google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Gems in the Gospel of John - Part 69

Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 69 - John 16:13

The Spirit of Truth

I think we should pause for a moment to think of what all this must have looked like to the disciples. It is no surprise that they said to each other, “We don’t understand what he is saying.” About three years earlier they had agreed to join the new group forming around the person of Jesus. They thought he was a prophet and, very probably, the leader who would set up a rebellion against the hated Roman occupation, which might just succeed. It had been a considerable surprise to find that things were working out very differently from those early expectations. They had been flexible enough minded to cope with the change of orientation, probably because they had been carefully selected by Jesus as those who would be flexible in their thinking. They had learned over the three years they had been with him that when Jesus said something would happen – it happened. Now he was saying that he was going away. He had even said he would be killed by the Roman authorities. In view of what was happening in Jerusalem, the seething unrest, it seemed likely that would happen very soon. What then? Would their small group continue? And, if so, who would lead it? Peter had been the obvious spokesperson of the group but would he be capable of leading them forward as a spiritual force? It seemed doubtful. John was stronger spiritually but he was surely too young. James and John were labelled the sons of Boanerges, that is sons of thunder, and they were certainly two forceful characters but were they at all likely to be able to lead an effective group along the lines that Jesus had set up – lines that were so different from their previous experience and, indeed, all that had gone before.

Into this difficult and worrying situation Jesus seemed to be suggesting there would come nothing more obvious than a spiritual force which he labelled the Advocate, the Counsellor, the Comforter or, in the original Greek, the Paraclete (meaning a bit of all three). Really. Would that be sufficient? How would in work out in practice? Impossible to imagine.

Of course, it did work out because the person being talked about was the Holy Spirit himself. Part of the Triune God, though to say that is to jump ahead several years and even centuries. But their considerable immediate problem was to work out what would he actually do?

That we find Jesus told them in 16: 13 – 15, “when he, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” All of which reinforced what he had already said in 14: 26, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” So we ought to add ‘teacher’ to the list of words translating ‘paraclete’.

Teaching is not an easy occupation. Some teachers will concentrate not on their students but on their material. At their worst they read out their notes expecting their students to copy them down word for word. That is poor teaching particularly in this age of many copying machines. The good alternative is to teach students how to think, so that what they learn will be of use to them even when they do not meet the exact situations the teacher envisaged, and that is not so easy for the teacher. But it is the sort of teaching the Holy Spirit expects us to transmit to others. It is called ‘discipling’! We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the one who brings specific gifts to individuals: one to this guy, a different one to that girl and so on. But what Jesus is emphasising here, and John is making sure we see, is that the Spirit will be a teacher and a guide for the whole group. That meant the eleven apostles on this occasion, possibly a few more who were also present, and then the ongoing church down through the ages to the present day. Yes, to your church and to mine, imperfect though they may be. This guidance will come as we study the words of Jesus as enshrined in these four Gospels. So much of what we most probably hear and are taught in church actually does not come directly from Jesus but at second hand through the epistles and other scriptures. What Jesus is saying here is a potent reminder of the central importance of his ministry, his life, his death, his stories, his statements.

Of course we all know that the difficulties lie in knowing what exactly we should do to obey him - you think that, I think this. Being human we have the very human problem of working out how to hear the leading of the Spirit. Some churches do it through a strong central decision structure; others through a decentralised arrangement of church meetings and executive committees called elderships or diaconates. It is clear from the epistles that both sorts of approach to the problem were used from the very early days of the church and are recorded in scripture, so there is no clear right and wrong here. We have to fit our approach to our particular society and culture. Being human we will often have a tendency to want to retain structures which worked years previously but are not so good in our present day. We live in an age when all societies and cultures are changing continuously and often with a rapidity greater than ever before so that is not a good idea.

Let us all, you and I, be careful that we contribute positively to the fellowship we are in, good at hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God, good at not hindering his work, good teachers of the Word of Truth, good at helping the church of the ages to progress towards that great day when He, Jesus, returns to say ‘well done good and faithful servant’.

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