The Early Church's Success Secret
Jun 18, 2017 - Rev Andrew Forrest
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- The sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, says in his book, The Triumph of Christianity, “Jesus was a teacher and miracle worker who spent nearly all of his brief ministry in the tiny and obscure province of Galilee, often preaching to outdoor gatherings. A few listeners took up his invitation to follow him, and a dozen or so became his devoted disciples, but when he was executed by the Romans his followers probably numbered no more than several hundred. How was it possible for this obscure Jewish sect to become the largest religion in the world?”
- How might the scripture for this week provide somewhat of an answer to that question?
- There is something so natural about the way plants produce fruit; if they are healthy and connected to the sources of life, then they produce fruit. Does that comfort or concern you in light of Jesus’ analogy here?
- Is there a time in your life when you’ve felt the truth of Jesus’ statement? Is there a time when you’ve felt the opposite?
- Are you connected to Jesus today?
- If you want to abide in Christ, ask God to be with you every day this week.
What if you work hard all your life, only to come to the end and realize that you’d been doing it wrong all along? What a haunting question. I think if we’re honest, it’s one we’ve all asked ourselves, and if we’re really honest, we’ve probably all worried about the answer.
How do we know if we’re doing the right thing with our lives? Should we get married or not? Should we change jobs or not? Should we go in this direction or that direction? What if we choose the wrong thing??
Jesus has something to say about that. As we move through week 2 of Red Letters, we find a powerful reminder in John 15:1-5. These verses are part of Jesus’ last statement to his disciples in the Gospel of John; some of the last things he needs them to hear, which makes them particularly important. He reminds them that whatever they do, the essential thing is that they remain connected to him.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Apart from me you can do nothing. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what you do; what matters is that you stay connected, rooted, attached to me.
For those of us who consider ourselves already attached to Jesus, this is a liberating thought! Because the truth is that whether we take this job or that job, live in this city or that city, marry him or not marry him, if we are connected to Jesus, then God will do abundant things in our lives. Now, obviously, life-altering decisions should be made carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. But once we make those decisions, as followers of Christ, we should rest in the knowledge that regardless of what we choose, God will work through us and produce fruit.
And not just any kind of fruit. The fruit that Jesus is talking about here isn’t necessarily the stuff that the world would consider successful. (Remember, this came from a guy who in his 30s was arrested and executed from crimes against the state—not exactly the image of worldly achievement.) The fruit Jesus talks about here is the kind that lasts, that matters, and it is based on love of God and love of neighbor. When you are connected to Christ—no matter what you specifically get up to in life—the fruit you produce will be the kind that, when you come to the end of your days and are about to step into the other side of eternity, would allow you to look back on your life and know you’d got it right.
Read John 15:1-17. Listen to the podcast episode about this scripture. Consider the reason a plant produces fruit. It’s not simply because it tastes good to eat! Plants produce fruit because the fruit carries seeds, and the production of fruit is therefore a way for the seeds to spread and more plants to grow. Consider the kind of fruit that Jesus is calling us to bear: to love another as he has loved us. The purpose of us bearing fruit is for God’s love to continue to spread around the world. Consider what it means to be called Jesus’ friend, and to understand what Jesus is asking us to do. This week, how will you be a friend to Christ, not only doing what he asked, but understanding his reason for asking it? How will not only you connect to Christ, but how will you help others to do so as well?