God has given us a mouth to speak, a heart to feel, and gospel joy to share. He has taken away every excuse for not spreading gospel grace in our words every day to those around us (Ephesians [4:29]).
So what corks the flow of grace speech to others?
One answer is grudges. Not always big grudges, like the ones we hold towards those who have wronged us personally. The kinds of grudges that hinder our generosity are typically subtle ones, grudges towards those who seem less significant than us, or grudges towards those who seem more significant than us. Either way, we like to compare ourselves with others. We withhold grace like a miser withholds money. We are natural-born begrudgers.
The Roots of Grudges
Jonathan Edwards pulled out a gospel spade and dug up the roots of grudges in his sermon “The Terms of Prayer.” He discovered three reasons why we withhold blessings from others: envy, contempt, and resentment.
Envy. Envy is withholding blessings from others in order to preserve my own joy-stature. It is “a spirit of opposition against another’s comparative happiness.” We like to be distinguished. We like to be superior to others. We want to stand out. We seek happiness and that often means we want to be happier than others, so we begrudge others, lest they match or exceed us in happiness. Or we can twist our envy in the other direction. Others have more happiness than me already, so what need is there for me to share? Either way, envy chokes off generosity.
Contempt. Contempt is more personal, a withholding of blessings from others because they are too lowly, or too unworthy of the blessings I have to offer them. It is revolt at the thought of my blessing resting in theirunworthy hands. Of course, we would never say it that way. This subtle contempt, this looking down on others, chokes off generosity.
Resentment. Resentment is withholding blessings from others because they have wronged me or, merely by some known offense or guilt, are unworthy of my generosity. Once we have been wronged, we may not look for opportunities to return wrongs, but we often stop looking for opportunities to bless. Thus resentment is effective at cutting off generosity.
We are “naturally selfish and pernicious in our benevolence,” writes Edwards. We are quick to begrudge.
We could beat up on ourselves all day long. We are envious, contemptuous, sinners quick to resent, and we find it hard to let go. But Edwards is not interested in beating us up. He’s interested in gospel theology, and in turning our attention to the God who holds no envy, contempt, or resentment against his children. And to that end, he lets our eyes adjust to the darkness before turning our heads to the glory.
God’s Unfettered Generosity
Edwards’s points about envy, contempt, and resentment are all about theology.
God is not envious of his children. He holds no contempt towards us. He holds no resentment towards us. We are poor, desperate, and shortsighted, but God’s generosity to us is not stopped.
At this point in the sermon, Edwards centers on the grand display of God’s generosity in the gospel. The gospel is the work of God to which all of God’s other works are subordinated, even the work of creation. And here in the gospel we see the riches of God’s abundant grace (Ephesians 1:7–8). The gospel is intended to show us God’s infinite and boundless grace.
Thus, for Edwards, “The doctrines of the gospel teach us how far Jesus Christ was from grudging us anything which he could do for or give to us.” Edwards gets his gospel logic from Paul: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans [8:32]).
So, let me ask: if you are truly convinced that God withholds nothing from you out of envy (he doesn’t want to share his joy), or out of contempt (you are too small for his joy), or out of resentment (you have wronged him and are therefore unworthy of his joy), would you pray differently?
Written by Tony Reinke
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