2 Corinthians 9:12-15 “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayer for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

These are the last verses in these two chapters which have comprehensively dealt with the theme of Christian generosity. We admit that we do remember people who have shocked us when we discovered their meanness. We could hardly believe that people were too tight even to give ten pence to a charity. But much more we remember the people who have enriched our lives by their exceeding generosity. The Bible itself notes both kinds of men. King David met them both. When David was being hunted by King Saul he met a farmer called Nabal of Carmel who was niggardly and bitter, refusing point blank to help David and his men with anything great or small. God kept a record of the meanness of Nabal in Scripture. There was also another man named Barzillai who was the very opposite, carrying whatever he could spare for the use of David. We know nothing about Barzillai except his generosity and that was where his greatness lay. The Holy Spirit spells that out in the Scriptures telling us that he brought “bedding and bowls, and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, ‘The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert'” (2 Sam.: 17:28&29). Barzillai was laying up treasure in heaven by laying it out on earth.

In the New Testament Luke draws our attention to a woman in Joppa named Tabitha (or Dorcas) and we are told about her, that she “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). The Holy Spirit tells every Christian to note that well because those actions were important in God’s sight. She was a true believer because she was full of good works. Thomas Watson says, “You may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from fire, as works from faith.” That is the theme of the text that has been quoted above. The first point it makes is this:


i] The Corinthian Christians were concerned to help God’s people. They were intent on “supplying the needs of God’s people” (v.12). They said, “Those people in Judea belong to God as much as we do. They are our eternal brothers and sisters. They are in need and we can help them.” That should be the concern of every one of the people of God. It was wonderfully exemplified in the life of William Grimshaw of Haworth, the famous evangelical preacher of the 18th century (whose biography by Faith Cook has recently been published by the Banner of Truth). Grimshaw would give away his last penny to the poor until he didn’t have a crust of bread left in his house, just some onions to live on for a few days. There was an old couple who were living in a church-owned cottage and the rent they paid formed part of Grimshaw’s salary. They didn’t pay him, and they pleaded that they had had to use the money to buy food, and they did. But Grimshaw had borrowed money from a rich man in the town to provide for orphans and hungry people. He needed that rent to pay back the loan to the man as well as buying food for himself. But a few days later Grimshaw sent his curate around on his white horse to their cottage, not to demand the money, but with a sack of flour to help them.

Grimshaw would also gather together all the old shoes and boots which wealthy people had discarded, and he would pay a cobbler to sole and heel them. Then he would give them away to poor men and women. Grimshaw would even part with his own clothes. He would give away his coat and come back to his housekeeper Molly cold and drenched to the skin. His friends feared he would die a debtor, but he died leaving everything to Molly, which inheritance amounted to the princely sum of five pounds, his feather bed, bolster, blankets and a rug. He had entered the world naked and so he left it. Grimshaw was like Dorcas, zealous in supplying the needs of God’s people. Where does that zeal come from? It stems from a heart of love doesn’t it? Grimshaw loved his congregation, so he would cover their shivering bodies with warm clothes. Our love would cover them too, in every kind of way. There was a godly older lady in Caithness in Scotland, and her mid-week meeting was once discussing how love should cover a multitude of sins, that is, the love of Christ in the soul always results in our seeking to hide the infirmities that you see in another Christian. This lady said, “My love for the Lord’s people is such that, if I could, I would hide their infirmities from the Lord himself.” True Christians are concerned to give what they can to the Lord’s people.

Maybe we think our society has come a long way from 18th century Yorkshire and the age of William Grimshaw. People tell us that there is no poverty in modern Britain, that poverty has been banished by something or other. Certainly if you are careful and plan your life properly you need never see it. No one on my street is poor, nor on yours I would guess. But if you are the children of a single mother, an alcoholic who sleeps behind the Iceland or B-wise stores, that’s poverty. In every city in Britain and every village in Wales such problems are within walking distance, but never so pressing that we can’t walk by on the other side, with a hundred pious reasons for doing nothing.

ii] Again, the Corinthians’ generosity was seen “in sharing with them and with everyone else” (v.13). There are some church attenders who are passionately pro-Israel so that they give sacrificially to Jewish missions, but not to anyone else. Paul noticed how the concern of these Greeks was indeed for the poor Christians living in Judea but also ‘with everyone else’ in need. In the life of the evangelist to the Faroe Islands, William Gibson Sloan, his biographer notes that when he was 45 years of age he kept a diary where there was a list of people whom he had noted needed some specific help. I was reading it this week:

“Remember about the acid for two persons in Fugloy and for A. Edriksen in Vioareioi, and the eye-wash for Siun Andreassen in Vioareioi, and acid for Jacob Petersen; send a little book to Susanna in Muli; send a few little books to Rasmus Rasmussen’s children in Kunoy; … promised some cocoa to Madam Elia Eliasen in Mikladalur; promised a toy for Hans Joensen’s youngest child; promised some acid for Elsebeth Susanna Jacobsen in Syoradular…” (Fred Kelling, “Fisherman of Faroe, William Gibson Sloan,” Leirkerid Publications, Gota, Faroe Islands, 1993, p.213), and so on. Then there is a tick beside each item to show that he has purchased and delivered those gifts.

William Sloan could not be on a missionary footing unless he also went about doing good. There is nothing new or radical in that. It goes back to Jesus himself and every one of his disciples has to emulate him in this respect. The responsibility is not confined to individuals, however. It falls equally upon the church as an institution. The church as a church has to go about doing good. It is not simply that we have to maintain a building over 130 years old as ours is – important though this is. “Jesus went about and mingled, listening to people, meeting needs, practising compassion, showing sympathy and actively healing. The apostles healed. They cared. They remembered the poor. Their great modern successors did the same. John Knox cared deeply about the poor. Thomas Chalmers gave himself heart and soul to the problems of pauperism in his Glasgow parish. General Booth sought to provide work, food, shelter for the thousands of London’s submerged poor. Spurgeon and Whitefield had their orphanages. These men didn’t simply preach. They were concerned for men’s bodies as well as for their souls. They knew that there was no point in preaching to a drowning man. You had to throw him a life-belt. You had to meet men’s desperate temporal needs. You couldn’t simply be a church which listened to sermons. You had to be a community which went about doing good” (Donald MacLeod, “God’s Vision for the Church,” “Foundations,” Issue 47, Autumn 2001, p 3.ff).

The Lord Jesus says that it is nothing to boast about when you pride yourself in your generosity to those who in turn are generous to you. He tells us to love our enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use us. Paul remarks about those who “praise God” that the Corinthians had been generous in sharing with them. So Paul is initially talking about kindness to fellow Christians, and it is easy to be generous to those who believe as you believe. But the apostle adds that these men were also generous “with everyone else” (v.13).

iii] Again, this obedience came out of their confession of the gospel of Christ (v.13). They stood speaking in the market place, on the roadsides and at the harbours in Corinth and confessed to anyone who would listen to them that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Saviour. Paul comments on their evangelistic zeal when he says that they had ten thousand instructors in Christ (I Cor. 4:15). But they didn’t serve God with their lips only, they were zealous in obeying the great command to love their neighbours as themselves. Faith without works is dead, being alone. One of the most intriguing things about the mission Thomas Chalmers established in Edinburgh’s West Port in the 1840s is the bill for soap. There were many abandoned and abused lassies, and so some Christians established a home for them and taught them basic skills so that they could face a life of independence and self-sufficiency. They were taught how to take in washing, to launder, starch and iron clothes so providing themselves with a living. That may seem to you a long way from the churches in Greece sending money to help the starving Christians in Judea but in fact it is only a hop away.

iv] Again, this generous spirit proved that their profession was genuine. Paul speaks of it here as “the service by which you have proved yourselves” (v.13). They had once been raw recruits in the army of Christ, but they had listened to the Captain of their salvation and they had clothed themselves with all the armour of God. They had endured hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ and now they were strong in the grace of Christ. They had proved themselves real servants of God by a great change of life. They were zealous in their generosity. The divine life had been implanted in their souls. There was a real change of heart, and the new heart showed itself in practical kindnesses that were sacrificial which overcame every kind of obstacle.

Let me tell you a story that a preacher called Joseph Jarvis told a century ago to this year exactly at a Sunday School Anniversary service at Grove Baptist Church, Drayton Gardens in Chelsea, London. This was his story: a farmer had an old horse which he wanted to get rid of, so he sent his son Tom to a horse-dealer at a fair. The young man asked the dealer whether he had a horse in part-exchange for this old mare, one that would suit his father. The dealer told him that he didn’t have one with him that afternoon but that if he left this horse there and called back that evening then he would have one which would suit him fine. So some hours later the son went back and was presented with a frisky mare for which he paid the dealer five pounds. When he got home his father, seeing the horse, gasped. “Tom! What’s got into you? You have brought back our old mare again.” It really was so. The horse dealer had transformed the old nag by clipping its coat, and darkening some of its white patches and making her swallow some medicine which had made her frolicsome.

You understand the point Joseph Jarvis made to the children of Chelsea a hundred years ago last February? This is just what so many people attempt in becoming religious. They exchange formal church attendance for lively church attendance. They exchange boredom in services for enthusiasm for services. They exchange profanity for morality. They exchange Sunday TV for a Sunday meeting. They take great pains to make the outside clean, however, the inside is unchanged, still full of corruption, self and deadness. The Lord Jesus spoke about putting new wine into old bottles, and covering an old man with a new coat, or a new patch on the old garment so making the tear worse. If any man be in Christ he is – he must be – a new creation. Here were the Lord’s people in Corinth who proved that their service of God was genuine by sacrificial loving obedience to whatever the Lord told them to do.

Then who is genuine here tonight? Who are the new creations? Where is the obedience that must accompany a true confession that Jesus is our Saviour? Where is the life of service? The Lord knows, doesn’t he? He can tell the difference between the fake and the real, the counterfeit and the genuine. There was once a girl who was brought to know God for herself as the congregation standing around her – many children her own age – sang these words:

“If Jesus should come to our meeting today,
To call out the Christians by name,
Oh how we should listen to what he would say!
How solemn the moments would seem!
He’d know who they were, for He searches the heart;
We could not the Saviour deceive.
Oh, who are the ones that He’d call out apart?
And who are the ones He would leave?
Yet Jesus is here, though his form is unseen;
His eye is on each of us now;
He knows who has truly sought pardon for sin,
And longs like the Saviour to grow.”
She was deeply convicted by those words, and this is where we are being tested. The Saviour warns us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of God. Are we growing Christians, like that children’s hymn says, “And long like the Saviour to grow”? To grow there must be life in our hearts, the life of God which is energetic and dynamic. It shows itself in a lifetime of good works – generosity and service and love. Such things confirm the profession of the gospel that we make with our lips.


i] Paul told them that their generosity to the Christians in Judea “is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (v.12). This is the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, that when men see our good works they glorify our Father which is in heaven. They don’t say, “You must be a ‘wunnerful’ guy.” They realise that the Lord Jesus Christ has made all the difference, and their expressions of thanks arise to the God who has wrought the transformation effectively and permanently.

One of the ways William Gibson Sloan made such an impact for Jesus Christ on the island of Kunoy in the Faroes was in the way he was always promoting what was good. Of course he preached the gospel, but he was also zealous in good works. He did this with the young and the old. For example, there was a man who was blind but whose eyes were always irritating him. So each time Sloan came to that village to preach and pray he made sure he had some ointment for the man to counteract that itch. Then he would gently talk to him about Jesus Christ. The blind man resisted the gospel, but he would talk warmly about the evangelist saying, “If ‘Old Sloan’ is not saved then nobody is!” Even that man could perceive the difference Sloan’s Saviour made to him.

The Lord Jesus sends us forth as the light of the world: the only light there is. He sends us forth with the incredible message that God is love. Every tribal demon in the pantheons of Corinth, in every temple on each street corner, was an angry god, consigning sinners to hell and striking terror in the souls of all their devotees. None of those gods loved. None of them cared. None of them wiped away tears. None of them clothed prodigals or put shoes on their feet or rings on their fingers. They all said “Give to us, so that we wont be that angry with you.” None of them said, “Give to others as you would give to yourself.”

We belong to a gospel church; a good news church; a hope church; a love church. It is a Christ-church, one that majors on the fact that God has taken our nature, shared our experiences, borne our sins and conquered death. So we must be a giving congregation, a generous fellowship, a body that refuses to walk by on the other side.

ii] Again, Paul emphasises this by telling them that “men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ and for your generosity” (v.13). We don’t have to look far to find those for whom we continually praise God, do we? Many of us who come from Christian families acknowledge what a privilege that was, and we praise God for the godly example that we had in our homes in those long formative years. I have been reading an old book, which found on the second-hand shelves of the Heath Christian Bookshop in Cardiff this week. It is the biography of Joseph Jarvis, a pastor for thirty-three years in Devonshire Road Strict Baptist Chapel in Greenwich, London. Joseph Jarvis, who died in 1928, was one of ten children and when he was a teenager he and his Christian family went to hear a stranger preaching at a new church, Bethel, in Robertsbridge in Sussex. They listened carefully, comparing what he said with the Bible, wondering whether the preacher would turn out to be a man of God or not, and soon they began to appreciate what they were hearing. Then a strange providence took place, a pigeon or a dove flew in lazily through the chapel window and it perched on the preacher’s head. The minister was named George Stedman. The bird was so tame that it allowed Pastor Stedman to put up his hands and take it. He gave it to one of the congregation – her name was Mrs Mewitt – and she took it outside and released it. Then he continued with the sermon. The family were quite struck with the incident, taking it as a kind of divine sign of approval of the man, and they heard George Stedman with profit on other occasions.

That incident is really an interesting aside (I hope), because what I wanted to tell you was that this family would walk back and fore to the church in Sussex, from Burwash Common to Warbleton, all twelve of them each Sunday afternoon. There was a certain part deep in the heart of the silent wood where there was a five-barred gate, and each Sunday when it was dry they would stop there, the ten children and the parents and they would sing some hymns. Then the decades went by, children married and parents died, and eventually of that family there were only two brothers left. One day they were talking, and Joseph said to Stephen Jarvis, “We must go back there, and kneel down by that gate, and thank the Lord for all his wonderful mercy to our family.” But they never could find a suitable time, and then Joseph died. Yet one day, by himself, in February 1930, Stephen Jarvis alone made the journey, walked that old path and stood by the edge of the little river with the glad assurance that through sovereign grace and unmerited mercy, ten out of the twelve were already in glory. All alone in that blessed spot he praised God for his goodness to his mother and father, and to his siblings, and he sang from his heart the doxology,

“Praise God from whom all blessing flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Stephen Jarvis quoted the opening words of Psalm 115, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen” Now that is exactly what Paul is speaking of here. The changed life of kindness and love results in many expressions of thanks to God overflowing as others see what grace has done in our lives.

iii] Again, many will intercede for you from their hearts. “In their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you” (v.14). In other words, there will be heartfelt praying for you from those whose lives have been enriched by your kindness. It won’t be some peremptory prayer but petitions filled with warm appreciation to God for what he has done in you, and how they have benefitted from it. There is that firm warning which the apostle brings to the Philippians telling them not to be anxious for anything but to pray, and petition, and present their requests to God. There, in the midst of all that, the apostle adds the two words “with thanksgiving” (Phils. 4:6). Do not forget to express your thanks to God!

There is a Christian lady named Eileen Hoare and she was recently writing about her childhood memories, the stone flagged kitchen in her grandparents’ old bakery, the great dresser with shelves of china; the sofa with its assorted cushions; the fireplace with its massive hearth – a favourite spot of ‘Tortie’ the cat. The fire burned fiercely all the year round; it was the only means of cooking for the large family. Everyone ate off the scrubbed table and at one corner grandfather did his accounts. Eileen says that in that kitchen, “What I liked best was a large picture over a chest of drawers. It showed Jesus standing on a dusty road. A group of men were walking away in the distance. One man knelt low at Jesus’ feet. The caption below said, ‘But Where Are The Nine?’ At six years old I couldn’t understand that picture. Ten years later, I learned that Jesus had healed ten lepers and only this one, a Samaritan, had come back with thankfulness” (“Cheering Words,” “The Disappointment, December 2001, p.183). How easy it is to take all our blessings for granted, even the most enduring and important, and a despondent ungrateful spirit can come to dominate our lives.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to thank God. However you pray, don’t neglect the giving of thanks. If everything appears to be going wrong for you then consider that there have been many men and women who have helped you to become the person you are today. Consider them! You cannot thank God enough for them, with all your heart going out in praise to God.

It is in appreciation for the grace of God (whom sometimes we seek in the pain of our own personal providences), that we become most exercised and God honouring in our prayers. Submission to God with thanksgiving for his mercies is the school of Christ, and there we learn reverence and godly fear. In that holy school we are taught to pray. There was once a Scottish Highlander who was fighting in the American Civil War. One night he was arrested and brought before his general and accused of communicating with the enemy under cover of darkness. At the court martial the man admitted that of course he had been talking in the darkness but it had been prayer in a quiet place at that quiet hour. He had not been conversing with men.

The general was a Presbyterian and he carefully examined the man. “Let us hear you pray now,” he said, “for you never had more need of prayer.” The Highlander, there and then, got down on his knees and addressed his Creator and Saviour in holy yet intimate Scriptural language. He was obviously familiar with the Bible, and as a true believer was exercised to pray then and there with little fear of the men around him for he was conscious he was in the presence of God. When he finally said “Amen,” the general was moved and thankful. He told the Scotsman, “You may go. No one could have prayed like that without a long apprenticeship and many meetings with your God. We can tell those who have never done any basic training at Boot Camp. It shows when the President comes to review the men.” He knew the man was not a spy telling lies to save his skin because he prayed as one who had long known Almighty God for himself. In that prayer for the war, his fellow soldiers, his family and the nation his heart went out to them. The general knew it, and his own heart went out to the young Scot because of the grace that was evident in his life. Grace in others helps us to raise our voices in praise to God.


What was the reason for this Gentile concern for Jewish suffering? “Because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (v.14 & 15). All that we are and all that we ever will be is because of the surpassing grace of God. It was that grace that chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. That grace brought us into contact with the gospel. That grace gave us a birth from above. That grace illuminated our understanding so that we came to understand the Christian message. That grace made us sons of God. That grace strengthens us to keep obeying God and walking along the narrow path. That grace is going to take us safely home to heaven. It is saving, transforming, keeping, glorifying grace. Isn’t it properly called surpassing grace?

Suppose you admired a sportsman, or a singer, or a writer and he began to take a growing interest in you. He asks about you. He wants to spend time with you. He builds up your strengths and corrects some basic errors. His counsels help you enormously so that you feel pleasure and appreciation in all of this. You are so grateful for this person’s interest and you want to show it. But go a step higher, imagine there was an emergency, and the person you admire actually saves your life in some spectacular way. You would feel gratitude toward him or her for the rest of your life.

Gratitude is the main motive in the Christian life. Our lives have been saved by the powerful rescue work of Jesus Christ. This must always be at the back of our minds. We could have been wrecked. Instead we have been accepted and loved. We must be so grateful to God for his surpassing grace for the rest of our lives. Paul cries, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (v.15). He is referring to this whole immense grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which is God’s free gift to sinners.

i] The gift is indescribable because of the One who gave it. The living God who is without starting or ending of days; the One who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth; the One who upholds and sustains every living thing so that in him men live and move and have their being, in whose hands is their very breath; the Holy One before whom the seraphim hide their eyes and cover their feet and cry Holy! Holy! Holy!; the unchangeable God who is to be the judge of all mankind. Heaven is to be with him, experiencing his covenantal Fatherly love. Hell is to be separate from him, and to know his holy wrath as he displays his indignation at all that contradicts what he is in himself. This Almighty One, of whom to say that all this universe is the tiniest speck before him is to say nothing at all to magnify him more than he is already – the immense One without height or depth, east or west, or any dimensions whatsoever. It is this God has given his surpassing grace to sinners.

ii] The gift is indescribable because of him who brought it, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the one who is absolutely equal to the Father and the Spirit in his being and perfections. The one who created all things, for without him was not anything made that was made. He was begotten in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, so that within her womb there developed the God-man, the unbegun Son who had added to himself our human nature, so that in one person was the utterly unique one in whom divinity without measure and true humanity become united for ever. How indescribable that person who walked this earth in all its pain and darkness, pitching his tent in the valley of mankind’s desolation, hearing the groans and seeing the suffering and dying, tempted in every way as men are, and yet never succumbing and remaining sinless, so that this earth for Christ’s entire life witnessed a man as holy as God.

iii] The gift is indescribable because of what it cost him for us receive this salvation. He had to humble himself to death, even the death of the cross, because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. God has said that everyone who hangs upon a tree bears his curse, but his very Son, Jesus Christ, hangs on Golgotha cursed as a terrible sinner would be cursed. Yet he was without sin. For what is he being cursed? For our sins! God has imputed them to him. He bears our sins in his own body on the tree.

Once Joseph Jarvis was speaking at a Sunday School anniversary and he began to talk to the children about the hymn, “Around the throne of God in heaven thousands of children stand.” It is number 802 in our “Grace Hymns” and we shall sing it at the end of the sermon. So Mr Jarvis repeated the fourth verse to the children and he said to them, “What is the answer to this question?”

“What brought them to that world above,
That heaven so bright and fair?
Where all is peace and joy and love;
How came those children there?”
There was a long pause and no one seemed to have the right answer, and then one little girl put her hand up, and she got up, and she lisped the answer which Anne H. Shepherd the author of that hymn provides:

“Because the Saviour shed his blood
To wash away their sin;
Bathed in that pure and precious flood,
Behold them white and clean.”
Joseph Jarvis said that the answer pleased him very much. There was a little one who understood to some extent the need to be washed in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. All who are washed there lose all their guilty stains. For us to receive the gift of grace he had to die that death.

iv] The gift is indescribable because of what it will do. This gift gives us a new heart, and makes us a new creation. Indeed it makes all things new. It is a gift which freely justifies us, takes the guilt of all our shame and imputes that to Christ while imputing to us the righteousness of Jesus himself. This gift adopts us into the family of God and makes us his own sons and heirs, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. This gift ends the dominion of sin over our lives so that no longer do we willingly obey unbelief and contempt for God when those cruel lords tell us to ignore him. This gift is Christ’s Lordship and his shepherding love over us keeping us all our days. This gift joins us to him, puts us in Christ and puts Christ in us. We receive his life flowing through bring to us longing to please him in every way and strength to do so. This grace seals us until the great and notable day when we stand before him and then we shall be like him. It will present us spotless to him in that day.

It is all his grace which does all of that. Little wonder Paul exults, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” Possession of that gift shows itself in a willingness to serve and love all others who have also been recipients of the same grace, a determination to do everything we can to help them. Grace begins below and is fully manifest in the glory of the grace we shall see above, when with all God’s children we shall be united for ever.

2 December 2001 GEOFF THOMAS