He’s the Vine, but What or Who are the Branches?

Surprising Statistics. In the Vine and Branches passage in John 15, Jesus referred to branches in the plural. Curious, I highlighted all the plural forms of “you” I was amazed to find 51 of them in the first 17 verses alone—averaging three per verse. Yet I found no singular forms.  Except for verse 5, Jesus speaks to “us” collectively, not “me” individually.

Our Vertical and Horizontal Connections. Yet when I used to read it,  I personalized and individualized the passage applying to myself.  Jesus wasn’t speaking to me. He was addressing his church.

Naturally, I am of no use to Christ if do not stay connected to Him individually. That’s my vertical relationship with Him, which we see in verse 5. We are comfortable with that.

But the thrust of his teaching here is way out of our comfort zone because Jesus’ central point in this text is: we are of no use to Him if we don’t stay connected to one another. How can this be?!

Unlike Greek and most other languages, English has no plural pronoun, “you.” When we see “you”, in the text, we think, “me,” but the Greek says “you all”, collectively are the branches.

This is odd to our western, individualistic mindset, but it wasn’t to those early believers.

If you follow the progression of Jesus thought in verses 9-12 it gets stranger.

1. Verse 9: We remain in him when we remain in his love.

2. Verse 10: We remain in his love when we obey his commands.

3. Verse 12 and 17: Twice He directs us specifically: “Love one another as I have loved you”

We gloss right over that. We are accustomed to the commands to love God and our neighbor, which were given through Moses, not by Christ. However, the idea that we abide in Christ by loving one another is totally out of our comfort zone.  We were taught to believe abiding in Christ is all about my personal, vertical relationship with Him, not our horizontal relationship with fellow believers. Jesus made it clear in chapter 15 what he mandated (also twice) at the Last Supper.(1). That’s a total of four times. If “three’s a charm,” what is four? He had to really mean it! 

 By the way, if you celebrate Maundy Thursday, you may not know what Maundy means. It comes from the Latin for “mandate, ”i.e “command” referring to Christ’s marching orders to the church to love one another as He loved us. Since he loved us to His death, that is a very different level than loving my neighbor as I love myself, isn’t it?

 Is my Neighbor my Brother? We now move on to another troublesome issue. In the church there is a feeling that we should love everyone as we love ourselves, but not so. Our love for our brother must greatly surpass our love for our neighbor. We tend lump everyone together, using the term “others,”[2] This negates the idea that Christ’s church is a family. If we think about it, who would expect me to make the same sacrifices for my neighbor’s family as I do for my own?  That said, let’s look deeper into Jesus’ command to see how it differs from Moses’.  

1. New vs. old: This was not a rehash of the old covenant command of Moses, although Jesus did endorse it, ingrafting into the new covenant. [3]  But later He added a third, a new command for a new covenant, a new order for a new order. This means there are three, not two parts to the Great Commandment making it a kind of trinity.

2. How we are to love?  Moses said treat your neighbor as we wish to be treated. Christ orders us to lay down our lives (Gr: psyches, souls) for one another , as He did for us.

3. Whom are we to love? Love each other. Does that include our neighbor? No, the Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger along the way, not family members.

4. The promise: ”By this everyone will know you are my disciples,” This is both a promise and a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world, by our unity, that we are His.

 Love Your Neighbor by Loving Your Brother: If obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to the world, then, if we really wish to win our neighbor, we are loving him when we love one another.

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(1) John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will recognize you as my followers, if you love one another.”

(2) Noted theologian, Scot McKnight, states our task as Christians is to love God and “others,” lumping us all together.

(3)  Matthew 22:36-40 

2 thoughts on “He’s the Vine, but What or Who are the Branches?

  1. Can you clarify your point #3 Whom are we to love?

    In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we are told to “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Actually this quote is from a parallel passage Mt 22:39)

    Are you just differentiating the type/kind or degree of love between this story and Jesus’ mandate to his disciples in John 15?

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  2. All the many “one another” phrases in the New Testament is the exclusive love we are to have for each other in the church, the body of Christ. It does not apply to the neighbor, i.e. those outside the covenant community of believers.. The love we show our neighbor is with fairness, compassion, the way we want to be treated. Jesus’ love for us goes far beyond that. It involves sacrifice. Here’s an extreme example: Scripture teaches husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, i.e. more than he loves Himself. Does God expect me to make the same kind of sacrifices for my neighbor’s wife as I make for my own? Of course not, It would cause great strife and jealousy on the home front. The love we have in the body is that exclusive love, which we are to have for our own families, because we are family–the family of God. So when we say “love others: we realize that others in the family is of a much finer stuff than others outside the covenant community.

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