Have you ever seen or read about someone who devoted themselves exclusively to the preservation of their own life and their own resources with no regard for others? How would you describe their life? I have one word: Misery!
Remember the original Bah-humbug man in “A Christmas Carol ” – Ebenezer Scrooge? He was a cantankerous, old cynic, full of detestable greed. In the words of Charles Dickens, he was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which not steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… He edged his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.”
But even a man as hard as Ebenezer Scrooge can be transformed. Even he learns to love and care for others as he begins to know and experience grace.
This process of transformation happens for us as well, as we begin to understand why Jesus, the eternally rich God, became poor so that we might experience His riches.
The Apostle Paul writes to a Scrooge-like congregation to spur them on to meet the needs of suffering Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He doesn’t haunt them with three ghosts, but He reminds them of the invasion of divine generosity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Please read II Corinthians 8:1-9.
God’s Word is full of paradoxes. This text contains one of the greatest paradoxes in all the Bible: through Christ’s poverty we become rich. The poverty of the eternally rich God makes spiritually impoverished people eternally rich.
Some think this verse means this: “Jesus died so that I might become monetarily rich! It says so right there: ‘So that you might become rich!’” But that interpretation wouldn’t support Paul’s point as encourages the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving, like the Macedonians, who were poor monetarily, yet gave beyond their means.
The broader context of II Corinthians 8 unpacks these riches in three fundamental ways.
First of all, we are given genuine freedom to serve Christ and others. Here we have the riches of spiritual endowments, otherwise known as grace gifts, which are God-given capacities for service (II Corinthians 8:7 – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in giving). Charis is used both here and in the next verse as a spiritual endowment or gift of the Spirit. We are to excel and abound in using our spiritual gifts.
We excel in faith. We grow in our capacity to trust the Lord more fully, constantly, and unwaveringly. We excel in speech by confidently and boldly sharing our faith. Some of you are trusting God to give you the words and the opportunity to share Christ with unsaved loved ones this Christmas. Who is it that you will speak with this Advent season regarding your faith?
We excel in knowledge. We begin to grow in our grasp of the Bible — its contents, its teaching, its doctrine, and the whole history of redemption. Are you growing in your knowledge of Scripture? We tend to grow complacent. What is your plan for growth in your knowledge of Scripture?
We excel in giving. Generosity is not something that comes naturally but is the result of God’s grace in our lives. Realizing what God has done for us in Christ liberates us from a Scrooge-like mentality. We become like Christ as we act in our context in the same way Christ acted in His — giving our resources and ourselves for others because of our spiritual riches in Christ. Where do you need to fan into flame the gift that God has given you? (See II Timothy 1:7)
Secondly, we are given genuine freedom to love as the sons and daughters of God. Here we see the distinguishing mark of the children of God – earnest, genuine love (8:8). How are you doing at zealously loving others in your life? Where do you need to repent of the lovelessness in your friendships, your marriage, your family, and your church?
Lastly, we are given genuine freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God. Paul speaks of the riches of our eternal salvation in II Corinthians 8:9, and Isaac Watts summarizes it well in this hymn text: “Behold th’amazing gift of love; the Father hath bestowed; On us, the sinful sons of men, to call us sons of God!”
Ebenezer Scrooge is set free from living for himself and serving only himself. He actually begins to live in concert with the meaning of his name Ebenezer, which means “stone of help” (See 1 Samuel 7:12). He raises Bob Crachit’s salary and assists his struggling family. He becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. He uses his wealth and resources to bless the lives of others. Dickens writes: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man, as the good old city knew.” Like our passage mentions, he began to know grace and it transformed him. In fact, this transformation enabled him to keep Christmas well. Remember, this was a man who had said: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
Have you, like Scrooge, learned how to observe well the Christmas season? Ponder
your own spiritual poverty and your bondage to sin and its attendant consequence of death. But don’t stop there. There was another stone of help that was struck so that you might have life and the eternal riches. Reflect upon and revel in the riches that you have received: the freedom to serve, the freedom to love, and the freedom to live as the sons and daughters of God.