Grace, Thanksgiving, and Glory
2 Corinthians 4:15 is worthy of reflection, and all the more at the beginning of this Thanksgiving week. Paul says, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
I. Putting the Pieces Together. Our first step of reflection is to picture three building blocks that make up the main pieces of this verse: grace, thanksgiving, and glory. Second, we ask how these three pieces are held together. Paul says that as grace extends, it increases thanksgiving; and thanksgiving results in glory. So if you are a spatial thinker (like I am!) it will help to put thanksgiving right there in the middle. Paul is picturing both what fuels and what flows out of our thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is fueled by grace. As grace extends to more and more people it increases thanksgiving. This increase seems to be both a broadening scope (more and more people are giving thanks), and a deepening intensity (with greater joy and understanding).
And as the current of this grace extends – broadening and deepening – it doesn’t pile up on itself and end at thanksgiving. Instead, thanksgiving channels grace and directs it to it’s final destination which is the ocean of God’s glory! As thanksgiving increases, God is receiving a broader and deeper glory. And notice it is God who receives it! This connects the end of the verse back around to the beginning and lets us see that the grace is recognized as coming from God in the first place. And when God is thanked for what He alone can give, He is glorified! Thanksgiving for His unique power and care and wisdom in our life shines a light on the divine perfections that make up the glory of God.
So Paul builds this verse out of three main pieces, grace, thanksgiving and glory. And the real power of this construction comes in how he puts them together. Grace comes to us from God. That experience of grace fuels thanksgiving to God. And when we publicly credit God for His gifts in our life, He looks as great and good as He really is! To use one analogy, thanksgiving is like the junction switch that directs the train bearing the freight of God’s grace to the station of God’s glory, rather than letting it wander into the siding of self. To use another analogy, thanksgiving is like the dam that doesn’t stop but directs and releases the river of God’s grace to its proper destination, the ocean of God’s glory, keeping it from getting syphoned off along the way.
The way you turn the gifts of God in your life into the glory of God that is meant to shine from your life is to give thanks! And in this culture there was no word for a private “thank you” to a benefactor. The way you gave thanks for a gift was to publicly testify to what you had been given. That is the picture here – and that is our opportunity this Thursday – a public testimony to all we have received by the grace of God.
What a powerful activity thanksgiving is! It is fueled by the grace of God and flows into the glory of God! This verse adds a joyful significance and a wonder-ful weight to the upcoming holiday! Understanding ourselves to be caught up in the divine life of releasing grace and receiving glory (and there we are right in the middle!) certainly should change the way we picture what is happening when we gather together this week! There are opportunities for application here not to be missed!
II. In the Context of Gospel Ministry. But this verse seems to demand a third step. It is introduced as a ground for what Paul has just said. “For it is all for your sake.” So the context of chapter 4 is brought in as the “it” Paul is referencing. And the fact that “it is is for your sake” is the reason Paul does whatever it is he has just described in the preceding verses!
When we look back up the chapter, we find it is Paul’s brand of gospel ministry that is being described. His “brand” of ministry rests on the conviction of vs 4, that the glory of Christ is to be encountered in the gospel. And it is sustained by the confidence of vs 17, that no matter what happens in this life, Paul will be raised to enjoy an inheritance of that very glory! The conviction that God can cause the glory of Christ can be seen in the gospel is vital because many in Paul’s life do not see anything glorious there. Some are hostile to it (4:3). Some are underhanded in their dealing with it (4:2). And his confidence that God will raise him to share in this glory is vital because his life is pictured as a clay pot that is regularly being thrown down and trampled on by those who hate the gospel (4:7-12).
What keeps Paul going, though he regularly suffers at the hands of veiled, hostile, and underhanded minds, is the grace of God. We tend to think of grace as a passive non-thing – grace is forgiving (not punishing) sin. But biblical grace is an active, powerful thing! God has the power to speak a mind-opening word that removes the veil and shines the light of spiritual understanding when the gospel is heard (4:6). And God has the power not only to preserve Paul for his inheritance, but to use the occasion of Paul’s “death” to release the resurrection power of Christ (4:11). This ability, this power, is the grace of God. This grace, in salvation, in spreading the gospel, and in securing his inheritance, is Paul’s only hope in life and death.
What does this gospel ministry context add to what we have seen in verse 15? Just this: the way God’s grace extends to more and more people is as Paul takes it to them in the suffering ministry of the gospel. Paul is able to be thankful for his own “death” because as he exalts Christ in all his clay-pottish weakness, the power of God made perfect in that weakness will extend to others. Namely, their eyes will be opened to see Jesus! That is why he says, “this is all for your sake!” I am living by grace (confidence in God’s power to open blind eyes, to bring life from death) so that grace might extend to you! I am willing to die once again so that you might be able to taste life for the first time! And as you receive eye-opening grace, thanksgiving increases – both yours and mine – to the glory of the God you now see and the God who has proven Himself once again to me!
Let this be an encouragement for those of us who are going into a holiday season that will put us in touch with friends and family who are hostile to the glory of God. Surely we all have someone in our life who will give our clay pot a good whack if we give thanks as we should! The grace of God freed Paul to take persistent, gospel risks instead of tampering with the truth to make it more palatable for them and comfortable for him. Belief in the power of God’s grace freed Paul to rejoice in the open statement of the truth! And despite the many times he was “thrown down”, he persisted in his practice because he believed there would be some who would have their eyes opened by grace. And as this grace extended to more and more people through his suffering, thanksgiving would increase. And this to the grace of God. May we be freed by this grace to take these same persistent, gospel risks. And may the grace of God extend to many of our families, even in our faltering, over this coming week!