“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth…As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him,” 1 John 2:20-21, 27.
Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will teach us all things [John 14:16, 25]. The context of Jesus’ words is our abiding in Him, just as the context of the above words of John in his first letter is our abiding in Him. The leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit is not something that occurs apart from our abiding in Christ, it is a fruit and result of our relationship with the Trinity and with one another.
Jesus’ words in the Upper Room in John 14 were spoken to a group of people who were representing a group of people, the universal Church; John’s words in 1 John were written to a group of people, a local or regional church. Yes, there is an individual aspect to the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit along with the Father and Son live within us as individuals, but if we abide in the Trinity and the Trinity abides in us then we live in koinonia with each other and it is in that eternal and transcendent community, especially in its temporal local expression, that we experience the fullness of the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. It is a mistake to primarily apply either the words of Jesus or the words of John to the individual – they are spoken and written to a people and I am to hear and read them as an individual who is joined to a people.
John writes that “you have no need for anyone to teach you” and yet John is teaching them. While the readers of John’s letter may have no need for teaching yet they have a great need for teaching. Here is a Divine tension, Christ the Head supplies His local body of believers, and yet that local body of believers is often supplied from other believers who are not local. Christ the Head supplies the individual member of the local body of believers, and yet a great measure of that supply comes through other members of the local body, see Ephesians 4:1-16; in fact from Ephesians 4:1ff one can argue that what an individual member receives from Christ is given primarily to be given away to other members of the body.
The individual who reads John’s words or Jesus’ words and thinks, “I don’t need others to teach me,” greatly errs for not only does that person ignore the immediate context of Biblical community, but he ignores the greater Biblical context of community, of living in relationship with the People of God. The individual local church that reads these words and thinks, “We don’t need other local churches,” errs in the same fashion, and perhaps to a greater degree since it propagates unbiblical thinking and living in its members. Furthermore, the association or denomination that thinks that it doesn’t need churches and believers outside of its denomination or association errs in the same manner. Consider that our trajectory in Christ is the New Jerusalem, we are a people and we are becoming a people.
John writes not because his recipients don’t know the truth, but rather because they do know it and they know that no lie is of the truth; and yet it is because they are in danger of believing a lie that John must write. Ah the tensions of this life, we have all treasure in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:1ff) and yet we think we need to supplement our treasure. We need to be reminded of what we know, as John writes, “These things I have written…so that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1 John 5:13.
Biblical teaching is often telling people what they already know and reminding people of what they already have, rather than telling God’s people about what they don’t have and what they don’t know. Paul’s introduction in 1 Corinthians (1:1-9) is an example of this; Paul begins by affirming who the Corinthians are in Christ and what they have in Christ, thus setting the stage for the corrective nature of his letter. Once we establish who we are and what we know we have a benchmark for determining where we are and where we need to go. John reminds us of the nexus for all of this, for all of life, with his words “abide in Him”.