Christian ministry is not doing stuff for God. It is God working through us. The results may look the same but the process and the ultimate transformation is radically different. Christian ministry is "incarnational" that it to say it is the power of God, the very Holy Spirit, working in and through us. When Jesus says "I am the vine and you are the branches (15:1)" and "apart from me you can do nothing (15:5)," he is teaching us this very principle. All acts of kindness and good works are beneficial. The difference here is that allowing God to work through me not only transforms the persons I am working with and the suffering I am attempting to alleviate, it also changes me. Each time I surrender myself to the Vine, I am gently transformed and over time become more of the child of God that God has made me to be. This is one form of "laying down my life for my friends (15:13)."
The foreshadow in 15:13 should not be lost. Remember the context of John 13 through 17 is the Last Supper. This is a lengthy "farewell" address and prayer from Jesus with his closest friends. There is no greater love than to lay down you life for your friends. Jesus, in the night and day that follows this conversation, will lay down his life for the world. I always want to balance this with St. Paul's comment in Romans 5:6-8 "For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." Is dieing for us proof that we are his friends?
It is Monday of Holy Week . . . we are walking with Jesus.