Alfred Place Baptist Church

8:7-9 The Riches and the Poverty of Jesus Christ

2 Corinthians 8:7-9 “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Paul is considering a certain moral weakness this Corinthian congregation. It was meanness, a common enough little fault, as our sins generally, and in these chapters he is exhorting them to a spirit of generosity. How sincere is the love they say they have for Christ? One way he tests it is to compare it to the earnestness of the Macedonian Christians. They were poor congregations in northern Greece. They lived in a place of economic recession, and they also faced persecution and yet they gave to the poor Christians of Judea above and beyond their own ability. Paul informs the Corinthians of this in order to stir them up to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians.

But then he turns to a more inspirational example to motivate them to generosity. “I am going to tell you something that you know well,” he says. I have heard that people like to be told, over and over again, what they know. I have had daughters who have enjoyed certain familiar stories and incidents from childhood being repeated. Or if I should say to one of you that last week I was in a certain town in South Wales then I would get your attention immediately: “I was raised in that town,” you would tell me, “and I was there myself a few weeks ago.”

So Paul tells the Corinthian church something that they know well: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.9). He is seeking to motivate them to give to others in need, but he does not command them to donate a certain percentage of the church offerings or of their own income which they are bound to send to Jerusalem according to the law’s strict demands. Paul rather talks about this familiar theme of the wonderful grace of Jesus. There are no rules or figures given to us in the Word of God concerning Christian liberality. If there were then it would destroy the beauty of spontaneous giving. There is no law to have told me what I should have given to my mother on her birthday. There is no rule laid down in any law-book to decide what present a husband should make to his wife, nor what token of affection children should give to their fathers on Father’s Day. No, the gift must be spontaneous and free, or it has lost its sweetness.

Of course, this absence of law and rule does not mean that we are to be less generous than the Old Covenant Jews who gave a tithe, but rather more. So the appeal here is to the example of Christ himself: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (v.9). The Christians in Corinth were under some duty to give generously to the Jerusalem saints in their poverty, and he is enforcing that by this appeal. The example of God in Christ is the great motivation for us to live lives of sacrifice and affection for others.

“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all” (Isaac Watts).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the dynamic of Christian living. So there is this little fault which we all know so well, called meanness, the subtle ways we can justify not giving to a particular congregation – but how generous, we tell ourselves, we would be if it were another congregation – there we would be giving sacrificially continually. But we are not there, so we need not give to this congregation.

Now to deal with this little snake Paul appeals to the greatest theology of the Bible, to the incarnation and the humiliation of the Son of God, to the Cross and to the extraordinary benefits that have come from it which have made many rich. The streams of Christian kindness are fed from the ocean of the mysteries of God. If we lose these doctrines we shall also lose the practicalities of Christian living. So it is these glorious Himalayas to which Paul points in order to help us overcome the molehills of our mean-spiritedness. In order to change Mr and Mrs Christian Scrooge – who are present in every congregation and in every heart – Paul appeals to the most sublime truths under heaven.

1. OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WAS RICH.

When was he rich? The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unitarians say that he was rich during his life on earth – rich with the Holy Spirit before the cross. Then there are the adoptionists who also deny the eternal sonship of Christ saying that Jesus was born of a normal union of Mary and Joseph but that God adopted him to become his son and this is what him rich. What is such teaching ignoring? When was Christ rich? You will think for a tiny moment and then point out to me the opening words of John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then you will proceed to point out to me the prayer of Jesus in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” You will say to me, “That is when our Lord Jesus Christ was rich.” And you are absolutely right. Paul is not thinking here of the fullness of the Spirit that descended on Christ at his baptism, nor of the invested glory that Christ was given when he ascended into heaven as a reward of his obedience even to the death of the cross. Those were great riches indeed and Paul loves to dwell on them, but in our text he does not say, “he is rich,” or “he became rich,” but “he was rich.”

The Lord Jesus Christ was rich in the very form of God, that is, he possessed the fulness of Godhood. He was rich because he was himself God. He was as much God as the Father is God, and the Spirit is God. He possessed all the divine attributes – omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – those strong Latin terms. He possessed all the divine prerogatives – creation, providence, power to save his people, to sanctify them, to raise them from the dead and glorify them – he is able to do all that. He has all the divine entitlements of being honoured and worshipped and prayed to and served. He has all the divine names – Lord, Rock of Ages, Elohim, Jehovah, the Ancient of Days, the Light of the World. All the totality of Godhood is found in him. He possesses all the fulness of Godhood. There is no attribute which the Father or the Spirit has which the Son lacks. God over all, blessed for ever – he was rich.

The Lord Jesus Christ was rich in his divine relations. He was God with God, God in eternal association and fellowship with Father and Spirit. He was not “L’estranger”, the outsider, the eternally lonely one, the eternally isolated one. He was God existing in the riches of inter-trinitarian communion, a fellowship of perfect love and agreement. Jesus could say, “No one knoweth who the Son is, but the Father, and who the Father is, but the Son” (Lk. 10:22). There are no secrets between them at all. The Father knows the Son exhaustively, and the Son knows the Father totally. As the Holy Spirit knows all things, yea, the deep things of God, so that rich knowledge was also the Son’s. He has a unique, exclusive, all-comprehensive, all-penetrating knowledge of the Father. There are no occasions when the Son says to the Father, “There are times when I don’t understand you, Father.” The members of the Godhead know one another through and through. There is nothing in the decrees of the Father, and the purposes of the Father, and the will of the Father, and the mind of the Father, and the character of the Father which is unknown and unloved by the Son. He himself is known and he knows with a perfect and infinite knowledge.

Now our greatest delights come from knowing God. That is eternal life. The more we know God the greater is our rapture, and the more we are overwhelmed with our own ignorance. The more we grow in our understanding of God the more we are conscious that this is a deep beyond measure, a height we can never reach. We shall never reach its east or west. These are incomprehensible vistas of infinite glory for us. But they are not like that for the Son. In his knowledge of his Father there are no obscurities, and no mysteries. He penetrates the very being of God; it is not in vain that he sounds the depths of love divine. He comprehends the totality of the divine glory. All the deepest mysteries of the divine will are known to him. If we ourselves are exalted when God draws near to us and blesses us with a wee glimpse of his knowledge then what riches of delight there must have been for the Lord Jesus Christ in his contemplation of his Father, a knowledge that had no beginning or end, without any waxing or waning, any ebb or flow. How the heart of the Son of God must have been utterly ravished with love for his Father! His heart had no cares; his soul had no pangs of sorrow; there were no unresolved tensions between Father and Son. There was the perfect peace of measureless love given and received.

Christ’s was and is an all-embracive knowledge and perfectly immutable love for his Father. The Father knows the Son and the Spirit fully, and loves them perfectly. The Son knows the Father and the Spirit fully, and loves them perfectly. The Spirit knows the Father and the Son fully, and loves them perfectly. Each knows and loves the other in his person, relations, perfections, mind, will and purpose. There is nothing that makes them recoil from the other or disapprove the other. Their knowledge is infinite and exhaustive and so is their love. Perfect knowledge and perfect love of Father and Spirit – that was the Son’s riches. The Father would say to him, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the Son would say to the Father, “Thou art my beloved Father in whom I am well pleased.” Christ didn’t need our love to make him rich. There was love enough in God for him, and if he had chosen to will it he could have made a thousand races of nobler creatures than ourselves who would have loved him with the deepest love.

The Lord Jesus Christ was also rich in all he possessed. All creation was his, whether things in heaven or earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were made by him and he is the heir of all things. The oil resources of the Middle East are all his. The diamonds and precious metals of Africa, the teeming fish of the seven seas, the width of space – all are his. Think of the vastness of the universe. Consider the minuteness hidden in the world of the atom and electron. Think of how you were when you were conceived and how you grew. Consider the design of your brain, the wonder of it, the intricacy and delicacy of you and all the world. But in that selection we have picked up a pebble or two on this ocean’s shore. We are getting some glimpses of the power and wisdom, design and purpose of God’s handiwork. We are seeing the fringes of how this universe is made and sustained. But in the Lord Jesus Christ everything coheres. He holds together everything in the heavens and everything in the atom. There is nothing in this universe, nothing in its grand immensity, nothing in its infinitesimal minuteness that the Son of God has not made, and which he does not exhaustively comprehend. All things are by him and for him. He is Creator of the rolling spheres: he is possessor of heaven and earth.

Ten thousand angels wait upon him. He has but to will it and they will hasten away upon his instructions. They adore him ceaselessly. They rejoice that they are in his presence. Even when he was on earth he could say that he could pray to his Father and he would send twelve legions of angels to do his bidding. How much more so when they were first created by him and they looked into his face for the first time – “Our Maker!” they cried in wonder.

What riches these are of what the Lord Jesus Christ is, in and of himself, and what he is in relation to Father and to the Spirit. The whole world is in his hands. There is nothing more ultimate, and nothing more transcendent than this – Jesus Christ is God – and there is none other like unto him. Greater riches are inconceivable. The riches of the Lord Jesus are the riches of God himself. They are absolute, infinite and eternal. They cannot be added to, and there can be no subtraction from them.

He was rich! What a small and miserable English word that is. So we have to fill up its emptiness and say that he was rich in all respects, rich in all conceptions, and rich beyond imagination’s utmost stretch, rich beyond everything you and I will ever conceive of, even when we get to heaven – so rich, so infinite, so glorious, so divine – this is what he was before the foundation of the world. He was rich!

2. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST BECAME POOR.

Yet he considered us! He stooped to us. How generous he was with those great riches for he gave his very self for us, and in doing that he impoverished himself. You notice the tenses the apostle uses here. Paul does not say that Christ became rich. His riches were not because of a wonderful gift of the Father. There never was a time when he was not rich. He never discovered riches or had a fortune thrust upon him. But his poverty commenced. When? When he entered the womb of the virgin Mary and came into the sin-laden and sin-cursed world. How did he become poor? Not by ceasing to be what he was. He did not lay aside the riches of his omnipotence, and the riches of his omniscience, and the riches of his omnipresence. He did not terminate his rich knowledge of his Father and the Spirit. His rich prerogatives of creating, and raising the dead, and saving sinners were not given up at all. He did not cease to be in the form of God in any way at all. He did not exchange his riches for the form of a man – as if he laid aside divinity’s glorious dress and put on, instead of it, a carpenter’s dungarees. That overall went over all his riches. They were there all the time. He did not divest himself of one divine property. There was no subtraction and no depotentiation. None at all. Within the womb of Mary, and later lying in her lap, he remained as God, unalterably in the form of God. Even in his incarnate state “in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. When the Son of God became poor it was not because he had laid aside any attribute or prerogative that was God’s. As John Murray says, “When he became a man, he did not cease to be rich in his divine being, relations, and possessions. He did not become poor by ceasing to be what he was, but he became poor by becoming what he was not. He became poor by addition, not by subtraction. He added manhood to his immutable and eternal Godhood. He added to his person real human nature with all its sinless properties and necessary infirmities. He was made in the likeness of men” (John Murray, Collected Writings, Volume 3, “The Riches and Poverty of Christ,” p.231, Banner of Truth).

If we had never heard of this before we would have been astonished at the words. He did not cease to be God in any way at all, but now he added to himself human nature. As we think of it I feel like crying out, “Think of it! Think of it!” Was there ever such a wonder as this – the infinite taking to himself a tiny baby’s body. He sucked, and cried, and filled his diaper, and was sick, and slept. He needed to be put to sleep and the most convenient place in the stable was an animal’s feed-bin. He needed a blanket to keep him warm when the winter storms blew. He need to be cradled in his mother’s arms, and he needed his father to hold him and tell him stories. He became poor!

We think of the falls of the wealthy – the plunge of TV entertainer and singer to becoming a bag-woman sleeping on the streets of Las Vegas. We all know of the best selling novelist who is now locked up in prison. A man who was born a pauper is not as relatively poor as one who was once a millionaire but has been reduced to signing on for unemployment benefit. No one knows the pinch of poverty like a person who has once been rich. But such men did not choose the life of penury, while Christ took this step utterly voluntarily. It was not forced upon him by chance or through evil men. He humbled himself, and what humiliation it was. It is a small step between the state of the richest man in the world and the poorest man. They both can eat just one mouthful of food at a time and wear one set of clothes and sleep in one place. What a narrow space a man fills. The difference between one man and another is relative, but the difference between God and man is infinite – Christ in the glory of his Godhood and Christ in his human humiliation is an immeasurable step. No one can describe his riches, and no one can describe his poverty. We have no idea how high he was as God, and you can never imagine how low he stooped when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Christ’s poverty consists of his entering this sin-cursed and groaning world. It would have been impoverishment if he had become a man and walked and talked with Adam and Eve before they fell into sin, but it was not into paradise Christ came, but into a world controlled by its god, the prince of this world, the spirit that works in the disobedient children of men. He came where the darkness is, where the screams of the crucified are heard, where they stone and kill the adulteress, where the demon-possessed are fettered in chains, where children die. Into this world of privation, humiliation and poverty he came.

He received no special favouritism. He was not born in marble halls with a ceremonial crown placed over his head. He did not receive from his birth onwards the flattering glances of courtiers and the homage of crowds who worshipped and bowed before the little boy wherever he went. He was made of the substance of a peasant girl, born in the mean circumstances of a barn. Remember it was the God who created all things and who was upholding all things by the word of this power who was born of Mary in that place. That is the glory of his poverty!

The God-man was soon to become a homeless refugee and an asylum-seeker in north Africa carried south by his parents because thirst for his blood had just begun. Men sought to take a child’s life. Much of three long decades were spent in an obscure village called Nazareth where his father was the local joiner. Men belittled such a place: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” they asked. He was known as Jesus of Nazareth, and the early church gloried in that title and it was by that name that he introduced himself to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. He was not ashamed of the reproach of becoming so poor. Of all the years he lived in that hamlet we know virtually nothing at all.

When his public ministry commences he stands in a line of confessing sinners and is baptized alongside them by one of his own prophets. His friends are fishermen. He does not rub shoulders with government leaders, playwrights, philosophers, the good and the great. He moves from village to village depending on people’s generosity to keep him and his friends alive. He would see a fox slinking back to its lair and a swallow popping into its nest at the end of the day, but he observed that he had nowhere he could lay his head and call his home. Scripture strikingly underlines this with the observation at the end of chapter seven of John’s gospel and the opening verse of chapter eight, “Then each went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” (Jn.7:53 & 8:1). He had no home. Jesus never made a will. He became poor. He asked a woman would she give him a drink of water. When he was hungry the devil came to him and tempted him to turn stones into bread.

Then we must remember this, that when Christ was here he was God’s servant. That is the status this one took who was in the form of God – the form of a servant. The one served by an innumerable company of angels gets up from a meal and goes to the rail where the towel is hanging, picks up the jug of water, pours it into a bowl and walks up to one of the disciples and kneels before him and washes the mud off his feet. Then he moved to the next man. The brightest of the angels lowered his eyes before him, but Christ washes the feet of all his disciples one by one. Caesar never did that. Annas and Caiaphas the high priests never did it, and even fishermen were reluctant to do it, but Christ did it.

Little wonder he had a poor reputation. Men said of him, “Look at the company he keeps. See into whose homes he goes.” He seemed to mix so much with the poor and the world’s losers, always he was raking in that mud to find those lost jewels. That’s where he found Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene and some of his own apostles. He made himself their companion for their good. So people treated him with scorn. Men tarnished his reputation, calling him a glutton, a drinker, a friend of the worst kind of people. Some of them said that his miracles were done by the power of the devil. They couldn’t degrade him lower than they did. Even his own mother and brothers tried to trap him, and at the hours of his greatest need all his friends ran away and left him. No one would speak up at his trial and say a good word for him.

Heaven had been without any loneliness but when he became poor he never mixed with anyone who could remotely be called his equal. He learned from no one. There was nobody at all who gave him intellectual or spiritual stimulus. He was very close to John, but John was one of those who wanted to call down fire from heaven and destroy a Samaritan village, and John’s mother pressured Jesus into giving John a seat at his right hand when his kingdom was established, and John was one of those who fled when the soldiers came to arrest him. What a gulf separated Jesus from John. Our Saviour lived a life of solitude. It was a very bleak and lonely and isolated life. When he asked some friends to pray with him for an hour then it was not long before they went off to sleep and left him praying alone. He had left the assemblies of the perfect in heaven and he became surrounded by a group of ignorant people. How frivolous and empty-headed they were. What poverty of conversation, stimulation and friendship he knew. Even the devil didn’t think twice about coming right up to him and tempting him to sin even enticing Jesus to worship him.

Consider his sufferings, the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, the deep agony, throwing himself down onto the ground. That is followed by the crown of thorns pressed down on his head and the purple cloak in which they dressed him. They slapped him in the face when he was blindfolded and asked him to prophesy who had hit him. They spat in his face. Then they put him on trial and they condemned him to the death of the cross. They nailed him through hands and feet to a cross and lifted him up, naked, and then mocked him for hours, shouting and swearing at him as he suffered there. This is the eternal Son of God who has subjected himself to this shame. He can say, “I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me” (Ps. 22:17).

Then he cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is the most mysterious experience and most mysterious cry that ever ascended to heaven. To be forsaken by your friends is one thing, but to be forsaken by God your Father is something else. How could he the Son of God be abandoned by God the Father? God in human nature abandoned by God! John Murray says, “Nothing less than this is the fact and nothing less is the mystery. He was enduring – vicariously indeed, but nevertheless enduring – the abandonment which is God’s curse upon sin. He bore our sins in his own body upon the tree. And, because so, he bore the full judgment of God, in all its unrelieved intensity, upon sin. He endured the separation sin deserves in order that he might redeem his people from all iniquity. This is nothing less than damnation. But it is damnation borne with this unique and incomparable distinction that it was damnation exhausted. He swallowed up and extinguished in his own agony the whole condemnation of God against those whom he had determined to enrich with everlasting and inexhaustible riches. For in that mysterious cry we have not reached the finale. He also cried out, ‘It is finished’. And only then did he bow his head and rend asunder the very constitutive elements of his human nature – he gave up the ghost, ‘No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself’ (John 10:18) (Op Cit. pp. 233&234).

There is a story I have often read of an American gentleman who was accustomed to go frequently to a tomb, and put fresh flowers on it. When someone asked him why then he said that when the time had come for him to be enlisted to fight in the war he had been detained by his business and a schoolboy friend of his had cheerfully said that he would go instead of him. His friend had died soon after in a battle. This man’s own rich life had come about only through his friend’s death. Over that carefully kept grave he had had the words inscribed, “He died for me!” There is something so melting in the thought of another dying for you. How much more melting is the thought that he who had been rich as the eternal Son of God, made himself poor and laid down his life on Golgotha for us.

That is what Paul says, “yet for your sakes he became poor” (v.9). Surely he did it for worthier people than this congregation. There must be congregations somewhere full of beautiful and wise and moral and intelligent people, and we can better understand someone giving up his glory for them, but we seem so ordinary. Even our sins are ordinary, and so is our Christian lives. But Paul is writing to the whole congregation in Corinth, and they were also a very ordinary church with many falls and much confusion. They limped and staggered on as we do, and yet Paul said to them all, “for your sakes he became poor.” There wasn’t one thorn in his crown that wasn’t for our sake. No spittle on his cheek that wasn’t for our sake. No hair plucked from his beard was for his own sake. It was all for you. The lash that descended on his shoulders was for your sake. The bloody sweat in Gethsemane was for your sake. The cruel nails, the spear thrust in his side, the darkness, the death – all that self-impoverishment was for your sake – part of his great love wherewith he loved us!

Were you a drunkard and has the Holy Spirit shown you that he died for you, and are you rejoicing that you have been washed in his precious blood? Were you an arrogant intellectual who thought you knew all the answers but now you’ve come to see that God sent Christ to the cross for you? Were you fighting against a Christian upbringing but now have bowed the knee crying, “Rich Jesus you have conquered me too”?

How rich we have become through his poverty! I am with you always, he says to his people. “I will never leave you nor forsake you. I shall supply all your need according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I will work all things together for your good. I am going to prepare a place for you and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also.” What riches are ours through Christ! The riches of pardon, and the imputed righteousness of Christ, of adoption into his family, and union with him and his shepherding me safely home.

“I would not change my blest estate
For all the world calls good or great.
And while my faith can keep her hold
I envy not the sinners’ gold.” (Isaac Watts).

Can you imagine a royal prince crying because he has been mixing with rough young men and has lost a piece of broken plate? “Go home rich Prince. Your mother the Queen will give you many royal playthings!” God will always supply our needs. He must do so, for the sake of the poverty of Christ. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly. King George III once met a stable boy and said to him, “What do you get, Jack, for your work?” “I get nothing sir except my food and drink, and a place to sleep.” “That’s all they give me,” said George III. That’s all we need and God who clothes the grass of the field and feeds the sparrows will certainly look after us. How rich we are to have been given this day our daily bread by our Father God. All the blessings of every day were purchased for us by the impoverishment of Christ. All the blessings of the world to come were bought by his great poverty.

3. BECAUSE OF HIS POVERTY AND OUR RICHES WE MUST EXCEL IN EVERY GRACE.

This is the observation: “you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us” so now add this one grace more, “- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (v.7). If you have been made rich by the poverty of Christ then live excellent lives!

i] Excel in faith! If he has given such convincing proof of his love for you then how can you worry about the future? Trust him! If there is a wife who says to her husband, “I am afraid of this, and afraid of that,” he says to her, “but, my dear wife, can’t you trust me? Haven’t I given you enough proofs of my love?” Yet no husband in this world has ever given such proofs of his love as Jesus has to us, that we might trust him wholly, fully, constantly, unwaveringly, for ever. Excel in faith. Steal away to him whenever you are under pressure. Never carry a burden for a second without putting it down at his feet. He says to us, “After all I have done for you, trust in me.”

ii] Excel in speech! Once you have seen all that Christ has done to save you then your language is going to change. Your curse words and blasphemies are all going to disappear. Remember how Paul exhorts the Ephesian Christians about their language, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephs. 4:29, 31&32). What a difference Christ makes to the way we speak. This man Paul once was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. Now his entire approach to speaking has changed.

iii] Excel in knowledge! He means by this a basic fundamental grasp of the Bible, its contents and in its teaching, its doctrines and the whole history of redemption. The God who helped men write it has gone to such pains that we can have it in our own language today. He has brought us to a church where the knowledge of the Bible is taught week after week. Are you growing in your knowledge of Scripture? Are you reading it each day? Are you laying it to heart? Are you reading some books that will help you understand it more and more? Don’t be content that you know some things. Excel in knowledge!

iv] Excel in complete earnestness! There is a certain commitment that a true Christian makes. If God the Son was once so rich and yet became poor for me then I am going to live for him. I am going to take up my cross and follow the Lord Jesus wherever he takes me. Isn’t that an earnest life? We are not going to mock earnest Christians. We will admire them. I remember a student who once attended church and a Christian Union going on to say ironically, “I don’t want to be a super-Christian.” He was mocking the earnestness of real Christians. He found it all too much. He wanted just a flavouring of religion – religion in moderation. But if the Son of God was rich and yet for our sakes became so very poor how can we help being anything other than earnest in serving him? A merely moderate gospel would call forth a moderate response, but for this biblical gospel we have to take the alabaster box of precious ointment and pour it over the feet of Jesus.

v] Excel in love! Without that what are we? Have you ever met someone of whom you said that he loves too much? People can be too protective, and jealous, and lustful, but no one can be too patient, and too kind. Love is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love always trusts and hopes and perseveres. It is this in which Paul is exhorting us to excel! You have loved somewhat – now love more! You have begun to love because of Christ’s love for you. Now excel in that love.

vi] Excel in this grace of giving. This is the point of all Paul has been expounding. There is this extraordinary example of what God has done in Christ and it has this impact on our lives

I have heard of a man who lived in a certain town and while he loved he was greatly misunderstood. It was known that he had a large income, yet he lived a miserly life. He spent nothing on himself and he hoarded all he earned, and everyone grumbled about him. But when he died the whole verdict about him changed because he left all his fortune to the community to build a dam and make a reservoir and an aqueduct so that there would always be a supply of fresh water for the town. This was the chief need of the community and for a long time they had suffered drought and diseases as they regularly ran out of water. All the years they had ignored him and disdained him, never speaking a good word about him while he was unselfishly saving his money to have enough to do this great work for all his neighbours. The people couldn’t do anything about him further than to speak well about him and confess that they had badly misjudged him. They commended him to their children and their children’s children.

But we can do much for the Lord Jesus Christ. He went to Bethlehem and to Golgotha to bring us the living water. He loves us so then I shall love like him and by his grace I will be kind and generous for Jesus’ sake. I will aim to excel in the grace of giving.

October 7 2001 GEOFF THOMAS