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TEXT: II Corinthians 9:15
SUBJECT: Advent, 2009: The Unspeakable Gift
II Corinthians 8-9 were written against the dark background of famine. No word is more terrifying than this one as it evokes images of swollen bellies, hollow eyes, and babies crying in vain for their mothers' milk. Disease and death follow in the wake of famine, and something worse than these: madness. Hunger drives good people to do things they will never forgive themselves for, including eating their own children, as the desperate mothers did in Samaria back in the days of Elisha.
Famine hurts everyone, of course, but mostly it hurts the poor and disconnected. Unlike the well-off, they haven't socked anything away, and unlike the connected, there's nobody there for them.
The famine referred to in our chapters was in Judea, one of the poorest and most despised parts of the Roman Empire. Anti-Semitism was rife in the middle of the First Century, and few Gentiles were moved by the plight of the Jews. What was true of the Jews in general was doubly true of the ones who believed in Christ. Talk about a minority! They were a hated minority in the hated minority! Everyone despised the Jews and the Jews despised the Christians. This means, the church in and around Jerusalem suffered more in the famine than anyone else in the world.
Most people didn't care, but Paul is not 'most people'. He was deeply moved by the suffering, and rallied the Gentile churches to aid their brethren in Judea. Like other preachers, he took up collections wherever he went, but it wasn't for himself or his ministry-it was for the hungry saints back in Jerusalem. He wants the Corinthians to help them.
Getting people's money-then, like now-was a delicate matter. How's he going to do it? Most preachers I know use one of two motivations: Guilt or Greed. 'If you don't help them, you're bad and stingy and a shame to Jesus Christ!' Or, 'When you help God's people, He will help you. Drop ten dollars in the offering plate and the Lord will drop a hundred dollars in your mailbox!'
There's a kernel of truth in both appeals. Sometimes we don't give because we are greedy-we care more for our luxuries than our brother's necessities. And, when it comes to giving, no one outdoes the Lord: Put His kingdom first, and all these things will be added to us. As effective as these tactics are, however, Paul won't use them.
Why should the Corinthians help the saints in Jerusalem? And why should we help needy Christians today? Paul lines up the arguments:
The believers in Macedonia are worse off than the Corinthians and they're giving generously. Why shouldn't the Corinthians match them in their love? The Bible that that tells us to not follow some people tells us to follow others-
You shall not follow a multitude to do evil is Exodus 23:2.
But Philippians 3:17 adds: Brethren, be followers of me and mark those who so walk, as you have us as examples.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that-though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor-that we, through His poverty might be made rich.
We have all met people who think of themselves as 'givers' and everyone else is a 'taker'. They pride themselves on this, on taking care of themselves while others live by mooching. The problem is with their thinking is it's false! Every Christian is a moocher! We all live off Christ! And since, we live off Him, how can we be stingy on people who need something from us?
It is better to be a generous person than a tightwad, and you only become generous by giving.
When Christian help each other out, the people who receive help thank and praise the Lord. And Psalm 50 says-
Whoever offers praise,
Paul is not a frazzled think. When he wants to, he can marshal arguments with the best of them. We ought to give because: (1) others are, (2) Christ did, (3) giving is good for us, and (4) it glorifies the Lord. The reasons are rock solid and give powerful incentive to cheerful giving.
His punch line, though, is not an argument, yet it carries more weight than all the arguments put together-
Thanks be to God for
His unspeakable Gift!
The reason we're to give is because God gave, and while our gifts can be counted and their value calculated, His Gift is.unspeakable, or as other Bibles say-
God's every gift is good and none should be looked down on. Start with the gift of life. Not everyone woke up this morning, but you did. There's the gift of health. Some are not well enough to get out of bed, but you are. The gift of family is a sweet one, as anyone will tell you who used to have one, but doesn't any more. There's the gift of work. Maybe you're none too fond of your job, but the papers say 10.2 percent of Americans would love to have it. Food, laughter, friendship, conversation, good books, a warm sun, a cool breeze, music. All come from the Lord and are ours because of His overflowing generosity-
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works.
He makes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust, and sends rain on the good and the evil.
As great as these gifts are, there is one far greater, so great in fact, Paul can't find the words for it. This is worth pondering. Paul was a scholarly man, fluent in many languages, but its too big for his wide vocabulary. Remember, too, that he wrote II Corinthians under the inspiration of God-the God who knows every word-but He hasn't got one either.
The unspeakable Gift is Christ, in whom God and all He has in bound up. God can give nothing more than Christ because there is nothing more than Christ!
The value of a gift can be fixed in two ways: (1) what it costs the one who gives it, and (2) what it gives the one who gets it.
Our family does not believe in bankrupting ourselves to give Christmas presents. Most years the best gift I get costs about $100. Now suppose an eccentric billionaire finds my name in the phone book and sends me a check for half a million dollars. This would mean a lot to me, but next to nothing to him.
Turn this around. How much does a glass of tap water cost? Not even a penny. But suppose I gave it to a man dying of thirst. What cost me nothing gives him everything.
Now, apply this to God. What is Christ to Him? He is everything-His only Begotten Son. What is Christ to us? He is everything, Paul says, our-
Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
If Christ is everything to God and everything to us, no wonder Paul boggles at finding a word to describe the Gift-
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable Gift!
This is the meaning of Christmas-not what we give others and what they give us-but what God gave us all, and why He gave it to us-
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Some gifts are given in appreciation. A man works fifty years for the same company and they give him a gold watch. A little boy is 'nice' most of the time and hardly ever 'naughty' and Santa brings him a X-Box. The gifts, though not exactly 'earned' are fitting.
But the Gift of Christ was given-not to people who had a long career of serving God-but to sinners, people who spent their whole lives ignoring Him and doing whatever they wanted to with no thought of what He might have them do-
God commended His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
This makes it even more unspeakable, even harder to describe. And so, instead of racking our brains for the right words, let us simply adore God for the Gift, and live satisfied and thankful lives.
Happy Third Sunday in Advent!
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