Love and the Spirit

Editor’s Note: Below is a cleaned-up version of my notes notes from the “phone-based” Sunday School lesson prepared for July 12, 2020.  Like the previous week’s lesson, I found that the originally-suggested material had been recently covered by another teacher, so this lesson was based on one of the alternate passages from the suggested lesson material.


John 14:15-31 Introduction

By way of background, this is one of several chapters recounting what happened at the Last Supper.  Among other things, Jesus has washed His disciples’ feet, He has prophesied Peter’s denial, and He just responded to Thomas and Philip.  (See verses 6, 11-14).

This passage, starting in verse 15, continues that latter conversation.

John 14:15

We could probably teach the entire lesson on just this verse (but we won’t, unless Jesus returns or my Internet connection goes out first), so it’s a great place to start.

English translations are fairly mixed on the exact mood of this verse.  In some of them, it is an instruction: If His disciples loved Him, then He was instructing them to keep His commands.  In other translations, it is a result: If His disciples loved Him, then the result would be that they would keep His commands.

Since commands were given by Jesus in the first place, and that should be enough reason for His disciples (and us) to keep them in the first place, whether Jesus was commanding or confirming in this passage is probably not critical, though.  Have you ever heard a parent say, “You had better obey me”?  (Maybe you’ve been that parent.)  Really, this statement is redundant, since obedience and honor is due to parents (subject to God’s overrides, when necessary) by virtue of their authority.  So, if a parent already gave an instruction, the child is expected to obey, whether or not the parent said that the child should do so.

The Bible describes right ways and wrong ways to worship God (although when we know better, the wrong ways might not actually be showing love to Him).  For instance, Cain’s sacrifice wasn’t appropriate, even though Abel’s was.  We don’t get to decide what behaviors are right and glorify God, and which ones aren’t.  Those have already been established.  As a result, anyone who believes that they can worship God however they want would do well to double-check what God had to say about that.  (For an example of how Jesus described a couple of attributes of correct worship, see John 4:23-24, from Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.)

In addition, the relationship between loving God and obeying Him isn’t a new thing.  Deuteronomy 11:1 (and the rest of that chapter) ties these concepts together, and a well-known command to love God is found back in Deuteronomy 6:5.  So it is clear that God has commanded us to love for a long time.

Here, though, Jesus ties the second part of His instruction not to compulsion or to avoiding punishment, but rather to His disciples’ love for Him.

Why would Jesus instruct (or remind) His disciples to follow His commands if they loved Him?

For one thing, Jesus knows that His commands are the best for His disciples.  They will be persecuted for following Jesus’ teachings, yet in the end, it is still a better way to live.  Not only does obedience to Jesus lead to a clean heart and a changed life, but living according to what we were created for results in a better world for ourselves and for others.

For another thing, Jesus’ disciples glorify God when they obey His commands.  Just as Jesus gave glory to God the Father, so we are also called to follow His example and do the same.  If the disciples truly loved Jesus, they would want to help Him succeed.  While they couldn’t die for the sins of the world, they could show love to the world as Jesus had taught them, and in doing so, point people to God.

In addition, I think that this is sort of a capstone to the example that Jesus had set for these apostles.  He had poured out love to them and to others, living out the very instructions that He was teaching – both to love and to act in a way that loved God and loved one’s neighbor.  If the disciples showed the same selfless, agape love for Jesus (and for other people) as He showed to them, then their lives should look like Jesus’, too.  And, since Jesus taught what He lived, then those who followed Him would be following His commands, even as they followed His example.

John 14:16-17

A guy named Don Merritt is a friend of my dad’s, who I have gotten to know over the years, both in-person and through his writing online.  In his online commentary for this chapter of John, Don wrote the following:

In verses 15-17 Jesus teaches us three things about the Holy Spirit. 1) The Holy Spirit is our Eternal Advocate who intercedes for us before the Father (1 John 2:1).  2) The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth that unveils for us our relationship with God and thus sets us free from sin, death and the traditions of men.  3) The Holy Spirit is within you.  He cannot be taken He can only be received.  Thus, this world cannot take Him away and cannot even comprehend Him for He is not compatible with the world of men.  Wherever there is a Christian, there is also the presence of the Holy Spirit.

https://lifereference.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/the-counselor-3/

There are all sorts of lawyers today, but the idea of the Holy Spirit as an advocate here is like the best lawyer we can think of (maybe Ben Matlock or Perry Mason, but even better than them).  The Holy Spirit knows the truth better than we do.  He has direct access to the judge of the universe.  He is more articulate than we are, even as He knows us better than we know ourselves.  See Romans 8:26-27.  (And, He doesn’t charge by the hour.)

In addition, freedom is present where the Holy Spirit is (see 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).  We were certainly guilty of sin and the sentencing requirements were clear.  However, when our punishment was paid for, and we accepted it, we became free.  Not free to go out and return to a life of sin, but free to get a fresh start.

John 14:18-21

Relationships have great power, and relationships with a perfect, holy, and loving God have great power for good.

In a healthy family, even one that is imperfect, there is a love that extends to all parties.  This is not just a collection of individual love from each family member to each other family member.  For instance, my family here (my wife and children) is the same size as my family growing up (my parents and siblings): two parents and three children.  If we only look at individual family members loving each other family member, we find 10 relationships of 2 people each (For instance, I love my dad, and my dad loves me.  I love my mom, and my mom loves me.  My dad loves my mom and she loves him, and so on).  That’s 20 cases of one person loving another.

However, there’s more to a loving family (whether here on earth, or in our spiritual relationships with God) than just this one-to-one scenario, though.  Yes, we love Jesus and He loves us, but there is even more to be gained by understanding relationships outside of just these two.

When a child knows that his or her parents love each other (where that opportunity is present), there is an element of security and comfort.  When parents love each other, this also benefits children who learn by example.  Similarly, I think that foster and adoptive parents bless each child when they show love to others in the household, by illustrating that the family is a single unit, and that there are no second-class members in it.

In the same way, as we gradually begin to grasp the love among God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we can rest in the security that comes from understanding that love.  We can start to appreciate that we – as adopted children in God’s family – are receiving love from the same God that loved the world enough to provide for our salvation.

In addition, we learn from the love of God (His example) how we are to love each other.  It may seem impossible to live out the love that God the Father had for human beings, because He is so far beyond our understanding.  However, we have Jesus (God the Son) as a literal example of what love looked like for human beings, and – thanks to Jesus’ promise in the preceding verses – we have the Holy Spirit with us for direct consultation.

There’s also a love within a family in general.  It may not focus on an individual, but there’s a love for the unity, strength, and community that can be found in a family as a whole.  I believe that we can have this same love for the Body of Christ, even as Jesus loves the church (see Ephesians 5:25-26).

John 14:22-24

Here, this Judas is believed to be the guy we know as “Thaddeus” in the list of disciples from Matthew and Mark.  It appears that having multiple names was relatively common in that era.

His question seems fair.  We could read a little bit into this and wonder if the apostles are still looking for an earthly king, ruling politically and/or militarily.  If that was the case, when Jesus said that, 1) the world couldn’t accept, didn’t see, and didn’t know the Holy Spirit (v17), and 2) the world wouldn’t see Jesus after a little while, the apostles might very well have been thinking this would make it difficult for Jesus to take over and rule as a human king.

Or, perhaps this question was more selfless.  Since Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life (verse 6), why wouldn’t He make that known to everyone, so that they could enjoy the same blessings as the disciples had?

The answer (both here, and bringing in other information from the Bible) is a little complicated, but one reason is that God doesn’t have to do things the same way as human beings do.  In fact, He often intentionally does something different, because He is wiser and more loving than we are, and He sees the bigger picture.

Don Merritt says the following, “You will never see Jesus as a guest on The Factor [maybe The O’Reilly Factor?] or Oprah because He is not out to win the praise of men; He is doing the Father’s work of redemption.”

Jesus does not have to be installed on an earthly throne to become Lord.  He doesn’t need to go out and meet everyone so that He will be “elected” or “known” to the people.  In fact, Jesus was going to be raised to authority at His resurrection, and the church (His body) would spread the news about Jesus to the world.  This is still the opposite of how most people run for office today, but it was God’s way, and for God’s plan, it was the only way.

John 14:25-27

Here again, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit.  However, just as verse 18 promised family, this passage promises peace.  While human beings still argue, fight, and go to war with each other, the larger battle has been won.  Thanks to Jesus, sinful people can be reconciled to God, and we experience what the Jewish people called – and still call – “shalom”.

The disciples were about to be greatly challenged to find peace, not only through the next few days, but as persecution set in against the early church in the following years.  However, when we struggle to find peace even today, God’s peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) is available in the particular form of chaos that we live in now.

While there is still a spiritual battle being waged for the souls of human beings on this earth, the presence of the Holy Spirit tells us that our conflict with God has been taken care of, and that God can dwell with us in our redeemed state (not because we’re good enough, but because Jesus was).

Action

Do you love God?  Can you articulate how that looks in your life, through obedience?  I’m not saying that you aren’t already obeying God; I’m only suggesting that the process of evaluating how we show our love to Him may give Him a chance to show us more opportunities to do so.  (It’s like actually counting your blessings.  The very process of enumerating them is worthwhile.)

Are you aware of your relationship with the Holy Spirit?  We don’t necessarily talk about Him as much as God the Father and God the Son, but the Bible has much to say about Him.  Do we remember His advocacy for us, and thank Him for standing up on our behalf?

How can we let our understanding of the love within the Trinity, as well as God’s love for us, shape our personal identity, as well as how we love others?  Starting with our love for the church – both individuals and the entire community – how can we mirror the love of God to other people?

Are you at peace with God?  I hope that everyone who reads this has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and is spending time with God on a regular basis, building that relationship and enjoying both freedom and peace.  If not, whether you haven’t accepted reconciliation with God through Jesus, or whether you are still fighting against Jesus’ commands, I hope that you will pause and turn back to God.  What He offers can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Conclusion

So, if you’re looking for ways to show love to God today, your search doesn’t have to go any farther than Jesus’ commands.  Do your best to be obedient, but don’t do so as one who tries to earn God’s favor from the outside.  Once you have accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you are part of the family.  The Holy Spirit is defending you, Jesus has saved you, and God the Father loves you.

References:

  • “The Counselor”, John 14:15-31, from The Life Project, July 6, 2020. https://lifereference.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/the-counselor-3/
  • The College Press NIV Commentary – John, by Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, pages 305-309.  © 1998 College Press Publishing Co.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.