I want you to turn with me to Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians chapter 9, and I'll begin to read at verse 1. I've entitled my message this morning, which is somewhat of a Christmas message, 'Appraise to Praise' - now maybe that's double-dutch to you, but hopefully it will become clear through the message today.
Verse 1 - now Paul is writing to these Corinthians about stewardship, and their giving to the work of God, it's important to recognize that context as we begin verse 1: "For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift".
Now I want to take as my text today the last verse of chapter 9, verse 15: 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift'. Now I'm sure you'll agree with me that that is a wonderful verse of Scripture - yet, although it is wonderful, it is also a very strange verse of Scripture. Now if you look down at it, you might say: 'Well, what are you talking about? I don't find it strange at all'. Well, I'm speaking not about the verse itself, but rather the context in which we find the verse. As I said before I read verse 1 of chapter 9, this passage, this portion of Scripture has everything to do with Paul's practical instruction to the Corinthian believers regarding their financial giving to the work of the Lord. Yet, in verse 15, Paul seems to be so inspired by, and in love with, the Lord Jesus Christ that his attention is shifted to the person of the Lord Himself - and he exclaims in these wonderful terms: 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift', or we could paraphrase it, at least I have paraphrased it, 'Thank God for Jesus Christ!'.
Now some think it is very strange that Paul should attempt to motivate our financial giving by recalling something as sacred as the gift of Christ. Maybe that's got something to do with the way we think about money, we tend to think that it's something secular and not spiritual. When we are Christians, our stewardship is something exceedingly spiritual - but some people think that, even if I associate giving with spirituality, it still seems incongruous that Paul should link the greatest gift of all, Christ Jesus, with the giving of financial gifts. Well it is not strange whatsoever, because Paul has done this on several occasions. In fact, in this same epistle, in chapter 8 and verse 9, he says these words - and we are very familiar with them, yet not so familiar with the context - 'For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich'. Again, the context was the Macedonian believers as an example of stewardship and giving to the work of the Lord. Yet there he motivates their giving by speaking to them of the greatest gift that was ever given, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, not long after writing the Corinthian epistle, Paul then addressed the Roman believers in his Roman epistle, and he comments more on these terms. In Romans 8 verse 32, you know it well: 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely', or, 'graciously give us all things?'. His emphasis is on the giving of all things, and yet he motivates us in our giving and in our receiving from the grace of God by the greatest gift that ever was given, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now what he's simply doing is that he wants to impress upon us the divine gift, which must inspire in us the giving of all other gifts. In other words, we as Christians, Paul is saying, ought to be a very liberal people when it comes to our giving to the work of the Lord - why? Because we are the recipients of the greatest gift ever.
So, if we were to put Paul's words in other terms, it's as if he's saying this: 'Can you, who have been so generously treated by God, be anything else but generous to your fellow men in need, and particularly your believers in the body of Christ?'. Can you be anything else, when God has been so gracious in giving His only begotten Son to you as a gift, how can you hold out towards others? The Lord Jesus put it well, didn't He, in the same type of terms when He said to the disciples in Matthew 10: 'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give'. You received without paying, so give without paying.
Now that's the context, but what I want you to note is: immediately in verse 15, after outlining all this motivation for financial giving and stewardship to the work of God, he immediately deflects our minds away from the practical financial gifts of the church to now dwell for a moment or two on the greatest Giver ever - that is, God - and the greatest Gift ever given - that is, the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Almost spontaneously Paul exclaims with great appreciation of the Lord: 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift'. Now I say 'spontaneously', obviously he wrote everything down, but I can't help thinking that whilst Paul is writing this great treatise to the church in Corinth, trying to motivate them to give more to those in need, how he starts to think in his mind and his heart about God's grace which has been so great to us, and which should be the motivating factor of us laying down our lives for others. He just bursts out through the nib of his pen this great doxology of praise, he can't hold it back, spontaneously: 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. Thank God for Jesus!'.
Spontaneity is something that is quite rare in the church of Jesus Christ. We're not going into why that might be - perhaps, particularly in conservative circles like ours we're a little bit afraid of spontaneity. That can be a good thing at times, we don't want things to run amok, all things are to be done decently and in order - and yet at the same time, I wonder have we lost all spontaneity in our thanksgiving and in our praise to God? I think it was Vance Havner said that 'Hallelujah' and 'Amen brother' are not found any more in our pews. It's not just about shouting out a 'Hallelujah' or an 'Amen', it's got everything to do with how we sing, how we pray, how we listen to the preaching, how we go out of the building and live our lives. Do we have that spontaneity of praise, where we're so rejoicing in our Saviour that we just burst out?
If we have lost that, I want to ask you the question: why have we lost that? It's a question worthy of pondering. We see that Paul's thought here is not only that we should give to others because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, but we should be filled with thankfulness when we consider the immensity of God's gift. As the old hymn puts it:
'Was there a gift like the Saviour given?
No not one, no not one!'.
He is a gift that infinitely transcends all human gifts that have ever been given! Now whilst I was studying this verse, I had to ask myself the question, and I want you to ask yourself it today: am I as thankful as Paul for the Lord Jesus Christ? This Christmas time, how thankful are you for the Lord? And: can I and do I express that thankfulness, and that praise, and even do it spontaneously in an exclamation of praise - or am I too afraid of men? Am I too afraid of the frown of that sister, or the scorn of that brother, or the sophisticated person in the meeting who looks down on those type of things? Why is it? Why do we not express ourselves like the apostle Paul did?
Well, let me give you one answer to the question that I think is appropriate for our consideration today - it's simply this: spontaneous thanksgiving and praise is an expression of joy. Have you got that? Spontaneous thanksgiving and praise is an expression of joy, and that expression of joy requires appreciation. My title: 'Appraise to Praise', you need to have an adequate appraisal of who Christ is, and the immensity of the gift that He is from God, to really praise the Lord the way we ought, like the apostle. You see, Paul's appreciation of Christ was so great that his joy in Christ caused him to describe Christ as inexpressible. He describes Him as indescribable - that's a contradiction in terms, but that's because Christ is beyond description. But what I want you to note, please, this morning is: his spontaneity and his exuberance must be stimulated by something other than a mere mental appreciation of Jesus Christ.
I think, perhaps, that among many of the churches in our province, maybe even go further afield, there is a tremendous knowledge in this fellowship - not as much as sometimes people think, but there is a lot, particularly about the person of Christ - but that does not equate with this joy that is expressed in an exuberant doxology of praise. If we still have the knowledge, where is this spontaneity? I fear, personally, that the missing piece is the joy, the joy that motivates - because Paul's remark was stirred by an inexpressible joy in the Lord that was derived from his appreciation for Christ. In other words, his mental appraisal found its way into the heart, and it brought such a joy in the Lord that it bubbled over as living springs of water out of his mouth in this great thanksgiving statement: 'Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift'.
Incidentally the word 'unspeakable' in that verse, or 'inexpressible', or 'indescribable', or as the Amplified translation puts it: 'Precious beyond telling' - that word cannot be found anywhere else in Scripture. Isn't that fitting when you think of the fact that it is describing how Christ is indescribable, and how He cannot be compared with anything else? It literally means that He cannot be related, you can't relate Him to anything, or compare Him with anything. Now that word is not found anywhere else in the Bible, but a similar word to it is found in 1 Peter chapter 1 and verse 8 - let me read it to you: 'Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy unspeakable, or inexpressible and filled with glory'. Now isn't that interesting? The only other word in the whole New Testament that is similar, not identical, but similar, to the word 'indescribable' in verse 15 of 2 Corinthians chapter 9 is speaking of the indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable joy that we are meant to have in the Lord. Even though we have never seen Him, we love Him and rejoice with joy inexpressible!
Now I know there are different pieces of the jigsaw here that I'm collecting, and I'm wanting to put it together just now, and I don't want anyone to miss it this morning - this is where we're going: it is your estimation of God's Son, your appreciation, your appraisal of the Son of God, and the subsequent experience of joy derived from such an appreciation that will determine the extent of your praise and thankfulness. It's not just the appraisal and the knowledge, but it is that joy unspeakable derived from such knowledge that brings birth to that praise that appraises Christ as inexpressible. Have you got it?
So, there is a cycle here: more knowledge of Christ can lead to more joy in Christ, and more joy in Christ will lead to more praise of Christ - but it's a cycle, so the reverse is true also. More praise of Christ will bring more joy into your life, and more joy in your life will bring more knowledge of Christ. You've heard of a vicious circle, this is a wonderful circle! An appreciation of Christ, and joy in Christ, and praise of Christ - this is what we are saying: they're all interrelated. You can't have this cycle if you leave one of them out. If you haven't got knowledge of Christ, if you haven't got joy in the Lord, if you never praise the Lord, there is something deficient in your Christian experience - but if you have all of these three, they will feed one another and increase in volume. Appreciation, joy, praise.
Now let me ask you: what Christian would not want to heighten their experience of joy in the Lord? Put your hand up if you're a Christian that doesn't want any more joy: 'Lord, don't give me any more joy, I can't stick any more of it' - looking down at you, I know there's none like that, that's for sure! We all want more joy, don't we? We want to heighten our experience of joy in the Lord, and which of us would not desire to amplify their thanksgiving and their praise. I'm not talking about how loud you sing or shout, I'm talking about the volume and the weight of the praise that you bring to God. So what Paul is giving us an example of, I believe, is: if you wish to enlarge your joy in the Lord in order to swell your thankful praise, you therefore need to enhance your appreciation of Christ. It's a cycle, it is all connected - but if you want to have more joy in the Lord, and you want to praise Him more as you ought, you need to appraise Him, you need to appreciate Him.
Now all preaching, I believe, should have an aim, and that is a practical aim. If I fill your head with knowledge, or even touch your heart, and you don't go out and say: 'Well, this is what I have to do', I think I've missed the mark. So what's my aim this morning? It is simply to get you to appreciate a little more how inexpressibly wonderful, indescribably magnificent your Lord Jesus Christ is! Why? I want you to realise how beyond telling He is, so that your appreciation of Him will be greater and will be heightened, that your joy may be raised and given a boost so that the praise may spurt out of your mouth almost uncontrollably. When was the last time that happened? A lot of things come out of your mouths uncontrollably, out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing - isn't that what James says? God is looking for the praise!
That's my aim. Now, let me show you how this can be done - let me say first of all that this was one of Paul's goals. Turn with me to chapter 1 for a moment, this was one of Paul's goals in writing 2 Corinthians - chapter 1 verse 23: 'Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand', or 'Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy: for you stand firm in your faith'. Now this is what I'm wanting to do this morning, I'm wanting to work with you for your joy. I want you to appreciate the Gift that God has given the first Christmas time, so that you'll have greater joy in Him, and so that your note of praise will be excelled.
Now, how do you begin to appreciate Christ more? Well, listen carefully: to appreciate anyone more, you've got to get to know them. That's very simple, isn't it? To appreciate anybody you've got to know them. To esteem anybody, you must have experience with them. So there are two things right away: a knowledge of Christ, but that's not enough, you need to have an experience of Christ in your life. Now how do you get knowledge and experience of Christ? Well, I believe that primarily comes from contemplation and meditation upon the word of the living God. There is no short cut.
Let me give you an example, we don't have time to turn to it, but in Hebrews 12 these Hebrews - many of them who professed Christ as their Saviour - were starting to move back away from their profession probably because of persecution from other Jews. The writer to the Hebrews wants to motivate their joy, and their praise, and their lives - living them for Christ and not stepping back, but going forward in their profession. He does this by getting them to contemplate and meditate upon the Saviour until the thought of their appreciation of Christ precipitated from their mind into their heart, and as a consequence the joy that filtrated into their soul would cause them to praise God and fear nothing. Here's what the writer said: 'Consider him who endured such contradiction', or 'opposition of sinners, lest you faint in your minds'.
What was the secret of their joy? They were losing their joy! Things were becoming hard for them! They were being persecuted! They were even thinking of turning their back on their Saviour! The writer says: 'Consider Him!'. That's the secret! That's the secret to appreciating Him: consider Him! That's the secret to your joy: consider Christ and let it filtrate down into your heart, so that your joy and the praise may come out of your mouth. Have you ever tried it?
Do you know what the problem is? We're too busy! Oh, we might read the Bible, but we're too busy to contemplate it or even to meditate upon it. Maybe you're not reading at all? If you are reading, perhaps you just don't take time to think about what you are reading.
Father, we thank You for Jesus, the One who saved His people from their sins. We thank You for Immanuel, God With Us. We thank You for the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace. Father, we thank You for the unspeakable gift of Jesus Christ our Lord, and we pray that His praise will be our battle cry. Increase our appreciation of Him in order that our joy in Him and praise to Him might be greater. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Appraise To Praise" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
All material by David Legge is copyrighted. However, these materials may be freely copied and distributed unaltered for the purpose of study and teaching, so long as they are made available to others free of charge, and this copyright is included. This does not include hosting or broadcasting the materials on another website, however linking to the resources on preachtheword.com is permitted. These materials may not, in any manner, be sold or used to solicit 'donations' from others, nor may they be included in anything you intend to copyright, sell, or offer for a fee. This copyright is exercised to keep these materials freely available to all. Any exceptions to these conditions must be explicitly approved by Preach The Word. [Read guidelines...]