This passage has two important themes; the opposition of the world against the Church, and the ministry of the Spirit to and through the Church. Jesus openly taught His disciples that persecution would come and from the beginning of Christianity, believers have been hated and persecuted. In Rome, Christians preached one God and one way of salvation and official persecution of Christians began in AD 64 under the emperor Nero. A fire broke out in July of that year and Nero (who may have started it) blamed it on the Christians who were then arrested, cruelly tortured, thrown to wild animals, crucified and burned as torches in Nero’s garden. Jesus informs us that the only way to live in a hostile world is to submit to and seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s examine the Spirit’s ministry in the world today.
First, the Spirit encourages a Church hated by the world (15:18-16:4). We sometimes use the phrase “world system” to describe the people, plans, organizations, activities, philosophies and values of the world, of the “society without God” that promotes what sinful man wants and enjoys. The world, even the religious world, hates Christians because we identify with Christ (15:18, 20) and the world hated Him. He is the Master and we are His servants. When we were saved, we were moved out of “the world” and “into Christ,” not physically, but spiritually. We are no longer captured by the treasures and pleasures of this world. That does not mean we are isolated from reality or insulated from the world’s needs, but we look at things on earth from God’s point of view. The world is spiritually ignorant and blind (15:21). Because the world will not be honest about its own sin (15:22-25), the Law exposes man’s sin. Jesus’ words exposed sin even more, underscoring the hardness of man’s heart toward the truth. To reject Jesus is to reject God.
A Spirit-empowered witness will bring conflict. (15:26 – 16:4) Although not explicitly stated, Christians are to bear witness to the lost world with the help of the Holy Spirit. In an age of postmodern relativism and moral ambiguity, nothing is more needed than a clear presentation of the Gospel. We must confront the world system, not conform to it (Romans 12:2). The Holy Spirit’s primary ministry to the lost world is to testify about Jesus. Likewise, the message of the Church is not political activism, social reform, or psychological self-fulfillment, but Jesus Christ.
Then, the Spirit testifies through the Church to a lost world (16:5-11). Jesus explained to the disciples that His departure was to their advantage because the Holy Spirit would take up residence in every believer worldwide. The Comforter or Helper will enable us to testify to a lost world in a way beyond our human ability. The Spirit comes to the Church, not the world. That means He works through people. Just as the Son of God had to have a body in order to do His work on earth, so the Spirit of God needs a body to accomplish his ministries-that body is yours and mine! The Spirit does not float around like fog drifting in from the coast, He works through people in whom He lives. He worked through Peter at Pentecost, Stephen as he testified, Paul as he witnessed to the Philippian jailer and others. The Spirit wants to use you!
Notice the convicting or reproving work of the Spirit in the world (8-11). He convicts of sin. The law of God spells out what is sinful but the Spirit convicts man of his sin of unbelief that condemns him to hell. He convicts of righteousness, not the world’s unrighteousness, but the righteousness of Christ that the world chooses to ignore while pursuing their own self-righteousness. He convicts of judgment. This phrase may imply that every lost man will face judgment at the end of this life, but verse 11 specifically points to the judgment of Satan. Satan is a defeated foe; he has been tried and convicted and will carry out of his sentence when Jesus returns. There can be no conversion without conviction, and no conviction without the Spirit of God using the Word of God in the witness of a faithful child of God.
Finally, we see that the Spirit guides the Church with the Word of God (16:12-15). The Holy Spirit teaches us the truths we need to know, when we need to know them and when we are able to receive them. The work of the Spirit is never divorced from Jesus Christ or the Word of God- “He will testify of me” (15:26); “He will glorify me” (16:14). The Spirit does not speak apart from the Father or the Son (16:13) or manufacture His own message. If someone says the Spirit led them to do something contrary to the Bible, they are deceived. The Spirit enlightens us with God’s truth. When we come to the Bible, we should always ask the Spirit to illumine our minds and reveal Jesus to us. We don’t study the Bible to argue religion with people or to show off our grasp of spiritual things. We study the Word to see Jesus Christ, to know God better and to glorify Him in our lives.
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to teach us the Word of God by illuminating our minds, and then empower us to share the everlasting Gospel of Christ with a hostile world.