The stay-with-us Spirit

March 1 — John 1:29-34; March 8 — John 14:15-26

Feb 16, 2015 by

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Our theme for March is the Holy Spirit as the pledge of God’s presence. For many of us, the terms “spirit” or “holy spirit” may seem vague, cloudy and somewhat mysterious. How can we hold on to something that is bodiless? We may have known people claiming to be filled with the Holy Spirit — only to see them stumble or proclaim strange or unrealistic ideas. During church fights, often all factions claim to have the Spirit.



Though we cannot see spirit, our scriptures are saturated with God’s Spirit, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. This month we will look at four texts in John’s Gospel where the Spirit is active. Our emphasis for March 1 is “the abiding Spirit.”

We don’t use the word “abide” in ordinary conversation anymore. We could call it the “staying-with-us Spirit” or the “hanging-around Spirit.” The reason John 1:29-34 was chosen for this emphasis is because John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit — in the form of a dove — not only descending on Jesus but also remaining on him. In other words, the Spirit entered Jesus and stuck around.

(An aside: what shall we call Spirit — she, he or it? In Hebrew, “spirit” is always “she”; in Greek “spirit” is “it.” I’ll try to alternate pronouns.)

If I were in a class studying John 1:29-34, I would ask questions such as: When John baptized other people with water, did the Spirit never come on them? Did John himself have the Spirit? It seems that he did, because twice he says God told him that the person “on whom you see the Spirit come and remain is the one who will baptize others with the Holy Spirit.” So John must have known God’s Spirit, though perhaps it was more intermittent. Concepts around God’s Spirit can be slippery!

Of course, our author wants to highlight the divine aspect of Jesus over that of John or anyone else. John’s assertion in verse 30 — “he ranks ahead of me because he was before me” — connects with the prologue in John 1:1-3, where “the Word” was from the beginning. But if you compare this account with parallels in Mark 1:9-11, Matt. 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22, there you will find a more human Jesus, especially in Mark, where Jesus receives a water baptism of repentance. Yet in all cases the Spirit visibly falls upon him.

March 8 brings us to “the comforting Spirit” in John 14:15-26. Though we sadly pass over the birthing Spirit of John 3, the maternal qualities of God’s Spirit are evident here, as Jesus promises, “I will not leave you orphaned.” The Greek word for the promised one is parakletos, one who comes alongside and encourages and comforts. Both the King James Version and the NIV call her the Comforter. The NRSV uses “Advocate,” and the Common English Bible uses “Companion.”

Perhaps now we can see the importance of the word “remain” or “abide” in the previous lesson. In times past, God’s Spirit came upon prophets to empower them to proclaim hard truths to unwilling people. But the Spirit did not always remain; it came and went at will. Now, since the Spirit remained with Jesus, he is able to pass that abiding and comforting gift to his followers. The parakletos is given to stay forever with those who keep Jesus’ commandments.

But there’s the rub. How can we keep Jesus’ commandments? I am reading John and Empire by Warren Carter. He builds on the tradition that this Gospel was written in Ephesus to the local church. Carter suggests that the Jesus-community was being drawn into the rigidly hierarchical civic and religious culture of this great Greco-Roman city. How seductive Ephesus was — with its bank located in the massive temple to the goddess Artemis, its cosmopolitan library next door to the brothel, and its streets lined with statues of deities and emperors! The author is calling believers back to Jesus’ command that they love each other as he has loved and served them, and to distance themselves from “the world” of pagan influences.

Today, our secular culture does the same to us. Its values remain deep in our lifestyles. Our Encourager is always available, but only to those who love Jesus and keep his word (John 14:23-24). Memorize this text. Discuss how you might discipline yourselves and each other to abide and remain with this life-giving Companion and Comforter.

Reta Halteman Finger is writing a Bible study blog on the Gos­pel of John at

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