Uniform 03.08.2015: Being an Advocate


John 14:15–26

When we use the word “advocate” today, we often mean a person who promotes a cause in public. We talk about people being advocates for healthcare reform, advocates for diversity, advocates for the rights of immigrants, advocates for equal pay, and the list goes on. In our vocabularies, the use of “advocate” invokes a person who speaks up for those whose voices aren’t readily heard. This kind of advocacy happens on a big, political scale, but it also happens on a small, personal scale, like when a colleague praises your performance in front of the boss or a friend helps others in your community understand the challenges you face at home.

When Jesus promised to send his disciples an Advocate—the Holy Spirit—he didn’t use the word in quite the same way. The Advocate Jesus described would not speak out on the disciples’ behalf. Instead, the Spirit would stand beside them as they continued Jesus’ work. Jesus wanted his friends to know that they would not be alone after his death. They would no longer have Jesus, but they would have a new source of “support, council, comfort, and exhortation” (Borchert, 1070). As Spirit, the Advocate’s work would not be visible to the public (Jn 14:17). Instead, the Holy Spirit would work in the disciples’ hearts—to help them grieve the loss of their teacher, to give them the courage to continue Jesus’ work, and to remember the lessons Jesus taught them.

In the early days of the Christian movement, the disciples needed the Holy Spirit to be present in this way. They needed a new teacher to speak to their hearts and guide them through the establishment of a new church. Today, however, Christianity is a firmly established religion, and our task as Christians is no longer focused on proving its credibility. We can use the presence of the Spirit in our lives to put the teachings of Christ into action in big ways. We can even shift the meaning of the word “advocate” when we talk about the Holy Spirit. By continually reminding us of Jesus’ words, the Advocate challenges us to be advocates for the people Jesus was particularly concerned with: the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. Even as we appreciate and rely on the Spirit to be our comfort and strength, may the Spirit’s advocacy for us inspire us to speak out boldly for others.


1. What public figures today serve as advocates for others? How would you describe their work?
2. Who is an advocate for you in your daily life? How does this person encourage you? Inspire you? Teach you?
3. How can we be advocates for others? What individuals or groups would most benefit from our encouragement and help?
4. What do our relationships of encouragement with others teach us about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
5. As modern Christians, how might the knowledge that part of the Advocate’s task is to remind us of Jesus’ teachings challenge us to speak up on behalf of others?

Reference Shelf

While talk of Jesus’ departure left them feeling empty and lonely, Jesus was not abandoning them (v. 18). He had been their companion; now they would have another Advocate (v. 16; one who would stand alongside of them). This term Advocate (or Paraclete) includes various meanings such as support, counsel, comfort, and exhortation. The disciples would not be orphaned because the authentic Spirit (of Truth) would be an internal resource for them (v. 17).

The distinction between with and in (v. 17) must not be made the basis of two levels of Christian life, as argued in some charismatic discussions concerning the Spirit. Rather, it is to be related to John’s historical view of the coming of the Spirit and John’s understanding of transformation (e.g., the nature of external and internal knowing and believing God). On that day (v. 20) they would understand (know) internally the relationship between Jesus and the Father and the true meaning of obedience (keeping Jesus’ commands) which is rooted in love (vv. 20-21; cf. the love command in 13:34).

Living in the love of God and obediently loving others (cf. the two great commands of Mark 12:28-31 and par.) is the basis for sensing the divine presence in one’s life. Such presence dispels loneliness (vv. 18, 21-24). The purpose of the first Advocate/Paraclete saying is thus to clarify the nature of God’s presence in the disciples’ life.

The second Advocate/Paraclete saying is built upon the first. In theophanies (appearances of God), angelophanies, and christophanies of the Bible, the presence of God usually brings a sense of fear and the need for a calming word of assurance (cf., e.g., Judg 6:22-24; Matt 14:26-27; see Thornton and Borchert, 1989).

The word of assurance normally is “Don’t be afraid,” or “Peace/Shalom.” Here Jesus offers his shalom–a peace unlike that which the world can offer. It is a message not to be afraid or troubled by this new sense of presence and the departure of Jesus (vv. 27-28).

The role of the Advocate/Paraclete in the lives of Jesus’ followers would be that of instructor to help them live in a hostile world (vv. 26, 30). The idea of instruction is deeply rooted in the OT faith. The Torah or Law was the center of instruction (Deut 6:4-9). Paul then argued that the Law’s instructional value was to lead to Christ (Gal 3:24). Here the Spirit’s, i.e., the Advocate/Paraclete, instructional role is to remind the disciple of Jesus (v. 26).


Gerald L. Borchert, “John,” in Mercer Commentary on the New Testament (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 2003) 1070-71.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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