15 April 2010

John 3:31-35

"He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure." (v.34)


The word 'Trinity' is not found in the Bible, but in many places the writers explore the complex relationships between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Later in his Gospel account, John explores this idea at length as he records the words of Jesus in chapters 14 to 16. Here in chapter 3 we get a foretaste of those significant but challenging images which seek to describe conversations and actions taking place between the three persons of the Trinity.

Clearly we are at the very limit of human thought and language when we try to explore these ideas but, equally clearly, the understanding of God as Trinity was one which arose not from abstract debate but from the experience of the early Christians. The first believers were clear that they wanted to affirm that God the Father was divine, but their experience of Jesus was that he was divine too, and the experience of Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond pointed to the fact that the Holy Spirit was God as well.

These three different experiences of God paved the way for many long debates within the councils of the Church and led to the formation of the creeds as the Church struggled to define what constituted true Christian belief.

Our reading for today predates much of that debate, but in these words from John's Gospel we are given an insight into the god who sends Jesus to speak the words of God, and into the god who gives the Spirit without measure.

John is speaking of a close relationship here between the three persons of the Trinity. For instance, the one who accepts the testimony of Jesus is agreeing not only with the words of Jesus but is also certifying or "setting a seal" on the affirmation that "God is true". This close relationship between God and God's son is seen in the giving of the Spirit to Jesus "without measure".

This action within the Trinity is, on the day of Pentecost, to be the experience of God's people as the Spirit is given by God without measure to the followers of Jesus.

To Ponder

It could be said that in the early Church the doctrine of the Trinity was 'an experience looking for a theory rather than a theory looking for an experience'. Reflect on that statement in the light of your own experience of God.

How can you be more open to the God who "gives the Spirit without measure"?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.