Hammer. Fire. Sword.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: John 15:3-5b, Hebrews 4:12, Philippians 4:13
John 15:3 (Holman) “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
We tend to think affliction is God’s most frequently used, and most effective, cleansing agent. This is not the case. Troubles often drive people farther from, rather than nearer to, God.
When I was a teen, my Sunday School teacher’s boy died. He never again darkened a church door. When I was a Pastor in Mississippi, one of my key laymen never went to church until his boy died. He never missed after that.
Don’t waste your troubles. The ultimate factor in how troubles affect us is whether or not they drive us deeper into the real cleansing agent, Jesus’ Word.
Difficult times bless us only if they lead us to the help and spiritual discipline we find in the Bible. The Word makes us clean.
Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. In this context, the Bible is God’s pruning knife. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
We sometimes recoil from this painful help Scripture tries to give us. It is easy to compliment the Bible, sing its praises, and seek consolation from its comforting passages. We find it harder to appreciate its painful work.
Andrew Murray said, for the Bible to cleanse us, we must embrace it as a hammer breaking up our obstinacy, a fire melting and refining us, a sword laying bare and slaying all our sins. For us to please God, we must let His Word do its cleansing work. We have to accept it in our lives as hammer, fire, and sword.
John 15:4 “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.”
“Believe on Jesus” is the Bible’s message to unbelievers. “Remain in Jesus” is the Word’s message to believers. Christ-followers must think not only of what Christ did for us, but also of what Christ is doing in us.
Remaining in Jesus entails living in unbroken, conscious union with Him and totally submitting to the life and power that flow from the vine into the branches. This remaining in Christ is prerequisite to all fruitfulness.
Apart from our abiding in Christ, we can be very active, yet barren. Works are not necessarily fruit. Self-produced deeds, however good they seem, if done in our own strength (in the flesh), are not fruit.
Even the best deeds can be done at the wrong time, in the wrong place, for the wrong person, for the wrong reason, in the wrong way. Remaining in Jesus helps us avoid these pitfalls.
Only what pleases God, and is produced by Him, can be classified as fruit. Our lives, apart from what we do for and through Jesus, are a long list of achievements accomplishing little of worth.
Living life without Jesus’ power is like multiplying a long row of algebraic symbols containing a zero. At first glance, the numbers look impressive. But the zero in the long row of numbers means the result of all our multiplication will be zero. Likewise, an absence of work produced by Jesus puts a zero in our efforts.
Whatever we do, if our life does not count for Jesus, the epitaph on our gravestone should be one round zero, for we will have accomplished nothing worth leaving behind.
John 15:5a “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
This was an at-hand illustration. Jesus was on His way from the upper room in Jerusalem to the outlying Garden of Gethsemane. His steps would take Him past the gold vine on the temple, through the place in Kidron Valley where vine-prunings were burned, and toward vineyards lining the Mt. of Olives.
Vine and branch well describe the relationship Christ-followers enjoy with Jesus. Vine and branch share one life. The union between them is so close that it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. Jesus’ life and ours are intermingled. He is in us; we are in Him. The life-flow is uninterrupted.
The branch is a perfect likeness of the vine, with one huge exception. A vine is a source of strength; a branch needs strength. This relationship is the main truth undergirding our text. We must let Jesus’ power flow into us.
We need to learn how to live the branch-life, to be content with being dependent. A branch’s responsibility is to admit weakness, to yield itself to the vine, and receive sustenance from it.
John 15:5b “The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit,”
We must be totally devoted to living in Jesus, and letting Him live through us. To remain in Jesus means to detach ourselves from all other imagined sources of spiritual power. It requires clinging totally to only Him for strength.
We all want to be independent. We hope to end dependence on parents, bosses, and financial restrictions. Unfortunately, we let this desire to be independent spill over into our spiritual lives.
Spiritual downfall begins if we start saying, “Now I am strong enough to perform this; I need not go to God in prayer about this; this is so little a thing; it is beneath the dignity of God, and I am quite sufficient for it of myself” (Spurgeon).
Danger starts when we think we can support ourselves in the spiritual realm as well as we do in other areas. If we fail to see ourselves as branches, we start living our spiritual lives as if we are trees, as if by our own power we can accomplish God’s will.
This is an extremely dangerous place to be. If we ever think thoughts like this, God help us run back to branch-hood.
We rarely fall directly from being dependent on God, and walking close to Him, into open sin. Usually we first go through a time of doing good based on our own flesh and strength. This interlude serves as a helpful warning.
We need every fiber of our spiritual being to strike deeper and deeper into His Being. We need earnest Bible study and prayer to bind us to Him more firmly.
Formal praying, the rarely studied Bible, an almost deserted prayer closet, upend the promise offered in our text, nullifying any possible positive effects.
In our heart, lie flat on the ground before God. Every inch we rise higher is an inch too high; not an inch heavenward, but an inch hellward (Spurgeon).
Our weakness is highlighted not to discourage us. We are warned of our helplessness in order to drive us to a level of abiding in Jesus which results in fruitfulness. Once we acknowledge our disease, we can find the cure Jesus offers.
To succeed in Christian living, we must seek God’s power. Our own human might is child’s play. Real power is God’s power. This availability of Divine strength highlights one of the best and most unique blessings of our faith.
The only religion that claims to provide the power needed to live up to its laws is Christianity. Paul said, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Other religions tell their adherents how they ought to live. Their writings give laws, patterns, and examples, but what help is it to give people a model to copy if they are totally helpless, unable to copy it?
Jesus, on the other hand, not only tells us what to do. He sends the Holy Spirit into our lives to give us power to accomplish what He has commanded.
Apart from Jesus’ direct, current involvement in our lives through the Holy Spirit, holiness is for us a pipedream. When Hercules was commanded to clean in one day the stables of King Augeas, the task seemed impossible. 3000 oxen were in a stable that had not been cleaned for 30 years. To meet his deadline Hercules had to find an extraordinary way to clean the stables. He did so by turning two rivers into the stalls, thereby doing with ease what before had seemed impossible.
A heart is an Augean stable. We’ll never clean its 3000 propensities to evil with a shovel, broom, and bucket. We need a river, a giant stream of Divine help.
If facing a life issue, don’t quickly dive in and try to solve or do it yourself. First, admit helplessness. Step back. Give God opportunity to act first.
Jesus succeeded because He voluntarily made Himself dependent on the Father. He emptied Himself of efforts at self-empowerment. We succeed when we empty ourselves of efforts at self-empowerment and depend on the Holy Spirit.