A lot of people are very interested in the appearance of their bodies, but they don’t care a penny’s worth about the condition or appearance of their souls. They spend thousands of dollars on beauty creams and treatments – injections of gels and poisons. They may even spend more on surgeries to lift fallen body parts and fluff out other parts. Then they go to the tattoo parlor to permanently decorate what God intended to be beautifully simple. At the gym they try to sculpt their bodies through sweat and a bit of pain. And if they aren’t successful, they pay an expert – a trainer – to tell them how to reshape themselves.
The world has multitudes of personal trainers, coaches and beauticians to deal with our perceived physical imperfections. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians had personal prophets, the way others have personal trainers? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each church had their own Elijah or Isaiah on retainer the way that some businesses have their own lawyers? If a church member had a spiritual flaw, he could make an appointment and the expert could fix it. Or perhaps that prophet could simply observe the membership, and when he saw some ugliness, he had authority to demand a meeting in order to correct things.
The Church in Corinth, came pretty close to having one of those personal spiritual trainers. When the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to Corinth, he wrote by way of the inspiration of God. And like other prophets, this “holy man of God spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.” Paul, with God’s authority, encouraged the church about specific praise-worthy things. And he also crushed their sins in the mortar of God’s special revelation. That church in particular, in the midst of God’s blessings and many praise worthy characteristics, also had serious problems.
In this chapter Paul, their trainer, is urging the church forward in something they were doing reasonably well. This is talking about money and financial aid for the famine stricken and persecuted Judean Christians. There is no rebuke here, only praise and exhortation, because the Corinthians had already proven themselves to be generous people. Some time earlier, that church had promised a really sum to help their Jewish brethren. And now Paul was headed to Jerusalem with plans to stop and pick up a large Corinthian purse of gold. As a result, this chapter provides some wonderful lessons about giving and money.
Many Christians take verse 6 out of its context, but it is specifically talking about fiscal responsibility. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And verse 7 makes a statement which a lot of people need to memorize – “God loveth a cheerful giver.” Does that mean that Jehovah has another emotion towards those who are not joyfully generous? I suppose that it’s not for me to say; you’ll have to ask the Lord that some day. Or you could ask your personal spiritual trainer. Verse 7 also suggests that it is perfectly scriptural to plan your giving to the Lord and His work. To have a set schedule, or to have goals in giving, is not unscriptural. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give…” Again verse 8 is often taken completely out of its original context – money. “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:”
One of the great lessons of this chapter is that our generosity is directly, and unbreakably, linked to the Lord’s grace toward us. First, we give because to us has already been given – we have something we can give. Then when we give, the Lord will again give to us a second time or third time, creating a constant chain. This is in no way a promise that if we give of our little riches to God He will make us wealthy. The promise is that the Lord will bless us, and He has 10,000 ways to bless. Then there is another lesson – one that a great many people do not really want to hear. Verse 13 shows that our generosity is directly linked to our reception of the gospel. “Whiles by the experiment of this ministration – giving) – they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men.” As a general rule, misers know nothing about the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. Self-centered, penny-pinching cheapskates are either lost or terribly backslidden people.
By the way there are three euphemistic words used to describe the Corinthian’s giving in this chapter. “Grace,” “blessing” and “bountifulness.” “Grace” is the source of all our generosity – God’s great unmerited favor. “Blessing” is the effect, both to the giver and to the recipient. The word “bountifulness” in verse 11 is more often translated “simplicity” than liberality or bounty. It is talking about a wonderful single-minded desire to give and to be a blessing to someone. It is giving without any thought of receiving something in return. “Grace” is the source of our generosity, “blessing” is the effect, and “bountifulness” or “simplicity” is the manner in which the Lord wants us to give. Then one more lesson from this chapter is that it all returns to the glory of God – verses 13 and 11. “By the experiment of this ministration they glorify God.” “Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.”
It is the last verse of this chapter which supplies the theme for our thoughts this morning. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” There are three general explanations for the words “unspeakable gift:” Some think that it refers to the gospel – the good news – which is certainly magnificent. But the gospel is not really the theme of this chapter. Of course the gospel is never really out of place, but in this context it is not the primary subject. Others think that Paul is referring to the wonderful gift of money designated for Jerusalem. But that gift hasn’t been given yet. And anyway, no matter what it’s size, it would definitely not be unspeakable. I think that Paul is talking about the greatest gift ever given, the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone might ask, “But how does this relate to the rest of the chapter?” As I just said, the gift which God the father gave is the catalyst for any and all other gifts. And once again, we see that Paul’s mind is never very far from Christ, no matter what He is talking about. “We love him because he first loved us.” And we are moderately generous, because He was exceedingly generous towards us – first.
How is Christ Jesus the unspeakable gift? I have a simple topical outline for you this morning. Christ and his salvation is unspeakably great; it is unspeakably necessary; it is unspeakably free and it is unspeakably perfect.
Paul is talking about a gift that is unspeakably GREAT.
What does that word “unspeakable” mean? Three chapters later in talking about himself, Paul refers to a man who was caught up into Paradise, where he heard “unspeakable words.” And then Paul defines “unspeakable” by saying that it was “not lawful to repeat those words.” But that is a different Greek word and a different set of circumstances. What Paul saw that day was so wonderful, special and glorious that, I think, it would have been hurtful to earthly human beings to know exactly what he heard and saw. Paul was forbidden to repeat the special sights that he had been given. Perhaps if we knew what he saw, we’d be so homesick for Paradise that we’d pine away into death. We’d shirk our earthly responsibilities.
Here in this chapter we have a different word, and it simply means that there are no human words to describe this gift. Language fails us because our minds are so deformed by sin that they cannot comprehend what Lord has done for us. It is not illegal to speak of the Lord’s love, His character, His sacrifice and His promise. We are in fact commanded to do the very best that we can to repeat and to describe the Saviour and His work. But it is simply that our best fails miserably to do the grace of God the justice that it deserves.
It was Meriwether Lewis, who was first white man to reach headwaters of Missouri River. It came as a tiny spring out of a mountain not very far from here in western Montana. And it was so small that Lewis was able to put his right foot on one side and his left foot on the other. He was awestruck to think that from this tiny source sprang the mighty Missouri River, which he had ascended all the way up from where it meets the Mississippi. Perhaps that illustrates another aspect of the unspeakability of Christ. He is a constant, unending, ever-growing, always enriching spring of living water. Ten billion years into eternity, we will have only begun to learn of our Saviour and King.
Some theologians think they understand the eternal decrees, counsels and covenants of God. I am happy for those who know the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. But I don’t profess to fully grasp those deep and divine things of the Lord. All that I am sure of is this: “Jesus loves me – for the Bible tells me so.” And even that love is difficult to describe by these lips which are driven by such a faulty mind. Why should the Saviour choose to become incarnate? I do not understand. Why should He deliberately choose to die in my place? Why he should love me, a sinner condemned, unclean? I cannot fully explain. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we behold his glory, the glory as of only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Yes, we did behold His glory, but did we understand what we were seeing? God the Holy Spirit, declared Him who is undeclarable.
Do words ever fail when you want to describe a beautiful sunset or a spectacular waterfall? I have acquaintances who send me pictures of Canadian landscapes, and time and time again I am awestruck, and I try to point those people to the Creator. Do words fail when you look at an exquisite diamond or a mountain side full of wild flowers? Usually we have words for everything, and if we don’t then we concoct, modify or invent new words. But the gift of God is beyond the vocabulary of every and all the languages of humanity.
There is only one way to see Christ and to learn more about Him, and that is by faith. Only by surrendering to His wooing, submitting to His love, and resting in His grace and we grow in Him. Oh, what an unspeakable gift is our Saviour. 98% of the people of this world will never know of that magnificence. And I fear that includes great many of the people attending “Christian” churches.
This is an unspeakable gift, because it is unspeakably ESSENTIAL.
There is no way to adequately illustrate or convey this thought. As sinners, our guilt before God is so enormous that there is only one way to escape it. If I was to commit some crime against humanity, and I was arrested, and I was proven to be guilty. There are ways to be delivered from the effects of that crime, whatever it happened to be. I might be able to pay a fine and be set free. I might have to spend time in jail or prison but eventually be set at liberty again. In old days perhaps a whipping or a few days in the stocks might be all that was necessary. And if I was extremely criminal and the death penalty was required, then that would be all that human law could demand.
But the fact is that human laws only faintly mirror the laws of the Almighty Holy God. “The wages of sin is death,” but that is not the death of a stopped heart and cessation of brain activity. The wages of sin is eternal, painful, suffocating separation from the source of all life – Jehovah. There is nothing that I can do personally to be free from the guilt of my sins. Not even physical death is sufficient. There is no amount of penance, no sum of money, no imaginary sacraments that can deliver me from the bondage of my own guilt. There is no church membership, no number of good deeds, no alms. There is nothing that I can do, or be, that can free me from the result of my sin. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the unspeakable blood of Jesus.
That gift of God is unspeakably essential because of the depth of the sinner’s guilt and weakness. We are absolutely helpless and hopeless. There was a poor man at the pool of Bethesda, who believed that when the water moved, it meant that an angel was stirring it, and that the first person into the pool would be cured of whatever ailed him. For years he had been going to the edge of Bethesda, but never had he been first into the water. He was so crippled that there was no way for him even to tumble into the water in a timely fashion. He said to the Lord Jesus, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Jesus then gave to him those humanly unspeakable words, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” In our guilt and our helplessness we are absolutely hopeless. No wonder Jesus’ grace is so superlative and unspeakable.
That is an unspeakable gift because it is unspeakably FREE.
The gift of salvation through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is unspeakably free in two ways: First, it is a gift of free grace – the unmerited favor of God. Jehovah hasn’t ever been under any obligation to any of the demands or needs of His creation. There may be a sense in which when God finished His creation, it might have been self-sustainable. When the Lord said that everything was good, it was not yet tainted with any form of corruption. The plants and animals lived in perfect harmony, and there was neither death, nor the need of death. Creation may have been designed to function perfectly, bringing eternal glory to God. But then the crown of that creation chose to rebel against his Creator, and all creation suffered his curse. Following that fall, it was necessary that God himself care for the upkeep of everything. Jehovah is the greatest of all maintenance men. Just to maintain our seven decades on this earth requires the constant care of the Creator and Sustainer of all things – Jesus Christ the Lord.
But that unmerited favor, that grace, is nothing compared to the unspeakable grace of God’s salvation. That God would even think about delivering sinners from bondage of their self-determined corruption is unfathomable. And then the Lord chose to make that deliverance a 100% free gift. Salvation is absolutely free – no strings attached, no prerequisites, and no post-requirements. There is unequivocally nothing that any sinner can do to merit salvation. The moment that he even thinks about doing something to earn this gift, it ceases to be a gift – it ceases to be of grace. If the gift of salvation from sin is not freely given, it is unattainable, because the price is so unspeakably great. If the Lord didn’t give it, we could never have it. It is not for sale, and it cannot be stolen from God.
And then that gift is unspeakably free, because if we hadn’t been told about it, we’d never even desire it. “There is no man that seeketh after God” or who seeks God’s kind of salvation. There is no sinner who is truly aware of his lostness and his need of a Saviour until the Lord Himself teaches that person.
Indeed this Saviour and His salvation from sin is an unspeakable gift.
And this is unspeakable because it is unspeakably SUITABLE to our needs.
Jesus once rested at Jacob’s well in Samaria and told a thirsty woman there – “I am the water of life.” To the spiritually blind He said, “I am the light of the world, he that believeth on me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” To the spiritually hungry He said, “I am the bread of life.” To Lazarus’ grieving sisters, He said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” To the lonely and the cold, He said, “I am the door… by me if any man enter in he shall be saved.” To the lost He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no many cometh unto the Father but by me.”
The gift which Paul describes as “indescribable” is in part indescribable because it is so comprehensive. In fact it is so complete and thorough that we are not aware of all that we needed and that it has supplied. Its depth and width and height and length make it impossible to escape once we are safely within. And every thing that we lack spiritually is supplied through the sacrifice of Christ.
How can this short time with you begin to expound a theme that is unspeakable? How can a sinner begin to comprehend or to explain the unfathomable depths of the grace of God? At first glance we might say that it is impossible – but that isn’t quite true. How can the sinner begin to comprehend that grace? The same way that Paul began to comprehend it. By humble surrender to that grace of God, kneeling at the cross where the Saviour died. By acknowledging our helplessness and sinfulness, and willingly turning from them. By putting our trust in the One who is that gift – Jesus Christ the Son of God. By resting in the grace of the Almighty to fill up what we don’t understand and what we lack.
This morning, I ask you whether or not you have received this unspeakable gift?