WHY THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS BETTER

 

Week of November 7, 2010

 

Bible Verses:  John 14:15-18,27-31; 15:11-16..

 

Lesson Focus:  Life is better when lived in relationship with Jesus because He gives us His presence, peace, and purpose.

 

The Presence: John 14:15-18.

 

[15]  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16]  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17]  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. [18]  "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  [ESV]

 

The entire section of 14:15-24 envisions the giving of the Spirit subsequent to Jesus’ exaltation, at which time Jesus and the Father will make their dwelling in believers through the Spirit. Jesus’ identification with the Spirit, the other Helper or Counselor, is so strong that He can say that He Himself will return to His followers in the person of the Spirit [18]. Jesus’ departure brings out His followers’ love for Him (the word for love occurs eight times in these verses). Jesus asks them to show their love by their obedience: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. In John, “keep my commandments” is used interchangeably with “keep my word” [8:51; 14:23,24; 15:20]. The second result of the disciples’ love for Jesus is that Jesus will petition the Father to provide another Helper like Jesus. This prospect ought to encourage Jesus’ disciples, who are struggling to come to terms with the implications of His upcoming departure. In fact, as Jesus is about to elaborate, the giving of the Spirit constitutes another major advantage of His going to the Father. For as John has made clear earlier in his Gospel, this giving of the Spirit was possible only subsequent to Jesus’ glorification [7:39]. With this glorification now imminent, Jesus spends much of His time in the upper room preparing His followers for life in the age of the Spirit. As another Helper the Spirit’s presence with the disciples will replace Jesus’ encouraging and strengthening presence with them while on earth. When the Spirit comes to dwell in believers, it is as if Jesus Himself takes up residence in them. Thus, Jesus is able to refer to the coming of the Spirit by saying, I will come to you [18]. This relieves a primary concern for Jesus’ first followers in the original setting of the farewell discourse. Jesus’ departure will not leave them as orphans. Just as God was present with them through Jesus, so He will continue to be present with them through His Spirit. The Spirit’s role thus ensures the continuity between Jesus’ pre- and post-glorification ministry. What is more, the coming of the Spirit will actually constitute an advance in God’s operations with and through the disciples [16:7]. As Jesus’ emissary, the Spirit will have a variety of functions in believers’ lives: He will bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught His disciples [14:26]; He will testify regarding Jesus together with His followers [15:26]; He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment [16:8-11]; and He will guide Jesus’ disciples in all truth and disclose what is to come [16:13]. Historically, this included the formation of the New Testament canon as apostolic testimony to Jesus. Though initially focused on the Eleven, the Spirit, in a secondary sense, fulfills similar roles in believers today. He illumines the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ words and works both to believers and, through believers, to the unbelieving world. In all of these functions the ministry of the Spirit remains closely linked with the person of Jesus. Just as Jesus is portrayed everywhere in John’s Gospel as the Sent One who is fully dependent on and obedient to the Father, so the Spirit is said to be sent by both the Father and Jesus [14:26; 15:26] and to focus His teaching on the illumination of the spiritual significance of God’s work in Jesus [14:26; 15:26; 16:9]. The Spirit is also called the Spirit of truth. In the context of the present chapter, Jesus has just been characterized as the truth [14:6], in keeping with statements already made in the prologue [1:14,17]. The concept of truth in John’s Gospel encompasses several aspects: (1) truthfulness as opposed to falsehood; (2) truth in its finality as compared to previous preliminary expressions; (3) truth as an identifiable body of knowledge with actual propositional content; (4) truth as a sphere of operation, be it for worship or sanctification; and (5) truth as relational fidelity. The Spirit is involved in all five aspects: He accurately represents the truth regarding Jesus; He is the eschatological gift of God; He imparts true knowledge of God; He is operative in both worship and sanctification; and He points people to the person of Jesus.

 

The Peace:  John 14:25-31.

 

[25]  These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. [26]  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [27]  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [28]  You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. [29]  And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. [30]  I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, [31]  but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

 

[25-27]  Here we have the fullest description of the Spirit to be found in this Gospel. In verse 17 He was called the Spirit of truth. Here He is called the Holy Spirit. This characteristic designation, found throughout the New Testament, does not draw attention to the power of the Spirit, His greatness, or the like. For the first Christians the important thing was that He is holy. His character mattered most of all. Verse 26 shows Him to be closely related to both the Father and the Son. He is to be sent by the Father, but in the name of the Son. In John 15:26 He is sent by the Son from the Father. Probably no great difference should be put between these. We have noticed a tendency in John to vary statements a little when they are repeated. What he is saying in both places is that the Spirit’s mission derives exclusively neither from the Father nor the Son. It comes from both. The particular function of the Spirit here stressed is that of teacher. All things is comprehensive and probably means “all that you will need to know.” The Spirit is to be the guide and teacher of the church. In addition to this He will bring back to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus had told them. John has made it clear that the disciples did not grasp the significance of a good deal that their Master taught them. Jesus is now saying that the Holy Spirit will supply their lack. Notice that the things of which He will remind them are the things that Jesus has spoken to them. In other words the Spirit will not dispense with the teaching of Jesus. The teaching to be recalled is His.

 There has been no talk of peace up till now. But the peace that Jesus gives men is the natural result of the presence within them of the Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus has been speaking. Peace is Jesus’ bequest to His disciples. Peace was commonly used at this time as a word of greeting or of farewell. But the expression used here is not the usual formula of farewell. Jesus is using the term in His own way for His own purpose. Having stated positively what He gives, Jesus goes on to differentiate this gift from anything that the world can give. When the world uses “peace” in a greeting it expresses only a hope of blessing, such as “Peace be with you.” It can do no more. But Christ effectually gives men real and lasting peace. Moreover, the peace of which He speaks is not dependent on any outward circumstances, as any peace the world can give must necessarily be. Because He gives men such a peace Jesus can enjoin them not to be troubled in heart nor cowardly. A Christ-given serenity excludes both. It is worth noting that in the Bible “peace” is given a wider and deeper meaning than in other Greek writings. For the Greeks (as for us) peace was essentially negative, the absence of war. But for the Hebrews it meant positive blessing, especially a right relationship with God. This is to be seen in the Old Testament, and it is carried over into the New.

 

[28-31]  Jesus recalls His teaching in verse 3 that He will go away and come again. This had perturbed the disciples at the time and the Lord had dealt with their question and perplexities. Now He returns to the thought of His impending departure. If they really loved Him this would have been a matter for rejoicing, not for consternation. The thought that Jesus goes to the Father is not one to cause sorrow. It is a joyful thought. The Father is greater than I is not a reference to Christ’s essential Being, but rather to His incarnate state. The incarnation involved the acceptance of a certain subordination as is insisted throughout the New Testament. The saying must be understood in the light of I and the Father are one [10:30]. John is not asserting that Jesus was a created being. He is talking about the departure of the human Jesus from this earth to be with the Father. In the light of this Jesus sees it as a matter for rejoicing that He returns to the Father. True love by His followers will recognize this and rejoice. When the things of which Jesus speaks actually come to pass the disciples will recall the words and believe. They will trust their Master all the more when they see His words verified. The end of Jesus’ teaching is approaching due to the coming of Satan. In the coming of Judas and the soldiers Jesus saw the coming of the evil one. He was especially active in the crucifixion. There the forces of good and evil were engaged. Satan has no claim on Jesus because it is sin which gives Satan his hold on people. Jesus is about to die in obedience to the commandment of the Father and this will demonstrate to the world that He loves the Father.

 

The Purpose:  John 15:11-16.

 

[11]  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. [12]  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. [13]  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. [14]  You are my friends if you do what I command you. [15]  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. [16]  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  [ESV]

 

The purpose of Jesus’ words is now defined in terms of joy. He has spoken these things in order that His joy might be in them. Probably He means that He had the joy of living the completely fruitful life and He wants the joy that He already has to be in them too as they live fruitfully. He looks for their joy to be full. It is no cheerless barren existence that Jesus plans for His people. But the joy of which He speaks comes only as they are wholehearted in their obedience to His commands. To be halfhearted is to get the worst of both worlds. Joy and pleasure must not be confused. The joy of Jesus is the joy that arises from the sense of a finished work. It is creative joy, like the joy of the artist. It produces a sense of unexhausted power for fresh creation. This joy in the heart of Jesus is both the joy of victory and the sense of having brought His Church into being. It is an inspiring thought that Jesus calls His followers into joy. The Christian life is not some shallow, insipid following of a traditional pattern. It is a life characterized by unexhausted power for fresh creation. The commandments of verse 10 are now reduced to one, the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved them. This is the new commandment of verse 13:34. Now in verse 13 comes the reference to the greatest love of all. There is no love greater than that of him who lays down his life for others. This is the supreme test of love. In the context this must refer primarily to the love of Jesus as shown in the cross. There He laid down His life on behalf of His friends. Some have raised the question whether the love that dies for enemies is not greater than that which is concerned for friends. But this is not before us here. In this passage Jesus is not comparing the love which sacrifices for enemies with that which sacrifices for friends. He is in the midst of friends and is speaking only of friends. With respect to them He is saying that one cannot have greater love than to die for them. In a different context [see Romans 5:10] these same “friends” are called enemies. Jesus makes it clear that the members of the apostolic band are His friends. But friendship depends on common aims and outlook and thus Jesus qualifies You are my friends by if you do what I command you. Once again obedience is the test of discipleship. The friends of Jesus are those who habitually obey Him. Jesus will no longer call them servants. The characteristic of the servant which Jesus picks out is that he does not know what his master is doing. The servant is no more than an instrument. It is not for him to enter intelligently into the purposes of his owner. His task is simply to do what he is told. But this is not the pattern of relationship between Jesus and His disciples. He has called them friends. He has kept nothing back from them. He had revealed to them all that the Father has made known to Him. Man always tend to feel that the initiative is with him. Jesus now assures His followers that this is not the case. It was not they who chose Him, as was normally the case when disciples attached themselves to a particular Rabbi. But Jesus’ disciples did not hold the initiative. On the contrary it was He who chose them. And not only did He choose them but He appointed them to their task. This is first, to go. The idea of mission is frequent in this gospel. The first function then of the disciple is that he is the emissary of Christ. The second thing is that he should bear fruit. The fruit that he bears is not transient but abiding. It is possible that here the bearing of fruit includes the thought of service leading to the conversion of others. It is perhaps unexpected that this is subordinate to the aim of prevailing prayer. The disciples are to bear fruit, so that their fruit may abide, so that whatever they ask God in Jesus’ name He may give it. Whatever is all inclusive but is limited by in my name. This means that prayer must be in accordance with all that the name stands for. It is prayer proceeding from faith in Christ, prayer that gives expression to a unity with all that Christ stands for, prayer which seeks to set forward Christ Himself. And the purpose of it all is the glory of God [see 14:13]. Thus the whatever we ask for in prayer must be for the ultimate goal of bringing glory to the Father which is characteristic (in his name) of Jesus.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         As Jesus prepares for His death, resurrection and ascension, He promises His disciples another Helper. What work will this Helper perform in the lives of all believers? Why is the Helper called the Spirit of truth?

 

2.         Describe the peace that Jesus gives to His followers. How does a believer experience this peace?

 

3.         In 15:11, Jesus speaks of His followers sharing in His joy and experiencing it fully. What is the relationship between experiencing the fullness of His joy and being obedient to His command to love one another? Why do you think Jesus connects joy, obedience and love? What does this tell you about the nature of His joy?

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, Baker Academic.