“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 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. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:51-21)
How easy it is to pay lip service to something, to say one thing and then do the opposite. Over the past few weeks we have seen government advisors issue regulations, only to be caught out not keeping them. All very embarrassing. As a good, law abiding curate in the Church of England I once found myself summoned to a Speed Awareness Course (it turns out that it’s a 30mph limit on the A49 by the Roman Road roundabout). A few weeks later I rather shamefacedly mentioned this to the Abbot of a monastery , only to have him tell me that he’d done the course himself the previous month!
How often we say one thing, and do another.
Letting down a friend - or being caught out - is bad enough, but when it comes to our faith it is a matter of eternal life and death. Lip service simply does not cut it. Over and again in the Old Testament the people are judged because they think they can buy off God with their rituals. Listen to him speak through the prophets:
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me. (Jeremiah 6:20)
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats … Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:11–15)
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. (Amos 5:21–23)
I think is fair to say God can see through rituals and ceremonies and understand what is going on in our hearts! As Jesus says in today’s passage, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments”. As the old saying goes: “actions speak louder than words”.
So what are these commandments which Jesus has in mind? He surely has in mind his teachings such as we find in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In these chapters of the Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus applying the Old Testament law to our hearts, and dealing with anger, lust, oaths and our tendency to judge others. To be Christian is to deal with all of these, and not simply ignore what bubbles up in our hearts.
Yet let us not simply think that what Jesus has in mind is bare legalism, the keeping of so many commands. He goes on: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth”.
The love we have for Christ - witnessed to by our actions - if further deepened and strengthen by the Holy Spirit who will be with us. The Son prays to the Father who sends the Spirit. This Spirit will be a help to us, and a strengthening force. He will stir us up, and guide us in our actions. He will be “another Helper”.
And do note that word “another”, because what is in mind here is the Spirit playing the role which Jesus himself played with the disciples. Just as Jesus encouraged and strengthened the disciples, so the Spirit will do for us. Christ will take up residence in us.
So here we find the twin pillars of Christianity: a life of obedience; and a life of being strengthened to obey. Both are needed. Jesus calls us to obey, and then gives us the strength to do so. He does not leave us alone, but as we see from this passage he dwells within us. With this presence, strengthening and encouragement we are enabled to reach heights which would otherwise be far and remote.
As a twenty year old, Charles Spurgeon preached on this passage. I’ll leave you with his thoughts.
Where is the Holy Spirit all the while? Is he lying idle? Oh, no; he is floating over the earth, and when he sees a weary soul, he says, “Come to Jesus, he will give you rest.” When he beholds an eye filled with tears, he wipes away the tears, and bids the mourner look for comfort on the cross. When he sees the tempest-tossed believer, he takes the helm of his soul and speaks the word of consolation; he helps the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds; and ever on his mission of mercy, he flies around the world, being everywhere present