Have you ever seen something almost every day of your life, hardly noticing it until you see it in a new light and start appreciating it more? This seems to happen to me more now that I have kids—they have a way of bringing new curiosity to the seemingly mundane. For example, my two-year-old son, Henry, has a keen interest in construction vehicles. As a result, my wife and I actually pay attention to them as we drive by instead of just letting them blend into the general scenery. We love to point them out to our son and hear him gleefully respond with his clear voice, “bulldozer! Cement mixer! Crane! Hydraulic drill! BIG excavator!” Now even my wife and I are fans, turning to each other and saying, “Did you see that? That was a nice one.” Kids bring a fresh perspective on life that’s contagious.
The same thing can happen to us as we study the Bible. The childhood memory verse now strikes you in a new way and makes your eyes water with emotion. The book from the Minor Prophets that you barely finished five years ago is suddenly fascinating. Those prophetic symbols that perplexed you before become crystal clear with time, motivating you to help others understand. This is why it’s so important to read the Bible consistently throughout our lives. Though it presents unchangeable truths, our perspective changes and we glean different things depending on the depth of our readings, our knowledge, and our life experiences.
This happened to me recently as I gained a new perspective on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman found in John 4. We’ll focus on verse 14 (ESV): “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In the past, I usually assumed that verse 14 meant, believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life, like John 3:16 using different words. That’s certainly a true and encouraging message to get from this passage.
However, I believe there’s more going on here. The question is, what does it mean to be a spring? We’ll approach this question by exploring a prime illustration of a spring from Ezekiel 47. Then, we’ll see how they applied this concept in the New Testament.
I. Ezekiel 47
We know Ezekiel 47 is relevant to this discussion because Jesus himself introduces us to its theme in John 7:37-39 (ESV) as he makes the same appeal to a gathered crowd as he did to the woman at the well:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Here, Jesus was offering the crowd the same drink he offered the Samaritan woman earlier. Also, this was on the final day of the feast of booths, when there were two drink offerings, one of water and one of wine.1 It’s as if Jesus infers, ‘look, I’m those drink offerings!’ John also partly answers our question about what it means to be a spring, because he identifies Jesus’s words about living water with the Spirit (v.39). Therefore, to see the full meaning of what the Spirit does in our lives, we might look at the chapter from whence Jesus quotes. Interestingly, unlike most of Jesus’s quotations, this one isn’t word for word, but more of a summary that connects to a number of passages in the Old Testament, including Ezekiel 47, which is where we will turn next.2
Here’s the scene:
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. (Ez. 47:1-3)
In verses 3-12, Ezekiel is led progressively further downstream, the river getting deeper each time until it becomes impassable. He observes and discusses the river, which he finds teeming with fish and supporting abundant trees on its banks. Here fishermen work and catch diverse fish. The trees “do not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ez. 47:12). A beautiful image.
We can unpack this symbolism using other passages of scripture. First, according to John, the rivers refer to God’s Spirit (John 7:29). Next, according to Paul, we are temples (1 Cor. 6:19). Therefore, from one angle at least, Ezekiel describes the Holy Spirit filling and flowing out of the believer. Who are the fishermen and their diverse catch? Disciples, fishing for men of every nation (Mark 1:17, Rev. 7:9). What fruit do the trees bear? The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Thus, Jesus helps us understand what it means to be a spring by referring to this powerful symbolism: Being a spring means letting the Spirit of God cleanse and flow out from us like a river to bless others, bearing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” drawing others to God. Here, Christ succinctly describes the Christian’s vocation.
II. The New Testament
Now that we’ve seen the powerful symbolism from Ezekiel to which Christ himself points us, how does the concept of being a spring carry forward from John into the rest of the New Testament? One way is through an expression Paul favors, using the Greek word, perisseuó, meaning “to abound, overflow”.3 Because it is translated into different ways, it’s easier to see Paul’s pattern in the Greek. It occurs 39 times and has a variety of uses, but the two of particular interest are:
1.) It describes the abundance of Christ’s love and sacrifice overflowing unto salvation (Rom. 3:7, 2 Cor. 1:5, 3:9, 9:8, Eph. 1:8).
2.) It describes the nature of our Christian ministry (Rom 15:13, 1 Cor. 14:12, 15:58, 2 Cor. 8:2,7, 9:12, Phil. 1:9, Col. 2:7, 1 Thess. 3:12, 4:1, 10).
In summary, the first seems to describe the source of the spring, our lord and savior Jesus Christ, while the second describes how we allow Him to make us a spring by His Spirit.
Practically speaking, to learn more about our work as a spring, we’ll choose one passage to analyze, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (ESV), with words derived from perisseuó bolded:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
For background, Paul was leading a “collection for the poor in Judea.” To motivate their waning zeal, “Paul calls to the attention of the Corinthians the example of generosity set by the churches of Macedonia.”4 In these verses, we perceive several principles that align with previous findings. First, the good work of the Macedonians came entirely from “the grace of God” (v.1). We are merely the conduits through which the spirit of Christ flows. We give ourselves to the Lord first, then He uses us (v.5). Second, this spirit can turn our poverty into abundance. Here, the illustration is financial, but this also relates to the contribution of each individual: We are nothing without Christ, but with Him, we overflow (v.2-3). Finally, it is a joy to abound in the Lord’s work; the Macedonians were begging to give their money away to help the poor (v.4). Can you imagine that? Only the Lord can give us such an astounding spirit of generosity. These points illustrate how we can be a spring for the Lord.
To look for inspiration in becoming a spring for Christ, we need only to turn back to where we started in John 4 and see how the story of the Samaritan woman ends. Her first reaction to her conversation with Christ about the water of life is to go back to her town and tell others about her experience: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (v.29). Her evangelism yielded fruit for the kingdom: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v.39). The Samaritan had allowed the spring that Christ awakened in her heart to overflow to others.
Consider one final illustration. Imagine a jar positioned directly under a waterfall. What happens? Eventually, it overflows. In fact, it is both being filled and overflowing at the same time. The same is true for what Christ does in and through us. We not only possess eternal life in Christ, but also through Him become the conduits by which the water of life reaches others. This water is contagious: Christ uses us to fill others, that they may also overflow. Christ’s desire that His gift “will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” is impactful because it gives us a job to do. In fact, I daresay that being a spring is one of the fullest illustrations of the Christian’s vocation found in the Bible. So as we go about our daily lives, we remember not only to be filled with Chris, but also to pour Christ out to others.
Ellicott, Charles John. 1878. A New Testament Commentary for English Readers. New York: E.P. Dutton. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/7-37.htm; https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/7-38.htm.
Seventh-day Adventist Church. 1978. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and Bible Students’ Source Book. Edited by Francis D. Nichol. Vol. 5. 7 vols. Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
1 Ellicott, Charles John. 1878. “John 7:37.” In A New Testament Commentary for English Readers
2 Ellicott, “John 7:38”; also, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and Bible Students’ Source Book, 1978, “John 7:38.”
3 Strong’s Concordance
4 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and Bible Students’ Source Book, “2 Cor. 8:1.”