The Francis Asbury Society

Are You Drinking Enough?

Posted on | November 20, 2013 | 1 Response

by Dennis Kinlaw, PhD

One of the beautiful things about the Scriptures is the use of metaphor to communicate its message to us. This usage provides a contrast to the biblical passages where the emphasis is upon law and commandments, though it is not in any sense contradictory to it. I sometimes wonder if we would not be much better off to pay special attention to the use of metaphors to help us understand both the commandments and the theology that permeates the text.

Take, for instance, using the metaphor of drinking as the key in the search for personal holiness. Almost inevitably, when we turn our attention to the commandments, our attention turns inward to ourselves: our responsibilities, our abilities, our performance. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4 had a very different focus. What got her attention was the idea of something she did not have that could satisfy a very deep thirst within her if only she could find what it was that could satisfy it. Five husbands and a current live-in were ample evidence of her search. She was at the well that day seeking satisfaction for another thirst. She had come for well water. Jesus spoke to her about a living water. This water, however, is one that does not come out of wells. It is a living water that comes only as a gift from him. Really, it is just himself. It was a beautiful way for him to let her know that the life she really needed and should seek comes only from him. She had been looking for the wrong bridegroom. He offered her what she really sought, but she had to ask for it.

Three chapters later we find Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. He had attracted enough attention that he was the major subject of discussion. The question in many minds was whether he was the Christ for whom Israel was waiting:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37–39 NKJV).

These two stories when read together let us know that when Jesus speaks of living water what he really is talking about is the divine life that comes to us from him through the Holy Spirit, the life that God from the moment of creation intended should fill the personhood of every human being. God’s intent when he created us was that we should be filled with the Father’s life, a life that would come to us from the Son through the Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures use another metaphor for this divine life. We see it mentioned in the account of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. It is the figure of breath or wind, another common way of speaking in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. It all begins in Genesis 2 where God breathes into the earthly figure of Adam his own breath, and Adam becomes a living soul. Adam’s life did not originate in himself. It came from God the Father who breathed his Spirit into his freshly created human creatures. In God’s plan for a human to be fully human, the human was to be permeated and inhabited by God himself in his triune fullness. In Acts 2, God is establishing the Church, the Body of Christ, in the world, so he breathes into the Church his own breath, the Holy Spirit, who becomes the source of the holy life of the Church. We should not be surprised to learn that the New Testament word for spirit (pneuma) is a noun built from the Greek verb that means “to breathe” or “to blow” (pneo). This is consistent with the vocabulary of the Old Testament where the noun for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” (ruach) all come from the Semitic verb “to breathe” or “to blow” (rwch). So in the Scriptures, God takes the created elements of water and breath as symbols to speak of the nature of the human experience of knowing God. What wonderful symbols these two metaphors become in Scripture to speak of the loving will of God for his children and the amplitude of his saving provision for us!

Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 give us the stories of water that flows from a rock, the gift of God to Israel as they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan. We should not be surprised to learn that later David dared to use the figure of the rock as a metaphor for God himself. “I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:1–2). Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, picks this up and interprets it christologically. He reminds the Corinthians of how God provided food and drink for Israel in their journey through the wilderness: They “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:3–4). Because the water necessary for life for Israel came from a rock, the rock itself was a legitimate symbol for the one who alone is the source of life, just as the water that came from the rock was a beautiful symbol for the salvation that is found only in the life that comes to us from God. Ezekiel uses both metaphors, wind and water, to strengthen his message. In Ezekiel 37, it is the breath of God in wind blowing across a valley of dry bones that brings life back to the dead. In Ezekiel 47, it is a stream of water flowing out of the temple down into the Dead Sea, bringing life, fruit, and blessing. We should not be surprised to find in the closing chapter of the New Testament the picture of the throne of God with the Father and Son sitting on the heavenly throne while that river of water, the symbol of the Spirit of God, flows from that throne, bringing life and fruit and healing to the nations. To cap it all, this final book of the sacred canon gives us its final text:

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

The key to personal holiness lies in opening to the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—letting him flow into our personal beings so that he is able in an unhindered way to bring the saving life of God and fill us body, soul, and spirit with himself. That means that metaphorically I should breathe deeply enough that he fills me and drink largely enough until the deepest longings of my being are satisfied. That fullness and satisfaction is what the theologians call entire sanctification. The thing I like about it is that the emphasis is not on my drinking but on his filling, for the life I need does not come out of me but out of him. I think this is why Paul could speak about coming to the end of himself and living a life that does not originate in him because it is Another who lives within him (see Galatians 2:19–21). You will notice that Paul says it is a life lived out of God, for God, one that does not negate the divine life that now works within him. It all comes by breathing and drinking. Are you drinking enough these days?

 

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One Response to “Are You Drinking Enough?”

  1. Sunday Best: Women Bishops, Productive Pastor, History through Instagram | Seedbed
    November 24th, 2013 @ 6:01 am

    […] Dennis Kinlaw asks, “Are you drinking enough?” […]

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