Insulted or Encouraged?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: John 15:5; Romans 7:18, 24; Jeremiah 17:9
John 15:5c (Holman) “You can do nothing without me.”
This grave diagnosis insults our power. All Christ-followers carry a weak human nature, leaving us powerless to achieve spiritual success on our own.
The Bible describes our old nature as spiritually helpless. This natural weakness of our flesh is made worse by the fact it enjoys sin’s “pleasure for a season.” Evil’s temporary thrills, superimposed on a constitution naturally weak, add up to a weakness thwarting our forward motion.
Paul knew his natural self was corrupt and weak. He cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Our old man is always with us, impeding our progress.
In our text, “do” is the crux of the problem. When we try to do God’s work in our own strength, failure becomes glaringly obvious.
Without Jesus’ power we can talk a good talk, hold conferences, attend conventions, and convene committee meetings, but our ability to “do” is another matter.
We fail to “do” deeper spiritual things, such as genuine worship, true power in prayer, effective winning of souls, enjoying the Bible, being on mission.
In these matters, apart from Jesus’ power, we are utterly ruined, entirely undone. We repeatedly make good resolutions, and then break them. To experience spiritual success, we must find a power-source beyond ourselves.
Depending on self upends self. “For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it” (Romans 7:18).
Our problem is in the doing. If a caged bird tries to break free through its own exertion, the result is disaster. Violently dashing itself against the bars, it eventually collapses breathless, exhausted, and faint.
Christ-followers who try to sanctify themselves also fail. Under delusions of self-strength, we beat ourselves in vain against bars of a heart the Bible pronounces “more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Jesus’ use of the word “nothing” indicts us. We are weak in not only big matters, but also little details. When we become careless about what we perceive to be little things, we inevitably learn to our own chagrin how weak we really are.
Peter walked on water, but could not endure a young girl’s ridicule. Job endured the loss of wealth and family, but his friends’ words aggravated him to the point of causing him to speak presumptuous words.
Many a saint has won major battles only to stumble in what they considered a trivial matter. Some quit cursing, but still use angry words.
Others quit an affair, but nurse lust in their heart. Some quit drinking, but still spend little time with their family.
John Newton said God’s grace was as necessary to create a right temper in a Christian when a piece of china is shattered as when an only child dies.
Even small leaks need careful spiritual attention. In little, as well as in big things, the just must live by faith.
In trifles, as well as in nobler exercises, believers need to be conscious of their own inability. We are weak for ounces as truly as for tons; in drops of grief as well as seas of sorrow (Spurgeon).
At the very root of a strong spiritual life is a deep belief in this truth – our weakness is absolute. On our own we cannot begin the Christian life, cannot maintain it, cannot increase it. As we remain mindful of this, we take up a position of entire dependence on God, which is the very essence of a life of faith.
John 15:6 “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Sensing no need of Jesus results in receiving no benefits from Jesus. Left to ourselves we sin and wither, becoming as unnecessary to God’s cause as dead branches.
The truth of our text is blunt. We can be done without. Only Jesus is indispensable. A vine can live on without a branch; but a branch dies without a vine.
No citizen of this world is essential. When taken away, people are missed, but no individual is so valuable that the world would end without him or her.
We do not like to admit this about ourselves. We want to think life would not go on without us. Truth is, this world has seen only one Person of Whom it could be said it was absolutely impossible to go on when separated from Him.
Children carry on after the loss of parents; parents carry on when a child dies; mates pick up the pieces after losing a spouse. These agonizing sadnesses make life extremely difficult, but not impossible.
For a while we feel we cannot carry on, but as time passes, we see our way through. Only Jesus is indispensible.
John 15:7 “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
Our requests are granted when our desires are molded by Jesus’ words. The condition of receiving what we want is to want what He wants.
God loves us too much to give us every desire of our own foolish, selfish wills. When His words abide in us, our prayers echo His words.
True supplication happens when a fragment of Jesus’ teaching is transformed into a request. Our prayers should more often be utterances of submission to Him than efforts to impose our will on Him.
John 15:8 “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”
Remaining in Jesus counts. It produces fruit which proves we truly are Christ-followers.
God has planted Jesus in us. As Jesus blossoms among us, God receives praise and honor, even as a farmer’s crop is a tribute to the one who produces it.
It is significant to note this verse on “much fruit” was preceded by a verse on prayer. Our fruit production level depends on our prayers. Holiness and multiplication of ourselves require prayer, much prayer, strong prayer.
James Fraser, missionary to China, said, “I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third places and teaching the fourth.”
John 15:9 “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.”
We see Christ as our supplier, the source of our strength, but not in a cold, mechanical way. We look on Jesus with intense, personal affection for Him.
He deserves our love, for He loves us with the same love His Father loves Him. This is a powerful statement regarding the magnitude of Christ’s love for us. As the most worthy Father loved His most worthy Son, the most worthy Son loves His most unworthy followers.
Remaining in Jesus’ love means we leave behind all other potential sources of help. We forsake all else in order to occupy one place and stay there, having our hearts set on Jesus’ love.