He is risen indeed Alleluia! We are one week into the season of Easter, and it is a time of joy in the life of the church. The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter sets the stage for a 50 day season of Easter in the church.
We are joyful because his resurrection means that every experience of our daily life has a new meaning and a new hope through our Risen Lord. I would like to describe the existence of joy in relationships as a fruit of our relationship with Jesus.
We may think there is joy also apart from Jesus. Just look at all of the fun things in life that people enjoy regardless of whether they are Christians or not. Shopping at an outlet mall, a favorite sports, competition, a walk in nature on a beautiful Spring morning, a day at the beach- the list can go on an on. But God’s Word tells us that true joy comes from abiding in Jesus. Everything else is an imitation of the real thing.
A collect prayer that the church has prayed for many years states: “Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Joy comes through our relationship with Jesus. Abiding in Jesus is knowing Jesus and receiving His love. All other relationships we have in life bring us joy because of the foundation of joy our relationship with God.
To help put in perspective how central relationships are to our well being, think of the movie Castaway staring Tom Hanks. Tom Hank’s character works for a shipping company and gets caught up in a tropical storm on a flight to assist at an overseas shipping center. He survives a plane crash, and he drifts on to a small unoccupied island. He is never found by search parties and in time he learns to survive to the point where he is able to live comfortably off of the resources of the land and sea.
He is on a beautiful tropical island- what more could anyone want? But he is alone day after day, year after year. He has no relationships. He has no joy. In fact so badly did he long for relationships that he created a type of false idol friend named Wilson, the volley ball with the smiley face painted on it. Man was not created to be in isolation, but to be in relationship with God, and fellow members of God’s creation.
God’s kingdom grows in joy through relationships. A functional loving relationship with Jesus serves as a foundation for any joy we have in relationships with one another.John chapter 15 describes how Jesus is the key to all things related to bearing fruit.
Joy starts with Jesus telling us that he is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. In verse 5 Jesus makes it clear where we fit in: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is speaking to us in remarkable clarity about joy or any other fruit of the Spirit- It is a profoundly simple truth: abide in Jesus and you will bear much fruit.
What does it mean to bear fruit in John 15? What does Jesus have in mind? Does it have something to do with the size of your paycheck or the car you drive? I wonder how often we as Christians feel we are not bearing fruit in life because we associate success in terms of money and other material things of the world. We may come to the conclusion that what keeps us from more joy is lack of large sums of disposable income.
To bear fruit means that God’s kingdom is glorified or advanced because of our faith in Jesus. Bearing fruit in God’s kingdom is something quite different than “success” in our society. Think about how easily we swallow the story that our success and perhaps even our joy is to be measured by the standards of this world instead of by Jesus.
Every time we look with envy at those who drive expensive luxury cars, or have homes along a water front property, or are wearing the most expensive designer clothing, we are making the conclusion that financial wealth is what defines a successful and joyful life. Although money can be used for God’s kingdom, it is our faith that truly makes us rich in life and joyful.
The 1st 18 verses of the gospel of John serves as a prologue and summary outline of the whole book. The message of chapter 15 about abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit is summarized by John 1:12 “To all who received Him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.”
We are rich because we receive Jesus and believe in his name. This wealth is shown in the form of the power to become children of God. When we bear spiritual fruit such as joy, we are showing ourselves to be children of God. All the riches of the world does not make a person as rich and valuable as the title of child of God.
An important part of being a child of God, an important part of bearing fruit is that we practice and model in our relationships the selfless love of Jesus. If we are real with ourselves we should be able to see how our faith in Jesus fits into any relationship. Without relationships centered in Jesus we can only have surface level joys in life.
If you are friends with an unbeliever- your witness to the gospel in this friendship is essential. If you experience conflict within your family, if you are real and honest with yourself you may see how the issues of contention you deal with relate to aspects of the relationship where you or others have expectations for each other that in some way are removed from the desire to follow Jesus.
If a relationship feels like it is destined to be dysfunctional forever- ask yourself what a difference abiding in Jesus could do for the expectation you may have toward another.
When it comes to relationships, whether we abide in Jesus or not makes all the difference as far as how fruitful the relationships is experienced and what joy it brings to light. What are the expectations we have for our relationships this side of eternity? Do they feel like they are destined to be dysfunctional, or is there something about abiding in Jesus that can transform our relationships with others?
Nevertheless all relationship we have with other imperfect humans marred by the fall will have their imperfections. Life is difficult on this side of eternity, we experience our own trial of the cross in the relationship difficulties of life. But even as the cross shows us our sin and imperfection, through Jesus we also find healing and restoration in the cross. Jesus showed us perfect love in His relationship to us by dying on the cross. A little later in the gospel of John chapter 15 Jesus states “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Relationships become too complicated by past sins sometimes, and the forgiveness and unsurpassed love of the cross provides a joyful simplicity in which we can start anew.
We may seek with all of our hearts to abide in Jesus, but it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit to mature and refine our faith. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can bear very good spiritual fruit among our relationships.
Joy is not something that we earn in life, but something we receive through the bountiful blessings of our Savior. Just as a vine is improved through careful pruning, so God improves us by working repentance in our lives- stripping away those false idolatries that will only lead us to bear dying fruit.
Jesus wants to prune your life so that you will produce fruit that brings glory to God. Submit to this pruning with the sure knowledge that the Father is the master vinedresser, shaping and molding your life to be something far more beautiful and joyful than you could ever design on your own.