I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.
I was starting third grade, about a year before my parents entered the ministry, when a terrible thing happened. Our pastor and his family were assigned to another congregation. It’s hard to describe how much I loved my pastor. He led me to Christ and despite my age, any time I came to the altar—a little pipsqueak lost in a sea of adults—he treated me as one of them, kneeling quietly beside me to ask God’s guidance in my life. His wife was no less tender. I loved her equally as the first Sunday school teacher to impart God’s Word to me in terms I could grasp. Near their moving date, the pastor pulled me aside to assure me I’d love the new minister just as much, probably more. “He’s younger, smarter, funnier, and he’s got some great ideas. He’s going to need your help,” he said. But I didn’t want another pastor. I wanted the one I knew and loved.
This was my first experience with unwelcome transitions. I felt as though things were happening with no consideration of my feelings and needs. It’s likely the disciples underwent a similar wash of emotions as the reality of Jesus’s departure sank in. No one had affected them more profoundly than Jesus. They had never relied on anyone as much as He. His love and concern for them had no rivals. And it’s fair to imagine their response to His promise of the Holy Spirit—“another Counselor to be with you forever”—produced reactions like mine. They didn’t want another; they wanted Him.
The Power Behind the Throne
The King James Version and several others underscore the disciples’ dejection by translating Christ’s description of the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter” rather than “Counselor.” While their choice isn’t wrong per se, its emphasis on what Jesus’s listeners needed to hear, perhaps hoping to show His sensitivity to their feelings, also minimizes the scope of His promise. We presently think of a counselor as either an advisor or advocate. In ancient times, though, the term combined the two as dual functions of royal ministers who constituted the power behind the throne. Counselors consulted with rulers, advising them prior to decisions while pressing for policies to remedy situations across the realm. The best counselors spoke like kings yet thought like commoners, serving as vital conduits that kept the lines of communication flowing between the monarch and his people. Therefore, Jesus's use of "Counselor" goes beyond suggesting the Spirit will soothe our anxieties. It speaks to a specific function which brings comfort.
In defining the Holy Spirit as a Counselor, Jesus promises to ask God the Father for an open line whereby we can reach Him, an ever-present power behind the throne conveying our needs and influencing decisions on our behalf. So the we understand this Counselor can be trusted (not all earthly ones can), Jesus adds a descriptor: “the Spirit of truth.” Via the Spirit, communications to and from God remain pure—impervious to garbled translation, secure from spiritual interference, and invulnerable to human error. Most important, the gift of the Holy Spirit mitigates a possibility that poses our biggest threat—thinking for ourselves. With the Holy Spirit actively among us, we're free to set aside our own notions and rely on our Counselor to lead us as God directs.
Counselor and Comforter
Eventually we learn we can’t avoid unwelcome transitions that seem to occur without regarding our feelings and needs. And, to be honest, many times our perceptions are spot-on. Changes stemming from reasons beyond us often impact our lives in serious ways. Though forces behind them neglect to account for that, we take comfort in knowing we have a Counselor, a power behind the throne to guarantee our petitions will be presented to God and plead His remedy for our case. According to Romans 8.26, the Holy Spirit not only connects us to God and provides open access to Him, It compensates for our shortcomings and lack of insight: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” With the Holy Spirit dwelling among us, God gives us a Counselor Who sees all and tells all—not only what we can’t detect or articulate, but also the what we refuse to recognize and confess. Our Counselor is the Spirit of truth Whose integrity and accuracy can’t be challenged. Confidence in this ends in knowing the Holy Spirit as our Counselor and Comforter.
As our Counselor, the Holy Spirit serves as an invaluable conduit, a secure line between God and us. This gives us great comfort in knowing our prayers and situations are accurately relayed.
(Tomorrow: The Power of Words)