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Enabled to love and obey

Sermon passage: (John 14:15-31) Spoken on: May 25, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: John

Tags: John, 约翰福音

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth and young adult ministries, as well as the John zone pastor in Jubilee Church.

John 14:15-31 约翰福音14:15-31的讲道

I. Marilyn Monroe - a name that probably sounds familiar to most of us. Monroe, the American actress who gained popularity in the 1950s, spent most of her childhood days in foster homes. And such a personal life history gave her in turn an uncanny ability. Arthur Miller, who was a playwright and husband of Monroe for five years, has this to say about her. Whenever the actress entered a room, Miller said, she would not fail to pick out from the crowd individuals who had been orphans. How did she manage that? Perhaps there was a glint of loneliness, fear, wariness, or incompleteness. In any case, there is this certain look in the eyes of orphans that one who had suffered the same fate will be able to accurately identify at a glance. And Marilyn Monroe did not miss any of them whenever one turned up, even in a crowded room.

When we take a peep into the room where Jesus and the disciples had the last supper, we don't find a big crowd. Yet, we see what Jesus probably saw that evening, pairs of eyes oozing out negative emotions, that included loneliness, fear and wariness, emotional expressions seen in the eyes of orphans. Well, the disciples might have never been real orphans, but they probably sensed on that very evening that they would soon be spiritual orphans so to speak, as they listened to what their master was saying to them: that he must suffer, that he would be leaving them and would be going to this place that they could not follow, that all this was going to happen partly because one from their inner circle would soon betray the master, and sadder still, their class monitor - apparently the most courageous amongst them - would in that very night be so bold as to deny the master 3 times over. Bad times, bad news; and the bible says that their hearts were troubled and afraid.

An appropriate response, upon hearing what Jesus has shared, should have been quite the reverse. They should have been rejoicing instead of being afraid, because Jesus was going to the Father, who is greater. But, the disciples were at that point incapable of thinking for Jesus or from Jesus’ perspective; they could not appreciate that Jesus by departing was going to the Father, where there will be the fullness of glory. The disciples were not able to picture any of that, and they were in turn troubled and afraid. And by being so, they were once again in character, as in they were consistent with the way John had been describing them throughout the gospel; always missing the point and getting things wrong. But then, as we can see, Jesus did not fault them for their natural but inappropriate responses, their lack of faith, and their inability to perceive and move along in God’s plan. Instead, Jesus promised to ask the Father on their behalf for a Helper, who will enable them to get it and do the right things in God’s timing.

II. Let us take a moment and shift our gaze from the upper room and the disciples to this big room that we are in this morning and to ourselves. And ask a question: what do we see in ourselves in comparison to them? As followers of Christ today, I think we are quite different from the disciples. To begin with, they didn’t even have a name for their group back then. Today, we are Christians. We have the Old and New Testaments to help us perceive the will and plans of God. As for them, a few in the group would eventually end up as authors of the New Testament, but we can be sure that they had no inkling of such a thing while facing the prospect of soon becoming spiritual orphans. All they knew was that they would be very lost once Jesus, their leader and teacher, suddenly put a full stop to their Holy land tour and expedition. Furthermore, because the New Testament is already in our hands, Christians today have access to God’s fuller revelation that they did not yet have. Better still, we who find ourselves in established Christian networks have bible teachers, books and even software to help us grasp the biblical teachings. We in the developed Christian world are now far better equipped, we therefore need not be fearful and dependent as they had been. Agree? I guess we don’t deny the fact concerning the developments in the Christian world or Christian circle. However, for all the shortcomings of the disciples, I for one appreciate their deep sense of dependence on Jesus to live out the calling as God ‘s people. Friends, my new friends in Jubilee, today, do we find ourselves depending dearly on Jesus and the Helper to live Godly lives? Or do we now cast out fear and boost confidence with the developments mentioned?

III. No matter what our answer to the question is, I believe, to Jesus, God’s people need God’s enablement to know God’s will and live godly lives. Let me say that again, God’s people need God’s enablement to know God’s will and live godly lives. And that’s exactly why Jesus requested of the Father to send a Helper, or as the original Greek has it, the Paracletos【P】. The word Paracletos deserves some explanations. The basic meaning of the word is ‘called alongside’, and by extension, ‘called alongside for the purpose of helping’. When we turn to different English bibles and look at verses 16 and 26 of this morning’s text, we will see words such as Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Consoler, Advocate and Friend being used to translate the term Paracletos. The list of alternatives itself is telling.

Positively speaking, these words suggest that the Paracletos enables and strengthens followers through doing many things: giving counsel and comfort, granting wisdom, interceding on their behalf, convicting and rebuking as when necessary, and so on so forth.

Negatively speaking, the list of alternatives betrays the fact that none of the translations are truly appropriate. Allow me then to take a few minutes to weigh some notions of the Holy Spirit that have come about perhaps due to the usage of these words. First, the term Counsellor. Counsellor is a helpful translation, as long as it is understood to be a legal counsellor, as in a person or an advisor who helps others to do that which is rightful. But there a problem. With the rising popularity of counselling, from clinical counselling to marriage counselling, to pre-marital counselling, to counselling of primary school kids facing exam stress, to counselling of stressful parents because their children are taking exams, a counsellor is by and large characterised to be one who is soft, patient and non-judgmental. But that’s not quite the character of one who【P】 “…will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8) I tend to agree with one Taiwanese theologian who said that the way in which the Holy Spirit goes about at times, is by giving hard pushes instead of soft nudges. Guess that’s why Paul and his mission team ended up in Macedonia in Acts 16. Do we remember what happened back then? The team was initially at one locality in Asia. There, the Holy Spirit forbade them from speaking. When they moved on to another locality, still in Asia, the Holy Spirit this time forbade them from even entering that place. And then came the so-called Macedonian call, and new territories were reached by the gospel. [1] Howard Marshall in his commentary on the book of Acts says that Luke, recounted the episode “…at breath-taking speed, to convey some impression of the irresistible sweep of events that took Paul to Macedonia” Friends, such was the act of the Holy Spirit, and such may just be what we have, or will, experience.

Being soft is far from a suitable description of the Holy Spirit, which is why the second word Comforter is equally problematic. In Old English, the word comfort meant ‘one who strengthens’. But today, the word comforter makes us think of the down feather quilts in our bedrooms. And in our “just want to be happy culture”, some have began to regard the Holy Spirit as one who is always giving comfort and would perpetually say to us ‘sayang sayang’ when things gets tough. Sorry, He is God the Spirit who convicts, teaches and even pushes.

The translation used this morning employs the word Helper, which is correct. The Holy Spirit helps believers to love and obey the Lord. And it is through the help of the Holy Spirit that believers enter into the deep peace of Jesus. Further, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ successor, and it is the Holy Spirit that helps believers to continue doing what Jesus wants to accomplish. However, this translation also has its share of weakness; it carries overtones of one who is a subordinate. Foreign maids are more politely called helpers these days, aren’t they? So, let us be slightly more careful when we address the Holy Spirit as The Helper. Allow me to reiterate, Helper is a good translation, and we will be using it for the reminder of this morning’s sharing. But I request for us to be more careful because we are products of our culture, and ours, as mentioned, is a ‘just want to be happy culture’, or more correctly put, a consumerist culture. And under such a culture we are in danger of developing a preference to see God as more of a dispenser of blessings in life, rather than the director of lives, which I am sure, has already happened, maybe not in this church, but certainly so elsewhere.

IV. Enough time spent talking about modern notions of the Holy Spirit. It is perhaps more urgent a thing to ask, 【P】 “Why was the sending of the Helper Jesus’ way to address the disciples’ fear and needs?” Careful listeners will point out to me that I have already given the answer before the question. But there is a little bit more that I would like to add to this morning’s meditation, and so I ask for your patience to take a second look at this question.

The short answer to the question is “the chief end of man is to glorify God.” Yes, I know, the answer is not helpful. So let me try giving the longer answer.

John recorded in verses 15 and 16【P】 words of Jesus that sound pretty out of sync with basic Christian belief, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper” Do these words mean to say that doing what has been instructed proves ones’ love for Jesus, and observing the commandments is the prerequisite for receiving the Helper? Is John suggesting that salvation can be earned? Probably not. Because, it is also John who says that the disciples can do nothing on their own, and that the Holy Spirit is received only through faith. Then, is John contradicting himself? The answer is of course, “No”. Put it this way, the 2 verses should not be understood as a list of actions and consequences: If you love me, then you will certainly be keeping my commandments, and when you have done that, then I will start asking the Father, and finally, you will receive the Holy Spirit. This is not what is meant here. Rather, the sentence is expressing a pattern of a developing and deepening relationship, in that, if one is a true and committed follower of Jesus, then the person will obey the one he or she seeks to follow, and Jesus on his part will secure another Helper to help the person do so.

Such a relationship emphasizes 1 thing: commitment. And commitment in this case shouts another thing loudly at us. That is, being a Christian is not just about praying the sinner’s prayer and continuing as a regular church attendee. If Jack Neo’s movie title registered in us the phrase ‘Money no enough’, then the words in verse 15 should register in us the phrase ‘initial experience of Jesus’ goodness no enough’. In God’s economy, in our walk with Jesus【P】, “believe + no growth = no go”. But lest we start counting the number of thing done and not done in terms of keeping commandments, it is important to note that Jesus here is not talking so much about moral conduct. Commentators suggest that commandment herein referred chiefly to what Jesus said in the previous chapter: to wash one another’s feet, and to love one another as Jesus has loved his disciples. And when that’s what we do, all people will know that we are his disciples.

That’s certainly easier said than done: to grow in love for Jesus, to grow in love for one another, and to grow in service toward people within this worship community and beyond. Honestly, we do not have much natural inclinations for things as such. Practically speaking, it can be effortful just to strike conversations with someone of a different generation, even though we see their faces week after week on Sundays in Jubilee. And I have even had young adults – obviously not from this church - who confessed that they feel that there’s a gap between them and those in church who are of 1 to 2 years difference in terms of age. To love - a lot easier said than done.

Yet, “believe + no growth = no go” 【P】and “the chief end of man is to glorify God”. I submit both statements to us as true descriptions of committed Christians, even though we each have our weaknesses. And for us to grow and to glorify God, which we must, friends, we need divine help. And help we have, for Jesus has asked for us The Helper. And I am sure we have also noticed in verse 16【P】 that this Holy Spirit promised is being referred to as ‘another Helper’. This means the disciples have had a Helper all the while, who is none other than Jesus himself. Then, for the disciples to have Jesus the Helper, followed by another Helper, goes to say that, from day one, Christian Spirituality has been made possible only with God’s direct involvement and help. Or should we say, that there is no such thing as a D.I.Y. Christian spirituality. Jesus knew full well that God’s people need God’s enablement to live godly lives (lives of obedience), to learn the deeper truths, to deepen our relationship with him, to love and to serve him, to love and serve one another, to glorify him, which are ‘must…s’! Yes, you are right, there’s no such English word, but what’s our take concerning the words of Jesus heard and read this morning?

[1] Howard Marshall, “The Acts of the Apostles”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Inter Varsity Press, Leicester, 1980. p.261