“My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5)
THIS psalm is full of references to “me” and “my”, so that at first sight it may appear that its author was self-centred. A compensating fact, however, is that it is also full of references to God; it begins and ends with His personal name, The LORD. The real truth about David is that he was God-centred. While his psalm is intensely personal it is in no way selfish. As we look at it more closely we find that it contains a phrase which is really the secret of all spiritual helpfulness to others: “My cup runneth over”. All the personal concern and experience is well justified if it results in an overflowing of blessing to others. Put the other way round, there can be no overflowing blessings from my life unless I am living in the good of a close and satisfying walk with God. Men are not blessed by my attempts to help them, or by my sermonising to them: they are only truly blessed when they meet me brimming over with a vital knowledge of the Lord.
My cup runs over. This is an impressive claim for David to make. What it amounts to is that whenever and wherever men meet me, they are affected by the spiritual overflow of God’s goodness from my life. In myself I am no more than an empty cup, but as I feed in God’s green pastures, find refreshment in the still waters of communion with Him and even suffer those valley experiences of deep shadows under His hand, there flows out, often unconsciously to me, a life-giving stream of His fullness. This is my ministry. It is an overflow. What is more, it is a continuous overflow. This is a tremendous claim, and it may be worth our while to examine it in order to discover if it worked out like that in his history. Were these just exuberant poetic fancies, or were they substantial facts borne out in his experience?
1. David’s Overflowing Cup
The song itself provides an answer, for Psalm 23 has been an inspired source of comfort throughout the centuries. It has overflowed even to us. If the sweet psalmist of Israel had only written this, his words would have been an amazing ministry of life and refreshment to millions. But he did write many more. His walk with God gave him so much of spiritual blessing to share with others that his psalms are an outstanding contribution to God’s Book. And it was not his successes but his sufferings — and even his sins — which provided the occasion for this living ministry of helpfulness. He opened his heart so fully to God’s loving kindness and tender mercies that their rich plenty has overflowed to many other sufferers and sinners. David did not enter into forceful arguments about God’s plan of salvation; he so lived and spoke that men met the Saviour Himself by observing and listening to him. Why should not our cup overflow in the same way?
David did not only speak of mercy; he practised it. Those were harsh days when men tended to be ruthless with their foes, but he steadfastly refused to lift a finger against his arch-enemy, Saul. When at last Saul’s misspent life came to its tragic end, David had no word of spite to say about him but rather concentrated on what had been good. What is more, in the days of his own prosperity as king he took real pains to discover a grandson who had survived, and gave him a place among his own royal sons. He overflowed in kindness to the third generation of his enemy, giving his personal command that Mephibosheth should eat continually at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9:13). To this rather pathetic remnant of Saul’s family, David overflowed with practical kindness.
And what shall we say of David’s bountiful provision for God’s house? If ever David’s cup overflowed with bounty if was in connection with the building of the Temple. His giving was not in measured droplets but in generous outpouring. When the site was first purchased, the owner offered to make a free gift of it together with the relevant provision for sacrifice. His offer was set aside. “And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not … offer a burnt offering without cost” (1 Chronicles 21:24). Sometimes the very free nature of redemption leads God’s people to want the best spiritually at the minimum cost to themselves. They seek the inflow into their cup and fail to think in terms of outflow. David was not like that. [41/42]
Came the time for building and, to his great disappointment, David was not permitted to have a part in this great work which he had dreamed and prayed about for so long. Nothing daunted, he gave of his best so that others might do the work. In handing over the materials which he had amassed for this project he said: “Moreover also, seeing that I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, I give it unto the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared” (1 Chronicles 29:3). His was a very different spirit from that which is often found among Christian workers who resent being replaced by others and jealously refuse to give assistance to a work if they feel that they have been overlooked or rejected. In David’s case, then, it seems clear enough that his cup overflowed.
2. Paul’s Overflowing Cup
Well, that was the Old Testament. The standard of the New Testament is the same. “Always abounding in the work of the Lord,” Paul wrote, and he could write it because that was how he lived. There may be no significance in this, but the fact remains that his name is last on the list of the prominent leaders in the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1). Barnabas naturally is the first, for he had been a spiritual father to the church from its early days. Saul of Tarsus, however, had been the great teacher among them. What is more, he was the man with the special commission to the nations, already described as a “chosen vessel” by the risen Lord. Further, he was the one commissioned to accompany Barnabas to Jerusalem to carry up the church’s gift to the needy saints there. Why, then, does Luke insert three other names between him and Barnabas? Who were these three? And why was Saul put last on the list? It may seem trivial to raise such a point, but I have known God’s work hindered and spoiled by just this kind of personal triviality. Happily Paul was not so affected. He may have been irked by the delay to his world ministry as they waited there; he could have been slighted as to his personal dignity, but he overflowed with patience and he overflowed with humility. The churches of our day could do with similar overflows!
It is difficult to select particular evidences of the overflow of Paul’s cup, for there are so many of them. The Corinthians, who owed everything to him, turned critically against him, but were only met by his assurance that in spite of this he would most gladly spend and be spent out for their souls (2 Corinthians 12:15). The Galatians, whose conversion had been so costly to him that his experience could only be likened to birth-pangs, were informed that he repayed their subsequent fickleness by travailing for them all over again (Galatians 4:19). The overflow of rejoicing in his letter to the Philippians is well known to us all. Indeed there can be few better examples of an overflowing cup than that which is everywhere found in the letters which the apostle wrote from his prison cell.
How we wish that we knew Paul’s whole life story. How we would have liked a third volume from Dr. Luke! Well, we have to be content with what we have. It is easier to do this when we realise that the book of the Acts leaves us with the picture of Paul under guard, awaiting trial for his life, rejected by his Jewish co-religionaries, and yet still brimming over with kingdom blessings. The last phrase of our English version in Acts 28:31 is really just one word — “unhindered” (RSV). There can be no hindrance of the overflow of blessing from any life which is being continually replenished by God’s grace.
3. Christ’s Overflowing Cup
Like so many other psalms, this one has a fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the one who had a table prepared for Him in the presence of His enemies, who came triumphantly through the valley of the deep darkness of the cross, and who is anointed with the oil of joy above His fellows. And above all others, it is He who can claim to have the overflowing cup. What was Pentecost but the brimming fullness of His Holy Spirit? His head was anointed with oil and His cup still runs over to His Church. It is a continuously present experience — it keeps on running over. What is more, it is the Church’s vocation to be the vessel through which the overflow pours.
It may be good for our own encouragement to consider a few of the events in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus which single Him out as the Man of the Overflowing Cup. Think of the hot noontide by Sychar’s well when, in spite of bodily tiredness and thirst, He overflowed with living water to the astonished Samaritan woman. Think of His gracious generosity to Peter when [42/43] He took full cognisance of the way in which the apostle would deny Him before others and yet assured Peter that He had prayed for Him. And think of Him in His darkest hour when He was suffering such torments on the cross. He still had consolation to spare for His earthly mother, which was wonderful. Much more wonderful, however, was the fact that He had time and thought for the penitent thief. There in Paradise is a man who has no questions about whether the cup of Jesus ran over. It overflowed even to him! It overflowed in spite of the unbearable pressure of evil powers upon the Saviour.
4. The Church’s Overflowing Cup
As we have already noted, it is the Church’s vocation not only to receive the overflow of grace but itself to be a vessel from which that brimming over of blessing is ministered. He who overflowed in the ways we have considered still waits to overflow through us as we mingle with needy sinners or are confronted by disappointing brothers. We have our moments of dark trial and of fierce Satanic assaults when, humanly speaking, we could have neither time nor strength to think of others. At these very moments the Lord plans to make our lives opportunities for an overflow of His blessing. We share His cross: we may share His overflow.
There is of course a secret. There is a sequence in this psalm. The cup which runs over is the consequence of the sevenfold experience of blessing which is described as leading up to it. We need to feed in the green pastures of His Word and to lie down and chew over what we have fed on. We need to learn the rest of faith as He leads us to the waters. We need to follow Him as He leads us to the right paths and to come closer to Him as we pass through the dark valleys as a part of that leading of His. We need to practise the blessings of the table, which surely are the pursuit of fellowship in Him. And we need to do this even though surrounded by enemies, not put off by their threats but rejoicing as those whose heads are anointed with fresh oil by the Spirit. If we make sure to keep close to the Lord in this way and to be ever learning more of Him, then the cup will overflow and others will get the blessing.
This psalm also has a message for under-shepherds. Perhaps we long for “revival” in our church assembly, but think of this in terms of blessings sovereignly outpoured from heaven upon us. Might it not be more practical to work and pray for church members with overflowing cups? If we do so, we find that we are faced by the shepherd responsibilities of caring for the flock. When we come to think of this, the risen Lord’s charge to Peter was precisely in this direction. The ministering brothers must see to it that the flock has green pastures, still waters, right paths, comforting rod and staff, a full table and anointed minds. The challenge is to us first. If by the Lord’s grace we can make such provision for His people, then ours will be a Church of the Overflowing Cup.