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“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth …”– John 16:12a
Few things are harder to comprehend than the concept of the Trinity, but it remains so central to most Christian thought that the lectionary calendar devotes a special Sunday each year as a reminder of the doctrine that our concept of one God incorporates three persons in mutual relationship.
The church has employed many complex words to describe the Trinity, and has debated through the centuries just how we should envision one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is not as simple as saying that one person can be a parent, a child, and a spouse at the same time: we could go on to apply descriptors such as employee, friend, or fitness addict, but still be talking about one person playing multiple roles.
The Trinity does not speak of one God perceived in three ways, but of three persons who share the same divine essence. The Bible neither uses the word “Trinity” nor contains a clearly developed doctrine of it, but the scriptures do speak of God in multiple ways and in close proximity. Matthew 28:19 cites Jesus as commanding the disciples to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The author of 1 Peter wrote of those “who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:1). The Apostle Paul spoke to the Galatians about God, Christ Jesus, and the Spirit within a few verses (Gal. 3:11-14) – as does the author of our text for today.
The Spirit(vv. 12-13)
Still, we cannot expect the biblical writers’ language to always line up with doctrinal wording not fully developed until centuries later. While the Fourth Gospel speaks of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it often does so in a way that differs from the classic Trinitarian doctrine that evolved in the church. John’s teaching seems to assume that all three persons of the Trinity were present and active from the beginning, but not necessarily on the same plane: both the Son and the Spirit appear to be subordinate to the Father and sent by the Father, rather than acting on their own initiative. Jesus spoke of having been sent by the Father (3:16-17), and promised that the Spirit of truth, or Paraclete, would be sent by the Father in his name (14:26, 15:26).
Of course, John did not write this passage as a discourse on the Trinity, but as part of a lengthy farewell discourse attributed to Jesus following the last supper (chs. 14-17). In a variety of ways, Jesus explained to the disciples that he must depart, but they should not be distressed because he would send the Spirit to encourage, empower, and continue teaching them.
The disciples had no way of comprehending what life would be like after Jesus’ departure, when they would be called to lead the new movement despite opposition from “the world.” Thus, Jesus could say “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v. 12).
A parent would not sit down with a six-year-old and explain what he or she should watch out for as a teenager: the child could not begin to understand the upcoming stresses of puberty, peer pressure, and emerging self-identity. Nor would one advise an adolescent on marital, financial, or career issues he or she would not face for a decade or more.
Neither would it have been helpful for Jesus to speak of matters relative to the establishment of the first church communities, the need for structure, or strategies for dealing with those who opposed their efforts: those things were still beyond them.
But the disciples would not be left alone when those issues did arise, for Jesus and the Father would send the Spirit to encourage, comfort, and continue to instruct them. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth” (v. 13a). As new issues arose, the Spirit would prompt them in helpful ways, reminding them of what Jesus had already taught, or revealing new insights.
The Spirit’s role should not be thought of as separate from that of the Father and the Son, however: “he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (v. 13b). Earlier, Jesus had described his own teaching as being what he had heard from God: “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (7:16, see also 8:26, 40 and 12:49-50).
As Jesus’ teaching derived from the Father, so the Spirit would speak only what he would hear from the Father. While this may conjure up images of the Spirit listening to the Father and then passing the message on to humans, the point is that the disciples would not be left alone: God’s care and guidance would continue, as the Spirit would declare “the things that are to come.”
The verb used here is not typically used in prophetic contexts, so we are not to think of the Spirit’s role as predicting the future. Rather, as new issues and contexts and challenges arose – the things Jesus said the disciples could not yet bear – the Spirit would be present to proclaim or interpret Jesus’ teachings in the changing circumstances of their lives and missions.
This is one of the reasons we expect pastors to be persons who take their spiritual lives seriously. We want them to be open to hearing and receiving a fresh word from God, and courageous enough to share that word with the congregation through prophetic preaching.
The voices of such preachers and other Spirit-led believers contributed to the demise of slavery as an acceptable institution in civilized society. More recently, Christian proclaimers and others touched by the Spirit have contributed to the ongoing recognition that all persons should enjoy equal rights and opportunities without respect to gender or ethnicity.
Can you think of areas in your life in which old prejudices or attitudes have been changed through the promptings of the Spirit as you interacted with other persons? Are there areas in which the Spirit is still working on you?
The Son(v. 14)
John’s gospel begins with a declaration that Jesus, as the Logos or Word, was no recent creation, but pre-existent: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (1:1-2). “All things came into being through him,” John wrote, including life, for “in him was life and the life was the light of all people” (1:3-4).
Yet, John also speaks of the Son as learning from the Father and being glorified by the Father. What Jesus had learned from the Father, he passed on to his disciples. In word and action, Jesus reflected the presence, character, and glory of God. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” John wrote, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14).
“No one has ever seen God,” the author continued. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18). As Christ had revealed the glory of God, so the Spirit would declare the glory of Christ: “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (v. 14).
In John’s gospel, the concept of Jesus’ glory is closely related to the “hour” of his passion, the crucifixion and resurrection. A little earlier, looking toward his last hours, Jesus had said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23).
The experience of living through the blinding grief and eye-opening joy of Jesus’ death and resurrection would leave the disciples puzzled and perturbed, both longing to understand and lacking the ability. They could not yet “bear” it (v. 12). As they pondered those things, the Spirit would glorify Jesus “because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Spirit would help them to understand that the supreme manifestation of God was Jesus himself, and that both would remain present with them through the Spirit.
The Father(v. 15)
Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would “take what is mine and declare it to you” leads into his further claim that “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (v. 15).
While John appears to speak of Jesus as serving the Father, he is not less than the Father. The Father has no attributes or powers that the Son does not share: “All that the Father has is mine.” Thus, as the Spirit would “take what is mine and declare it to you,” the disciples would receive no limited revelation, but the full force of the Father’s love and glory as revealed in Christ.
Herein is the power of Trinitarian teaching for the life of the believer and the unity of the church. We are not to divide ourselves into parties that focus on the justice of the father, the love of the Son, or the gifts of the Spirit. God, though revealed in three persons, is One. At no point do we relate only to the Father, the Son, or the Spirit: all work together for the single purpose of calling all people to experience and to share the love of God for the sake of the world. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for May 22, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: John 16:12-15
Sometimes the answer is just “Because.” I didn’t really believe this before I became a parent, but now that I am, I see the validity in the answer. Most often I answer “Because,” and maybe the same is for you, is because I have experienced the situation before but am not ready to share why I had done such a thing before. We gain wisdom through experiences that you can’t gain by just talking about something. Here’s the rub: how do we allow our students to experience things, when we know this will be the best way for them to learn, if we know the outcome will be painful? There will be times when you share more than “Because” and you share what happened to you and that will be enough for your student to learn. But there will be other times when you share and your student still tries it out on their own for their own experience. This is when you have to be there for your student and offer a hand up. Your presence, amongst the failure will cling to them and help form that experience for the better.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Park Scene” from God Will Hunting via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: John 16:12-15