255. Saint Paul on the grace of all sufficiency

0

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV)

Image result for apostle paul by rembrandt" The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt van Rijn, c.1657.

The background to this Pauline writing in 2 Corinthians 9:8 is Paul making a very earnest appeal to the Gentile Christians in Corinth for pecuniary help to the poor Jewish Christians in Judea. This “collection for Judea (Jerusalem Church)” occupied for so long a period so much of Paul’s thoughts and efforts. He had already written on this subject matter in 1 Cor 16; now, he writes again and at length in 2 Cor. In a concrete way that would ‘touch the hearts’ of the Jewish brethren, Paul wants to demonstrate the absolute unity of the two halves of the Church, the Gentile and the Jewish. And so, with great rhetorical skills, he writes powerfully in the collection for the poor saints of Judea.

He is lifting up a little ‘secular’ affair into a deeply spiritual subject matter. By a broad general law, he goes to the very depths of the Christian life. And so, while the apostle’s words primarily apply to money matters, they have serious implications for Christian living today.

In three clauses, Paul gives us a powerful three-step presentation that unpacks the working of grace.

First Step: The Fountain

  • And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance” (2 Cor 9:8a)

God is the “Fountain of Life”, the giving source. One in its essence, this grace manifests in many forms, for there are many graces in the One Grace.

Not only is it many-sided, it is abounding. This fountain does not give scantily, but is always pouring itself out, and it “abounds”.

There is, however, the condition of Christian obligation: Paul says God “can” which describes God’s ability – He is able to provide. Paul does not say God “will”. In other words, the fountain may be richly flowing alright, but it may not be flowing in our direction, unless we desire it, deserve it, and sincerely petition it for faithful stewardship.

The corollary is obvious: if our supplies are scant when the fountain is gushing, that must point to the inadequacy of our orientation. Might it not be that we are in fact oriented towards ourselves rather than towards God? Perhaps the proper thing to do is to take a hard look at ourselves?

This truth of God’s providence of blessing in abundance is universal, relating as it does to all grace, all sufficiency, for all things, and in every good work. In a word, the grace that God gives us is new life through Jesus Christ. “Grace” is for Paul the whole sum of the unmerited blessings, the undeserved pardoning love of God, which come to us through Jesus Christ.

All this is the outcome in Christian life which is stirred from the inside, but which originates solely in God’s ceaseless, unexhausted love, unmerited and free. We need to believe in that. As Hugh Lavery points out, “I believe in God” is not an opinion, but a decision. We live and move by a creed that often imperceptibly imparts drive and direction. Faith, after all, operates like a foundation. Faith in God is faith in Him as the foundation. Faith is the first agent of increase, just as its lack – unfaith – operates as an agent of sterility.

Second Step: The Reservoir

  • so that by always having enough of everything” (2 Cor 9:8b)

As the divine fountain abounds, so will the finite reservoir always be sufficient. A deeper dimension of this idea of sufficiency at once emerges, however, and that is, the good gifts of divine grace will always be proportioned to our work. Sufficiency is work-related and work-measured.

We shall feel that we have enough, if we are as we ought to be. Wisdom exudes from the saying “enough is as good as a feast.” “Too much,” then, instead of adding to the delight of the feast, dilutes and spoils it. Besides, life teaches that anything in “excess” goes downhill. Excess alcohol intoxicates. Excess food is injurious to the body. Excess food supplies, like cash, doesn’t keep very well. More likely, it corrupts and spoils.

In a related idea, this sufficiency applies to our sufferings as well. Out of the fullness of God, we receive proportionate strength to face daily tasks, crosses, sorrows, temptations.

God does not command what we cannot fulfill. He infuses strength. He comforts a sad and weighted heart. He “makes the back to bear the burden”. God “will not let you be tempted beyond your strength” [1 Cor 10:13].

Furthermore, heavy task or crushing sorrow, the key that opens the door of God’s treasure-house, St Paul says, is grace.

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” … for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Cor 12:9-10].

St Paul’s writings demonstrate a profound truth he learnt in Christian life. And right here, this “Apostle of the Crucified Lord” offers us a deep spirituality:

  • The harder your work, the weightier your burden, the darker your sorrows, the mightier is God’s support and the brighter will His light shine upon your feet.

This is a very difficult lived-wisdom no doubt, but it is a profound and consoling one as well when we need it.

Third Step: The Out-flowing Stream

  • you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8b)

Grace-giving is not an end in itself. God gives us grace for a very important consideration: that we may have great sufficiency for every good work; that weak, sinful creatures that we are may build character and conduct. As St. Augustine noted, “Grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”

What we are here for, what Jesus Christ died for, and what His Spirit is given and lives in us for, is none other than that: we should have a correct creed matched by a living faith, we be filled and radiant with common moralities and ‘good works’, and we be an out-flowing stream of all things lovely and grace-filled, reflecting the avalanche of grace of which we are beneficiaries.

God confers his gifts upon us that we may do good with them, and so may receive still greater blessings. All things in this life, even rewards, are like “seeds” to the faithful who mobilise them towards a future harvest.

Money given in charity is never a waste, but when given from proper principles, it is seed sown, from which a valuable increase may one day result.

Help should of course be given freely, be it more or less; not grudgingly, but cheerfully. But, it should also be given carefully. Works of charity, like other good works, should be done with thought and design. Due thought, on our own circumstances, and those we are about to relieve, will direct our gifts for genuine charitable uses.

God will bless the increase of those who give cheerfully, that they may have, not indeed the superfluity which ministers to selfish luxury, but the sufficiency with which all true disciples ought to be content. Clearly, we are to copy the graciousness of God because of the divine grace that we are given. For, “to whom much is given, much is expected” [Luke 12:48]. And so, no one should receive divine grace in vain. For if we do not apply well the grace that God has given us, we shall come under the stern and inevitable sentence:

  • “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” [Matt 13:12]

In sum, then, God provides grace. It is God, the Fountain of Life, who provides every possible blessing in abundance. The supply will always be sufficient. We will always have sufficient supply of every possible grace that we “really” need. And the sufficiency is always meant for good works. Our constant sufficiency is meant for sharing in good works. As we share, new “seeds” are sown, and more blessings flow our way. But, failing to share may result in what we have being taken away.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, September 2020. All rights reserved.

You are most welcome to respond to this post. Email your comments to jeffangiegoh@gmail.com. You can also be dialogue partners in this Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry by sending us questions for discussion.

 

0