A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 15:1-7 for Sunday, April 2, 2023, with the title, “Remain In Me.”
(A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: If you gave out the packets of seeds a couple of Sundays ago as part of our lesson on John 12, you might ask who all actually planted those seeds, and how they are doing.
OR you could just talk about how everyone’s plants/gardens are doing so far this spring (or depending on where you live, what your plans are for your garden/flowerbeds).
The ask: ??? what are some elements that it takes to grow a healthy plant? (water, sunshine, fertilizer/food, tending/pruning, and so on.)
Then I’d say: today, we are going to look in John 15 at some elements that are important for US to be healthy in our walk with the Lord.
We are in the second half of the Gospel of John, which focuses on the last days of Jesus before He goes to the cross. We’ve seen in John 14 how Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving, but they could be comforted by the promise of heaven, and also by the coming of His Holy Spirit. At the end of John 14 in :31, Jesus says, “Get up, let us go from here.” So they are on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where He is going to be betrayed. Jesus seems to take His cue from the scenery around Him on the way, and as a wise Master Teacher, He begins talking about “vines and branches,” using what was around them to illustrate the spiritual truths He was trying to get across to His disciples.
I. The Picture of the Grapevine (:1-3)
II. The Importance of Abiding in Christ (:4-6)
III. WAYS we can abide in Christ (:7-17)
I. The Picture of the Grapevine (:1-3)
Jesus says in :1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”
I’d touch on the picture that Jesus is using here:
— He’s like the main vine
— We are like the branches on that vine
— God the Father is like a vinedresser, tending to us. (By the way, the word “clean” is the word they used for “prune” in Greek, so in :3 when Jesus said “You are already ‘clean,’” He means “pruned.” His word has “pruned” them.
??? You might talk with your class about: Can you see why Jesus would use the illustration of a plant to picture His followers? How is a Christian like a plant???
(We are “planted” when we are born again; we grow, and there are a lot of elements involved in our spiritual growth, just as there are in the growth of a plant; we must stay connected to Him, like a branch does to the vine; we have a wise “Master Gardener” who is overseeing our spiritual growth, and so on. Some of these things you might say: we are going to touch on this later as we get further into the verses of John 15 …)
You can talk about the pruning process, and how pruning helps a plant — and also GOD’S pruning process: that there are things He needs to “prune” from our lives, so that we can grow the way He wants us to.
??? You could ask: “What are some ways that God might ‘prune’ our lives?” (EX: allow physical suffering, setbacks, convict of sin; His word/Spirit convict us daily; persecution/perseverance, etc.)
These experiences are painful, but they are necessary. You or your class may have a testimony you could share here.
(For EX: in 2012 I got sick with an illness that took me out of the ministry for two years; but I was a different person when I came through that time. God “pruned” some things in my life.)
One lesson here is that we can be confident, and thankful that we have a wise, Master Gardner, our Heavenly Father, tending to us as His “plants”.
One of my wife Cheryl’s “soapbox” issues is what some horticulturalists call “Crepe Murder”: the yearly trimming back that many people do to their crepe myrtle plants. Many have just grown accustomed to just cutting those plants way back each year, and letting them grow out again. But horticulturalists actually say this is NOT healthy for the plant; and it causes those ugly knobs to grow out on the plant. Look it up on the internet; there are several articles there about “crepe murder”!
But whatever your view on crepe myrtle plants; it does take wisdom and skill to tend to the growing of healthy plants.
Jesus shows us here in John 15 that God is wise “Master Gardener” and He does things in our lives to help us grow spiritually.
I might conclude this section by saying: one of the important similarities we see here, is that just like a branch must stay connected to the plant, so we must stay connected to Christ, to thrive and grow as His followers:
II. The Importance of Abiding in Christ
:4 “Abide in Me” the Greek word for “abide” (meno) means “live, stay, dwell.”
:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Here Jesus says, He is the “vine,” we are the “branches.” We must abide in Him to bear fruit, and we can’t do anything apart from Him. It is VITAL that we abide in Him.
There are a couple of good illustrations you could use here:
I think one of the best would be to stay with the agricultural theme, and share a story about how branches have to stay attached to the main vine in order to live and thrive. If they get cut off, they will die.
FOR EX: when Cheryl & I lived in Tulsa, we had a Wisteria plant beside our house. At first, Cheryl really liked it; the blooms were so pretty. But that thing grew like wildfire. We had to keep cutting it back. Once we were gone for a few day and that thing just took over the whole side of our house; it got entangled in the wires and cables on the house. I started calling it “the demon plant.” And I thought, How am I going to get all those out of there. Of course, then it came to me: I don’t have to try to do that: all I need to do is cut it at the source, at the root. And once I had cut it at the root, all those branches or shoots died, and I easily pulled them off the other wires.
We had a similar thing happen here in our house south of Houston. Our neighbor behind us has a chain link fence that separates our property, and some kind of plant started growing up and getting entangled in all the squares of the chain link fence; it was a mess. Our neighbor is a senior adult lady, and she told me, if you can do anything about that, please do. So I knew what to do, right? I cut that thing at the root — it died, and I was able to gradually just pull all those shoots/branches off. They can’t live if they are not connected to the main vine.
You can share one of those stories, or these may remind you of a similar situation you have encountered that you can share. Then I would ask my group: ??? What is the lesson here???
(It is just what Jesus tells us here in John 15: HE is like that vine; WE are like those branches. If we don’t stay connected to Him, we will NOT thrive and grow spiritually. We have to stay connected to Jesus.)
Another/different illustration you could use here or elsewhere, is that of an astronaut.
I read recently that although no astronauts have drifted off into space, one astronaut said he ranks that as his number one fear: being out on a space walk, and getting separated from the ship and drifting away.
The article went on to talk about how anyone going on a spacewalk is constantly attached to the ship with a retractable 85ft (26m) braided steel tether.
The story told how in 1973 astronauts Pete Conrad and Joe Kerwin were outside the Skylab space station working on a solar array which was stuck in the wrong position. When the array suddenly deployed fully, both men were thrown off.
Thankfully, their tethers held and kept them tied to the space station.
Some space tethers also give the astronaut oxygen, which makes it even more important. The tether both both gives them the oxygen they need to breathe, and also keeps them tied to the ship, which keeps them alive. It is VITAL that they stay connected to the ship.
Of course the lesson is: We need to realize the same thing is true in our relationship with Christ. We MUST stay tied to Him, or we will not flourish, spiritually. We can’t bear fruit unless we abide in Him.
I would stress the importance of abiding in Christ; of staying connected to HIM. It’s easy for us to get distracted from Him, and get caught up in a bunch of other “religious stuff” and activities — and the devil might even encourage that, if he thinks it will distract us from staying connected with the Lord. He knows if lose our connection to Him, we will wither spiritually.
We MUST make it a priority as Christians, to “abide in Him;” to stay connected to Him.
To help apply this, you might either share a personal testimony, or ask your group: ??? Can anyone share of a time when you were NOT abiding in Christ regularly, and how you felt/the impact that it had on your life???
??? Or the reverse: how you started abiding in Christ, and the difference it made for you???
(We have a man in our church who attended our Simply Prayer class, and he shared a testimony of how he got up one morning and literally went into his closet and had a morning prayer time like we had been studying, and how close it brought him to the Lord, and how it impacted the whole rest of his day. It makes a huge difference when you are abiding in the Lord!)
??? Another discussion question you could use with your group might be: what are some of the “fruits” that the Lord is looking for us to produce in our lives? (Some answers could be: fruit of the conversion of others; or of witness; or “the fruit of the Spirit” in our personality; or the fruit of Christian service and good works, etc.)
*You might also emphasize at some point that this picture of the vine and the branches is just an illustration, and the “cutting off” of the branch does NOT mean that a person can lose their salvation. Other scriptures make it clear that a genuine Christian cannot lose their salvation. We saw in John 10 at least five ways Jesus tells us :28-29 that we are eternally secure. (If you need to, go back and review that lesson – it’s on both my blog and YouTube.)
III. One of the best applications you can make with this lesson would be to spend some time looking at some specific WAYS we can abide in Him.
You could either just point these out to your class one by one, OR you could have them read this passage, and ask them to share: ??? What things do you see here that Jesus says will help us to abide in Him??? (We see the answers in the text:)
A. His Word
:7 shows us one way we “abide in Him”: He = “and My WORDS abide in you”. We abide in Jesus by abiding in His word. That’s how He speaks to us; how He FEEDS us.
??? “What are some specific things we can do to abide in His word???
(Read it; listen to it; study it; memorize it; meditate on it; OBEY it (More on that later) You might talk about some of these things specifically: how to do it; which they find easiest/hardest of these, etc. Be sure to spend some time talking about HOW to abide in His word.
:7b “ASK whatever you wish and it will be done for you”
Prayer is another way we can abide in Him.
We see this again in :16 “whatever you ask of the Father. In My name He may give to you.”
Really the whole idea of “abiding” in Him implies that we are praying; staying constantly connected to Him.
+x Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything through prayer …” basically = “worry about nothing; pray about everything.”
+x I Thess 5:17 “pray without ceasing” (we talked about this in Bill Elliff’s Simply Prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to the Lord. It is our “tether” like the astronauts had, that supplies them with oxygen. Prayer is our “spiritual oxygen;” it keeps us connected to the Lord, and gives us the “air” that we need to grow and thrive spiritually.
The pastor Cheryl & I had during the time when I was sick in Norman, OK wrote on Facebook last week: “It seems to me that in many cases, a lack of praying about everything (Phil 4:6) may stem from a subtle comfort in our ability to handle most things rather than outright rebellion against God. However, both are wrong and spiritually damaging.”
??? What does Jesus say here in :5 that we can “handle on our own”??? (NOTHING! “without Me, you can do NOTHING”!
We really need to get this. It’s not that we can do most “little” things on our own, and we just need Jesus for the “big” things; no, we can’t so ANYTHING without Him — which means we should constantly be praying about everything that we do.
??? What are some things we should be praying about, that maybe we don’t usually??? (Our daily work; our interactions with all kinds of people; every church service/event; I’ve been trying to pray before I make every phone call, or write every note/email; our decisions; our discipline with our kids, etc. We can go on and on. We should be praying about EVERYTHING: “pray without ceasing … in ALL things through prayer let your requests be made known.”
One of THE best ways to abide in Christ is to continually pray. One of the worst ways to NOT abide in Him, is to omit praying.
:10 “If you KEEP My commandments you will abide in My love”
KEEP them; He says! Obeying His commandments keeps us in fellowship with Him. He emphasizes this a couple of times here in John 15. We see it again in :14, “You are My friends, if you DO what I command you.”
??? Why do you think OBEDIENCE would be such an important element in abiding in Christ???
(You/your group can share your answers, but you might include that our obedience shows we are taking Him seriously. How serious can we say we are about Him, when we are not obeying Him? And the lack of obeying is sin, and cuts us off from fellowship with Him. Isaiah 59:2 says: “Your iniquities have caused a separation between you and your God.” Our sins — NOT keeping His commandments — cut us off from fellowship with God.
Obedience is a vital element of abiding in Him. If you are disobeying God, you are cutting yourself off from Him spiritually. You can read the Bible, pray, go to church all you want to — but if you are disobeying Him in some specific area of your life, you are NOT going to be abiding in Him! Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not DO what I say?”
We should all consider: “Is there any area in my life in which I am knowingly disobeying the Lord & His word?” If there is, we need to get that right TODAY. You cannot be abiding in the Lord if you are continually, purposefully disobeying, or not obeying His commandments.
D. Fellowship/Love of other Christians
:12 we see another element in abiding in Him, which is a repeat of a command Jesus gave in John 13: “This is My commandment, that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER, just as I have loved you.”
He says again in :17, “This I command you, that you love one another.”
We talked about the importance of love a couple of weeks ago, in John 13:34-35. If you didn’t see that overview, you might go back and watch/read that, and you could use one of the stories we shared there about the physicist Dr. Richard Feynman, who shared with his student in such a powerful way how love is the most important thing.
But it IS striking that Jesus takes the time to re-emphasize this here. It must be SO important.
Then in :13 Jesus develops this a little more. He says: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
??? You might ask your group: Has anyone here known someone who literally gave their life for someone else???
In her book Tales From the Brazos, Marie Beth Jones writes about Gen. James Hamilton, a Charleston, S.C., lawyer who in1830 was elected as South Carolina’s governor. In 1842 he purchased some land in Lake Jackson (just south of us here in Angleton). In 1857 he traveled to Washington, D.C., but as he returned to Texas … his ship sank off the Florida coast. Abner Strobel writes: ‘When all had put on their lifebelts, there was one lady on board who had none. General Hamilton immediately gave her his and went down with the ship. Such was the end of that gallant, courtly gentleman …’.” (pp. 49-51)
Jesus says that’s the greatest love, to give up your life for someone else. I have often quoted this verse in regard to our veterans and war heroes, who have given, or were willing to give their lives, for their friends and brothers.
Of course, the ultimate example of this is Jesus. And what a great verse this is for Palm Sunday! In our church, we typically emphasize the Lord’s death on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and then celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday. So this Sunday, April 2nd, we will have the Lord’s Supper, and talk about the death of Christ, which paid for our sins. So you may want to mention something like this in your lesson this week: today we mark His death; how he laid down His life for us. And share the Gospel. And then you might encourage everyone that next Sunday, we’ll celebrate how He ROSE from the dead on the 3rd day!
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Are you a week ahead? Just asking…
Hi Steve; I don’t think I am … John 15 is for the April 2 lesson this Sunday. (Now, I DID actually post it at 9:00 Saturday morning, whereas I usually post it at 9 PM; that may have thrown you off.) Praying for you this week as you prepare!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Your posts help me as I prepare to lead my class – the most senior ladies in my church. It is such a challenge to prepare a lesson for them. Most have grown up in a church and have such knowledge and wisdom. I try to find a way to add a new thought or ask a different question so we can continue to grow in our understanding of the lesson. Thank you again. Linda Giltner
That really helped me to get a better understanding of the lesson.