These seventeen verses are for me some of the hardest in John. They circle back on themselves and defy every attempt to make them linear in meaning. We have here the final “I am” saying of John, repeated twice: “I am the true vine” and “I am the vine” (vv. 1, 5). The metaphor constitutes one of the most organic, relational images imaginable, a claim deepened by the total reciprocity of what Jesus claims in these statements.
The controlling concern is fruit (vv. 3, 4, 5, 8, 16). The means to fruitfulness is mutual abiding or remaining. We abide in Jesus (vv. 4, 5, 6, 7). He abides in us (vv. 4, 5). His words abide in us (v. 7). We abide in his love (vv. 9, 10).
Some branches abide but still bear no fruit; these God prunes to bear fruit (v. 2). Some branches do not abide, leaving no potential for fruit; they are removed (v. 6). God is not messing around; he wants fruit. Fruit glorifies him (and makes us true disciples) (v. 8).
If I am right to read fruit as the controlling “so that” of the passage, some other “so that” phrases may clarify what fruit is (at least in part). So that we may receive what we ask (vv. 7, 16). So that we may be full of complete joy (v. 11). So that we may love one another (v. 17). What we ask for, our joy, and our love for one another are all bound up together with the glory of God and our status as true disciples.
The special emphasis should fall upon the repeated command to love one another (vv. 12, 17; cf. 13:34–35). This may be the primary referent of the “message” (logos) that has already pruned them (v. 3), the “words” (rhēma) that abide in them (v. 7), and the “commandments” (entolē) they must keep in order to abide in his love (v. 10). It is the message, the words, and the commands are the pruning shears. The fruit is love. Love is sacrificial death.
It is Jesus’s choice to “make known everything” for the purpose of fruitfulness (vv. 15-16) that constitutes them as his friends. They cannot simply “be friends” with Jesus. They must receive his death in order to receive his friendship and, in so receiving, take on the charge to do “as he did.” They are his friends, because they too will lay down their lives for love; they will lay down their lives for love, because they are his friends. They bear fruit.
Ready to be friends with Jesus?