our need for purpose


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GET INTO THE STUDY 10 minutes

GUIDE: Direct the group to look at the picture (PSG,

SESSION 6

OUR NEED FOR PURPOSE

p. 70). DISCUSS: Question #1 (PSG, p. 70): When have you felt like a hamster on

The Point

a wheel?

Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God.

GUIDE: Direct attention to

The Bible Meets Life

The Bible Meets Life (PSG, p. 71). Note that busyness

We fill our lives with activity: work

is not the same as being

schedules, religious activities,

productive.

sports, and community events.

Introduce The Point (PSG,

Some people pride themselves on

p. 71): Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live

how busy they are. But the question underlying all this busyness is: What’s the purpose? Some people fill their lives

productive lives for God.

with activity either to find a sense of purpose or to mask the lack of purpose

SAY: “In this final session in

with purpose.

our studies about how Jesus

they feel. When we depend on Jesus and stay close to Him, He fills our lives

meets our deepest needs, let’s

The Passage

focus on one more of Jesus’

John 15:1-8

‘I am’ statements and how

The Setting

our lives can be filled with purpose.” (ENHANCEMENT: Point to “I am the true vine” on Pack Item 2: “Jesus’ ‘I am’ Statements.” Consider reminding the group of each statement.)

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S e ss i o n 6

The setting for this study is similar to that for the previous study—Jesus’ final night on earth relaying necessary truths to His as-yet-unsuspecting disciples— with two particular distinctions. It was now somewhat later in the evening. And, the location had shifted out of the upper room (14:31). Perhaps Jesus and the disciples were making their way to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, perhaps they had already arrived, or perhaps they had stopped along the way.

© 2015 LifeWay

The Jewish world of Judea in the first century was rural. Even the industrial United States did not shift from a dominantly rural to a majority urban population until the 1920s. Agriculture and knowledge of fields, crops, and produce was commonplace to most of the population in firstcentury Judea. Thus, many of the metaphors and ideas Jesus used to communicate spiritual realities to His disciples came from life in the countryside. One of the dominant agricultural industries in the ancient Roman world was the production of olive oil and wine. Pictures of ancient shipwrecks of the Mediterranean Sea, often show the elongated shapes of amphorae bottles by the hundreds, once brimming with wine and olive oil, scattered about on the seafloor. No wonder Jesus used agricultural images of vineyards as an analogy for relationships in the community of His followers.

STUDY THE BIBLE John 15:1-3 15 minutes GUIDE: Remind the group of what they have studied so far: >> “Our Need for Contentment” (The Point: Jesus is the bread of life who gives true satisfaction.) >> “Our Need for Direction” (The Point: Jesus is the light who reveals the way we

John 15:1-3

should go.)

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes,

and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will

>> “Our Need for Protection” (The Point: Jesus is the only one who offers ultimate protection.) >> “Our Need for Hope”

produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken

to you.

(The Point: Jesus is the resurrection who gives us life now and forever.)

God prunes our lives to make us productive for Him. Verse 1. Jesus made an analogy that almost functions in John’s Gospel as the equivalent of parables in the other Gospels. In its present context, this analogy connects beautifully with the last supper scene in chapter 13. In that scene, the group likely had partaken of the fruit of the vine. Jesus built on the supper experience and said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.” Jesus began to teach His disciples using a metaphor instantly recognizable at two levels. One level was the common, wellknown rural life of the countryside. These men had at least a general understanding of vines, vineyards, and those who tended these economic and cultural front runners. More importantly, though, the second level was religious. The analogy of Israel as a vineyard and God as the vineyard keeper was a common figure of Jewish prophets and poets (Ps. 80:8; Isa. 5:7; Hos. 10:1). Isaiah anticipated a time when © 2015 LifeWay

>> “Our Need for Peace” (The Point: Jesus is the way to the Father; therefore, we can live in peace.) (ENHANCEMENT: Point to these titles on Pack Item 1: “More Than Enough.”)

READ: Invite a volunteer to read John 15:1-3.

S U G G E S T E D U S E | W E E K O F A P R I L 10

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THE POINT

Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God.

GUIDE: Ask for a show of hands from group members who have a garden or fruit trees or who grew up around gardens and orchards. (OPTION: IN ADVANCE, gather a few gardening tools. Some pruning shears will be especially helpful when reviewing verse 2). Note that this time of year we start seeing blossoms and buds on fruit trees that let us know the fruit is on its way. Direct attention to Jesus’ statement: “I am the true vine” (v. 1).

DISCUSS: Question #2 (PSG, p. 73): What does this “I am” statement teach us about Jesus’ nature and character? (Alternate: How does pruning make us more productive?)

GUIDE: Stress the life that produces spiritual fruit flows from Jesus, the vine, through His followers, the branches. But what kind of fruit is this? Call attention to the numbered statements on PSG page 72: 74

S e ss i o n 6

Israel would “blossom and bloom and fill the whole world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6). Thus, the disciples would likewise have been familiar with hearing about vines and vineyards in a religious or spiritual context. The stinger added as a qualifier here is that Jesus called Himself the “true vine.” This qualifier functions as judgment. The statement infers a vineyard and vine keepers that are not genuine. We already have met these people in John’s Gospel. They were the leaders in Israel who opposed Jesus and sought His death at a major festival time when He could be expected in Jerusalem (John 7). They came on stage in the story of the healing of the blind man (John 9). They showed up ominously after Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11). Jesus as the “true vine” and God as the vine keeper means Jesus is the genuine Israel of God, only in seedling form. Whatever grows from Him in its maturity will be the genuine Israel of God. This is much the same truth Jesus had communicated to the religious leadership in John 8:37ff—that the true child of Abraham was the one who lived as Abraham did, by faith (Heb. 11:8-19), not the one who could trace physical lineage to him. Verse 2. The following warning of branch removal is standard agricultural practice for keeping healthy vineyards. Jesus warned: “Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes.” Two matters need to be noted here. First, “in Me” means Jesus is the source of all life that flows throughout the plant. After calling Himself the “vine,” He spoke of His disciples as the “branches.” The only way a branch exists is because the vine gives the branch life. So the life of a branch is dependent entirely on the vine. The disciples were dependent entirely on Jesus for their wellbeing. Second, “He removes” means branches not producing fruit show they already are on their way to decay. Such branches eventually die, because they do not have life in them. Dead branches inhibit growth of vital branches and invite disease for the whole vine. For the sake of the health of the vine, unproductive branches must be eliminated completely. A vine keeper could not be said to care for the vine while ignoring obvious signs of decay that threaten the entire plant. Then, Jesus called upon the idea of pruning. Anyone familiar with agriculture, as most villagers in the first century were, knows that branch pruning is good for the plant. Pruning does not hurt the plant. Pruning helps. The © 2015 LifeWay

vine keeper who prunes is nurturing the vine, because pruning actually induces increased production. “He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” Thus, the normal actions that reveal proper care of the vine so it abundantly achieves its intended purpose is how God deals with Jesus’ disciples. The ministry of Jesus revealed non-producing branches God would remove. The passion of Jesus would be God’s pruning of the vine and its branches, yielding abundant growth. Verse 3. The statement, “You are already clean,” seems out of place with the analogy of the vine and vine keeper. That sense of incongruity is why the second level, the religious nature, of the metaphor must be kept in mind. The vine analogy really drives at God and Israel, and whether Israel’s current leaders (vine keepers in their own minds) had prepared the nation (vine) for the coming of Christ. Not bearing fruit was not recognizing that God was at work in Jesus, not listening to Jesus, not following His teaching. The ministry of Jesus revealed that the corrupt lives of Israel’s leaders, opposing Jesus and seeking His death in turn, had corrupted Israel. Spiritually, they were not clean. That is, they were not acceptable to God. They sought to turn people away from Jesus and to kill Jesus. Such behavior revealed a wicked heart rendering unclean not only that person but others as well who were negatively impacted by the leaders’ corrupt influence. We should recall that these chapters are anticipating Jesus’ death. That death would have redemptive effectiveness for those who follow Jesus. The disciples were following Jesus, so they were positioned to reap the cleansing effect of the passion. Jesus insinuated that by working with the disciples, He was working with God in His tending of the vine. God was opposed in this cultivation effort by misguided and corrupt leaders, but He was cutting off dead branches to save the plant, and pruning good branches to make the plant even more productive. Thus, a major point in this passage is that God prunes our lives to make us ever more productive for Him. We have no way of knowing how productive we can be in the community of the followers of Jesus until we truly let go and let God do His work within us. Bearing fruit is the natural result of being part of Jesus’ vine.

1. Some people equate fruit with evangelistic success, meaning how many people you lead to faith in Jesus. 2. Some people connect fruit to acts of service, meaning the ministry you do in the name of Jesus. 3. Some people insist fruit is about personal growth, the character of Jesus that God shapes in you. Note that all three concepts are in Scripture. Stress that the removal of branches in verse 2 does not mean Christians can lose their salvation. Note this refers to counterfeit believers. Emphasize that pruning is good for a plant and results in more growth.

DO: Invite volunteers to share their responses to the activity “Producing Fruit” on PSG page 74.

TRANSITION: Remind the group that busyness is not the same as productivity. We must remain in Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions in order to bear good fruit.

© 2015 LifeWay

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THE POINT

Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God.

STUDY THE BIBLE John 15:4-7 10 minutes

John 15:4-7 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable

to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

READ: Invite a volunteer to read verses 4-5.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains

in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

GUIDE: Focus on the word remain. The word is used in

6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a

various forms 10 times in John

branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into

15:4-10.

the fire, and they are burned.

Note this word is important

7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask

because Jesus wanted to

whatever you want and it will be done for you.

emphasize the mutual interweaving of His life with

KEY WORD: Remain (v. 4)—Staying, as in continuing to exist in some state,

the lives of His followers.

staying in some condition or place, and, if over time, abiding somewhere or in

Remain means to abide or dwell within something. It carries the idea of an intimate residence. Jesus wants His followers to abide in Him as closely as He abides in them.

DISCUSS: Question #3 (PSG, p. 75): What does “remaining in Christ” look like in your daily life?

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S e ss i o n 6

some condition.

We can only bear spiritual fruit when we remain in Him. Verses 4-5. Lack of follow through strikes at one of the key issues of following Jesus. That is why Jesus said, “Remain in Me.” Basically, this translates into maintaining our relationship with Him. Human relationships need contact and conversation to thrive; so do spiritual relationships. How many times has one heard the complaint, “You never contact me!” or the charge, “You never talk to me!” In spiritual life, contact is equivalent to reading God’s Word. Conversation is equivalent to prayer. To remain in Jesus requires developing a lifestyle of immersion in God’s Word and prayer. Following Jesus was not going to be easy for Jesus’ own disciples. Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross. During those dark days, this exhortation to “Remain in Me” would make follow through quite difficult! If we treat our relationship to Jesus as no more than a New Year’s resolution, we would be foolish to expect much result when the path leads to a cross. © 2015 LifeWay

The need for follow through is why Jesus added, “and I in you.” The relationship is secured, not because of the ability of the disciples to remain, but because Jesus nurtured the relationship. Jesus elaborated on the analogy to make clear the source of productivity: “Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.” Genuine believers are the first to acknowledge they cannot produce fruit by themselves. A vital relationship to Jesus is imperative for producing fruit. In verse 5, Jesus repeated His analogy that He is the vine and His disciples are the branches, and the one remaining in Him produces much fruit. This time, however, He added a consequent truth even more blunt and forceful: “because you can do nothing without Me.” Verses 6-7. One problem with analogies is knowing how far to extend their application. Sometimes we may go beyond the author’s original intent. Readers face this dilemma with this present analogy. When Jesus spoke of one who “does not remain in Me,” one “thrown aside like a branch and he withers,” to whom did He refer? Is this statement about disciples who simply are unproductive, but still disciples? Or is it about the corrupt leaders who were never disciples in the first place? Perhaps we cannot answer these questions with absolute confidence, because we cannot measure when we are taking the application of the analogy beyond the intent of Jesus. We can note, however, that the process described in the analogy is what happened daily in every vine field. Any branch thrown aside naturally withers, and the vineyard workers “gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Perhaps the emphasis is on every day usefulness. If so, then the point is simply that a nonproductive branch is useless. That point could apply equally well to either those who follow Jesus, such as the disciples, or to those who oppose Jesus, such as the religious leaders. Perhaps the action of Judas is in the background (John 13). In no case, however, should we interpret Jesus’ words to be suggesting that a true follower of His would be in danger of being cut off from salvation. However, if we focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel (“true vine”), then Jesus is Israel’s destiny as God’s vine. Those not found in Jesus will not bring forth the fruit God intends. This is certainly true of those opposing Jesus in terms of Israel’s destiny. But it is true as well of disciples who are not faithful in their personal discipleship. Either way, one has to have a vital relationship with Jesus to be in God’s will. 1

© 2015 LifeWay

READ: Ask a volunteer to read verses 6-7.

SUMMARIZE: Jesus mentioned three levels of destruction: 1) gathering dead wood, 2) tossing it into a fire, and 3) burning it up. Stress that false believers need to understand that if they fail to live in Jesus and produce fruit, not only will they be removed (v. 2), they will face sure destruction. TIP: Do not imply that true followers of Christ can lose their salvation. Be familiar with the Bible commentary 1 on verses 6-7. In stark contrast to the calamity awaiting false believers, true believers have fantastic privileges—including unlimited access to God in prayer. When we remain in Him, 1) our thoughts are saturated with the mind of Jesus, 2) our hearts beat with the compassion of Jesus, and 3) our wills bow to the Lordship of Jesus. As a result, our prayers become more God-focused and less self-focused. 77

THE POINT

Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God.

DISCUSS: Question #4 (PSG, p. 77): What impact does remaining in Christ have on a believer’s prayer life? (Alternate: How would you summarize the commands and promises in these verses?)

TRANSITION: Note that all of this remaining in Jesus and producing fruit is not so people will notice us. It is that

Remaining in Jesus is evidenced in effective prayer. Jesus brought forward this truth: “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” Prayer is conversation with God. Conversation increases personal intimacy. Personal intimacy increases knowledge of the other person. That knowledge will cause one to conform one’s requests to the character of the person to whom the request is made. One knows God’s will by knowing God. Along the way to intimacy with God, one’s desires (“whatever you want”) conform to the God’s revealed character. Notice, however, the emphasis on Jesus’ “words,” too. This emphasis on Jesus’ person and word is a distinctive characteristic of John’s Gospel, met early on in the very first verse (John 1:1). Thus, to abide in Jesus is not action in prayer alone, but prayer accompanied by exposure to the Word. One never will get beyond prayer and Bible study as crucial to a believer’s daily discipline. We can bear spiritual fruit only when we remain in Jesus.

God will be glorified.

STUDY THE BIBLE John 15:8 5 minutes READ: Invite a volunteer to read verse 8.

John 15:8 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit

and prove to be My disciples. KEY WORD: Glorified (v. 8)—Enhanced reputation, praise, honor of someone or something, to achieve splendid greatness in one’s person, possessions, or circumstances in the opinion of others.

God is glorified through the fruit we bear for Him. OPTION: IN ADVANCE, gather a wide assortment of fruit than can fill a mediumsized basket. Following the Scripture reading, pour the fruit from a sack or another container into the basket to emphasize the phrase “produce much fruit.”

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Verse 8. Jesus addressed the need for intimate relationship in 15:4-7 with the expression, “My Father.” No Jew ever referred to God in this manner. “Father,” yes, but not “My Father.” Several times in John’s Gospel the reader encounters a connection between Jesus’ special relationship with God and His special commission to accomplish on earth (12:23,28,31-32; 13:31-32; 17:1). Jesus then attempted to help the disciples to understand that their daily lives—their decisions, the way they lived— were connected to bringing about the fruitfulness of Israel and, therefore, God’s own glory. Jesus said His Father “is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit.” © 2015 LifeWay

Jesus’ goal is to glorify God. That goal is attained when His disciples produce much fruit. Producing much fruit includes growing many followers of Jesus (15:2b). Tellingly, Jesus answered the question of how anyone would be able to recognize a follower of Jesus. He concluded, “and prove to be My disciples.” A person cannot prove to be Jesus’ disciple without producing fruit. God is glorified through the fruit we bear for Him. Three implications are clear in John 15:1-8. First, the vine analogy is a call to growth. What is the essence of a living plant? A living plant is in a constant state of change and growth. In fact, change and growth itself is the very evidence of life within the plant. If a plant does not grow, we immediately deduce something is wrong. Why do we not immediately deduce the same about our relationship to Jesus? No wonder, then, that Jesus used such a powerful and evocative analogy of a living plant to speak to the matter of maintaining a relationship with Him (“remaining” in Him). Jesus meant developing a vital, dynamic, growing relationship with Him. If we do not grow within ourselves spiritually and then naturally produce other disciples beyond ourselves, something is wrong with our “remaining” in Jesus. Second, the vine analogy is a call to Christian community. One cannot read these verses and be left with any impression that discipleship is a “private matter between God and me.” Following Jesus creates community, or Jesus is not being followed. Jesus creates community. Simply put, any branch not joined in to the vine dies. Church is not an option. When a branch (you) is connected to the vine, it is in reality connected to the other branches as well. When you come to Christ, you join the other branches. More importantly, Jesus put a huge emphasis on the unity of His community (John 17). Believers would do well to understand the importance of shared faith creating a shared life. Following Jesus is not a private spiritual journey divorced from all other social connections. Third, the vine analogy is an invitation to salvation. The cataclysmic event of the cross would have destroyed the community of Jesus’ followers were Jesus not the “true vine.” But Jesus is the true vine, the real life. He rose from the dead—you cannot get more real than that. The resurrection is the one reality confronting the conscience of every human being asking the provocative question, “Why would you look anywhere else for life than to the only One who rose from the grave?” And why would you look anywhere else for the empowerment to live a productive life for God other than to the One who is the vine and conduit of that power? © 2015 LifeWay

GUIDE: Remind the group to focus on what motivates our activities. Emphasize that remaining in Christ is keeping our focus on Him in all that we do. Remark that we must seek to rest securely in our relationship with God and serve Him simply out of gratitude. Note what Paul said in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Note that work or activity done while abiding in Christ brings Him honor. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Cor. 10:31).

DISCUSS: Question #5 (PSG, p. 78): How can we work together to produce fruit? (Alternate: How does the fruit we produce bring glory to God?)

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THE POINT

Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God.

LIVE IT OUT 5 minutes

GUIDE: Emphasize The Point: Jesus is the vine who empowers us to live productive lives for God. GUIDE: Review Live It Out (PSG, p. 79; see text to the right). Stress that Jesus is the Source of every piece of good fruit that comes from our lives. Invite group members to think about which application speaks most to their needs.

Wrap It Up GUIDE: Encourage group members to commit themselves to Jesus for

LIVE IT OUT What is your response to what you have studied in this session? Do you feel affirmed? Challenged? Or do you want to hang your head a bit? Jesus isn’t in the “guilting” business. Be encouraged by the knowledge that He wants each of us to gain our spiritual sustenance from Him. This week’s application ideas relate to your responses to the activity, “Producing Fruit,” on page 74 [PSG]. What is God saying to you about your fruit production? >> Fruit production 1.0. Review your responses, and choose one in which God is leading you to increase your score. You may feel the need to increase in all three, but choose just one. Is it one person with whom you could share your faith? One ministry that needs volunteers? An extra five minutes each day in prayer? >> Fruit production 2.0. Review your responses, and choose two categories (only two) in which God is leading you to increase your score this week. Could you set a goal to share your faith once each week? Could you sacrifice some personal time and offer that time to your favorite ministry? Could you start to memorize one Bible verse each week? >> Fruit production 3.0. Review your responses in the activity, and write down how God is leading you to increase your score in all three categories. Set a goal to complete your commitments by June 1.

strength to tackle day-to-day living. Allow His grace to flow through them. Then He will make your efforts to serve and grow flow freely, and you will bear much fruit for Him. PRAY: “Lord, thank you that we don’t have to depend on ourselves to produce good fruit for Your kingdom. Strengthen us to do all things for God’s glory. Amen.”

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© 2015 LifeWay

ILLUSTRATOR PHOTO/BOB SCHATZ

of hosts looked to His vineyard,

SHARING THE GOOD NEWS

Israel, hoping to find justice and

Jesus is not only the One

righteousness, he found instead

who gives us life when we

‘bloodshed’ (ESV) and heard ‘cries

repent of sin and trust in

of wretchedness’ (Isa. 5:7). God’s

Him. He is also our ongoing

people had not been obedient

Source of life, filling our

to what he had wanted them to

lives with purpose.

do; instead they had been quite the opposite. Jesus, however, submitted Himself fully to the father’s will and was ‘obedient to Watchtower overlooking grain fields near the valley of Lebonah in Israel.

the point of death—even to death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8b; see also Luke 22:42).”

The following excerpt is from the article “‘I Am the Vine’—A Theological Perspective” (Win. 2013-14), which relates to this session and can be purchased at www.lifeway.com/biblicalillustrator.

with anyone in your group who wants to know more about becoming a Christian. See the article, “Leading

in the Spring 2016 issue. Previous

Decision of All,“ on page 2 for

articles “To Be Clean” (Spr. 2002),

guidance in leading a person

“Early Vineyards” (Win. 1991), and

to Christ.

“Vines and Vineyards of the First Century” (Win. 1978) relate to this

Him being the vine and his Father

www.lifeway.com/biblicalillustrator.

the vinedresser (John 15:1-8). The

Look for Biblical Illustrator for Bible

contrast between Jesus’ words

Studies for Life.

sinned, Jesus was sinless (Heb.

the session to speak privately

Someone to the Greatest

session and can be purchased at

are stark. Whereas Israel had

available either before or after

Read the article “‘I Am’ in John”

“Jesus made statements about

and the declarations in Isaiah

Each week, make yourself

Subscribe to Biblical Illustrator at www.lifeway.com/biblicalillustrator, or call 1-800-458-2772.

Remind group members that page 2 in the PSG offers guidance in how to become a Christian. Encourage believers to consider using this article as they have opportunities to lead others to Christ.

4:15; 1 John 3:5). When the Lord

>> Get expert insights on weekly studies through the Ministry Grid (MinistryGrid.com/web/BibleStudiesFor Life). >> Grow with other group leaders at the Groups Ministry blog (lifeway.com/groupministry). >> Additional ideas for your group are available at BibleStudiesFor Life.com/blog. © 2015 LifeWay

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