“Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1: 16-17)
Any Christian who believes that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit are available and operational in the Church today will know of, and quite possibly tell others of, the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Scripture exhorts us in Ephesians 5:18. But as I’ve become more aware lately of what it is to be standing under the waterfall of God’s Grace, (see the last article, Mountains and Waterfalls) I’ve been considering what it actually means to be filled with the Spirit.
If all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus (Colossians 1:19), and Christ, the Hope of glory, is in us (Col 1:27), then how much of Christ dwells in us? Do we believe that it is a fragment? A cell? Maybe just a fragment of a cell? Or do we dare to believe that our loving Heavenly Father will answer Paul’s prayer for every Christian of every age, that we would be “filled with all the fulness of God?”
We are called to love one another; to have grace in our dealings. Jesus made in clear in the Sermon on the Mount that Kingdom relationships are characterised by the fact that what we give does not depend on what we receive: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt 5:46) On the contrary, if we “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” we have the astounding promise that “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Verse 47) We won’t just be good, because we have obeyed the rules, but we’ll be like God – because actually, as far as the rules of the world are concerned, we have broken them.
So a basic principle in the Manifesto of the Kingdom is that what we give to men does not depend on what we receive from them. We don’t love according to the tit-for-tat rules of the world, any more than we are to depend for what we need on the get-what-you-pay-for provision of the world. When Jesus preached repentance unto God, it was more than an exhortation to stop behaving badly: it was a call to throw out man’s rulebook and embrace God’s – whose book consists basically of two sentences: love God, and love one another. If we seek this Kingdom, everything else will be given to us.
“Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” Just as we have received out of the fullness of God in Christ, so it is only out of our fullness that others can receive grace from us – the grace that rises above the tit for tat of the world, that enables us to overcome negative reactions to damaging words and quench fiery arrows with living water. The Grace that enables us to be perfect, just like our Father in Heaven.” The purpose of being full of the Holy Spirit is not so much to have access to supernatural gifts, but to have access to supernatural love, supernatural gentleness and supernatural generosity. If our Saviour had not been filled with all the fullness of God, Satan would have shown Him a good carnal reason to disobey His Father; but He could say that Satan “has nothing in me” because He was completely full of God.
So two questions. The first is this: how full of the Holy Spirit are we? Because if we are really full, like Stephen was, we don’t run away when the stones start to fall, but we “see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55) It’s often said that we leak, which is why Paul’s exhortation is the present continuous tense – “Be being filled.” But I don’t think it’s true that we leak, and every now and then have to go back to the fountain (often at Church) for a top-up. We can’t fill the flesh with the Spirit. I think we are more like completely broken bottles, and the only way for Scripture’s present continuous tense to operate in our lives is to stay under that waterfall, standing permanently in the Grace of God, morning, noon and night; work, rest and play. And at church as well. What a blessing we could be at church by just staying soaked all week. And if we can do this, out of our fullness others will receive, grace for grace. At church, in the home, and in the workplace.
And here is the second question: what is our expectation of the “fullness of God” in our lives? I was in a zoom gathering last night, and the word that Father spoke to us by His Spirit was that He wants to bring a new level of creativity to His people: that the atmosphere of Heaven is the Beauty of Holiness, and that He wants us to release that beauty into the world in all that we do – our work, or pastimes, our creative projects, our relationships of course – and that He would bring us new gifts, new resources, new skills, new levels of faith, in fact all that we need out of the infinite unseen storehouses of Heaven to start bringing this about. It was a beautiful, encouraging Word, and I do not do it justice with my single-sentence paraphrase. And it would be so easy for it to remain on the shelf, along with the library of other beautiful encouraging words that I have heard over nearly 40 years in the faith. Except for one thing. If you know me or follow my site, you will know that I am a “birder”: I love watching and photographing birds. I was sitting in the sunshine in my garden this afternoon, enjoying a cup of tea, when I heard a birdsong in the tree that I did not immediately recognise. I managed to get a picture, and I identified it as a female linnet. The linnet is a little finch with a sweet song, which the Victorians used to keep in cages as songbirds. Linnets are not particularly rare, but I do not recall ever seeing one in my garden before – and we have lived here since 1998. It was something unexpected, beautiful, and new.
I believe that little bird was a sign from the Lord of all Creation to remind me, and you, that He has so much more for us than we could ever ask or imagine, and that even now, as the world seems to be rushing to pull down its tents, He wants us to stretch forth the cords of ours and enlarge our vision of who He is and what it means to be filled with all of His fullness. If we do this He will fill whatever we give Him with more of who He is so that when the needy come to us they can be filled in turn from our fullness, grace for grace. Whatever your garden is, and whatever those linnets might be for you, watch out for them, because the Holy Spirit is releasing them from their cage.