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Obedience and the Spirit of Truth – John 14:15-21

greek-nt-openThe themes in this section of the Gospel of John resonate well with the themes I am often addressing at this web site. Jesus calls his followers into a life of obedience — and promises the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to them.

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for the days to come with a long discourse: it begins in Chapters 13 and runs through chapter 16, with a closing prayer added in chapter 17. The passage under discussion today is just a brief snippet from that longer discourse.

This passage is memorable because in contains of the promise of the Holy Spirit. But, it is framed on either side by a challenge to keep Christ’s commandments.

Verse 15:

Ἐὰν ἀγαπᾶτέ με, τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσετε·
  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Here we have the frequently used New Testament verb for love: ἀγαπάω (agapao). Much has been written about the various words for “love” in the New Testament — and their significance. Much has been said about the virtues and superiority of agape (ἀγάπη) love. The word lacks the personal warmth of words signifying friendship or family love or romantic love. It signifies loyalty. But, it is a word that was especially suited to convey the Christian concept of love — a love that reaches out to friend and enemy alike. The NIV Greek Dictionary says ἀγάπη signifies “…in the NT usually the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies….”

This is what has sometimes been called “disinterested love.” It is a benevolent, outgoing concern for the well-being of other people — without regard to personal benefit. When we act out of this kind of pure love (simply seeking the best for others) it is the highest and most effective witness to our faith in Christ.

The real evidence of our love and devotion to God is in our lives. Devotion to God will show in the decisions we make, in the things that we do and the things that we don’t do. The Gospel of Matthew gives us an interesting example of the way Jesus interpreted and re-applied the Old Testament law by radically applying the principle love for God and love for people as a guide. Those who are devoted to God will care about the things that God cares about. They will return to the Scriptures and to prayer to find out what these things are. But, they will nto leave it at that — faith and love and hope call is also to action — bringing the values of God’s Kingdom to bear on the world in which we live.

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke paraphrases what Jesus is conveying here with these words:

Do not be afflicted at the thought of my being separated from you: the most solid proof ye can give of your attachment to and affection for me is to keep my commandments. This I shall receive as a greater proof of your affection than your tears.

But, what are Christ’s commandments (ἐντολή)? Which are most important? Christ came to fulfill, not destroy. Christ reinterpreted the law for his day, with the principle of love at the heart of it all. It is by this same method that we must discern the commands of Christ for our day.

Verse 16:

κἀγὼ ἐρωτήσω τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄλλον παράκλητον δώσει ὑμῖν, ἵνα μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ᾖ,
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”

The wording here is significant: “another Advocate.” (1.) The term translated “another” (ἄλλος) means “another who is like.” It contrasts with the word ἕτερος — another who is different. They are being promised another Presence like Jesus! (2.) The term for this other Presence is παράκλητος — often transliterated Paraclete. The word is literally “one who is called alongside.” In our modern translations it is usually translated “Advocate.” This is the preferred translation since in 1 John 2:1 παράκλητος must mean “Advocate” (“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate (παράκλητος) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous….”). The Paraclete is One called alongside to assist and defend. It can mean defender (like a defense attorney). But, it also mean helper in a more general sense. The old translation “Comforter” — while time-honored, going back to the early Church Fathers — does not convey the defending aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work. Adam Clarke comments:

The word παρακλητος signifies not only a comforter, but also an advocate, a defender of a cause, a counsellor, patron, mediator. Christ is thus termed, 1 John ii. 1, where the common translation renders the word advocate. Christ is thus called, because he is represented as transacting the concerns of our souls with God; and for this cause, he tells us, he goes unto the Father, ver. 12. The Holy Spirit is thus called, because he transacts the cause of God and Christ with us, explains to us the nature and importance of the great atonement, shows the necessity of it, counsels us to receive it, instructs us how to lay hold on it, vindicates our claim to it, and makes intercessions in us with unutterable groanings. As Christ acted with his disciples while he sojourned with them, so the Holy Ghost acts with those who believe in his name.

And, how long are they to have access to this Advocate? Jesus says: “for ever.” John Wesley restates it: “With you, and your followers in faith, to the end of the world.” The Holy Spirit will always stand by Christ’s followers.

Verse 17:

τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὃ ὁ κόσμος οὐ δύναται λαβεῖν, ὅτι οὐ θεωρεῖ αὐτὸ οὐδὲ γινώσκει· ὑμεῖς γινώσκετε αὐτό, ὅτι παρ᾿ ὑμῖν μένει καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται.
“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

pentecostwindow-4360485489This verse makes it explicit that the identity of this “other Advocate” is, in fact, the Holy Spirit — called here the Spirit of Truth (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας). So, the Holy Spirit is characterized by truth. The Spirit is allied with all that is true and honest and real. And, the Spiirt is the one who teaches and reveals the truth of Christ. The Spirit is the One who leads the people of God forward in the truth of God. And this comes as no surprise, since the Father and the Son are also spoken of as being allied with truth— see re: the Father (John 4:23-24; cf. Ps 31:5; Isa 65:16) and re: the Son (John 14:6). The Spirit of God is not a deceiver, and should not be invoked for deceptive human strategies and methods.

All truth is God’s truth and no truth — that is, nothing genuinely true — need be feared or rejected by the follower of Christ. To do so suggests that we follow a spirit of falsehood.

In this verse we encounter one of John’s frequent references to the unbelieving (and often hostile) “world” (κόσμος). In both the Gospel of John and the first letter of John the contrast between believers in Christ and the world is emphasized. Jesus’ followers are told they cannot expect understanding or support from “the world.” They may even be hated by the world — as Jesus says he was (John 7:7, 15:18). They are not to love (ἀγαπάω) the world (1 John 2:15). Yet, God loves the world (John 3:16). Christ did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). In fact, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and the bread that gives life to the world (John 6:33, 6:51).

it is a paradoxical relationship. God loves the world (all the people in it) and desires what is best for them. Jesus comes to bring light and life to the world. But: “… this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19 NRSV). As followers of Christ we do love the world in the sense that we seek the best for all people — and actively seek to make the world a better place. but, we do notlove the materialistic and selfish values the world often lives by — this we reject. This paradoxical relationship has often been expressed this way: Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. Just so. If we are not genuinely in the world we cannot do any good to the world. We are not being the “salt” and “light” for the world that Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount) calls us to be. But, if we are simply of the world — sharing in the selfish and materialistic values by which so many people live — we also cannot offer hope either. We have become part of the problem. This is the basic paradox of Christian discipleship — and solving this uncomfortable paradox compromises are discipleship.

In this verse Jesus tells them that a new relationship with the Spirit lies before them: now the Spirit is “with“but later the Spirit will be “in” them. In John 20:22 the risen Jesus breathes on his disciples with the Spirit. Some people have called this incident the Johannine Pentecost. They will have a new relationship with the Spirit after Jesus has ascended. A whole new age of the Spirit is coming. They will be empowered and indwelt by the Spirit of Truth. John Wesley restates it this way: “Your bodies and souls shall be temples of the Holy Ghost dwelling in you.”

Verse 18:

Οὐκ ἀφήσω ὑμᾶς ὀρφανούς, ἔρχομαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

candle-tipI like Clarke’s comments on this verse:

The disciples of a particular teacher among the Hebrews called him father; his scholars were called his children, and, on his death, were considered as orphans. Christ calls his disciples children, beloved children, chap. xiii. 33; and, now that he is about to be removed from them by death, he assures them that they shall not be left fatherless, or without a teacher; for in a little time he should come again, (rise from the dead,) and, after his ascension, they should be made partakers of that Spirit which would be their comforter, advocate, teacher, and guide for ever.

It’s an interesting promise if you think about it. On the one hand, Jesus is preparing his disciples for a time when he will not be present with them — on the other hand he says: “I am coming to you.” Yes, this could be a reference to Christ’s return at the end of the age, or even the resurrection appearances of Christ. But, I can’t help but be reminded of the risen Christ’s promise in Matthew’s gospel: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). The verb ἔρχομαι (“come”) is present middle indicative (and not future tense). So, I think Jesus is telling them that, while he is leaving them, he will come to them in another way — through the presence of the Spirit. This interpretation is confirmed, I think, by the verse that follows.

Verse 19:

ἔτι μικρὸν καὶ ὁ κόσμος με οὐκέτι θεωρεῖ, ὑμεῖς δὲ θεωρεῖτέ με, ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε.
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

It is the world that will not see Christ. His followers, who live by faith and are inspired by the presence of the Spirit of Truth, do see him. And, because he lives, they also will live. “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:57 NRSV.) The promise of life — abundant life in the here and now (John 10:10) and unending life in the age to come — is rooted in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. He has overcome death — and those who follow him are the beneficiaries of Christ’s victory.

Verse 20:

ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ γνώσεσθε ὑμεῖς ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ πατρί μου καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν.
“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

Here Jesus is referring to “that day” — or time — when the Spirit of Truth lives in them. so, this looks forward to the time after Jesus’ resurrection, hen the Spirit is given in His fullness. Then, they will understand more fully the Oneness of the Father and the Son — and the Oneness of the disciples with Christ. In fact, the resurrection radically changed the disciple’s thinking. Even the Gospels themselves tell us this.

trinity1The Gospel of John continually reminds us that the doctrine of the Trinity — or more properly, those affirmations about the life of the Father, Son and Spirit which are the Biblical basis of the doctrine of the Trinity — is not an academic doctrine, but an open invitation into the life of God. We are to be incorporated into the Vine. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 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.” (John 15:4,5 NRSV.) It is a sharing of life. We are incorporated into Christ — just as Christ is in the Father. We are in God. God is in us. It is life in the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus prayed for his disciples in these words: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23 NRSV.)

Verse 21:

ὁ ἔχων τὰς ἐντολάς μου καὶ τηρῶν αὐτὰς ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαπῶν με· ὁ δὲ ἀγαπῶν με ἀγαπηθήσεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, κἀγὼ ἀγαπήσω αὐτὸν καὶ ἐμφανίσω αὐτῷ ἐμαυτόν.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

And now we return to the theme with which this brief passage began: keeping Christ’s commandments. Love and obedience are the doorway into the life of the Spirit, but they are also the means by which that life is maintained. Love is both the motive and the proof of faithfulness. This is the foundation for knowing and recognizing the truth of Christ. A. T. Robertson says: “The Unseen and Risen Christ will be a real and spiritual Presence to the obedient and loving believer.”

Every generation must re-interpret the Law of God anew by the principles of (1.) loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and (2.) loving other people as we would wish to be loved ourselves. Every generation faces new challenges. The question is always: how do we live out the law of love in our day? Jesus came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it anew. And, we follow as he has led.

Heartfelt obedience is the doorway to a deeper knowledge of Christ.

Jesus calls his followers into a life of obedience — and promises the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to them. It is those who love and who follow who come to know Christ most fully.


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