There is a perfect harmony between the earthly and the spiritual. The two are inseparably related to one another. We must not confuse nature and grace, of course. But neither may we go to the opposite extreme and separate the realm of the earthly from the realm of the spiritual. It is not as if our earthly possessions have nothing to do with the salvation we have in Christ. There is an intimate relationship between the two. When God saves His people, they view their earthly possessions in a totally different way than the ungodly do. Not only do believers view them in a different way, but they also use them in a different way. We use the earthly to seek the kingdom of heaven. We refuse to place our trust in uncertain riches, but we use what we possess as a means to seek a higher end. We become Christian stewards of that which God has given us in this life, and in wisdom we use our possessions to seek those things that are above.
Beginning in chapter 9 of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthian church, Paul addresses the whole subject of Christian giving. It is not as if the church in Corinth had a problem in this area. On the contrary, this church was giving diligently and abundantly to the needs of the saints. Paul commends them for that. But in this praise Paul draws their attention to the grace of God that worked in them, a grace that resulted in such giving. We read of this in II Corinthians 9:8: “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.” Not only did God work in these saints the heart to give to the needs of others, but God also enriched them with material, earthly wealth in order that they might provide such help. We read in verse 11, “Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.” The idea here is that God not only worked in them graciously the spirit of giving, but also provided richly all things they gave. God is the one who in every way provided! This will come out today too as, in connection with this season of thanksgiving, we examine today II Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” This short verse summarizes everything that in this season of the year the believer rejoices in: we give in everything thanks to God for His unspeakable gift.
An Unspeakable Gift
This week the United States celebrates giving thanks. The vast majority of the masses in our country use Thanksgiving Day for vacation, for watching football, for eating and drinking. And all of this is okay too, but very few take even a little time out to give thanks to God for what they have received of His hands. Many will give thanks to other people or organizations for what they have received from them. Maybe those who are really into this day will make a list of people to whom they give thanks. Included on the list will be friends, family, employers or employees, and so on. But few today anymore take any time to thank God. Very few in this day understand that Thanksgiving Day was used by Pilgrims years ago to give thanks to God for providing for them in this new land to which they had traveled. I hope our broadcast today will serve to remind believers in this week to come to give God thanks, since He is the one who has given us all these things richly to enjoy!
To use Paul’s words in verse 11, God has “enriched us in every thing to all bountifulness.” God has given us everything—no exception—everything that we possess in this life. We can start with all the material comforts and luxuries we have—all the extras. Can you name them? You would be surprised how many possessions we have in this life that are not necessities but extras. We do know what necessities are, right? When we pray that God may give us this day our daily bread, we are asking for necessities.
Jesus defines those necessities for us in Matthew 6:31: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” To food and clothing we can add shelter. These are necessities. These are the basics of life—those earthly, material things we need to live in this world. Anything over and above these are extras. Here in America we live in a society of extras. So much have we been given that we have become spoiled in all the extras. We hear from our mouths the words “I want” more often than from any other society, even though we in America have been given more than anyone else. Americans are forever in debt because, though they have so much more than anyone else in the world, they want more of it. God has given you and me, dear listeners, much in the way of necessities and comforts. On Thanksgiving Day we stop for a moment. We pause. We think. God has given us these things. We did not earn them. We do not deserve them. God in His providence gives to us these many earthly gifts. They come from His mighty hand. He gives and He withholds. He gives and He can take, and He does at times take away. We are merely stewards of the earthly possessions God has given us. In this week, and really always, believers bow in humble thanks for the bounties of the earth God has again provided in this year gone by.
But these gifts mean nothing at all in themselves. That is something the unbeliever does not recognize. These earthly possessions are empty and vain in themselves. They mean nothing. In fact, they can be a real stumbling-block in our lives because we can start to put our trust in them. We can begin to think that life consists in these things. Life is houses, and cars, and entertainment, and so on. We somehow expect that we will find peace and happiness of heart in these things. These earthly, material possessions really mean nothing at all in themselves! I mean, it is like a family living on a houseboat that is floating down the Niagara River. They can fix up the boat, make it pleasant for themselves. Have it heaped with all kinds of food. Have the latest in entertainment on it. And say: “This is life! This is living! This is good! Can’t get any better!” The next day, the whole boat and everyone on it goes over the falls and is dashed to pieces and perishes.
The gift that believers truly give thanks for is an unspeakable gift. It is a gift of priceless possession—a gift that once given we cannot lose! It is a gift that, if we possess it, will have an effect on all those earthly gifts we receive from God. What is the unspeakable gift I am talking about? Salvation! It is a gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, if we were to focus exactly on the unspeakable gift God has given us, it is Christ! God sent forth His Son into this world. That was a gift. That Son suffered and died on the cross for us! That is a gift! That Son was raised again for our justification and life. That is a gift! That Son has sent forth His Spirit to live in our hearts. A gift! That Son preserves us in that salvation. A gift! And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will usher us into the heavenly kingdom that awaits us. A gift! God gives us all of this in Christ Jesus our Lord! Talk about a reason for giving thanks!
Notice how our text emphasizes that all of this is a gift. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. We all know what a gift is, that is, if something is truly a gift. It is something freely given to another—not because he has merited it or earned it. Most of the time when we give gifts it is to those we love or like, and simply is an expression of our appreciation for them. If this is true, then it is amazing when we look at what God does in bestowing gifts on His creatures. These gifts of God are not only not earned, they are also not deserved in the least sense of the word. They are not an expression of appreciation by God for something we have done. They are given wholly, purely, out of God’s goodness! He is good!
The fount of all good! Out of His goodness He provides the creatures of His hand with what they need. Our earthly possessions are a gift given us by means of God’s providence—God provides for all His creatures. Even the reprobate man receives earthly possessions and wealth from God’s almighty hand. But the gift of our salvation that is given is even more so a gift! It is ours by means of God’s grace! Is this not the testimony of the gospel to you and me, beloved saints? We receive our salvation not of works. We receive it only by God’s sovereign and free grace. In fact, we were not even worthy of receiving this gift! We were doomed to perish in our sins. There was no hope! There was no way of escaping punishment for the sins we committed against God. Then God, freely and sovereignly, saved us. He in His grace sent His Son to die for us—the Son that He had loved from eternity. God sent Christ to bear the full punishment of His wrath against our sins and delivered us. This gift of God is unspeakable! We cannot express its beauty, its power, its wonder, its worth in human terms! We do not even know how to put into words the joy and thanksgiving that we have for what God has done for us in Christ!
How does one begin to describe what great things God has done for us who are saved in the blood of Christ? He has saved us and by means of that salvation has adopted us as His children and heirs unto life eternal. In His grace He has chosen to fellowship with us, to uphold us in our needs, to grant to us the knowledge that in every circumstance of life He, the great and mighty God of heaven and earth, is with us. He will uphold us in the hour of our greatest temptation and trial. He will lead us even through the valley of the shadow of death! He is our God and we are His people. The blessedness given us freely by the hand of God is indeed the greatest, most wonderful of all gifts! It is unspeakable, indescribable, unutterable, beyond our finite comprehension what God has done for us! Thanks be to God!
This salvation—this gift of God’s grace to us—works in us overwhelming gratitude. And in that gratitude, we take a new look at the earthly gifts we have received from God’s hand. Now, we see that these are means that we can use to seek a higher end—that of our final salvation. No, they will not help us earn that end. But we can use them for the work of the Lord in this world. Not only do we use our money and our possessions to support our family. We certainly do not selfishly horde that money and say, “It’s mine! I will use it for me, for what I want.” But we use it also to support the church and help those in need!
So we get the instruction we do in II Corinthians 9:6, 7: “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.” That is the relationship between the earthly and the spiritual gifts we receive from the hands of our God. But our thanks is given not simply because of the unspeakable gift. Look, also, at who gives it.
An Unchangeable God
Really! The beginning and end of all things is God. He has made all things, and to His glory are all things. When we give thanks we ought to be extremely aware of who it is to whom we give such thanks, fellow believers! It is our Father! It is God who loved us from eternity, adopted us in the blood of Christ, and sends forth His Spirit into our hearts by whom we call Him our Father. Our Father gives us this unspeakable gift! Oh, how He loves His children! Despite their weaknesses and sins, He loves them. How gracious He has been to us in giving us hearts to know who He is. So many are lost in blindness and do not know Him!
The love that God has for His people in Christ is unchangeable! God has been faithful in this year gone by has He not? In everything we have received from His hand, He has been faithful to us His children. Even when God sends affliction in the life of His children, He is blessing them in His favor. God sends us affliction with a purpose in mind, not to crush us, but to save us. In this past season we may have received affliction. Or we may not have received as much from His hand as we have felt was our need. God controls all these things. And He does so in His love for us—a love that never changes! Good thing! We do not deserve His love. In everything we received from God’s hand in this past year, what we rejoice in is that He has preserved us in the faith! He has not suffered our feet to be moved! The everlasting arms of our heavenly Father have held us up! God vowed a vow to us, His church. He married us and took us to be His bride and vowed a vow to us. He said: I will be your Husband to have and to hold you from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer. I will love you forever. I will never leave you! I will be a faithful God to you and, despite your sins, I will never forsake you! God has been faithful to His vow! He is the unchangeable God in His love and mercy toward us! Thanks be to God!
But there is more to be added to this. You see, God as Creator and sovereign Ruler over all made a promise as regards this earthly creation. And on this promise we have come to rely as well. We would despair if not for this promise. It is given in Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” Here is a truth you and I do not think about all that often. We take it for granted. God promised after the Flood that seed time and harvest shall not cease! Why is it that the seasons are fixed the way they are? The psalmist says that they are fixed by divine wisdom! God has fixed them. Every year without fail there is a seed time and harvest. We rejoice in the harvest in this time of the year. We give thanks that the harvest is again taken in and there is plenty to support us again. Do not take that for granted, fellow believers! God gives us the harvest! To the promise of seed time and harvest God has been true as well. Remember, He is the unchangeable God! Because He is, we are able to sow the seed in the springtime and to reap it again in the fall. And in this we see our calling too.
What God gives to us in His never-changing faithfulness we must be willing to give back to Him. Verse 8 of this chapter: “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.” God’s grace in our hearts abounds! We take a look at the unspeakable gift He has given us. Now, let us give to others who are in need! That is the idea of this passage of God’s Word before us today. You see how God’s faithfulness inspires us to use our earthly comforts and wealth in a frugal way? What then is our response to God, who gives us this unspeakable gift? Thanks! What shall we render to the Lord? Thanks! Wholehearted thanksgiving!
An Enduring Thanks
Do you know what thanksgiving is? It is expressing our gratitude to God for all He has done for us. Sometimes I wonder if our generation really knows what it means to give thanks to someone. We are so spoiled. We actually think that we have something coming to us—that what is given us we have a right to. Someone gives us something and we turn and walk away without the least sense of gratitude in our hearts, much less upon our lips! Um, hello—where is the thank you? “Oh, yah, thanks.” The word is idle and empty. It does not mean a thing. Giving thanks is an acknowledgment that we have received from someone something that we did not have to have or that we did not deserve to receive. It is then sincere appreciation that can be heard in the voice that we have received this. And it is walking away with true gratefulness in our hearts. That is thanks! When is the last time you thanked someone for what you received?
When is the last time we have truly given that kind of thanks to God? It should be there in every prayer—every prayer. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! Thanks for our salvation. Thanks that we can be numbered among the assembly of the elect in life eternal! Thanks that we can be children of the most high God! Thanks that we have been given a place in the church. Thanks for our fellow saints and the care God has shown toward us in His church. And thanks for God’s tender care over us—upholding us even when times are so hard and difficult. And, yes, thanks be to God for taking care of us again in these months that have passed by. Let us count our blessings, fellow saints! Name them one by one! Not just the earthly wealth that we have. Count the true blessings of salvation!