“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”(John 3: 34)
These words were spoken by John the Baptist, when the Pharisees came to ask him about Jesus. Some commentators tell us that they refer uniquely to Jesus, and not to the church, as the operation of the Spirit in Jesus was not in any way limited by His flesh; whereas all of allow our flesh to get in the way of what God pours out. But what we do with the gift does not limit God’s giving, as Romans 8:11 surely testifies:
“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
It isn’t God who puts a limitation on His Spirit; it’s us.
The devil knows he can’t take us out of His hand, so he does the next best thing: he tries to limit how much of God’s blessing we receive. Think of how we celebrate communion, for example. Jesus is the Bread of Life. When we take communion and the bread is passed round, we all politely break off a little piece that we probably hold between thumb and forefinger. Why is that? Do we not want to appear greedy? Are we making sure there is enough to go round? There is always loads left at the end, so that can’t be true. Personally I want to be greedy for what Jesus gives: the supply of the Spirit will never run out.
I know the bread is only a symbol, and there is a practical side to how we distribute and partake of it; nevertheless I think our attitude to the communion bread – and it’s true of every church I’ve been in over 35 years of being a Christian – is also a reflection of something deeper that pervades the body of Christ: instead of rising up into the heavenly dimension of the Spirit, we bring God down to the limitations of the flesh. But God doesn’t want us to be content with crumbs: crumbs of provision, crumbs of healing, crumbs of faith. He wants us to run around the bakery, laughing, and helping ourselves to great handfuls of His life. Spirit without limit.
Jesus said (John 10:10) “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The question that many of us carry in our hearts, although we may not give it voice, is this: “Where is the promised abundance in my life/church?” We want to believe God for those handfuls, but what we see is the crumbs. I think the answer is two chapters further into John’s gospel:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24.) Practical Matthew puts it differently (Matt 19:29): “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life,” and Luke cuts to the chase: “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)
Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone… It’s right there: we don’t see the multiplication of abundant life because I think we have a tendency to hold onto our seeds. Our seeds are what we have got. For some they’re stacked away in the store cupboard of our lives, with nice colourful labels, sorted in tidy rows; whereas for others there might be just a couple of little envelopes with a few seeds collected in the corners, but whatever seeds we have got, or haven’t got, they’re ours. And I don’t just mean money and possessions: our ambitions, our reputation, our relationships – they are all seeds. Yet abundant life comes when the seed dies. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, Smith Wigglesworth raised 14 people from the dead, so he has a certain degree of credibility. I haven’t read all of his teachings by a long chalk, but a lot of what I have read can be summed up like this: ”Die to self; be filled with the Spirit, believe God’s word, and then expect to walk in the supernatural power of abundant life.”
Wigglesworth, the “Apostle of Faith”, is known as a great ambassador of Pentecostalism. But he didn’t preach the baptism in the Spirit without also preaching death to self. We tend to hold onto one and conveniently forget the other. The problem for many of us, in Western churches at least, is that we don’t want to die. God gives the Spirit without limit, but our flesh won’t lie down and it gets in the way. Are we going to raise the dead, or just read the stories of other people who did? Smith Wigglesworth raised 14 people, not just because he was full of the Holy Spirit, but also because he was dead himself.