What makes a gift “indescribable”? I wonder what’s been one of the most meaningful gifts you’ve ever received. You can probably find words to describe what the gift actually was. But what might be hard to describe is the thoughtfulness and intentionality that went into it—how the gift so spoke to your preferences and interests, how it felt so particularly “you”! That element of the gift you might call “indescribable.”
The Apostle Paul reflects on God’s giving of his Son and describes this gift as “indescribable.” Surely Paul can (and does) describe the gift of Jesus in the doctrines of the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. But what makes this gift “indescribable” to Paul must be that sense of wonder—wonder over the intentionality and the cost, wonder over how this gift meets us where and as we are.
For Paul, it is this sense of wonder that drives him to action. We see in his life how it drives him to thanksgiving and praise. Paul can’t help but let his wonder carry his thoughts to the kind of loving, personal God who would give such a gift.
But in the larger context of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is saying this wondrous gift should also drive us to something else. At this time in his ministry, Paul was on a mission to raise financial support for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. It seems this need was both dire and strategic, as Jerusalem at this point was the epicenter of the young Christian movement. Part of Paul’s impetus in writing was to encourage the Corinthians to make good on their promises to give generously to the struggling church in Jerusalem. Paul’s longing was not just that God’s “indescribable” gift in Jesus would drive the church to praise, but also to be generous with the poor.
In our world today, we live surrounded by needs. We are aware of needy people in our lives and in our neighborhoods, and throughout the world. We might think of them especially in this Christmas season. Our response can often be to feel guilty, and sometimes to let that guilt drive us to giving. But guilt isn’t the motivation suggested in this conversation with the Corinthian church when it comes to caring for the poor. Paul explains, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
How do you become a “cheerful giver”? Paul says it can only come by “surpassing grace.” In other words, it has to come from God—God has to give something to us. But when we ask God for this surpassing grace to become a cheerful giver, what exactly are we asking for?
I think Paul would have us ask, first, for eyes to see the needy around us. This might mean eyes to see those whom God has in our lives who are in need financially, relationally, and spiritually, and whom God might have us care for in this Christmas season. Who might be lonely this time of year? Who might be hungry? Whether you are a follower of Christ or not, these are questions we might ask that could make a tangible difference in our world.
But second, Paul would have us ask God for the desire to give in the first place. This is where Christians have a unique potential to give in ways that change the world. Paul reminds the Corinthians where their desire to give can come from, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Far from appealing to a motivation of guilt, Paul is appealing to a motivation of wonder. When we ask God for the desire to give, we’re asking God would help us so recapture the wonder of his own “indescribable gift”—the gift of Christ himself—that new desires would begin to grow. The most cheerful givers in this world, Paul suggests, are those deeply aware of God’s own giving as the very gift that sustains us.
To the extent that we do this, Paul tells us, when the world sees such giving and where our motivation comes from, they will say in response: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” It is the kind of giving that points consequentially to the Giver.
What might God have you pray for? How might God have you give?
Logan Gates is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto, Canada.
"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, truth, and hope. By stirring the imagination and engaging the mind, we want to share the beauty and truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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