If you have a teacher, you are a student and you have things to learn. There are, naturally, students who believe they know it all or, even if they do not, are not compelled to learn anything else. They are comfortable with what they know. Some students, too, are simply bored and uninterested. Whether they know a little or a lot, they are not inspired to put in the work to learn something new. These issues are cast into an interesting light when we recognize that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is that of teacher.
In the farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches his apostles to keep his “word,” reminding them that “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” But as we are often reminded in John’s Gospel, not everything was clear to the disciples while Jesus was with them. In Jn 2:18-22, Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple, claiming that if it is razed to the ground, he will raise it up in three days. The redactor tells us that Jesus was speaking of his body, but it was only “after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.” As with any students, Jesus’ disciples could forget things, not remember them to begin with or misunderstand the implications of his teaching until much later.
As a result, Jesus tells his apostles in John that “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach (didaxei) you everything, and remind (hypomnēsei) you of all that I have said to you.” One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is the continuing education of the disciples of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is not simply a substitute teacher. While still helping the disciples remember “all” that Jesus said to them, the Advocate teaches “everything.” The teaching role of the Holy Spirit includes Jesus’ previous words, but it also encompasses new lessons.
Beyond these generalities, though, what exactly do we need to learn and what exactly does the Holy Spirit teach? The scene at Pentecost gives us a clue as to the newness and boldness of the teaching of the Spirit, which cannot simply be relegated to remembering a list of things, like the rote memorization of letters. While the Holy Spirit brought to Pentecost the ability “to speak in other languages,” it would soon become clear it was not a language institute the church was building but a body of believers meant to include every nation on earth. The church’s universality was symbolized by the action of the Holy Spirit among Jewish followers of Jesus speaking numerous foreign languages and, later, by the outpouring of the Spirit among the Gentiles (Acts 10).
As we learn in Acts 11 and 15, the new lessons of the Holy Spirit, taught through the presence of the same Spirit moving through Gentile believers, shocked many of the Jewish believers. Some were unwilling to accept that God was working among people considered beyond the covenant relationship apart from circumcision and the Torah. The work of the Holy Spirit, therefore, had to be discussed, debated and argued before the church ultimately made a formal decision to verify the work of the Spirit among the Gentiles.
Learning is an ongoing process between teacher and students. The Spirit, sent to guide us, did not stop teaching at Pentecost, but we must also be receptive to learn. Paul tells the Romans that “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” a reality that still imbues each of us and orients us to the ways of God and away from the “flesh,” those things that are opposed to God. But this means that each of us, with the whole church, needs to be attentive to what the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is still teaching us today. Our education did not stop with Jesus’ ascension but continued with the giving of the Holy Spirit, our teacher.