Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Communion of the Holy Spirit

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14

I think that it’s likely that many of you, when you were growing up, heard that verse more than just once or twice. You heard it as a benediction at the end of a worship service. And one thing that stands out about the verse is how boldly it proclaims the Trinity. Each person of the Godhead is mentioned and from each person a particular blessing is to be granted. This morning we’re going to take a look at one of those blessings. We’re going to consider the Spirit and His blessing of communion.

I’m going to start where I often like to start: definitions. So, who is the Spirit? Well, for one thing, He is God, one of the three persons of the Trinity. That’s not new for you. But here’s the reason that I start with this. This means that He is a He and not an it. The Spirit is a person. So, He has as much personality as the Father or the Son. Now, I realize the difficulty we have here. It’s easy to imagine the face of a father or of a son. But what does a face of a spirit look like? It’s harder to think of Him as a person. And yet, understanding this is important, as I’ll show you in a bit.

Next definition: ‘communion’. That’s how the old King James version translated the Greek word. And it’s a good translation. It’s helpful to consider this word, ‘communion’, in terms of its Latin origin. First, there’s the idea of union. You can see that in the English word. This is simply about joining together two or more things, making them one thing. The com- at the beginning of ‘communion’ emphasizes this. It’s the word for ‘with’. So, communion is ‘union with’. And this conveys well the point of the Greek word that Paul used.

Now, believe it or not, we need to take a minute to take a look at the small word ‘of’, ‘the communion of the Holy Spirit’. We need to consider direction. So, for example, when you read ‘the love of God’, you can take that in either of two directions, our love toward God or His love toward us. The ‘of’ can point in either direction. So, in our phrase, which way is the ‘of’ pointing? Is it communion that somehow starts with us toward the Spirit? Or is it the other way around? The context will tell us.

Consider the first phrase of this benediction, ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’. Clearly, that ‘of’ is about the grace that comes to us from Jesus. So, likewise, in our phrase, it’s the communion that comes to us from the Spirit. And that fits. This is a benediction. Paul is blessing the people with something the Spirit gives.

So, what we’ve seen is that this phrase is about some ‘union with’ that the Spirit grants to us.

And that leads to this question, union with whom? You could understand Paul’s benediction as referring to the union that the Spirit creates among Christians with each other. This, to use the words of the Apostles’ Creed, is ‘the communion of the saints’. You can understand it in this way. But the other option is also right. This is also about the union that the Spirit creates among Christians with Himself. The two options are related. The communion the saints have with each other isn’t possible without the communion the saints have with the Spirit. The priority goes to the union the Spirit creates with Himself. And that is the point of Paul’s blessing, that the saints in Corinth would enjoy more of that.

Now, let me be clear about something here. Paul’s benediction is not that the saints would be blessed with a growing understanding of the Spirit’s communion with us. We do need to grow in our understanding of what the Spirit does - which is one reason for this sermon - but that’s not the goal of Paul’s benediction. Paul wanted those Corinthian Christians to grow not just in their understanding of the Spirit’s communion with them but more so in their experience of that communion. I am explaining things in this sermon so that you will understand the Spirit better. But greater understanding isn’t my goal. It’s a means to my goal, that you would grow in your experience of this communion of, communion with, the Spirit.

And that gets us back to remembering that the Spirit is a person. This communion with Spirit is about the intimacy of persons. What Paul wanted for those Corinthians - and what I want for you - is a growing experience of closeness with the Spirit; person-to-person closeness. Intimacy.

So, how does that happen? For one thing, in order to experience intimacy, those involved need to know each other. What makes passing acquaintances into lifelong friends? It’s all about the intimacy of persons. That deep bond of friendship is created because they have shared so much of themselves with each other. This intimacy of persons, this communion, is not possible without each knowing the other. The deeper the knowing the deeper the communion.

And that explains where we go next. I want to help you to see a bit more clearly who the Spirit is. And I mean that not in some generic sense but who the Spirit is to you.

Listen to what Jesus said.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another … John 14:16

There’s this interesting Greek word that comes next. It covers quite a bit of territory. That’s why the word has been translated in several ways. The more popular options include the general ‘helper’, as well as the more specific ‘comforter’ and ‘counselor’, and they all convey aspects of the Greek word rather well.

So, who is the Spirit to you? He is the one who helps you. And He helps you by being your comforter and your counselor.

Let’s take a closer look at those two words. What does it mean to comfort someone? Sadly, this English word has been watered down over the years. Too often to comfort can be summarized by, ‘There, there, it’s not so bad’. But that’s not what the word is supposed to mean. Again, let’s consider the Latin that this English word comes from. It’s about strength. To comfort is to give strength. My point here isn’t that gentle words to someone who is hurting are wrong. There certainly is a place for that. My point is about the goal of the words that you say to that hurting person. So, it is comforting to say, ‘Oh, you fell off the horse. I’m so sorry that happened to you. It must hurt. Let me help you feel better so that you can get back on the horse and continue what you were doing.’ That’s what comforting does. And the Spirit comforts us, strengthens us, so that we can get back up and return to the battle.

The Spirit also helps us by being our counselor. Creation is like a large blackboard that fills a wall in some classroom. And our understanding of how creation works is like a little dot of white chalk in the lower right corner. There is just so much that we don’t even know about. But even when it comes to the little that we know something about, there is still so much that we don’t really understand. I’m not talking about the large questions of life. I’m talking about dealing with tomorrow. It’s still a very large blackboard and a little white dot. But the Spirit can counsel us, advise us, as we so often find ourselves overwhelmed.

I’ve laid out some information about the Spirit. But ‘knowing about’ isn’t the same as ‘knowing’. It really is about the intimacy of persons. Communion with the Spirit is about living life with Him so that you can grow from wherever you are to becoming lifelong friends. As you share your life with Him He will share His life with you.

So, when life throws you for a loop, turn to Him. Pray, ‘Comfort me, Spirit. Life hurts now. Comfort me so that I can get up and return to the fray.’ And the next time life gets confusing and you really don’t know what to do, pray. ‘What is Your counsel, Spirit? What should I do in this situation? Help me to know so that I will be able to make good choices and live well.’

When you do that, do you know what you’re doing? You’re believing the Gospel. You’re believing the part of the Gospel where Jesus promised that He would ask the Father to send you another helper. You’re believing the part of the Gospel that promises a comforter, a counselor. You’re believing in the Spirit. That’s what faith does. It believes what Jesus says and lives it. And where there is faith there follows blessing, things like enjoying the experience of communion with the Spirit.

Now, there are two more things that I need to say. The first is this. Your response to what I’ve said is not to try to convince yourself that it’s true. Don’t tell yourself something like, ‘Well, Jesus taught that the Spirit is a comforter and counselor. If I work at it, I can persuade myself that this is true. I can make myself think this way about life. That way I can live better.’ What’s that? It’s not faith. It’s just playing mind games. It’s the Gospel as psychology. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, simply believe the Gospel. Simply pray based on what Jesus has told you in the Gospel. ‘Spirit, help me. Be my comfort now. Be my counselor now. I need You.’

Experiencing the communion of the Spirit is something supernatural. You can’t create it by thinking it into reality. It’s something that the Spirit grants. So, believe the Gospel, pray accordingly and then, watch as supernatural things happen.

And that leads to the second thing that I want to mention. I suppose the Spirit could comfort you simply by His actions. It would be a bit odd, but I suppose it could work that way. But He can’t counsel you unless He speaks. So, does the Spirit speak to us? Does He use words? Of course He does! If the devil can plant words in your head to tempt you, then the Spirit can plant words in your head to comfort and counsel you. And while the words planted by the devil and the Spirit will be very different from each other, what you will hear in each case will be your own voice. Obviously much more needs to be said, but I want to say this much to reinforce this thought. The communion with the Spirit is something supernatural.

So, expect Him to do something when you ask Him to help you with His comfort and counsel. And you just might want to include in those prayers something about how you’re not so good yet when it comes to hearing His words. It’s a skill that can be learned. But trust Him to teach you how to learn that skill.

I once heard someone describe the Reformed doctrine of the Trinity as our believing in the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible. The Spirit’s been missing in action for too long. Today’s sermon is my attempt to help you to get to know Him a little better so that you will see Him do some stirring things in your lives. It’s when that happens that we will live well and make Him look good.

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