9:15 His indescribable gift refers to God’s Son, Jesus. Giving ought to be an expression of appreciation to God for sending Jesus (Jn 3:16).
9:15 This verse should be read in connection with 8:9. God’s “indescribable gift” is His own precious Son (cf. John 3:16). Giving is again directed to the cross for its proper motivation. God gave His best; He gave His all. All Christian giving should be a humble and joyful response of praise, worship, thanksgiving, and gratitude for God’s wonderful gift, which human words are truly inadequate to describe.
9:15 Our giving is only a small imitation of God’s own excellent generosity to us, especially in the “inexpressible gift” of His Son (John 3:16).
9:15 his indescribable gift Refers to Christ, who brought about salvation through His life, death, and resurrection. It may also refer to His generosity: He became poor so that those who believe in Him might become rich (8:9). Paul appropriately closes his appeal for the Corinthian church to give generously by thanking God for His generous gift.
9:15 The gift of the Corinthians reflects the inexpressible gift God has given to believers in Christ (cf. 8:9; Rom. 8:32).
9:15 Paul summarized his discourse by comparing the believer’s act of giving with what God did in giving Jesus Christ (cf. Ro 8:32), “His indescribable gift.” God buried His Son and reaped a vast harvest of those who put their faith in the resurrected Christ (cf. Jn 12:24). That makes it possible for believers to joyfully, sacrificially, and abundantly sow and reap. As they give in this manner, they show forth Christ’s likeness (cf. Jn 12:25, 26; Eph 5:1, 2).
9:15 — Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
The greatest gift we could ever receive is the marvelous grace of God, which hit its apex in the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The only reason we have the privilege of giving is that God already gave far more.
9:15 God’s indescribable gift is His Son, Jesus Christ. Our gifts can never compare to God’s sacrifice for us.
9:15. The ultimate expression of this grace is found in Jesus Christ, who provides the basis for all the other graces. Paul therefore ends this section by saying Thanks (charis) be to God for His indescribable gift!
9:15 At this point Paul simply bursts out into an exclamation! This verse has been a puzzle to many Bible scholars. They cannot see that it is closely connected with what has gone before. And they wonder what is meant by His indescribable gift.
But it seems to us that as the Apostle Paul reaches the end of his section on Christian giving, he is forced to think of the greatest Giver of all—God Himself. He thinks, too, of the greatest gift of all—the Lord Jesus Christ. And so he would leave his Corinthian brethren on this high note. They are children of God and followers of Christ. Then let them follow such worthy examples!
9:15. This thought was so magnificent in Paul’s outlook that it caused him to break forth in praise. He wrote, Thanks be to God. His heart broke out in adoration for God’s indescribable gift which made all of this possible—the gift of salvation through Christ. He was overwhelmed by the thought of Gentiles in Corinth joining with other Gentile churches to provide for Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He overflowed with joy that all of these churches would join together in the praise of God and in prayer for one another. Paul was so ecstatic at the thought he could go no further.
9:15 “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” Some take this context to refer to the Corinthian gift, but because of (1) Jesus’ great sacrifice mentioned in 8:9, or (2) the gospel of Christ mentioned in 9:13, it must refer to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.
The self-giving ministry of the Son (cf. 8:9) was meant to inspire these believers to give thanks (eucharistia, vv. 11, 12; charis, v. 13) to God and money to needy believers.
|NASB, NKJV, NRSV
|“beyond all telling”
This is the term ekdiēgeomai, which means to explain completely or mention all the details, plus the ALPHA PRIVATIVE, which negates it. In some ways the love of God is too wonderful for humans to grasp all its facets (cf. Deut. 30:11; Job 11:7; Ps. 139:6; Prov. 30:18; Isa. 55:8–9; Rom. 11:33).
15. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.
This text often appears on Christmas cards with the message that God has given us the gift of his Son. No one questions the truth of this message, but those readers who take the time to look at the context of this verse immediately notice that Paul says nothing about Jesus’ birth.
What is Paul trying to convey? With the words of a prayer, “Thanks be to God,” he introduces a doxology, which is a fitting conclusion to the preceding reference to God’s surpassing grace. God receives the tribute that is due him for his providence to make the collection a blessing to the entire church.
Paul expresses his gratitude to God “for his indescribable gift” of Jesus Christ. The apostle John writes about the unfathomable love of God (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9), but Paul notes the gift of God. This gift of God to the world is the birth, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of his Son. For Paul, the thought of God giving his Son to mankind is astounding. He sees the glorious results in the faith both Jew and Gentile place in Jesus Christ, in the breaking down of racial barriers, and in the unity of the Christian church. Presently the church of Jesus Christ is spanning the globe, so that everywhere Christians gather and worship the Lord. Believers meet in cathedrals, churches, chapels, private homes, a variety of other buildings, forests, caves, and hidden places. By means of the airwaves, the printed page, and the spoken word, the gospel goes forth throughout the world and accomplishes the purpose for which God has sent it (Isa. 55:11).
We see God’s indescribable gift, namely, his Son Jesus Christ, in the development and progress of the church. In his lifetime, Paul saw God’s kingdom advancing from Jerusalem to Rome and parts of the Roman Empire. In our times we witness its worldwide growth, power, and influence. Paul called attention to God’s inexpressible gift of salvation and gave thanks. With him, we too express our gratitude to God for the coming of his Son. On this earth we will never be able to fathom the depth of God’s love for us, the infinite value of our salvation, and the gift of eternal life. God’s gift indeed is indescribable!
15. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! This verse strikes a note sounded already in 8:9. There the grace of Christ was shown in his becoming poor for our sakes so that we might become rich. That was God’s indescribable gift. The word indescribable (anekdiēgetos) which Paul uses here is found neither in classical Greek nor in the papyri. It appears first in the New Testament and only in this verse. It appears to be a word the apostle himself coined to describe the ineffable character of God’s gift. Once coined by Paul, it was used by Clement of Rome in his letter to the Corinthians (written c. ad 95) when writing of God’s ‘indescribable’ judgments, love and power (1 Clem 20:5; 49:4; 61:1). The important thing to note is that for Paul all Christian giving is carried out in the light of God’s indescribable gift, and therefore ought to be done with a cheerful heart as an expression of gratitude to God, as well as in demonstration of concern for, and partnership with, those in need.
Paul’s confidence that the Corinthians would contribute to the collection was finally rewarded. When the apostle wrote Romans during his three-month stay in Greece (after the problems reflected in 2 Corinthians had been settled for the time being), he was able to say, ‘Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem’ (Rom. 15:25–26, italics added; cf. Acts 24:17).
Paul’s exhortations concerning the collection in chapters 8–9 provide important teaching about Christian giving. Generosity is an aspect of the grace of God in people’s lives. The grace of God in the Macedonians was evident in their being joyful in the midst of trials, generous in the midst of poverty, begging for the privilege of participating in the collection, and dedicating themselves to the Lord himself and to Paul in support of the collection. As a result, they could be held up as an example for the Corinthians, so that they too might excel in the grace of generosity as they excelled in other spiritual graces. Christian generosity cannot be demanded, but the example of Christ who became ‘poor’ so that we might become ‘rich’ is the supreme example and provides fundamental motivation for believers to be generous.
It is important to remember that people’s capacity to be generous is ultimately made possible by God’s generosity. He who provides ‘seed to the sower’ can enrich us in every way and increase our capacity to give to those in need. This, of course, presupposes that there will always be those who are in need (as Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you’, Mark 14:7), and they must not be expected to be generous in the same way as those who are rich.
In dealing with financial matters, it is crucial that things be done in a way that is pleasing to God and right in the eyes of our fellow human beings. This will mean making conscious efforts, as Paul did, to avoid criticism by acting transparently and by involving people of good repute in the enterprise.
In advocating Christian generosity, Paul emphasized that his purpose was not to relieve some at the unreasonable expense of others. He only wanted there to be a form of equality whereby those who were well-off contributed to meeting the necessities of those suffering want. And those who do contribute have the joy of seeing people’s needs met, thanks being given to God, and the hearts of the recipients responding in love to their benefactors. The whole matter of Christian giving is to be done in the light of God’s ‘indescribable gift’.
The significance of the collection for Paul and his mission is the subject of much debate. Clearly, the collection was intended to be a compassionate response to the pressing needs of Judean Christians, and an expression of the unity of the Jewish and Gentile sections of the church (2 Cor. 8:14–15; cf. Rom. 15:25–27). Some similarities (and some differences) have been noted between the way Paul speaks of the collection and the way in which the Jewish temple tax was administered. And, more conjecturally, it has been suggested that Paul conceived the bearing of the collection to Jerusalem by representatives of the Gentile churches in terms of the Old Testament prophecies of the latter days when the nations and their wealth would flow into Zion (Isa. 2:2–3; 60:5–7; Mic. 4:1–2). Furthermore, it is proposed that Paul hoped this would convince Jewish Christians that God was fulfilling his ancient prophecies, and as this realization dawned upon unbelieving Jews, they would become jealous when they saw Gentiles enjoying the blessings of God first promised to them, and that would trigger the repentance of Israel for which Paul longed (Rom. 11:11–14, 25–32). Unfortunately, things did not work out as Paul is thought to have hoped. Although he was warmly received by those in the Jerusalem church when he arrived with those bearing the collection (Acts 24:17–26), it did not trigger repentance on the part of unbelieving Jews. Shortly afterwards, his presence in the temple with those undergoing purification rites resulted in a tumult, his arrest and a further hardening of Jewish people against the gospel. This suggestion that Paul thought of the collection in terms of those Old Testament prophecies has been found unconvincing by the majority of recent commentators, for it constitutes a large superstructure built upon the foundation of inferences from a rather limited evidential base.
15 I have judged it proper to consider this verse alone, and unconnected with every other, from the very great sweetness, and importance of it. For, in whatever point of view the Apostle meant it, the beauty and loveliness is the same. It is probable, that he intended it by way of enforcing, upon higher principles than he had before mentioned, the charity he was recommending to the Corinthian Church. And to be sure, it doth form the highest, and the best of all arguments; the unequalled, and unspeakable love of God, in the gift of his dear Son. For who that properly considers, the free, unmerited, unlooked-for, gift of Christ, in all his suitableness, seasonableness, and preciousness, and lives in the enjoyment of Christ, and his fulness, and all-sufficiency; could pause a moment, from flying to the relief of all Christ’s distressed members, wherever he heard of them, or met them?
But, after paying all due respect on this ground, to the words of the Apostle, I would beg to consider them, on a point of infinitely higher moment. In what sense soever is meant this unspeakable gift: whether Christ, or the Holy Ghost, in either, or in both, the doctrine is most blessed. Some have conceived, that by the unspeakable gift, Christ is understood: and some have thought, that it is the Holy Spirit which is meant.
If we suppose Christ, as Christ, and as the gift of God; in every sense the mercy is so great, that it may well be called unspeakable. For the infinite dignity of his Person, and the infinite cause for which he is given; all the vast concerns involved in this gift, first before the world was formed, then during the whole of the present time-state of the Church; and, lastly, the eternal world which follows, and in which, all those immense purposes, for which Christ was given to the Church, and the Church to Christ, are to be accomplished: in whatever way the subject be considered, every child of God, in contemplating Christ, finds reason to join the Apostle, and cry out: now thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
And there is another view, which tends to enhance this gift, and render it unspeakably more dear and precious: I mean, in that it was given freely, without any one motive, moving the infinite mind of Jehovah to be thus gracious, but his own sovereign will, and from his own everlasting love. So far were the highly objects of this unspeakable mercy, from seeking it, or even from knowing that they needed it, that they were altogether ignorant, both of the Gift, and the Giver. And therefore, in the contemplation of God the Father’s love, in such unequalled proofs of it, as the free, full, and never to be recalled gift of his dear Son, with all the glorious purposes contained in it; every motive compels them to be unceasingly engaged, in praising God for his unspeakable gift.
And, if God the Holy Ghost in his office-character be supposed as implied in this unspeakable mercy; there is no less reason for admiring, adoring, and giving praise to God, for such a token of divine love.
When I speak of God the Holy Ghost as the gift of God, I beg to be clearly understood, as speaking upon Scriptural grounds, and by Scriptural authority. There is a gift of his Person, and a gift of his graces, in his office-character in the Covenant of grace. But this must never be understood, as lessening in our view the infinite glories of the Person of the Holy Ghost, in his own eternal power, and Godhead. In the essential glories of the Godhead, all the Persons are equal, in every point, which can distinguish the divine nature. Distinguished only by their personalities, they are One, in essense, will, power, and in all the sovereignty which constitutes Godhead. They are the Three which bear record in Heaven; and Which three are One. Such is the unity of the divine Nature. 1 John 5:7. Deut. 4.
And in relation to the account given to the Church in Scripture, concerning them; they are equally proposed to us in all the revelations of the sacred word, as entitled to the joint love, adoration, obedience, and praise, of all their creatures. Hence, they have in Covenant engagements, entered into certain offices, by which they are pleased to be made known to the Church, in the accomplishment of those grand purposes, from all eternity designed. God the Father’s office-character is represented, as choosing the Church in Christ, giving the Church to Christ, accepting the Church in Christ, and everlastingly blessing the Church in Christ, with all suited blessings, of grace here, and glory to all eternity. Hence in this office-character, Christ is said to be sent of the Father, to be the Savior of the world. 1 John 4:14. And in like manner, the Holy Ghost is said to be the gift of God the Father, in, and through, Christ. Hence Jesus, when speaking to his disciples on the coming of the Holy Ghost, said: the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name. John 14:26. And in the same discourse, the Lord Jesus speaks of the Holy Ghost being sent to them by himself. It is expedient for you, (said Jesus,) that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you: but if I depart, I will send him unto you. John 16:7. But in both instances it is plain, from the dignity of God the Holy Ghost, in his own Person, eternal nature, and Godhead, which he possesseth in common with the Father and the Son; that these things refer to the office-character, which in the Covenant of grace, God the Holy Ghost hath entered into, and engaged for: and not as if implying any inferiority, in his Almighty Person, and Godhead.
If in this sense, the Apostle meant the Holy Ghost, as the unspeakable gift of God; the Lord the Spirit is indeed unspeakably precious, in all that relates to his office-character and relation. And the Reader, as well as the Writer, of this Poor Man’s Commentary, if so be he hath partaken in His manifold gifts, and graces; may well join Paul in the same short, but expressive hymn of praise, and say: Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!
15 And so Paul himself ends this appeal in the very way he indicates their response will be received in Jerusalem, with praise to God for his indescribable gift. Here, then, is the conclusion to the exposition of chapters 8–9. The word “grace” (charis—8:1), with which Paul began, he now uses symbolically in this final statement. To be sure, the meanings are different; at the beginning it means “grace,” while here it means “thanks.” Indeed, the word charis, although used with different nuances and meanings throughout this long passage, has served to give an overarching unity to the whole, thus forming an “elaborate inclusio.”
It is, of course, “God” to whom the apostle expresses his “thanks” (see on 8:16; cf. 2:14). Thanksgiving—first by the “saints” of Jerusalem (vv. 11–12) and now by the apostle—has dominated these final verses of his exposition.
What is “[God’s] indescribable gift” (dōrea72) for which Paul offers his thanks to God? It is “the surpassing grace of God to you,” as stated in the previous verse, which has sparked a chain reaction. What began in free, unconditioned generosity has issued in thankfulness and longing in the fellowship within the “household of faith … the Israel of God,” in which there can be “neither Jew nor Greek” because “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 6:10, 16; 3:28). While the immediate context demands such an answer, a broader sweep of this passage hints that, ultimately, “God’s indescribable gift” can only be gracious Jesus himself, who, though rich, impoverished himself to make the poor rich (see on 8:9). Jesus Christ is “the divine gift which inspires all gifts” (so Tasker).
So conclude chapters 8–9, a remarkable and sustained exposition of the “grace of God” as applied to the historic situation in Corinth where the members of the church had allowed their contributions to Paul’s collection to fall into abeyance. Despite his powerful desire that the Corinthians complete the collection, at no point does Paul weaken his grip on this great truth of the gospel. As he began, so he ends, with “grace,” God’s “indescribable gift,” as he calls it, or rather him, Jesus Christ.
Paul’s words stand as a rebuke to the Corinthians’ myopic individualism and congregationalism (8:7). Paul’s emphasis is upon “equality” within the worldwide people of the new covenant and the mutual responsibility each member is to show to others, regardless of geographic separation or ethnic difference (8:13–15). The Corinthians displayed a lack of practical commitment to this reality as compared with the zeal and generosity of the very poor Macedonians. Paul presents these northern Greek believers, in whom the grace of God was at work, as a shining example of loving generosity to others in time of need, beyond their immediate circle.
Moreover, God’s righteousness, in covenantal fidelity (9:9) to the people to whom he has given his forensic righteousness (5:21), is to be expressed by them in the bountiful fruits of their righteousness (9:10), that is, in generous “sharing” with others (9:6–10) within the worldwide covenant people (9:13). God’s grace does not terminate in the recipient, but is to be reproduced in generosity. This is the “proof of love” (8:8, 24) and of obedience to the confession of Christ through the gospel (9:12). Sharing with others beyond the immediate congregation glorifies God and will be reciprocated by the recipients’ prayers for and longing toward the givers (9:13–14), the distant brothers and sisters in congregations beyond. Against Corinthian fears that their own needs would be unmet should they “share” in the collection (8:13–15), Paul gives assurances as to the power and faithfulness of God in providing for their own ongoing needs and for their own ongoing generosity toward others (9:6–10).
Various views have been expressed regarding Paul’s theological motivation in activating the collection. Prominent among these is that, in fulfillment of the promises of the prophets, the collection represents the ingathering of the Gentiles, which, in Paul’s view, would provoke a Jewish acceptance of the Messiah (as in Rom 9–11), thus hastening the Parousia. As noted earlier, we do not subscribe to this interesting view; Paul sets forth his own reasons for the collection, and the above hypothesis is not found among them (see Rom 15:15–33). Significantly, too, Paul states that the “sharing” is also for “everyone else” (v. 13), not only for the “saints” in Judaea.
Whatever the case, the collection was Paul’s. It was his “ministry of service … for the saints” (8:4; 9:1, 12, 13), in which the churches were asked to “share.” As such it was a merciful “ministry” (diakonia), which should be bracketed with the “ministry of reconciliation” that God had “given” him (5:18). Edifyingly, Paul’s exercise of the “ministry of service … for the saints” was conducted with careful forward planning (8:10; 1 Cor 16:1–4), with prudent attention to detail (8:16–24), with sensitivity to matters of probity (8:20), with perseverance in face of difficulty and disappointment (8:6–12), and, not least, in unswerving devotion of the doctrine to the grace of God (8:1–9:15 passim).
15 This doxology is a final appeal to the lofty grandeur of divine giving (cf. 8:9; 9:8, 10–11). Since the gift is said to be given by God (“his … gift”) and beyond adequate human description (“indescribable”), it could hardly be the Corinthian contribution or even the boon of Jewish—Gentile reconciliation in Christ alluded to in v. 14a, but must refer secondarily to the “surpassing grace” that God imparts (v. 14b) and primarily to the Father’s gift of the Son (cf. Ro 8:32).
Likeness to God
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (9:15)
This simple concluding benediction is one of the richest statements in Scripture. God’s indescribable gift is, of course, His Son—the most magnanimous, glorious, wonderful gift ever given, the gift that inspires all other gifts.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16–17)
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. (Gal. 4:4)
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9–10)
God’s gift of the Lord Jesus Christ is the basis for Christian giving. Jesus was the “grain of wheat [that] falls into the earth and dies, … but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). God, as it were, planted Him as a seed and reaped a harvest of redeemed people. Believers are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1), and they are never more like Him than when they give.
Subsequent history reveals how the Corinthians responded to Paul’s plea in chapters 8 and 9 regarding the offering. Sometime after writing 2 Corinthians, Paul visited Corinth as he had planned (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1–2). He remained there about three months (Acts 20:1–3), during which time he penned Romans. In that letter, Paul revealed that the Corinthians had responded positively concerning the collection:
Now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. (Rom. 15:25–27)
Not only had they contributed, but “they were pleased to do so”; they were joyful, happy, cheerful givers. They were on the path to true prosperity.
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