“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5, NIV)
In John 15, Jesus gives us a one-word secret for Christian living. With it, we will live fruitfully, have our prayers answered and experience real joy. Without it, we will be like useless, dead wood. Just one word makes all the difference.
The word Jesus uses is his command for us to remain. We haven’t heard the word this often since the EU Referendum! If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit... if you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers…if you remain in me… ask whatever you wish… remain in my love.
But what does Jesus mean by this all-important word remain?
A popular answer is to take the word with its primary English meaning: to ‘remain’ means to endure, to persist - and not to leave! Thus, it is said, Jesus is calling us to persevere. Our Christianity mustn’t be flash-in-the-pan. If we don’t keep going with Jesus, we will face all sorts of trouble.
That is true, but is that really what the Lord means here? To read the word this way makes no sense of the picture Jesus is using while He gives this teaching. He’s telling His disciples that He’s a vine, and they’re the branches. The image is of the vine being intimately and organically linked with its branches; indeed, the branches are part of it. What does that have to do with persevering?
The answer is that the Greek verb translated remain has a double sense. It can mean ‘endure’, but it can also mean ‘dwell’. Scottish readers will recognise the same double meaning in your use of the word ‘stay,’ which, north of border, can either mean ‘endure’ or ‘dwell’. In the land of lochs and glens, “Where do you stay?” means “Where do you live?”. Likewise, the English word ‘abide’ used to include the extra sense of dwelling, as in ‘my humble abode’.
So really, every time our English version has ‘remain’, we should really read ‘dwell’. That does makes sense of the image of the vine. He is in us, and we are in Him. So the way to live as Jesus’ disciple is to recognise that. We are to depend on Him for our direction and strength, which we do by listening to His words. That is why His words need to dwell in us, as He tells us here. We are to express that dependent relationship in prayer. We are also to express our loving obedience to Him by obeying Him. It’s all there in John 15.
This is one reason why the ‘quiet time’ at the beginning of each day is so important - a little slab of time when we sit down, cup of tea next to us, notebook in hand, phone hidden from view, and read the Bible. Then we take time to speak to Him about what He’s taught us, and, acknowledging that we are totally dependent on Him, commit the day to Him. That is what remaining really is: DWELLING in Him, living out the life of the true Vine.
And, of course, it is a key secret of perseverance in the Christian life.