Connections 04.28.2024: Fruitfulness and Friendship

John 15:1-17

Twenty-four years ago this October, I got engaged to my beloved boyfriend. We married nine months later on a hot July day. Since we had spent the past several years on a traveling ministry team through our college, we had visited many churches but never found a place of our own. One of the first priorities during our engagement was to find a church we could attend together.

At one special church, we were shown into the young adult Sunday school class…and the rest is history. More than two decades later, we no longer attend that church. The trials and joys of life’s ups and downs and ordinariness have changed us. Our marriage is certainly different as we approach our twenty-fifth anniversary, and our daughters are nearly grown. But the friends we met in that Sunday school class are still our best friends today. We get together for meals and games at least twice a month. We travel together. We have raised our kids together. We face loss together. We are discussing retirement together. They are truly our friends for a lifetime.

Following Jesus is not easy. He never said it would be, even when he promised rest and peace. In our lesson text, he says he is the vine and we are the branches, which is comforting until he adds that the branches who don’t “abide” in him “are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (v. 6). In a world of struggle and challenge—and even a world of delights and joy—it can be hard to abide in Jesus. We need brothers and sisters in the faith.

Jesus personally knew the importance of friends. He chose his group, knowing that they were the ones to walk with him through his life and ministry (v. 16). We read about their questions, discussions, healings, and travels. We read about the dangers they faced and the sadness they endured, especially when Jesus was crucified. But surely there were many times filled with laughter, comradery, support, and fun. True friends know us deeply, as we know them. True friends love us as we love them. True friends walk with us through the ordinary times, the tragic times, and the ecstatic times of life. With friends by our side, we can help each other abide in Jesus and stay strong in our faith. I’m so thankful that my husband and I have friends like that.

Discussion

• How do you envision Jesus’s vine and branches metaphor? Have you ever known someone who seemed in danger of being cut from the vine? What happened in that situation?
• What does it mean to “abide” in Jesus, and why is this so difficult?
• Why do you think it was important for Jesus to call his disciples “friends” rather than “servants”? What makes a friend different from a ministry partner?
• How can friends help us abide in Jesus and stay connected to the vine?
• What can you do to cultivate deeper friendships?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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