John 14:15–21 (NRSV)
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
What is a Christian? What does it require to be a Christian? There are countless answers to these questions along with interpretations of these questions. Each one of us has some idea of what it means to be a Christian and our definition will probably differ slightly with the person sitting next to us, it might even differ from that of our spouse or nearest friend. How could there be so many different ideas regarding one expression of faith? You may even question if what I say is even true or not. The simplest definition of Christian is a follower of the one called Christ. That is probably a definition that all of us can agree on, where we differ is in the expression of follower.
I say this because to be a follower is to interact, or relate to something. The very nature of following is relational and because of this it is unique to every individual. My personal ideas of what it means to be a follower are attuned to my personality. The things I do to deepen my faith may or may not work for even my closest friends. Because the way I speak, the way I think, the way I relate and interact with others are unique to me. Just as the way that you relate, think, speak and interact with others is unique to each of you. For some it is very difficult to speak with certain people because the relational languages we speak differ so greatly. This often causes tension and disunity within the relationship, because we wrongly assume that the other party thinks and speaks as we do.
The reality of the situation is that as we spend time with other we begin to understand their relational language and we adjust our behavior around them so we can better communicate. Even then there are times we misinterpret.
Our passage today we find Jesus speaking to his disciples before his arrest and execution. They are sitting around the table in the upper room, or on one side if we adhere to western artistic expressions of the scripture. They are at the table, Jesus had just washed their feet, he had blessed and passed the food, he had predicted his betrayal and the one who was to betray had left the meal. As the meal went on Jesus began to prepare his disciples for what was about to occur before their eyes. They were about to have their entire life turned upside down. They were about to see their beloved teacher arrested, put on trial, scourged, mocked, and executed. They were about to have everything they believed in questioned and ridiculed. Their faith and belief was about to meet the first trial.
It is difficult to imagine this situation. It is hard for us to look in our minds eye at this historic event without the various layers our culture and personal experience apply to our understanding of the story. It is difficult for us to imagine that the disciples believed themselves to be invincible because they were sitting beside the promised messiah. It is hard for us to imagine that they could not wrap their minds around life without Jesus walking right beside them. Their faith sat with them, gave them bread, washed their feet and they could not begin to fathom what Jesus’ words meant.
But even among them they had different ideas as to what it meant to follow Jesus. Peter had his own ideas, James and John (along with their mother) had ideas, and clearly Judas Iscariot had a unique concept of following as well. Each one related to Jesus in a differently and Jesus related to each of them differently as well. And often he had to calm down the misinterpretations that occurred between them. Even Mary and Martha had different ideas as to what it truly meant to follow and serve their master. Martha was busy preparing meals, while Mary sat down to listen to the teacher.
Jesus is speaking to them as they eat their meal, while they celebrate their Passover feast and says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In this moment Jesus is telling his disciples what it truly means to follow him. What it means to truly believe. “If you love me, you will keep my commandment.”
If you love me. The first portion of this statement really grabs my attention. “If you want to demonstrate affection for me,” or “If you take pleasure in me,” or “If you regard me as valuable or important.” If you love Jesus. Do we ever really consider this statement in our lives? How many days have we gone where this question did not even cross our mind? How many days have we been too busy or too distracted to even consider the value of a relationship with Jesus? I would hate to admit to you that there are days that I regard coffee to a greater degree than Jesus. I like everyone else can get distracted and I fail to answer one simple question, “Do you Love me.” Do you regard Jesus as valuable? This brings to mind many of Jesus’ parables. The parable of the lost coin, the treasure in the field, and many more. Do we regard Jesus as something of worth? Do we even know how to answer this question?
“If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” Commandments is something that is easier to grasp. The concepts of love are so abstract, they are the gray areas in a world of black and white. The rules of love are vague, and often change as time progresses. We live in a culture of precision. We like predictable fields of cause and effect. A step by step progression to a known destination. We like commandments because we can use them to determine our value in comparison to others. What are the commandments Jesus is speaking about?
While studying this passage I took this very question to the greatest of biblical research tools, GOOGLE. I found a great of discussion on this topic. There were a few pages that gave a list of fifty commandments given by Jesus. Within this list are things like: Repent, keep your word, do not judge, honor your parents, beware of false teachers, and bring in and feed the poor. The interesting thing about this list of commandments, which are accurate, is that they could be boiled down some something even easier to understand. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, it was reviled that he regarded the command to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself as the only command. The clear majority of the Google hits also focused on this commandment.
Jesus continues this discussion for a couple with the disciples as the chapters progress, He then shares a new commandment, love one another as he has loved you. He goes on to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is what a follower of Christ is.
Simple right. Two simple rules. Love God and Love others. Two simple rules, Jesus said come to me all who are wary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I laugh at this sometimes because obviously, Jesus did not have to try to love some of the people I have had to work with. I laugh at this because sometimes I am difficult to love, I am moody, irritable, if I don’t get enough sleep I will get a headache and you would rather have a bear as a friend. Two simple rules, and they are so hard to follow.
I have a family to feed, I can’t possibly take time out of my schedule to pray for a couple of hours. I have bills to pay, I cannot possibly take time to worship today. Does God really expect me to waste an entire day just to sing some songs and read a book? Absolutely. But not out of legal obligation. Over the past few years I personally have not invested enough time in my personal relationship with God, I have been doing too much in my own strength and I can feel the results. It was as if a shadow covered everything, colors were diminished, music was irritating, laughter was rare. I became self-absorbed and as a result I felt like a complete failure. I neglected Christ and I neglected others. I sought to give to others but the resources were running low.
We cannot bear the yoke of Christ alone. The word yoke has a double meaning, it is the apparatus that connects an animal to an implement, but it also spoke about the teachings of a rabbi. The yokes that were referenced by Christ were coupled, meaning two animals would work together to share the load. Even when Jesus is teaching about discipleship he is speaking in relational terms. When he says my yoke, he is saying that he is with us. Every step of the way. He will share the burden.
The disciples understood this. They did not question that Jesus was with them every step of the way. They were following his lead. What they did not understand was that soon Jesus would not be near physically. That very soon they would face a new era, one where Jesus would take on a different role as would every disciple. They would walk the pathways of life without the physical presence of their teacher. “In a little while the world will not see me Jesus says.” Imagine the shock that would be coursing through their minds. Imagine the fear and confusion that they faced. How could they follow if they could not see him?
Jesus said earlier in this chapter, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me.” There are three forms of belief: there is knowledge, trust, and entrusting forms. Knowledge is believing in though, accepting that something is true but not going any deeper. Trust is applying that knowledge in one’s life. Entrusting is a form of belief where you have knowledge and you adjust your life to incorporate that knowledge, but you also commit every aspect of your life to it. This third form of belief is faith. Jesus says I will not leave you as orphans, or you will not be abandoned. Because he will send an advocate to us, the Holy Spirit of God. The world will not see, but you will see. This concept can be difficult because but the idea is perception. In the Greek understanding of knowledge seeing is believing. The world will not see so they will not know, but those of us that have faith will know or see through a different sort of perception. We will know though faith. We will entrust our lives to the teachings of Jesus and we will see amazing things happen all around. Though it looks as if we are alone we have help.
As we walk in through the trials of life God will reveal himself to us as we open our lives to him. When we take on the lifestyle of Jesus the Holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and service to others we will sense with a spiritual perception that God is near. Though the world does not see him they do see us. They see our lives being lived with him and they wonder. And as they wonder they begin to see Christ in us, and as they continue to walk, they begin to see Christ in themselves. The commandments of Christ are simple. Love God and love others. We cannot love others if we do not love God. We cannot love God if we do not love others. We cannot do either on our own but must be yoked with Christ. And if we try we will carry a burden that is not required.
So, the question remains, do we love Him? Do we love him in how we act toward those around us? Do we love him in how we work, in how we play? Do we love him in how we respond to the difficulties and distractions of life? Do we love him? If we do we will love. We will build relationships and encourage those around us. We will make beanies for babies, we will offer jobs, we will send words of encouragement and listen to stories. We will serve a meal and help find lodgings. We will stand to defend and beg for mercy. Do we Love?
Jared, a couple of quick comments related to what I was reading in your post above. In the passage you quote and from your commentary on it, it struck me that the disciples were walking by sight: perhaps a necessary stage all must go through. But Paul’s comment in 2 Cor. 5:7 “For we walk by faith and not by sight.” is a statement of advantage, not of handicap. Faith is the evidence and the substance, sight is not. Faith is written on the heart by Jesus, the author of faith, by our direct experience of His work in and among us in all His offices.
Second thing. You begin your comments by posing the question, “What is a Christian?” You might be interested in reading my blog post regarding this subject at https://thiswasthetruelight.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/true-christians-how-do-you-know-them/ . I posted an excerpt of that post on quakerquaker.org where it has been raising a storm of controversy.
Thanks for your thoughts above.
I forgot to include the link to the quakerquaker posting in case you wish to read the various comments there. go to http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/true-christians-how-do-you-know-them?xg_source=activity