These days we seem to have become a nation of Do-It-Yourself-ers. Or that’s what the TV tries to tell us. If something breaks, we try to fix it:
If there’s a problem with the car, we become mechanics. If we have a minor electrical fault or the sink is blocked, we become electricians or plumbers. If our clothes need darning or repair, we become dressmakers. If there’s a legal problem, well, more and more these days people are doing their own conveyancing, writing their own wills without the assistance of a solicitor, and representing themselves in court. And with health …? Well think of the number of alternatives there are these days without having to consult a doctor.
Of course, some people like to steer clear of all that sort of thing and are happy to call in the experts. But many, particularly when faced with a call out charge of $50 or more, before anything is actually done, prefer to have a go themselves. And for those inexperienced and facing a completely new task for the first time, there is always a manual to follow or a range of advice that is available.
Of course, in many instances Do-It-Yourself is fine, and a lot of satisfaction can be obtained in completing something you have done yourself. (And if all else fails you can always call in a professional.) But what if the issue involved is not of a material nature, but spiritual? How much, then, should we be dependent upon our own abilities? How much should we depend on the advice of others? And how much should we rely on simply reading the manual?
B. BACKGROUND TO THE GOSPEL
Now this would have been an issue that the disciples had to face. Because, if Jesus was going to go away, and where he was going they couldn’t follow, what would they do?
This was a group who had given up everything—their homes, their livelihood, their families, and even their lifestyles—several years before. They’d dedicated themselves to follow Jesus. They’d witnessed many miracles. They’d seen his compassion, and the way he cared for others. He’d taught them about God. And he’d sent them out to minister to others. With all that they’d gone through, then, to be told that he was about to leave would have been devastating.
As a consequence, their first reaction would have been unbelief. But that was probably followed by the questions: “What was to happen next? What would they do?” “Did this mean their source of spiritual advice was gone, and that they were now on their own?” “Did they need to become Do-It-Yourself Christians?”
They weren’t confident. They really didn’t understand what was going on. So, who could they turn to for help in spiritual matters? After all, the religious leaders of the day were worse than useless. So, who could they call on for professional help?
C. “ANOTHER COUNSELLOR”
It’s not difficult to imagine the disciples floundering. And perhaps that’s why Jesus’s response to the situation was to immediately assure them that just because he was going, didn’t mean he was going to leave them alone. Indeed, he began to describe “another counsellor” who was to be sent to them, to help them in spiritual matters. Someone who would be very much like himself.
But there would be differences, and some conditions.
1. The “Counsellor” Announced
Firstly, the counsellor would only be sent to them on condition that Jesus went away (16:7). The departure of Jesus may have seemed to the disciples a disastrous bit of news, however Jesus told them it was to be for their benefit.
The coming death of Jesus was critical. It was part of God’s plan to bring about salvation for mankind. Only if Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of the world, could men receive the Spirit in all its fullness. The work of the Spirit in the believer was a consequence of the saving work of Jesus, and not something separate from it. Jesus had to die, in order for the Spirit to be given.
Secondly, the counsellor would be sent in the name of Jesus (14:26). The Spirit was regarded as being connected in the most intimate way with both the Father and the Son. He was to be sent by the Father, but in the name of the Son. And his mission derived from both. Indeed, the Spirit’s role would be to continue the work of Christ, here on earth.
And thirdly, the counsellor would not only be with them continually, but, in some way, dwell within them (14:16f). Unlike Jesus’s bodily presence, which had to be withdrawn from them, this new state of affairs would be permanent. The Spirit, once given, would not be withdrawn.
For a group of people who had become so dependent upon Jesus, the promise of more expert help—a replacement—must have been reassuring. But then, they were not used to being Do-It-Yourself Christians. It was totally foreign to them.
2. The Role of the “Counsellor”
So they would also have taken heart in the role that Jesus told them that the counsellor was supposed to play:
Firstly, the counsellor was to bear witness to Jesus (15:26). Just as Jesus proclaimed the necessity of the Messiah to die in order that sins could be forgiven, so the Spirit’s role was to testify to the truth of what Jesus proclaimed. In essence this was the continuation of Jesus’s work in the world.
Secondly, the counsellor was to work in unbelievers. Namely, to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement (16:8). To convince people that they do not meet God’s high standards and that they fail to keep God’s commandments. In this role he was to act like a prosecutor at a trial, trying to convince people that they are out of touch with God and their created purpose, and that they need to acknowledge the truth about sin, righteousness and judgement.
Thirdly, the counsellor’s role was to be more than just a prosecutor. He would also have the role of being an advocate. Someone who would act as counsel and defend believers in the heavenly court. But he was not to be just a legal representative. He was to be a friend at court, performing functions that would not be required in any earthly court. He was to be a legal helper, and a friend who would do whatever was necessary to forward their best interests.
And, fourthly, the counsellor’s role would be to be a teacher, and to remind them of all that Jesus had said (14:26). Jesus acknowledged that the disciples had not grasped the significance of a good deal of what he had taught them, and it was likely that they would let slip some of the things they didn’t understand. The counsellor’s role, therefore, was to fill in the gaps. It was not to teach them something different to what Jesus had taught. On the contrary his role was to recall Jesus’s teaching.
So, just as the disciples’ world was falling apart, after Jesus had told them he was leaving them and when it began to look as though they were spiritually on their own, Jesus talked in some depth about “another Counsellor”. Someone who would be sent to replace him. But effectively someone in whom they could depend upon for their spiritual needs.
Now that’s quite a promise that Jesus made to his disciples. And even though in the next twenty-four hours the disciples betrayed him, denied him and ran away, after the resurrection, at Pentecost, the disciples were witnesses to the fact that Jesus did keep his promise, and, indeed, they received this “another counsellor” for themselves. And as history goes, what a difference it made to the disciples and to the early church.
The disciples weren’t left to their own devises. They didn’t have to depend on themselves for spiritual guidance and growth. They didn’t have to rely on other spiritual people, or even rely on a manual. They were given the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them, and to depend upon.
But that was the disciples, and that was the early church. But what about us today? In our Do-It-Yourself world, where there is a tendency to go off and do our own thing, this should be an important issue for us to consider too.
1. Dependence on the Holy Spirit
Because, first of all, it’s not just the disciples who were in need of spiritual support, we need it too. We need someone to stand up as a witness of the things that Jesus said and did. And that’s probably more important now than it was to the disciples back then. After all, we weren’t there. They were.
We still need someone to convict us of sin, righteousness and judgement. The disciples were unable to save themselves, and neither are we. We still need someone who will be our advocate, speaking on our behalf to God. We need a friend to argue our case. And we need someone we can rely on to teach us what Jesus said, and to help us understand the implications for ourselves.
So, yes, we still need that spiritual support.
2. Not an Optional Extra
Secondly, with the natural reaction to go our own way and to live independent lives, we need to accept that we cannot come close to God using our own strength and abilities. If the bible teaches us anything, it teaches that we cannot do this in our strength.
Yes, we can use our initiative, we can call on the advice of others and we can read the manual, but calling on the Holy Spirit to help us is not an optional extra. It is something we need to do and do continually.
And, if there are obstacles that block our way, we need to ask for help to put those obstacles aside.
3. The Cost of Discipleship
And, thirdly, the cost.
Well in one sense, any Do-It-Yourself-er should be happy. The counsellor is free. The Holy Spirit costs nothing. It’s what God gives us when we become a Christian.
But, having said that, we also need to recognise that the counsellor can be very costly. Particularly, as he begins to convince us of our weaknesses and failings, and as we are called on to change our habits, our way of life, our priorities, and our whole way of looking at things. The very nature of the Spirit’s role in our lives means that we will change, as bit-by-bit we become more Christ-like.
So, yes, we might be a nation of Do-It-Yourself-ers, fixing cars, being electricians and plumbers, being dressmakers, doing all our own legal work, and even playing with our health. But if there is one thing the bible teaches, is that we cannot Do-It-Yourself in terms of our spiritual lives. We cannot save ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we say that we can.
We need a counsellor. We need someone to tell us about Jesus. We need someone to convict us of our mistakes. We need someone who will plead our case. And we need someone to teach us all the things that are necessary for a healthy relationship with God. And God has provided that person, to be with us and to dwell in us.
So today, how much do we make use of our counsellor? How much do we listen to his advice? How seriously do we take his prodding? And how much do we resist? The Holy Spirit may make us uncomfortable from time to time, but he’s not an optional extra. And we’re only fooling ourselves if we say he is.
Posted 22nd February 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis