I heard about a family where the father was very proud of the fact that they always said grace before meals. Once they had some very smart guests coming to lunch. The father wanted to show off the fact that even their young son had learnt to say grace before meals .
As they were about to eat lunch he said to his son, ‘Tommy, would you say grace?’ Tommy whispered to his mother, ‘I don’t know what to say’. The mother replied, ‘just say what Daddy said at breakfast’. Tommy closed his eyes and said, ‘Oh God, we’ve got those dreadful people coming to lunch.’ That, of course, was an unusual form of grace!
Normally, ‘grace’ is a form of thanksgiving to God for what he has provided. Some people call it ‘giving thanks’. Others call it ‘saying grace’. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, but it shows how in our language grace and thanksgiving are closely connected.
The passages for today suggest there is good reason for this close connection between thanksgiving and grace.
1. Thank God for grace by our worship
When we begin to experience God’s grace, gratitude is the natural and appropriate response. The psalmist is overwhelmed by gratitude and worships God, saying: ‘Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever’ (v.1).
Years ago, by this psalm, I wrote in the margin of my Bible, ‘I sometimes wonder whether I sin more than any other Christian … how can God go on forgiving?’ If we feel like that, we are not alone.
The psalmist says first, ‘We have sinned’ (v.6a). Second, ‘We have done wrong’ (v.6b). Third, we have ‘acted wickedly’ (v.6c). Fourth, we ‘gave no thought to your miracles’ (v.7b). Fifth, we ‘did not remember your many kindnesses’ (v.7c). Sixth, we ‘rebelled’ (v.7d).
But, the next verse starts with the word ‘yet’. This is grace. In spite of everything, first ‘he saved them for his name’s sake’ (v.8a). Second, ‘he led them’ (v.9b). Third, ‘he redeemed them’ (v.10b).
As a result of God’s amazing grace ‘they believed his promises and sang his praise’ (v.12). But ‘they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel’ (v.13). Again, I have written in my margin, ‘This is the history of my Christian life – for a day or two, or even a week or two, I believe his promises and sing his praises … but then I soon go out and forget what he has done and fail to wait for his counsel, or to ask his advice about everything.’
Lord, thank you for your amazing grace. Thank you that you are so good to us. Thank you that your love endures forever. Thank you that you do not treat us as our sins deserve. Thank you that you save us for your name’s sake. Thank you that you lead us. Thank you that you have redeemed us. Help us to believe your promises and sing your praise and not to forget what you have done for us.
2. Thank God for grace by our giving
In this passage Paul gives us at least ten reasons to give generously:
- It is the best investment we can make
Like the harvest, giving is planting seed. The farmer will reap far more than what was sown (v.6).
This applies to everything in life. What we give to the Lord he multiplies – our time, our gifts, ambitions and money.
- It should be fun
Giving should never be formulaic or compulsory, but rather voluntary and cheerful. ‘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’ (v.7). The Greek word for cheerful is hilaros. We always quip at HTB that our giving should be hilarious! It should be fun to give.
- It takes away the burden of financial worry
Paul writes, ‘and God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’ (v.8). Giving does not mean handing over financial responsibility to God – but it does mean handing over the worry and the burden of it.
- It produces a harvest
When God invites us to give, he is pleading to our reason, not to our emotions. First, ‘you will be made rich in every way’ (v.11). Materially, we will have enough to give away generously (v.11). Our characters will be enriched (v.10). God will be praised (v.11).
- It transforms our character
Paul speaks of ‘the harvest of your righteousness’ (v.10b). Giving purges the character from the constricting grip of materialism that destroys lives.
- It inspires others
‘Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but it is also overflowing in the many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service of which you approved yourselves, people will praise God’ (vv.11b–13a).
- It meets people’s needs
Generous giving blesses other people and supplies the needs of God’s people – ‘helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians’ (v.12, The Message).
- It is evidence of real faith
Generous giving is an act of obedience which should accompany ‘your confession of the gospel of Christ’ (v.13).
- It makes you a stakeholder in the church
Paul speaks of ‘your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else’ (v.13b). The word Paul uses for sharing is koinonia which can also be translated ‘fellowship’. In the same way as when we share a flat or apartment we share in the bills, as we share in the needs of the community we reap the benefits of that community. For example, every time someone comes to know Christ through the community we share in the blessing.
It is a response to God’s gift to us
Our giving is a response to God’s amazing grace. His ‘indescribable gift’ (v.15) is the gift of his Son. ‘Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!’ (v.15, The Message).
Lord, thank you for your surpassing grace which abounds towards us. Thank you for the indescribable gift of your son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Help us to respond with generosity and grace to your amazing grace.
3. Thank God for his grace in our lives
The beauty of a diamond is best seen set against a black velvet cloth. The beauty of God’s grace is also seen in its full glory and brilliance against the darkness of evil. The prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s amazing compassion (14:1). The dark background is the evil of the nations around, in particular, Babylon.
In the course of his description of Babylon’s fall, Isaiah makes reference to an ancient Canaanite myth where Helal, the morning star, son of Shehar (dawn) attempted to rise above all the other luminaries, but was cast down by the sun:
‘You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you were brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit’ (vv.12–15).
Jesus similarly describes Satan’s fall (Luke 10:18). Perhaps it was pride and arrogance that led to an angelic fall before the fall of Adam and Eve. This is one of the few passages in the Bible that hints at the origins of Satan and demonic powers.
But against this dark background there is also a hint of a beautiful diamond.
The tyrant toppled,
The killing at an end,
all signs of these cruelties long gone,
A new government of love will be established
in the venerable David tradition.
A Ruler you can depend upon
will head this government,
A Ruler passionate for justice,
a Ruler quick to set things right (Isaiah 16:4b–5, The Message).
Whatever the historical fulfilment may have been, there is only one person who perfectly fits this description – Jesus the Messiah, born in the line of David, who brought together God’s love and his justice. The only response to God’s amazing grace revealed in Jesus Christ is to give him thanks with our worship, our giving, and our whole lives.
Lord, thank you for the greatness of your grace. Thank you that despite the evil and demonic powers we see at work in our world, we experience your amazing grace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for his love and faithfulness to us. Thank you that he seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. Help us, like him, to have a concern for the poorest of the poor and the needy.
2 Corinthians 9:6
‘Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap sparingly.’
This is the difference between placing one seed carefully in a neat line behind the other and chucking seed everywhere, not worrying if some misses the target.
I am a little cautious by nature and probably need to take more risks. I have experienced such incredible generosity by the body of Christ that it constantly challenges and overwhelms me.