(part 2 of my meditation on 2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" Thanks to my friend Andy Spriensma, whose thoughts I have borrowed a lot here.)
God’s indescribable gift does not only make us generous. It also keeps us humble. Here we are going to focus on that word “indescribable.”
We need to understand that when Paul mentioned about God’s indescribable gift, he was referring to none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God’s ‘indescribable gift.’
In preaching and teaching the Word of God, what is it that we do but tell of this gift. We describe this gift. And that is the proclamation of the gospel, the preaching of the good news.
Pastors like me have been trained to be preachers of God's holy Word in the pages of the Bible. The whole Bible reveals this gift of salvation. Preaching is especially the telling of that gift!
Probably no one understands this better than the apostle Paul himself. He has traveled vast portions of the known world of his time preaching the gift of Jesus Christ. He has proclaimed the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and rulers, friends and foes. Yet he says that this gift from God, our salvation in Jesus Christ, is “indescribable” (ESV says, “inexpressible” while KJV “unspeakable”).
Now the word “indescribable” has an interesting background. First, it appeared only here in the whole New Testament. Second, it is not found in the Greek version of the Old Testament or in any Classical Greek literature. It was until later, near the end of first century, that an early Christian bishop used the word.
So did Paul just make the word up? If so, ironically here, Paul cannot find a word to express the fact that he cannot fully express or describe the gift of God in Christ.
Thus what Paul really meant to say in using that word is this: We cannot fully express God’s gift. Jesus Christ cannot be described in exhaustive detail. Even the paraphrase The Living Bible translates this verse this way: “Thank God for his Son - His Gift too wonderful for words.”
Now while the Living Bible is not an accurate translation of the original texts it grasped, however, the right meaning of the text. Paul is saying that the gift of God is too glorious and too wonderful for words to do full justice to it.
Paul has seen this gift in the person of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. The Holy Spirit has revealed to him the great plan of salvation. He has entertained visions from heaven. He has witnessed the power of Pentecost in his work and he can testify that God’s promises are being brought to completion.
Because of this he has an even greater burden to put all this into human words. But certainly God’s glory cannot be contained in the Greek or the English language, not even in my own language or in any language of the world.
God’s marvelous works of grace cannot be limited to any language. The mystery of the gospel cannot be completely decoded in human language. No matter what distinctions or systems we make of it, the gift of salvation, the Son of God, is “indescribable.”
So in order to keep us from bragging how great and exhaustive our knowledge of Christ is and how effective teachers or preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ we are, Paul is reminding us that God’s gift is beyond our words.
As teachers or preachers, it is always enticing to hear from students and parishioners how good we are in explaining and applying the Word of God in their lives. That is why preachers and teachers of the Bible must remember that however splendid their sermon or teaching is, no matter how good their points are, no matter how well they have excelled in their interpretation and how creative and articulate the presentation of their ideas is, still, their glorious sermon or lecture pales in comparison to the glorious Gift they are called to proclaim and teach.
Jesus Christ and how He has saved us from our sins, how He was sent from heaven above according to the great electing love of God the Father to come down and rescue us from our sin and misery, to suffer in our flesh, and to die upon the cross for our sins, is too wonderful and too humbling for words.
Yet we speak about Him who was raised on the third day and who declared victory over sin and death, over Satan and the whole world, who has all the power and authority given to Him, and who is our only Savior and our great God. This is the Gift we speak about. And what or who we speak about will always be far greater than how we speak about Him.
This serves as a warning to all of us who think we already know Jesus Christ and do not need to study the Bible or hear about Him more. It keeps us humble because no matter how long we have been a Christian or no matter how long we’ve been reading, studying or teaching the Bible, still our knowledge of Christ is still lacking. We don’t fully know our Lord and Savior yet. Even the apostle Paul admits that God’s gift, our Lord Jesus Christ, is ‘inexpressible,’ ‘indescribable,’ He’s beyond description.