2Cor8v9: ENRICHED BY THE GRACE OF CHRIST

(A) Introduction.

What enriched your life during the last 12 months? It is a salutary lesson to take stock and think back to meaningful and satisfying experiences.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth nearly 2000 years ago asking them to contribute to the collection he was making for poor Christians in Jerusalem. He encouraged them to give generously by writing: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2Cor8v9.

I hope to explain what Paul meant by looking at four ways our lives might be enriched.

(B) By having someone to love and serve.

Before Christmas I had a card from Rebecca, one of my old pupils. It contained a photograph of a baby girl - Rebecca's firstborn child - and a brief note: 'She is the light of our lives.' A baby could not be poorer! It has nothing to give. But a baby enriches the lives of its parents and grandparents because he or she is someone to love and to serve.

Jesus by sharing our humanity and becoming poor gives us someone to love and serve. I realise Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh but he said: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Mt25v40. If we help a poor brother we are helping Jesus.

In December while I was visiting my friend Arthur Rutterford in Barton Mills he told me that Mr Cackett was in hospital and feeling rather lonely because he didn't get many visitors. In the past Mr Cackett has preached at our small chapel in Brockley. So I thought I ought to go and visit him. He was pleased to see me. We talked for an hour. Then as I was about to leave Mr Cackett caught my hand and asked me to pray with him. So, holding his hand, I commended my poor brother to the care of his heavenly Father. When I got home I was very happy. I am very, very rarely really happy. My fellow Christian's poverty had made me rich.

(C) By having someone love us.

My Christmas correspondence included a letter from Beverley. It was very different in tone from her previous communication written after her husband had walked out. Why? Because Beverley has a new boyfriend - someone who loves her. Her life has been enriched.

The new man in Beverley's life didn't have to become poor to show his love but Little Dorrit, the heroine of Charles Dickens' novel by the same name, did. I will briefly outline the plot of 'Little Dorrit.' The heroine lived for the first 22 years of her life in the Marshalsea where her father was imprisoned for debt. During this time she was befriended by the well-to-do Mr Clennam. Eventually Mr Dorrit inherited a fortune from a distant relative who died intestate. Little Dorrit left the Marshalsea and became a rich lady of fashion. A short time later Mr Clennam lost all his money in a banking scandal and ends up in the Marshalsea - himself a ruined debtor - depressed, ashamed and ill. Little Dorrit goes to him. She doesn't go in one of her expensive, fashionable gowns but in her old, worn, prison dress. Little Dorrit embraces poverty; she wears her drab, faded, clothes; she shares Mr Clennam's cell and sleeps within the prison gates to show her love for a poor, sad, debtor. How enriched Mr Clennam was by Little Dorrit's love.

I find this one of the most moving scenes in all of Dicken's novels because it so accurately parallels what Jesus did for mankind. He came to us in our own worn clothes. Paul wrote: And being found in the appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even the death on a cross. Phil2v8. Jesus demonstrated his love by coming to earth and laying down his life for us. Paul said - with some feeling - He loved me and gave himself for me.

No Christian can ever feel unloved. He or she is able to sing from the heart:

            I've found a Friend; oh, such a friend!
            So kind, and true, and tender,
            So wise a Counsellor and guide
            So mighty a defender.
            From Him, who loves me now so well,
            What power my soul can sever?
            Shall life? or death? or earth? or hell
            No! I am his for ever.

(D) By having an opportunity to change for the better.

One sunny day during my time as a teacher at Debenham High School I had to cover for a P.E. lesson. I walked across to watch Zara and Martin play tennis. It wasn't really a game of tennis. Zara hit the ball gently over the net and silly Martin hit it as hard and high as he could for his girl friend to retrieve. By the time I arrived the long suffering and beautiful Zara had just about had enough. So she said to me, "Will you play with me, Mr Reed?" I took Martin's racket and told him to go tie himself in knots while I gave Zara a game. Now, to do this I had to become poor. I was not a very good tennis player but I was better than Zara. In order to build her confidence I had to become poor like her. So I hit the ball gently over the net making sure it was within reach and bounced conveniently for her. It wasn't long before Zara's game improved and we were getting into some decent rallies. After a while she began to move me round the court and make me sweat. Zara was enjoying her success - my poverty had made her rich. As the PE lesson ended and Zara walked off to the changing rooms with Martin she said, "I played really well with me Reed." Her boy friend retorted, "I should hope so. He's so old he can't run."

If Freddy Flintoff, the England cricketer, taught his young son to bat he would start off bowling underarm. He would become poor to make his lad rich.

Some parents in the Third World impoverish themselves to give one member of the family an education and a chance to escape the favelas.

Jesus became poor to turn losers into winners - to change lost and hopeless souls into Sons of God and citizens of heaven. I love what it says in the epistle to the Hebrews: Jesus is bringing many sons to glory. In the words of John Newton:

          Through many dangers, toils and snares
          I have already come;
          'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
          And grace will lead me home.

(E) By having a life enhancing experience.

Before Christmas I saw that rather burly landscape gardener, Charlie Dimmock, promoting a charity that takes about 120 handicapped children on holiday to Florida. It costs 600, 000 - an awful lot of money. Many people have to become poorer to enrich those disadvantaged young people. Make no mistake a holiday like that will enrich their lives forever. It will be an unforgettable experience. I can still remember with pleasure going on a fieldtrip to the South of France with 50 other students from the London Institute of Education. That was a free trip too!

During the last year I went to the 80th birthday party of my old friend Beryl. She had 55 guests for a meal at a nice hotel in Suffolk. Beryl really enjoyed herself. Her red and beaming face showed how much she delighted in the company of family and friends. But her husband, Roy, reckoned it was going to make him poor!

Jesus became poor in every sense of the word. He poured himself out in the service of mankind - and has made me rich. His teaching enriches, his matchless life and example enriches and his saving death enriches. All the beautiful things Jesus has inspired enriches from the creative works of great composers like Handel to the selfless acts of devotion of the humblest saints.

Finally it is important to remember the context in which Paul wrote his inspiring words about Christ's grace. He was using the example of Jesus to encourage the Corinthian Christians to give and enrich their poor brothers in Jerusalem.

Christians should never be backward in giving to others because they will be enriched not just by the gift but by the hope it gives. Elizabeth Fry, the great Quaker prison reformer, used to visit the ships transporting woman prisoners to Australia to distribute tea, sugar and cloth to those facing a very uncertain future. She gave many of the woman more than tea and sugar - she gave them hope.

Christmas 2007 I received a parcel of books through the post. It was a present from a Christian author in appreciation of the help my website had been. The present gave me hope - hope that my website is a blessing to the many I never hear from.

(F) Conclusion

One sunny morning a few years ago my brother Paul and I left Clapham North station for Archway in a very crowded, stuffy train. It wasn't long before a dark-haired, drawn-faced, youngish man burst into our carriage. He was selling the Big Issue. The young fellow was in a terrible state. He had just been sworn at and he took his anger out on us. For two or three minutes he harangued us bitterly. His burning resentment was all too evident as he accused us of not looking at him, not caring that he slept rough or did his best to earn an honest living by selling the Big Issue. His tirade was met with a sullen silence. He was ignored. No-one offered to buy a magazine. Eventually to everyone's relief he stormed out of the carriage.

I said to my brother afterwards, "That's no way to sell the Big Issue. He antagonised us all. If he had been pleasant and agreeable ...... ." I thought a lot about that young man during the day. It dawned on me that he needed grace. Nobody showed him grace. I didn't show him grace. Why didn't I buy a magazine? I could have made him happier and restored his faith in human nature. I could have given him hope. I could have made him rich.

Jesus became poor and showed grace to reconcile us to God and to give us hope of eternal life. Why can't we show more grace to others?

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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