We stand in awe at the profound historical statement that the Holy Spirit made through the apostle Paul: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). This would be all the redemptive work of the Son of God from the incarnation to the crucifixion, and finally, the Son’s ascension to the right hand of God. This gospel journey of the Son of God is all for our sakes. When an individual understands this truly indescribable blessing of grace from God, he or she is caused to respond with dedicated thanksgiving. The word “abound” in the text assumes that something is done; something happens in our lives. This is more than a good feeling on Sunday morning. This is a living thanksgiving, a response to the gospel that causes transformed lives (See Rm 12:1,2). As will be noted later, this was an appropriate statement to be written to some of the Corinthian Christians who were not living up to the motivational power of the gospel.
• Discovering the nature of true Christianity: In order to prepare His immediate disciples for this life-changing motivational power that was soon to come after His ascension, and before sending them out on mission trips during His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt 10:8). Unfortunately, this statement of Jesus is commonly misunderstood. As a result of this misunderstanding, a “colonial churchianity” is often allowed to prevail among those who should be abounding in thanksgiving in response to the gospel. When the gospel was first preached to former colonial countries, many did not understand the implications of the 2 Corinthians 4:15 statement of Paul, as well as what Jesus said in being a generous giver. Subsequently, many of the first legally converted people simply carried on with their former colonial behavior.
What makes it difficult for some to understand Jesus’ statement to freely give as one has freely received is the colonial culture in which some find themselves. The colonial empires of the past freely gave to the nations of their empires, not realizing that they were creating a dependency culture within the culture of the nations of their empires. Citizens subsequently developed a culture of freely receiving, but never really learning how to freely give. When the first evangelists (missionaries) went to these colonial “possessions,” they often enabled the colonial practice of freely giving everything to the local folks. Unfortunately, they were somewhat weak in teaching the local folks that the heart of the gospel inspires one to abound in freely giving. Nevertheless, the local folks were very thankful for the free schools, free church buildings, free Bibles, free tracts and free books they were freely given. But because the local folks lived in a colonial culture of dependency, they often found it quite difficult to freely give to others locally in response to the free gift of God’s grace they had received. (We will later compare this colonial culture in the following chapter with the nature of the gospel culture of the Macedonian disciples.)
• Discovering that receiving assumes giving: So maybe it would help to insert interpretive comments in the context of Jesus’ statement to His disciples. We must read the Matthew 10:8 statement of Jesus in this way: “Freely you have received [something], freely give [something].” On the occasion of Matthew 10, Jesus gave His disciples a message to proclaim to the people to whom they were being sent. The message was that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mt 10:7). With the message that the kingdom was at hand, the messengers were also freely given the gifts of healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons (Mt 10:8).
On both of the occasions of sending out disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, the disciples received something freely. They were subsequently to give freely from the blessings that they had freely received in order that others be blessed by their blessing. If we would apply the principle of “freely receiving-freely giving” to ourselves as disciples of Jesus, then freely receiving all things that have been given to us through the gospel of God’s grace assumes that we will freely give in a responsive thanksgiving for God’s grace. In this way our thanksgiving will abound to the benefit of others.
We must emphasize this point because this is the very heart of Christianity, and thus, the definition of Christian behavior. Because Jesus was incarnate in the flesh of man, He paid a great price for being in the physical presence of His disciples in order to freely give them something, that they in turn should freely give. He freely gave up heaven in the form of God in order to be in their presence in a state of poverty (See Ph 2:5-11). “Yet for your sakes He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Co 8:9). There was thus a price paid for their free gift of grace. The condition for their receiving freely was the great price of His incarnation. In order to freely give, Jesus’ disciples must likewise pay a great price of freely giving what they have freely received. This is grace abounding in action. Christians realized that they have been “justified freely by His grace” (Rm 3:24). They realize that they have received the Holy Spirit from God so that they “might know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Co 2:12).
• Discovering grace-oriented givers: This is the way grace abounds. This is Christianity in action. See if this is not true in the context of sending forth the early disciples that is recorded both in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Jesus instructed on both occasions, “Carry no money bag, no wallet, no [extra] sandals” (Lk 10:4). “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two coats, nor sandals, nor staff, for the worker is worthy of his food” (Mt 10:9,10). Those messengers who were sent out by Jesus were not to rely on themselves. They were to present themselves as an opportunity for others to freely give. In this way, the messengers would be able to identify in the villages those who were inclined to freely receive, and thus, freely give.
This is quite amazing. The messengers were going into villages throughout Palestine to which neither Jesus nor themselves had previously gone. So when they proclaimed, as John the Baptist, that the time of regeneration had come and the sovereignty of God was soon to be revealed, those willing recipients of the message within the villages freely received the messengers into their homes and freely provided for them living quarters and food. We must not miss this point. Those who received the messengers, freely did so. They were thus qualifying themselves to also be messengers of the free grace of God. They freely received Jesus’ messengers, who freely gave themselves and a message of good news to the household. As the hosts freely received, they in turn freely gave to Jesus’ messengers (See the behavior of Gaius in 3 Jn 1-6).
This is what grace does, and this is what Jesus meant when He initially stated to His messengers, “Freely you receive, freely give.” Grace generates thanksgiving within the hearts of those who have freely received. This thanksgiving motivates the receivers to freely give something to others. As a price was paid by Jesus to freely give Himself on the cross, a price must also to be paid by the disciples of Jesus to freely pass on the gift of grace. If the recipients did not freely receive, then certainly they would not be motivated to freely pass on to others that which they freely received. If they did not freely pass on that which they had freely received, then they would be behaving contrary to the behavior of grace. They would not have truly understood the nature of the grace of God. And by not truly understanding, they disqualified themselves from receiving the precious message of the gospel. So Jesus instructed His “missionaries” in such situations to kick the dust off their feet and move on.
So what about those who do not discover the blessing of a grace-motivated life? If one does not fully understand the gospel of God’s grace, then he or she often becomes a religious leech who always wants to freely receive, but never freely give. So in sending out His disciples, Jesus cautioned them on this matter: “And whoever will not receive you [freely] or hear your words [freely], when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Mt 10:14). In fact, for those who do not join in the fellowship of thanksgiving in freely receiving and freely giving, Jesus pronounced, “It will be more tolerable for that land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Mt 10:15). These are indeed frightful words.
[To be continued in the next issue of Inscriptions.]