Lesson Focus: Jesus, as a loving parent would, promises that he will never leave us. The Advocate (Spirit) will come from the Father and the Son and show us the way.
Catch up on the story: In the previous chapter, Jesus has declared, in no uncertain terms, that he is one with the Father in heaven. By doing this, Jesus asserts his divinity. Jesus promises that he is going to go prepare a place for those who love him. The disciples, Jesus assures, will know the way to where Jesus is going. The disciples are a little confused by Jesus’ words. Jesus assures them that because they have known him they will know the way. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples that they will do greater works than Jesus has done.
The Text: This week’s passage begins, much like how last week’s ended, with a conditional phrase. “If you love me…” Of course, Jesus is not playing a manipulative game with his disciples, as when a man might say to his girlfriend, “If you really loved me you would…” You can fill in the blank in anyway that you want to there. No, Jesus is declaring that the proper expression of love for God is located in obedience as a response. It is important to note here that all instances of “you” in verses 15-24 are second person plural. So, verse 15 can be read like this, “If you all love me, you all will keep my commandments.” Jesus is not as much concerned with personal obedience as he is with cooperate obedience. Of course, in order for us to be obedient as the church, the Body of Christ, we have to have personal obedience. But that is not the emphasis here. Emotional or romantic love is also not emphasized here.
At this point it would be appropriate to note that the “if” of verse 15 can also be translated as “when” making the conditional statement more certain. Jesus is not worried that his followers will love him; rather he is declaring that the proper expression of love is tied to obedience. Our obedience to those commandments will then be followed by the giving of the Spirit.
Which commandments is Jesus referring to when he speaks in verse 15? Bruner offers this answer, to believe in Jesus, and to love our neighbor. To believe in Jesus means that we allow ourselves to be loved by him and for him to wash us clean. It is out of allowing ourselves to be washed and extravagantly loved by Jesus that we are able to fulfill the second command, to love our neighbor. We allow ourselves to be a conduit for God’s love to flow through us to another person. As Jesus’ love for us led him to wash our feet, indeed our whole selves making us clean inside and out, so our love for our neighbor should manifest itself in the same kind of selfless act as washing feet. “The first love (the Lord’s love for us), trusted, enables the second love (our love for others) to come out. Jesus’ two special commands (believe and love), then, go together, and in this order—believe: love—the first always empowering the second; the second always authenticating the first.” (Bruner, 836).
When we have faith in Jesus it allows us to enter into the fullness of Jesus’ love for us. It is in and through that fullness of love for us that we are sent forth to lavish that same love on others. If and when we love Jesus we are actively engaged in loving others, not out of obligation or because we have been commanded to, but out of a sense of gratefulness for the love that has been shown us. Our obedience to Jesus’ commands flows from the love we have received.
Verse 16 flows from the previous verse. Jesus, who, as John is constantly reminding us, is one with the Father, will ask the Father to give us (the corporate us) another Advocate, one who will be with us forever. A few questions arise from Jesus’ statement. Who is the Advocate? What does the Advocate do? Who was the first Advocate if this is “another” one?
The Advocate is, for John, the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promises his followers. The word John uses here is parakletos and can be translated a number of different ways. It can be rendered, advocate, helper, mediator or encourager. Its literal meaning is, “one called to the side of.” (Smith, 274). Both the NRSV and the NIV translate parakletos as “advocate.” Advocate may not be the best rendering, because it carries with it a connotation of standing in the place of a marginal group as a representative working with a higher power so that the marginal group might gain justice. This, I believe, is not the sense that John is wishing to evoke. Rather, “helper” might be a better translation. The Spirit is not advocating for his disciples in the traditional sense, rather the Spirit comes alongside those who believe so that they might follow, obey, and love in the proper way. This answers our second question, What does the Advocate do?
The third question regarding a second Advocate can be answered easily. According to John Wesley, and others, the first Advocate was Jesus himself (Wesley, 263). Jesus has been beside the disciples teaching them, helping them learn and grow. Jesus has been the primary helper thus far. Jesus, however, is leaving. He will not always be with his followers in the same kind of bodily way as they have been used to. So, Jesus asks that the Father send the Spirit to the disciples to be their helper post Ascension. We must always remember, and John stresses this himself, that Jesus and the Father are one. The Spirit is not a separate entity or being, he is part and parcel with who Jesus and the Father are. God is one being, three persons. Therefore, as verse 18 attest, Jesus is not leaving his followers without a parent to guide and direct them as they move out from the comforts of home (Israel, Galilee) to pursue God’s mission in the world. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth, will be with them always.
Even though we are examining this text on the sixth week after Easter, we must remember that for the disciples, Jesus has not yet died. Jesus is warning his disciples that there will be a time when the world will no longer see him, but that he will still be with the disciples. In fact, because Jesus will rise from the dead and live, the disciples will live as well, not just in this life, but the next as well.
One of my favorite ways of talking about the Trinitarian relationship that exists within God is through a dancing metaphor. I think this metaphor will help us understand what Jesus is saying in verses 20-21. We believe, as I said earlier, that God exists as one being with three persons. These persons are one with each other. The Father, Son and Spirit exist in a mutually loving relationship where there is no disagreement. They are, if you will, dancing with one another in perfect unity and fluidity of movement. As one goes, so they all go. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Or, per Augustine, Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis, the Spirit is the love shared between Father and Son. God, however, does not desire to dance alone. Rather, God sends the Spirit to draw his beloved creation into this divine dance.
To extend the metaphor a bit, humanity was a dancing partner with God from the beginning of time. Humanity shunned God as its partner, seeking instead to go after other dance partners. God, with his steadfast love and faithfulness, never ceased calling us to dance with him. God’s persistence led to Jesus leaving the comforts of heaven so that he might become one of us so that we might join back with God in this divine dancing relationship. The invitation has been extended again, and some responded to it. Through Christ we are drawn into this dance relationship with God. The Spirit is sent to help us relearn the dance steps, to teach us the dance so that we might fully dance with God. This is, I believe, what Jesus means when he says in verse 20, “On that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you.” Because the Spirit has been sent we can participate in this relationship with God in a way that was not possible before.
The final verse of our passage, verse 21, returns to the conversation about love and commandments. Jesus insists that those who have received the commandments that Jesus has given are those who love him. The commandments are the steps to the dance that God is doing. And that dance includes us again in God’s love. The Father will love those who love Jesus, just as the Father loves the Son. Jesus will love us, just as Jesus loves the Father. To top it all off, we will begin to know God in an ever greater way, because God will reveal himself to those whom he loves.
Obeying Jesus’ commandments flow from the relationship we have been invited into by Christ. As the Spirit draws us into this divine dance and as we learn the steps of the dance we will be obedient. The Spirit comes to help us along the way.
So What? The Spirit is God’s gift to us to enable us to fulfill God’s commandments of loving him and others. Our obedience to these commands flows from the love that Jesus has already given us through his incarnation, death, and resurrection. We are God’s beloved. It is because we are God’s beloved that we can and will keep his commandments.
God is giving us the Spirit so that we will not be orphaned children with no one to show us the way. If we look at this parenting image, as indeed the church has often done, we find that God is our father. Good fathers (and mother too!) love their children, tending to their needs from the very beginning of their lives. The love that a parent expresses to his or her child often takes the form of commands, commands that seek to help the child grow up into all that he or she was meant to be. Children, although this does not always work this way, respond to the love that they have received from their parents in obedience. As a child and later a teenager, I obeyed my parents (most of the time!) not out of obligation or even fear of punishment, but because they loved me and had provided so much for me. My obedience was grounded, first, in accepting and embracing the love my parents gave me and, second, in a desire to love my parents in return.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
The first word in verse 15, translated in the NIV and NRSV as “if”, can also be translated as “when.” As a group, explore what Jesus is saying using both possible translations. Does it make a difference in how we translate that first word?
What commandments is Jesus talking about?
Jesus says the Father will give us “another Advocate.” If we are receiving another Advocate, who was the first one?
Who is the Advocate? What is the Advocate’s job? How have you experienced the Advocate’s presence or work in your life recently?
Jesus says in verse 18, “I will not leave you orphaned…” What does Jesus mean by this?
This passage has a history of being used by the church fathers as a way to talk about God as Trinity. What is the Trinity? How do we fit in relation to God as “Three in One?”
Ways to Keep Jesus’ Commands…
As you enter your time of prayer and reflection on the Scriptures this week, rest first in the fact that God is your Father who has lavished such a great love on you. You are God’s child, created in his image. He has not left you as an orphaned child. Do this each day this week.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Meditate on the phrases, “Our Father, hallowed be thy name” and “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Pray that in response to God being your loving parent that you might seek to do God’s will here and now.
As you read the Scriptures, invite the Holy Spirit to show you some way in which you are not being obedient. If God reveals something to you, make a concrete plan with steps toward obedience.
As you conclude your time of prayer and reflection invite the Holy Spirit to renew the thoughts of your mind and to cleanse your heart as you begin the day.
Each day this week, make a concentrated effort to love someone with the same love that Jesus has had for you.
Critical Questions: How does this text reveal to us the nature and character of God/What is God doing in this text?
God is continually revealing himself to us. The Spirit is part of God’s self-revelation. The Spirit is also the love that proceed from the Father and the Son so that we might join, once again, in relationship with the God who created us to dance with him.
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
Holiness looks like allowing God to love and guide us. It means that we allow the love of God through the work of the Spirit to teach us and correct us as we learn how to walk as true children of God.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
As the Spirit comes to us, drawing us to God and teaching us how to live we must embrace that love and the teaching and correction that flows from it. We must learn to take correction from God our Father; much like a child needs to learn to take correction from his or her parents.
WORKS CITED: Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2012).
D. Moody Smith, John, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999).
John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Fourth American Edition (New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818).