This is a repost of a dialogue on Professor Ben Witherington’s blog about my book The Message of Love
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BEN: Let’s reflect a bit on John 15— vine and branches and remaining/abiding. I heard a good sermon about how branches are not called to be sucking the nutrients out of the vine. Rather the way the viticulture actually works is the vine forces its good sap into the branches. All the branches have to do is hang in there!!! That’s an interesting take on ‘abiding’ The title of the sermon (typically American!) was ‘We Are Not Called to be Sap Suckers!!’ Does this fit with your understanding of ‘abiding’? I note that love is a condition for abiding in Christ.
PATRICK: A memorable title for a sermon for sure. And it’s a good image which captures how the vine is the life force, it’s only by remaining connected to it that the disciples will bear fruit (John 15:2, 4–5, 8).
But I think there is more to it than passive ‘hanging in there’. To remain (abide) includes active obedience. John is crystal clear – “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (15:10a). And those commands involve loving each other (15:12, 17). The foot-washing story in John 13 leads up to a new command “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (13:34).
That love can be commanded feels odd to us Westerners – doesn’t love have to be freely chosen between equals if it is to be authentic? But John has no problem at all linking love with faithful submission to authoritative commands. There is mystery and wonder here. John’s exalted Christology means that the only appropriate response for disciples to Jesus, the Logos and Son of God, is obedience to his commands. This isn’t obedience out of fear, but out of love for the Messiah who gives his life for his friends.