Love, Obedience, and the Spirit as ‘another Helper’ in John 14

The lectionary gospel reading for Easter 6 in Year A is the next section of John 14.15–21. The split of the passage for the two Sundays is a little odd, in that last week’s was twice the length, and contained three massive issues to address! This week’s is much shorter and more straightforward.

The text still has a slightly strange feeling to it, for the reasons I mentioned last week:

  • The whole discourse (which begins at John 13.31 and continues to the end of chapter 16) is dotted with apophthegms which are highly memorable—and often remembered out of context. (The etymology of the word ‘apophthegm’ is from the Greek verb meaning ‘to speak out, speak plainly’ which is significant in the context of the ‘farewell discourse’ where Jesus often appears to be speaking obliquely.)
  • There are often abrupt changes of subject and sharp contrasts, even from one sentence to another—in this section, moving from love, Jesus’ commandments, the giving of the Spirit, seeing and not seeing, and so on.
  • There is no obvious linear structure or progress in the discourse; instead, subjects are repeated, circled around, and returned to. In this section, we begin and end with love, and the material in the middle is implicitly but not explicitly connected to this frame.
  • Jesus’ comments are often obscure or ambiguous, and the disciples are baffled—something that happens throughout the gospel between Jesus and his dialogue partners.

But I think the main reason why these chapters read slightly strangely to us is that we are reading them (and the author is writing them) from such a different perspective from that of the disciples themselves. Whenever we watch a film, if it is one I have seen before and really enjoyed, I cannot help myself from saying to those I am watching with: ‘You’ll love this—there is a great bit coming up!’ It drives my children spare! We are reading from a post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, post-Pentecost reality, and that makes Jesus’ teaching to the disciples and their reaction seem rather odd. And it means that Jesus’ brief summary comments on specific issues need unpacking in the light of later reality.

This section begins and ends with Jesus setting out the close relationship between loving him (loving God) and obedience to his commandments. Supreme amongst these is the command from chapter 13 to ‘love one another’, but in both statements, in verse 15 and verse 21, ‘commandments’ is in the plural. As on other occasions in reading the Fourth Gospel, there is an assumption that we know the other gospels and so Jesus’ teaching in other places, and there is no reason to exclude this from our understanding of what Jesus teaches.

The relationship between love and obedience is expressed in two reciprocal ways, at the beginning and end of the passage. On the one hand, loving Jesus will lead to obedience (‘keeping’ is the standard biblical, that is, Old Testament, language for obeying a command); on the other hand, obedience is a sign of love for Jesus. If we see the criticism of some of the Pharisees in the gospels as being a criticism of obedience without love for God and others, then the antidote to that is not love without obedience, or love regardless of obedience—it is holding love and obedience together. This counters the popular myth that, in Christian discipleship, ‘all you need is love‘.

The fulfilment of commandments as an expression of love evokes the Shema (Deut 6.4–9). Covenantal fidelity, or the notion of being God’s people, is in view (Jo-Ann Brant, Paideia commentary, p 214)

…though God’s people are now formed, not around the Law, but around the teachings of Jesus. This, again, tells us something about the claims Jesus is making for his commandments and therefore for himself as Israel’s teacher.

The unexplained change of subject focusses on the giving of the Spirit. As the gospel later expresses through Jesus ‘breathing’ on the disciples (John 20.22), the Spirit is sent from both Jesus and the Father. I was taught as a teenager that there are two Greek words for ‘another’, allos which we find here, and heretos which comes to us in the word ‘heterodox’ (as a contrast to ‘orthodox’). The former means ‘another of the same kind’, whilst the second means ‘another of a different kind’, so the Spirit is another person or agent like Jesus, who makes Jesus’ presence real to us. I am not quite convinced that the grammar supports this idea in the way I was taught (insights welcome in the comments below!) but the way these chapters describe the Spirit certainly do support this idea. Craig Keener lists the ways in which the character and work of the Spirit match very closely Jesus’ own role as an ‘advocate’:

He comments:

The discourses are clear that the Spirit, above all else, carries on Jesus’ mission and mediates his presence. The personal functions of the Spirit are also the functions of Jesus in the rest of the book, and the sensitive reader cannot miss the connection (Keener, The Gospel of John vol II p 965)

Immediately we see that the promise that the Spirit ‘will be with you forever’ both matches Jesus’ promise to ‘be with you always’ in Matt 28.20 and fulfils his promise that ‘I will not leave you as orphans’ in the following verse.

The description of the ‘Spirit of truth’ draws on a theme that is threaded all through the gospel, from the very beginning when we read that ‘the Word became flesh…full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14, 17). It is closely associated with light and life, so that those who walk in the light of Jesus know the truth and can see, whereas those who reject the truth of Jesus cannot see since they remain in darkness. It functions within the whole narrative sharply to delineate between those who accept Jesus and those who reject him, most pointedly in the discourse in chapter 8:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? (John 8.44–46)

The ‘Spirit of truth’ therefore continues this truth-telling ministry of Jesus, being an ‘advocate’ in the positive sense of reassuring and confirming the followers of Jesus who receive the Spirit, but also in the negative sense of making judgement apparent in highlighting that which is not true.

Although the Spirit is characterised in Revelation as ‘the eyes of the lamb that range throughout the earth’ (Rev 5.6), here the narrative sets up a clear delineation between the disciples and the ‘world’, a world that God loves (John 3.16) but which has rejected Jesus and so will stand in opposition to Jesus’ disciples (John 16.33). This understanding of the Spirit challenges the current idea that we need to look at the Spirit at work in the world in order to see what God is doing, in contrast to what is happening amongst God’s people. It is this Spirit who leads the disciples into truth, and it is this truth which both sanctifies them and brings them unity (John 17.17).

Though most English translations obscure it, the language of the Spirit ‘living in you’ or ‘dwelling in you’ in verse 17 uses the verb meno, to remain or abide. This forms part of the developing theme through the gospel, from the first question of the disciples to Jesus, ‘Where do you dwell?’ (John 1.38) through to the command to ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (John 15.4). The mutual indwelling of Jesus in the believer is effected by the mutual indwelling of the Spirit and the believer. Although this complex of ideas, of Jesus in the Father, the Father in Jesus, and both in the believer, appears to be distinctive of the Fourth Gospel, we find similar ideas of incorporation in the writing of Paul:

You in GodCol 3.3John 17.21
You in Christ2 Cor 5.17John 15.4–5
You in the SpiritRom 8.9John 4.23–24
God in youPhil 2.13John 14.23
Christ in youCol 1.27John 14.18–20
Spirit in you1 Cor 3.16John 14.16–17

There is, therefore, no need to read this passage as a distinctively Johannine ‘Christ mysticism’ or as unique to this gospel. There is an eschatological sense to the phrase ‘in that day’ in verse 20, but this is, once again, the gospel’s realised eschatology, seeing the gift of the Spirit that makes the presence of God real an anticipation of the presence of God with his people at The End.

The language of ‘I will come to you’ is elaborated here in the following verse ‘The world will not see me, but you will see me’, referring to his resurrection appearances to the disciples but not to the world at large. Combined with the language of the Spirit abiding, meno, this confirms that the language in the earlier part of the chapter of ‘rooms [monai] in my Father’s house’ is a reference to the post-resurrection and post-Pentecost reality of the presence of God and Jesus by the Spirit.

And thus we return to the connection between loving Jesus and obeying his commandments. The implication of this framing of the discussion of the Spirit by the language of covenant fidelity suggests that the centre of the section answers the questions raised by the frame. How can we love Jesus? How can we live in faithful obedience? By the receipt of the Spirit, who will encourage us, equip us, making the presence of Jesus real to us, and strengthen us for the conflict with ‘the world’ that we will inevitably face.

Join Ian and James as they discuss all these issues and connect some aspects with elements of the Coronation:

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19 thoughts on “Love, Obedience, and the Spirit as ‘another Helper’ in John 14”

  1. The ‘another Helper’ reference seems to be to Gen 2.18,20 (ezer) since this is part of a pretty comprehensive set of piecemeal echoes of the narrative material of Gen 1-6.

      • It doesn’t Steve.
        The principle applied, relating to the Trinity is of one essence, the same but different.
        The sameness in Genesis is humanness.
        The Helper in the Trinity is sameness, essence, in Godness, Divinity. The same nut different.
        Thanks Christopher.

      • No, it doesn’t.
        John is concerned only to echo bits of Gen 1-6 the max that he is able. That most certainly does not mean every possible aspect being reproduced. There would not remotely be space for that (plus it would be contrived) since as soon as he has finished one echo he is on to the next. There is not anything like space foe every echo to radiate or spread out.

        • Yes, David,
          You have now done a word search, (where context is everything) what is the point you are making with regard to the passage and Holy Spirit helper.
          Please elaborate for this dullard.

          • Is’t one of the key points of the scripture in John is that the Holy Spirit, Helper helps us to obey. Otherwise we wouldn’t and couldn’t.
            James touches on it in the discussion; what comes first?
            Or as probably misquoted by me.
            “Command what You will and grant what you command.” Augustine.

          • ‘helps us to obey’ – I tend to agree, as long as there is no implication it is not very much our responsibility to cooperate. I certainly know I can and do sin, and therefore not obey.

          • That ezer does not have a particularly feminine sense, contra Steve’s comment. Rather, it gives rather a different colour to the woman being the ‘helper’ of the man than is very commonly assumed. That the third member of the Trinity is ezer to us is entirely consistent.

          • Thanks David.
            That understanding of helper is inconstent and ar odds with Woman being Adam’s helper to sin, but consistent with the newly named Eve, after God’s promise of his “promised seed.”

          • Thanks again David.
            Eve and Eben ezer ( stone of help.)
            They are symbols, types, foreshadows of the Holy Spirit, Helper.
            Eve recognised her helper is God ( Genesis 4:1 ) in her being fruitful and multiplying in obedience. God commanded God helped in being obedient Echoes of Holy Spirit help in growth, multiplication and fruitfulfulness.

    • But the ‘another parakletos’ primarily concerns spiritual help, rather than merely human, physical help.

  2. This is not a Gospel of sinless perfection.
    The Spirit of truth
    both convicts of sin, (evidence of receiving Him and His life within) and comforts with the work of Jesus. Here is the Spirit’s Holy Presence, Truth, Advocate, Comforter, Helper, operating in combination not necessarily in readily identifiable sequence.

    Conclusion. What a splendid article and Ian and James discussion. Appreciated Keener’s *contribution*.

  3. That the holy Spirit provides the means of obeying our Father God, and His Son Jesus, our Messianic lord (cf. Hebrew ‘Adoni’; Ps. 110:1), is clearly implied in Romans 8:13.

    Praise God for Jesus !

    • We do not worship a mere human being, nor are we helped by the spirit of a mere human being.
      Thanks, Ian for the clarity of your Christian biblical teaching.

  4. I’m not so sure you can draw such a sharp distinction between love and the commandments. After all, Jesus taught that the first commandment was to love God, and the second was to love your neighbour, and on these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40). And St Paul in Romans 13 echoed this and taught that love does no harm to a neighbour and is the fulfilment of the law.

    This passage is John is tricky because John is tricky and has this spaced out way of saying things (think “In the beginning was the Word…”). But it strikes me that this is largely about trying to express the mystery of Trinity. The Spirit is another Helper who will “be in you”. But two verses later things have changed and Jesus is talking about “you in me and I in you”. The Spirit dwells in us, but by verse 21 Jesus will manifest himself to us. We get a clear idea of the Spirit being distinct – this isn’t Jesus’s spirit or God the Father in another guise – it’s “another Helper”. But we also get a hint at the consubstantial nature of Trinity: the Spirit dwells in us and is with us, and Jesus will manifest himself to us and be in us, and in the Father. And because He lives, we also will live!

    • To A.J. BELL –

      (1) Jesus, in the ‘Paraclete’ [Gk. Parakletos] discourses in John 14-16, is talking in allegories, cryptic sayings, figurative language and enigmatic illustrations (Gk. Paroimiais).

      (2). Parakleos can mean ‘Helper’ and ‘Strengthener’.

      (3). The earthly Jesus was always a ‘Helper’ and a ‘Strengther’ to His disciples. Hence He was always a ‘Paraclete’ (Helper) in His earthly form.

      (4). The ‘another paraclete’ is figurative language for Jesus Himself, coming back to His disciples in another (‘Spirit’) form.

      (5). The reason why the earthly Jesus had to go, before ‘the another’ Paraclete came, is because the Spiritual Jesus is the ‘another paraclete’.

      (6). If the ‘another Paraclete’ is a literal, divine hypostasis, independent of the only God (Who is the Father, according to Jesus; cf. John 17:3), and God’s Son, Jesus (cf. John 20:31), then the Paraclete would be mentioned alongside God the Father and Messiah Jesus in the blessing introductions in Paul’s Epistles at, : Romans 1:7 = Gal. 1:3 = Phil. 1:2=2 Cor. 1:2=1 Cor. 1:3=Eph. 1:3= 2 Thess. 1:2=1 Thess. 1:1=1 Tim. 1:2=2 Tim. 1:2=Titus 1:4=Phi. 1:3.

      Hence, there are no ‘divine’ persons except the Father (the ONLY True God; John 17:3), and His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Hence the Paraclete was always Jesus, in both His earthly, and Spiritual forms (cf. 1 John 2:1).

      God bless you.

  5. To A.J. Bell –

    ‘Paroimiais’ = figurative language, etc, is in John 16:25, and refers to the whole ‘Paraclete’ discourses in John 14-16. See NIV Study Bible.


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