Grace in Three Parts, part three

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

 

Part Three: Grace Creates Christian Assurance

…but the grace of God with me. 

The third aspect of the grace of God in this verse is that of a relationship. The word “with” in the original language is a preposition that one scholar has called the “aristocrat among all the prepositions” because it is so rarely found in the New Testament (Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament).  It suggests closeness, partnership, assistance, and sharing. The grace that provided Paul a way to view his past, to understand his calling in ministry, and empowered him to expend enormous effort in his ministry was also a grace that stayed with him, deeply embedded in his soul. It was therefore a source of great confidence and assurance to Paul, knowing that the grace of God, the source of such magnificent power and security, was indeed a partner with Paul in his ministry of service to the churches of the Lord Jesus. The presence of this grace is described in a relational sense—as if a lifelong partner that could always be counted on to be present in life, and powerfully engaged in the ministry Paul did.

Grace works the same in my life, and the life of every follower of Jesus. I can count on it to be there through thick and thin, through difficulties, through days of clarity and inspiration (rare as they seem!) and the long, lonely, nights that regularly follow. Grace will not leave, and will provide the enabling power needed to accomplish every good thing, along with the emotional, spiritual assurance that I regularly crave as I make my way through this life.  As I reflect on this role of grace in our lives, it seems to me that our biggest challenge is our not uncertainty as to whether or not a thing called “grace” exists from God, for us. Rather, the challenge seems instead to be our hesitancy in actually choosing to act as if we believe we possess such a thing as grace. Further, we are challenged to live in confidence that the grace we possess will truly be as wonderful, permanent, and powerful to us as it was for Paul the apostle, who threw himself headlong into a life of ministry and service, confident that the grace of God would see him through. The very nature of grace is that it is powerful, and permanent, and actually re-creative of our lives.

Is there any reason for you and I to fear that such grace could fail us in our day of need?

Grace in Three Parts, part two

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Part Two: Grace Invites Christian Service

…His grace toward me did not prove vain, but I labored even more than all of them… 

The second effect of the grace of God that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:10 is an invitation to hard, sacrificial service to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul says that he’d worked hard in his ministry of apostleship. The word he used, labor, also described the exhaustion of fishermen after a long night of hauling in nets, or the bone-dry weariness of a traveler who had walked a long distance without food and water. Paul writes that had he not labored harder than even his fellow apostles had, then God’s grace would have been emptied of its power and effect. It would have become a failed endeavor. Grace, according to this verse, is diminished if it is not met with a wholehearted, engaged, life of service.

Grace invites us to the same sacrificial, lifelong service to our Lord Jesus. I don’t have the insight to know if I work harder than any other Christian does in ministry (in fact, I think I can safely guarantee that I don’t!), but the grace of God calls me to work hard. It falls short of its purpose, at least as far as I am to experience it, when I do not use it to lead me to a life of a deeper, more robust engagement in whatever works of ministry He sends my way. Grace is not given to us to make us a well-rested, safer, more common-sense people. No, in its giving comes a calling, opportunity, and empowerment to live in a deeper commitment of service to the Lord, to His beloved people, and to all the world.

Grace in Three Parts, part one

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Part One: Grace Forms Christian Identity

…by the grace of God I am what I am…

In the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth, Paul writes concerning the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, including its historicity (vv 1-11), theological implications (vv 12-57), and practical application (v 58).  In verse 10 Paul concludes his defense of his own role as a witness to the resurrected Christ, and gives an explanation of how he, a former persecutor of the church, was granted apostleship in the administration and establishment of the very religion he’d done so to destroy younger years. It is notable that the word grace appears three times in this one verse–the most appearances of the word in one sentence in the New Testament. I believe by its very repetition and use in Paul’s argument, three powerful truths surface about the magnificent grace of God—something that all believers experience to this day.

First, I see that the grace of God shapes my identity as a Christian. Paul simply stated that by the grace of God “I am what I am.” A look at the verses preceding reveals that what Paul was—was not very pretty. He had attacked the church of God, administrating over the mob-execution of Stephen, storming into the homes of Christians to arrest and imprison them, and “breathing threats and murder,” obtained official permission to travel to foreign jurisdictions to identify, arrest, and extradite Christians to Jerusalem for trial and punishment (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-30). Paul clearly included the who he was in those horrible days in his past with who he was as he wrote to the Corinthians as an experienced, beloved apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the thing that Paul named as tying those two, seeming antithetical identities together was the very grace of God. The grace of God is that manner of God’s treatment of His children that somehow creates beauty by including their most horrid, monstrous failures in life, folding their sins into a new narrative in such a way that they become the material of something beautiful, lasting, and changed. The grace of God in our lives redeems our lives for something good. In Paul’s case, that grace allowed him to fully face and embrace his past—knowing that by God’s grace, he need not fear or deny the things he’d done and said.

The grace of God in our lives today invites us to fearlessly look back at our lives and own who we were. Then, we can truly understand who we are through that grace. Grace has the power to shape our self-understanding, our identity, and gives us a lens through which we can view the past without being destroyed or driven to despondency by it.