Connections 05.20.2018: Picking the Flowers

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Like many book lovers, I often find that certain sentences or paragraphs strike me as I read. I actually have a compilation of quotes from various authors saved on my computer—ranging in subject from spirituality to growing old. If I were to read them all together, I imagine that I would get quite a powerful picture of my life to date. There is actually a word for what I’m doing: florilegium. This Latin word was given to the medieval practice of collecting quotes from various writings and compiling them into one document. The image is of someone collecting a variety of flowers and putting them together into a unique and lovely bouquet.

You may have noticed that when I read our lesson texts, I tend to look for the flowers. Some are striking, some are moving, and some are simply strange. But when I put them together, I continue to see a picture of God that expands what I thought I knew. Here are the “flowers” I picked from this week’s text:

John 15:27—“You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”
John 16:7—“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
John 16:12—“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

When I read those three statements from Jesus one after the other, here’s what I see in the bouquet: Jesus acknowledges his disciples’ faithfulness to him throughout his ministry. Now he has to go away, but he won’t leave them helpless and alone—he will send the Holy Spirit to them. Finally, Jesus recognizes how hard it is for his dearest friends to hear him say such things. Because of that, he will only tell them what they need to know for now.

How does this apply to me, a woman who struggles to follow Jesus today, more than 2,000 years after he said these words? (1) Because I have personal experience with Jesus, I can testify about him in a way that no one can refute. (2) Because Jesus is not here with me in the flesh, I have received his gift of the Holy Spirit, who guides, comforts, and sustains me. (3) Because life is hard and times are uncertain, Jesus has given me only the answers I need right now.

The danger in the process of florilegium is taking Bible verses out of context and using them for my own agenda. I can avoid that by being sure to read the entire passage and not simply skim through it for the parts I like. When I do this, I find that the “flowers” help me better incorporate Jesus’ teachings into my life. Maybe they will do the same for you.

Discussion

1. Why do you think spiritual practices like florilegium can be helpful as we study the Bible?
2. What “flowers” do you find in today’s lesson text, and how do they speak to you?
3. What is your personal experience with Jesus, and how could you testify to that?
4. Why do you think Jesus would withhold information from his disciples (16:12)? From us? What would you like to know about Jesus?
5. What has the Holy Spirit meant in your life?

Reference Shelf

John 15:26-27 shifts attention from persecution to the role of the Holy Spirit: “But when the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (a) The Paraclete here is closely tied to Jesus. Jesus sends the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:33; Eph 4:8, 11); the Spirit bears witness to Jesus. Pneumatology is subordinated to Christology. (b) The Paraclete’s witness is directed toward the world. This means that the synonym, Spirit of truth, used here for the Paraclete functions differently from its usage elsewhere in the milieu. In T. Judah 20:1, 3, 5 (“So understand, my children, that two spirits await an opportunity with humanity: the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. . . . The things of truth and the things of error are written in the affections of man. . . . And the spirit of truth testifies to all things and brings all accusations”); 1 QS 3 (“He has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of his visitation: the spirits of truth and falsehood”); and Hermas, Command 3:4 (“you ought as God’s slave to have lived in truth and a bad conscience ought not to have dwelt with the spirit of truth, nor to have brought grief to the revered, true spirit”), the spirit of truth bears witness within the righteous individual regarding right and wrong. In John 15:26, the Spirit of truth bears witness about Jesus to the world. Verbal similarity does not yield functional identity. (c) The disciples are also designated as witnesses “because you have been with me from the beginning” (cf. Acts 1:21-22). Are they witnesses alongside the Spirit of prophecy, or are they the human vehicles of the Spirit of prophecy? Either way, that the disciples have been with Jesus from the beginning means that the tradition about the earthly Jesus controls the content of the prophetic witness. There can be no witness that denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-2).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 224-25.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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