For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NASB
Nothing – The Greek word translated “nothing” is oudeis, from ou (meaning “not”) and heis (meaning “one”). Literally it means “not one thing.” Yeshua is speaking to His disciples. He tells them that He is the vital energy of their lives (the vine). They are the recipients of that vital energy (the branches). What they accomplish in life (the fruit) is only accomplished because of the connection they have to Him. Then He says, “If you are not connected to me, you can’t do one single thing.”
This statement contains a hidden paradox. Look around you. Everywhere people are accomplishing things. It doesn’t seem to make any difference if they are connected to Yeshua Ha-Mashiach. Non-believers create great empires, become famous, are wealthy, do amazing works for charity and give their lives to causes. It is obvious that they are able to do all sorts of things. So, why does Yeshua say that apart from His vital energy, not a single thing can be done? Maybe He is only talking to believers. Maybe His statement does not apply to the non-believing world. In that case, Christians are in a kind of competition with non-Christians. The only difference is that Christians must rely entirely on Christ while non-Christians rely on their own efforts. If we “spiritualize” this verse, we may conclude that the world has its own source of energy apart from Christ while believers have this added energy source. But to think this way would be a great mistake.
The paradox in this verse is that everything is ultimately under Yeshua’s power. John makes it clear that “not one single thing” was brought into being without Yeshua’s direct involvement. Since this is true for all things, Yeshua only points out what should have been crystal clear for His disciples: not one single thing will be done without their total reliance on Him. They are to act explicitly on the foundation that is implicit in creation. They are not to live in a fog about who is behind it all.
There is a personal paradox here too. It is the paradox of a believer like you and me acting in ways that support the false belief that we have to take care of some things on our own. It is the false belief that God leaves the little things up to us while He takes care of cosmic issues. This word shouts a resounding “NO!” Not one single thing gets done unless Yeshua is behind it. This is an indictment against us every time we think, “I have to do this on my own.” More importantly, it tells us that we need to be deliberately conscious of our connection before we try to do anything at all – otherwise “not a single thing” will get done.
Of course, it is also possible (and likely) that Yeshua is using a double meaning here. Not only is it true that He is the foundation of all human actions, direction connection to Him is also the basis of every action that has divine purpose behind it. So even if the rest of the world is unaware of the underlying connection, we as His followers must not be unconscious in our actions. In order to accomplish what He purposes, we must be connected to Him. As the manifestation of God in human form, He connects us to God’s will. To act without acknowledging or employing this connection is to misconstrue our purpose. Not one single thing that matters in God’s great scheme can be accomplished without this deliberate connection.
Topical Index: nothing, oudeis, vine, branches, John 15:5