven years ago, during the July 4th weekend, my daughter Mary and I went down to Dayton to visit my parents and celebrate their birthdays. My mother turned 75 on July 1 and my dad turned 77 on July 4. They are now 82 and 84. Well, to celebrate my mother’s milestone of 75, my sister and I gave her a luncheon at one of her favorite restaurants. She invited about 30 of her friends as our guests for a luncheon celebration, complete with cake and birthday songs.
Out of this whole group of people, I would say that about 95% of them are born-again Christians who are active in their churches. We had a great time together and it showed. When the meal was over and I was paying the bill, our two waiters said, “This is the most joyous group of people we have ever served!” I told my mother this and she said, “Yes, it’s because we’re Christians.” Joy comes from the inside and it can be seen by other people. Joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. Jesus wanted his disciples to feel the joy that he experienced every day of his life because of his relationship with his Father. I’m sure some of you who don’t already feel that joy want to as much as I do. You and I can experience that joy. Jesus told his disciples and now tells us how we can experience that same joy through him.
Let’s look at our scripture story this morning. Turn into your Bibles to John 15. As we move into Chapter 15 of John we have to notice what has come before this moment. This was the night of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that his hours left on this earth were numbered. But before that, earlier in the evening, Jesus and the disciples were in the upper room celebrating Passover. Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet and spoken with them about the events that were soon to take place. They had had their meal together in which Jesus had broken the bread and passed the wine cup. At the end of Chapter 14, Jesus says to the disciples, “Get up, let us go from here.”
Now it is a bit of a walk from the Upper Room, through the winding streets of the walled city of Jerusalem, out the Eastern Gate, down and across the Kidron Valley and up the slope of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane.
I can just imagine Jesus continuing to instruct the disciples who had walked with him for the past three years. Jesus knew that time was running out and that he still had so much more that he wanted to share with this group of followers. After all, Jesus was a master teacher. He didn’t talk over people’s heads; He used things which were common to those He taught so that they could understand his teaching. I’m sure they didn’t have to walk far through Jerusalem before coming across a grapevine.
And so when Jesus came to that grapevine, he found it to be a teachable moment. This is the seventh and last of the “I am” stories we find in the Book of John. Jesus wanted the disciples, in the coming days and months, to truly know the full joy of living with God. Let’s look at John 15, verse 1.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Israel was God’s choice vine on which he had lavished care and attention for over 3,000 years since Abraham. God had longed for Israel to bear fruit for the rest of the world, but the vine, Israel, had become degenerated and was now producing rotten fruit. Now, Jesus is saying, “I am the true vine. I will fulfill what God had intended for Israel, and remember, it is my Father, God, who protects the vine.” Jesus continues.
“God 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The fruit which God desired from Israel was loving obedience, righteousness, and justice.
Jesus wanted the disciples to know that not every person who professes to be a disciple of Jesus is actually a true follower. In other words, some people profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ and yet they bear no fruit. They do not bring unbelievers to Christ, nor do they do the work of the kingdom. And so God will cut off those who do not obey, who are not righteous, and who do not practice fairness with their fellow men and women. A branch that bears no fruit is obviously dead. Judas was a good example of this. He was soon cut off from Jesus.
But at the same time, God, through his Word, trims us up, cleanses us, and convicts us, so that we will become even better and yield even greater fruit. Let’s go on.
“Remain in me, and I will 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. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man or women remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our fruitfulness is the result of Jesus’ life being reproduced in each of us, his disciples. Jesus said, “Remain in me.” Our duty is to remain. That is where God’s joy is found. Our duty is to remain in Christ. This word “remain” occurs over 40 times in John’s Gospel. But, what does it mean for us to remain?
First, to remain in Jesus means to accept Jesus as Savior. Earlier in his Gospel, Chapter 6, Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:54, 56).
Second, to remain in Jesus means to continue or persevere in believing. In Chapter 8 of John’s Gospel Jesus tells the Jews, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We are to continue to believe in Christ no matter what trials and hardships come our way. Our faith is to persevere.
Third, to remain in Jesus means to believe and have loving obedience. Look at verses 9-10 in Chapter 15: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 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.” Without faith, no life of God will come to anyone. Without the life of God, no real fruit can be produced. We cannot bear fruit, especially the fruit of joy, unless we remain in Jesus Christ, believing in him and obeying his teachings.
In this particular passage of scripture, Jesus also tells us what happens to us if we do not remain in him. Those professing Christians who do not bear the fruit of loving obedience, righteousness, and justice may in truth not be genuinely saved and will be judged harshly by God. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire.
Let’s face it; dead branches have no joy in Christ. Dead branches take up good space. Dead branches don’t give God praise. Dead branches waste time. Dead branches don’t give offering and gifts to God. Dead branches complain all the time. Dead branches are a stumbling block to the work of the church. Dead branches talk holy and walk unholy. Dead branches need to be removed and that is the work of the gardener, God. God does not want dead branches in his church. He wants branches that are still connected to the vine and are producing much fruit for the kingdom.
So what does all of this mean for you and me so that Jesus’ joy may be in us and that our joy may be complete? The first, I think, is rather obvious: We are to remain or abide in Jesus Christ. Jesus told us this eleven times in these eleven verses of our scripture today. “Remain in me.” Our joy is found when we come to know Jesus so well that we begin to act like him.
How do we come to know Jesus? We come to know Jesus by reading the New Testament and learning God’s words and teachings to us, by coming regularly to community worship to hear the message and to praise God, and by keeping in contact with God and Jesus Christ through daily prayer. These are just a few of the ways we begin to bear fruit in our lives.
Secondly, we can bear much fruit by learning to take care of others in our worshiping community. Everyone here should be in some kind of a small group. It is in the small groups that we come to know each other better, support each other more fully, and hold ourselves accountable to knowing God’s word.
If we don’t have a small group for you, then start one yourself. Either I or one of our other leaders here will help you start one. If you can put a DVD in a player and read through a small study book, then you can teach a small group. It is really that simple! We need groups for 20 somethings who are single, for parents with small children, for empty nesters, for widows and widowers. If you can think of a group, I know there are people here in the church and out in the community who would like to know more about their neighbors and more about God and would want to be in your small group.
And lastly, you can bear abundant fruit when you begin to actively work outside the church in mission. You don’t have to go around the world to be in mission. Mission can be right in your own country mile or your city block. There are always people who need assistance with house repairs, grocery shopping, ramp building, a friendly visitor, the county clothing store, feeding the homeless, helping out at the library or the Habitat for Humanity Restore, volunteering at the hospital, reading to the blind, or just about anything else you can imagine that would demonstrate Christ’s love and caring nature to someone else.
Christians who are alive in the vine of Jesus Christ bear much fruit in their lives when they are worshiping God, studying the Word with a small group, and in service to their church and community. You can just see the joy bubbling up from inside them because they are coming to know Christ better and are working to bring the Kingdom of God to a forceful presence here on earth.
Our joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. “I am the vine,” Jesus said, “and you are the branches…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Amen.