20th Sunday after Pentecost October 23, 2022
2 Corinthians 9:10-15
36, 400, Worship Supplement 2000 #788, 644
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Video of the sermon is available online here: https://tinyurl.com/CLC-MxM-20221023
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, You show mercy to Your people in all their troubles. Grant us always to recognize Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ,
I would imagine at one time or another, nearly every Christian wonders why they are suffering. Perhaps the lepers in our Gospel lesson wondered why they had that dreaded disease of leprosy. Sometimes as Christians age, they feel like they cannot do much of anything to contribute to kingdom work as they did when they were younger and they feel like they are a burden to their family. There is the widow who is chronically ill and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. One family seems to be hit with one financial blow after another. A hurricane comes and blows your home and all your possessions into the next zip code. Christians are often left wondering why these things happen to them. Perhaps you were thinking about that very thing this week.
As we look at 2 Corinthians 9 today, it is not hard to imagine the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem asking that very thing. They were suffering from a famine—a lack of food. These Jewish followers of Jesus Christ were already suffering persecution in Jerusalem for following Jesus as the promised Messiah, and now they suffered from lack of food. Perhaps they were wondering why God was allowing this to happen to them?
While God doesn’t always answer our “why” questions, telling us exactly why He allows certain thing to happen in our lives, our text for this morning may give us some insight. That famine in Jerusalem presented the Gentile Christians in Asia Minor an opportunity to demonstrate their faith by taking up an offering for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The result of that offering would be that they would be “overflowing with thanksgiving” to God. So let us think about the needs around us and how filling those needs will cause others to overflow with thanksgiving to God. Listen of the gifts that caused thanksgiving to God in 2 Corinthians 9, verses 10 through 15:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (ESV)
So far the Word of God.
One of the reasons Paul wrote this second letter to the Christians in Corinth was because of the gift they had begun gathering for the church in Jerusalem a year earlier. You know how things go with collections that take place over a long period of time. Take for instance, helping the victims of Hurricane Ian which hit Florida on September 28, 2022. Now, when the pictures of destruction are fresh in our minds, gifts come pouring into charitable organizations. But how many people will still be giving in a month, much less a year to help the residents of Florida?
So it doesn’t surprise us to hear of what was going on in Corinth. They had started taking up an offering for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, but over the course of the year their zeal of giving to this cause had drifted away. Thus, Paul writes to them encouraging them to finish the work that they had begun.
As Paul writes to them about supplying for the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, he doesn’t come down on them with the heavy hand of the law. Instead, Paul reminds them of the effect this gift would have on the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Take a look at verses 12 and 13, “For the ministering of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but it is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God.” The gift they were collecting would not merely take care of the earthly needs of the believers in Jerusalem, but it will cause so many of God’s people to give thanks and glorify God.
That is what Christians want with their gifts. While they want to help their brothers and sisters in Christ as they suffer, above all else they want God to be glorified and praised. When the earthquake hit Nepal, flooding in India, or the suffering that resulted in Asia and Africa because of COVID restrictions, members were eager to give gifts in support of these suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. The result was an overflow of thanksgiving to God.
Paul knew there would be another effect of that gift from the Gentile Christians in Corinth to those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul writes of that in verse 14, “they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.” That gift would strengthen the bond of fellowship between these two groups of Christians that likely would never meet on this earth. The Christians in Jerusalem who received this gift would long for and pray for those unnamed Christians who gave this gift.
We continue to hear the same thing today from our fellow believers overseas. As Pastors Mike Gurath and Luke Bernthal reported about their visits with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa, they told of how so many of the congregations “expressed their deep thanks for the support, love, and prayers they have received from their brothers and sisters in Christ back in the U.S.A.”
But we don’t have to send gifts across the ocean to see this truth. Such gifts are needed in our own congregation and even in our own family. As parents age, Christian children have the opportunity to provide gifts for them. Gifts of love and support. The gift of regular visits. These are good and God-pleasing gifts as Paul writes to Timothy, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) These gifts to our aging parents cause them to overflow with thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving that I have heard with my own ears, as well as sadness when such gifts are lacking.
The gifts of support we give to our fellow Christians do indeed cause an overflow of thanksgiving to God and strengthens the bonds of fellowship.
As Paul talks about the gift the Corinthians were taking up for the saints in Jerusalem, he cannot help but think about another gift given—a greater gift. At the end of our text Paul bursts into praise, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
What is that inexpressible or indescribable gift that God gave us? It is the gift that came at Christmas. However this gift wasn’t wrapped in shiny paper with a bow, but in strips of cloth. God so loved the world that He gave the greatest gift of all—His only begotten Son.
The gift of Jesus is truly inexpressible. We lack enough words in our language to express our thanksgiving to God for the gift of His Son. Jesus came to be our righteousness and through faith GIFTS that righteousness to us. While our sins separated us from God, Jesus died to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness—including our sins of selfishness and lovelessness that might keep us from sharing our own gifts with those who need them. Jesus’ resurrection on Easter continues to give us living hope, assuring us that because He is risen our sins are forgiven and that we too will rise from the dead. Through faith in Jesus, God has promised the gift of heaven. While the wages of sin is death, the free GIFT of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift!
Everything we now do, flows through this gift of salvation that God has given us. In chapter 8, Paul wrote of the Christians in Macedonia, who “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (8:5) So too with the gift from the Corinthians. In verse 12 Paul calls it this gift their “submission that comes from the confession of the gospel of Christ.” Actions speak louder than words, and this gift from the Christians in Corinth would speak volumes about how the gospel affected them. With this gift of love, they were confessing their love for Jesus in a visible way.
Strengthened by the gift of God’s love for us, we can freely give gifts to others knowing that it is God who gives us the gifts to give in the first place. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” Think of all that God has supplied each on of you. This morning you didn’t wake up wondering where your next meal would come from, you had to decide WHICH of the food options in your house you would eat. It is God who has richly provided for us beyond what we need for just today so that we can gladly and willingly give gifts to others.
Let us be overflowing with thanksgiving to God for each one of these gifts. When you sit down at the table this noon and look at the food on your plate, give thanks that God has once again provided bread for food. When you give thanks for all the gifts God has given you, consider how you can sow those gifts to others that they too may overflow with thanksgiving to God. You can sow those gifts knowing that God has enriched you in every way through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So back to our opening question: why does God allow Christians to suffer? He doesn’t always tell us why. However, when we see our fellow Christians suffering, it provides us with an opportunity to put our love of Christ into practice by caring for each other. And as those gifts are given, it causes thanksgiving to overflow to God. May we all overflow with thanksgiving to God for His great gift to us, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.