(A word-study in the Greek
verb PERISSEUEIN, "to abound")
Text: Colossians 2:7 --
"…abounding in thanksgiving."
Aren't you amazed at God's magnanimity,
his generosity, his large-heartedness? Clues to his magnanimity (but only clues)
are seen in his handiwork. His creation abounds in examples of munificence.
Think of the stars. There are billions of them in our galaxy (even as ours is
not the only galaxy). Not only are there are innumerable stars, many of these
stars are vastly larger and brighter than the star we know best, our own sun.
The largest star is 690,000,000 miles in diameter; it is 800 times larger than
our sun, and 1,900 times brighter. (Can you imagine a star 800 times larger than
the sun?) And how vast is the star-world? Light travels at the speed of 186,000
miles per second. Other galaxies have been located as far away as six billion
The creation is profuse just because the
heart of the creator himself overflows ceaselessly. How many kinds of plants are
there? And within the plant domain, how many kinds of trees? And within the tree
domain, how many kinds of pines? Ninety! There are ninety different kinds of
pine tree alone!
And then there is food. When I moved to
the Maritimes I was astounded the first time I saw a fishing boat unload its
catch. As the gleaming fish spilled out of the hold I felt there couldn't be
another fish left in the North Atlantic. And I was watching one boat only, an
inshore-fishery boat at that, unloading only one day's catch!
As much as we are inundated with fish we
have to remember that only 1% of the world's protein comes from fish. The rest
comes chiefly from grain. And right now there is enough grain grown to give
every last person 3000 calories per day. (We need only 2300 to survive.) When I
was in India I saw tons of food piled at the roadside, in village after village.
To be sure, there's often a problem with food-distribution -- since 15,000
people starve to death throughout the world every day -- but there's no lack of
food-production. Let us never forget that France is the breadbasket of the
European Economic Community, yet the nations of central Africa -- where
protein-deficiency diseases proliferate -- produce more food per capita than
France does. Even in its very worst years of famine India has remained a net
exporter of food.
Whenever I reflect upon God's overflowing
bountifulness I pause as I think of food; I pause, but I don't linger. I do
linger, however, whenever I think of God's great-heartedness concerning his Son.
The apostle John cries, "It is not by measure that God gives the
Spirit!" (John 3:34 RSV) ["God gives the Spirit without limit!" (NIV)]
The rabbis in Israel of old used to say that God gave the prophets, gave each
prophet, a measure of the Spirit; but only a measure of the Spirit, since no one
prophet spoke the entire truth of God. Upon his Son, however, God has poured out
the Spirit without limit. The Spirit hasn't been rationed, a little here, a
little there. No rationing, no doling out, no divvying-up; just the Father
pouring out everything deep inside him upon the Son, then pointing to the Son
while crying to the world, "What more can I say than in him I have
It is not by measure that God has given
Christ Jesus the Spirit. To know this is to know that in our Lord there is to be
found all the truth of God, the wisdom of God, the passion of God -- as
well as the patience of God -- the will and work and word and way of God. It's
all been poured into him.
If God has poured himself without limit
into his Son, then you and I can be blessed without limit only in clinging to
the Son. If God has deluged himself upon his Son, then we are going to be soaked
in God's blessings only as we stand so close to our Lord that what has been
poured into him without limit spills over onto us as well.
I: -- Paul
tells the church-folk in Ephesus that the riches of God's grace are lavished
upon us in Christ. Grace is God's love meeting our sin and therefore taking the
form of mercy. (Eph. 1:8) Since God's mercy meets our sin not once but over and
over, undiscouraged and undeflected, God's mercy takes the form of constancy.
God's constancy remains constant not because God is inflexible or rigid (and
therefore brittle); God's mercy remains constant not because he expects human
hearts, now hard, to soften (some will, some won't); God's mercy remains
constant in the face of our sin just because he has pledged himself to us and he
will not break his promise to us even if every last human heart remains cold and
stony and sterile. Grace, in a word, is God's love meeting our sin, expressing
itself therefore as mercy, and refusing to abandon us despite our frigid
ingratitude and our senseless resistance. To speak of grace at all, in
this context, is plainly to speak of the riches of grace. And such
riches, says Paul, are lavished upon us, poured out upon us without calculation
or qualification or hesitation or condition.
Several years ago in Cook County Jail,
Chicago, the prison chaplain visited a prisoner on death row. The convict had
only hours to live. Quietly, soberly, gently, sensitively the chaplain
acquainted the convict afresh with the truth and simplicity and sufficiency of
God's provision for all humankind, and specifically for this one fellow who
would shortly appear before him whom any of us can endure only as we are clothed
in the righteousness of Christ. The convict -- angry, frustrated, resentful,
envious of those not in his predicament, just blindly livid and senselessly
helpless -- the convict spat in the chaplain's face. The chaplain waited several
minutes until a measure of emotional control seemed evident and said even more
quietly, soberly, sensitively, "Would you like to spit in my face
When the apostle speaks of "the
riches of God's grace" he never means that God is a doormat who can only
stand by helplessly while the entire world victimizes him endlessly. When he
speaks of the riches of God's grace, rather, he means that the patience of God
and the mercy of God and the constancy of God -- the sheer willingness of God to
suffer abuse and derision and anguish for us -- all of this cannot be
fathomed. Two hundred years before the incident in Cook County Jail Charles
Wesley spoke for all of this when he wrote in his hymn, "I have long
withstood his grace, long provoked him to his face". Because of our
protracted provocation, God's grace can only be rich, can only be lavished upon
us. Little wonder that Paul exclaims, "Where sin increased, grace abounded
all the more." (Rom.5:20) The marvel of God's grace is that as abhorrent as
our sin is to God, it is so very abhorrent to him that he wants it to become
abhorrent to us as well; therefore he meets our sin with even more of his grace.
Why does he bother to meet our sin with
grace abounding? Because he knows that if only we glimpse how much more he can
give us we should want nothing less for ourselves. Jesus insists, "I came
that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Our Lord has come that
his people might have life aboundingly, hugely, wholly, grandly, plentifully.
We should note that while Jesus urges
"abundance" upon us, he doesn't tell us in what the abundance
consists. He simply says that what he lends his people is to be described as
bountiful, copious, plenteous, profusive. Why hasn't he spelled it out more
specifically? I think he hasn't in order to minimize the risk of counterfeit
imitation. If our Lord had said, 'Abundant' life consists in a,b,c,d, then
people would immediately endeavour to fabricate or imitate a,b,c,d -- all of
which would render abundant life, so-called, utterly artificial.
People crave reality; they won't settle
ultimately for artificiality, regardless of how useful artificiality may appear
in the short run. They crave reality. Surely that which is genuinely profound
and truly significant will also be attractive. And surely that which is so very
attractive will move more people from scepticism to faith and the possession of
abundant life than will a clever argument which leaves them unable to reply but
more sceptical than ever.
A minute ago I said that when Jesus speaks
of "abundant life" he doesn't say in what the abundance consists.
Nevertheless, from the apostolic testimony as a whole we can put together a
composite description. If generosity is a mark of discipleship, then one feature
of abundant life is ungrudging, anonymous generosity. If love is too, then
another feature is uncalculating concern for others regardless of their merit or
their capacity to repay. If forgiveness of injuries and insults, then a
marvellous forgivingness and an equally marvellous forgetfulness. If seriousness
about prayer is a feature of abundant life, then equally significant is a
willingness to forego much before foregoing the time we spend with our face
upturned to God's. Nobody wants to reduce holiness, the holiness marking
Christians, to sexual purity. At the same time, wherever the New Testament urges
holiness upon Christ's people the context nearly always pertains to sexual
conduct. (This is something the church has simply forgotten today.)
Needless to say, in all of this we shall
always know that the abundant life streaming from us arises at all only because
of the riches of God's grace proliferating within us.
II: -- In
view of all that God pours into us, generates within us and calls forth from us
we are to "abound in thanksgiving". (2 Cor. 4:15; Col.2:6-7) We are to
spout -- geyser-like -- uncontrived, unscheduled outbursts of gratitude to God.
Of course there's a place for scheduled acknowledgements of God's goodness to us
as we offer thanksgivings at set times (including Thanksgiving Sunday). More
frequently, however, and more characteristically, unplotted effusions of
thanksgiving overflow even the channels of good taste and middle class demeanour.
Despite all the sporting events that can
be watched on television, there remains no substitute for seeing them
"live". Saturday night broadcasts into one's living room and the Maple
Leafs "live" at the Air Canada Centre are simply not the same event.
One thing that never ceases to thrill me at a live game is the crowd's
spontaneous eruption when the home team scores. A Leaf player "drains
one" (as they say in the game), and 19,000 people shout with one voice.
There are no signs that suddenly flash, "Applaud now." There is
nothing prearranged to cue the crowd. There is only uncontrived exclamation.
Surely you and I will "abound in
thanksgiving" only as we are overcome yet again at God's astounding
munificence and we cannot stifle our exclamation. And on Thanksgiving Sunday in
particular, is there anyone whose heart doesn't tingle at blessings too numerous
to count? Then of course we are going to abound in thanksgiving.
III: -- To
know we have been given so much, to be grateful for having been given so much,
is to shout "Amen" instantly when Paul urges us to "abound in
every good work." (2 Cor.9:8b) Anyone who has been blessed profoundly,
anyone who gives thanks profusely, will always want to abound in "every
The older I grow the more I realize how
important the ordinary, the undramatic, the "ho-hum" (so-called) is
everywhere in life. Often the dramatic is deemed especially important, if only
because the dramatic is unusual. An automobile strikes a pedestrian crossing the
street; the pedestrian's leg is severed, and the throbbing artery spouts blood,
quickly draining away life -- when along comes a fellow in his brand-new Harry
Rosen Italian wool suit; without hesitating, he rips up the sleeve of his jacket
and twists on the tourniquet -- just in time. Good. None of it is to be
At the same time, 99.9% of life isn't
dramatic. For every dramatic assistance we might render there are a million
opportunities for the most undramatic, concrete kindnesses whose blessings to
their recipients are priceless. Maureen and I in Brandenburg, Germany, for
instance, (one hour off the airplane) trying to find the tourist information
bureau (needed for a list of "Zimmer mit Fruehstueck" -- Bed &
Breakfast); we have made four circuits in our rented car of the downtown maze of
a mediaeval city, know by now that we aren't going to find the tourist
information bureau if we make 40 circuits, know too that we don't know how to
stop making circuits; a woman who speaks German only saying, "It's too
complicated for me to describe how to get to the bureau from here; I'll walk you
to it" -- and then walking the longest distance out of her way to help two
strangers from a foreign country whom she will never see again. The young mother
across the aisle from me on the train to Montreal; her baby is only six months
old, too young to be left alone; the woman is exceedingly nauseated and needs to
get to the washroom before; would I hold her baby until she has returned from
the washroom? Of course.
Because the undramatic abounds in life (as
the dramatic does not), the apostle is careful to say that we are to abound in every
IV: -- There
is only one matter left for us to probe. What impels us to do all of this? To be
sure we are commanded to abound in thanksgiving, commanded again to abound in
every good work. We can always grimace grimly and simply get on with it just
because we've been ordered to; or we can recall the riches of God's grace that
have been lavished upon us. But to have to recall something is to admit that we
are lacking an incentive that is immediate; and to grimace grimly and do
onerously what we've been told to do is to admit that discipleship is a pain in
the neck. Then what impels us to abound precisely where we know we should
abound? Paul says we "abound" from the heart as joy -- joy! -- wells
up within us.
When Paul saw that the Christians were
going to go hungry in Jerusalem during the famine there he asked the Christians
in Macedonia for help. The Macedonian believers were poor, dirt-poor. And yet
when the apostle asked them to help people they had never seen they "gave
beyond their means." (2 Cor. 8:3) Not only did they give beyond their
means, they begged Paul to grant them the privilege of helping others in dire
What impelled them to do it? Paul says
simply, "...their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of
liberality." (2 Cor. 8:2) It was their joy -- not their sense of duty, not
the obligations of obedience -- just their joy in Christ, their joy at the
mercies of God, their joy at the super-abounding grace of God in the face of
their abounding sin; it was their abundance of joy that impelled them to give
beyond their means, poor as they were, as soon as they heard of those who were
Only a superfluity of joy renders us those
who are willing to make a real sacrifice for the kingdom; and only a superfluity
of joy allows us to see that alongside the wounds of Christ we shouldn't be
speaking of our sacrifice at all.
On Thanksgiving Sunday, 2002, I want such
abounding joy in my heart as to attest the mercy of God lavished upon me and
lavished upon me endlessly in the face of my all-too-abounding sin and
undeniable need. For then abounding thankfulness will stream my lips, even as
abounding kindnesses flow from my hands.