1 Corinthians 4:7
This morning we complete our interpretation of page two of the mission/vision statement of our church—"The Spiritual Dynamic that drives our Mission." The phrase we focus on is " . . . sustained by all his grace."
Grace Sustains Everything
Consider this word "sustained." In the Twin Cities Marathon a few weeks ago one of the wheel chair participants had a blowout near the end of the race. But he kept going on the rim of his wheel, until five blocks from the finish line the wheel buckled and the chair fell over. Some people from the sidelines ran to him and held the chair level, running along beside him while he finished the race. They sustained him. They held him up. They enabled him to do what he needed to do. That's what grace does for us.
But the comparison is not exact. In fact it is very misleading. Because while the friends holding up the chair is a good picture of grace, it was the man's tremendous upper-body strength that got him across the finish line after 26 miles, and his friends had nothing to do with that. That strength came from him not them. But grace is not like that. Grace sustains everything in the Christian life. It holds up the broken chair. It gives the upper-body strength. It prevents other obstacles. It keeps his heart beating. It keeps his eyes seeing. Grace sustains everything in the Christian life.
"What Do You Have That You Did Not Receive?"
Let me show you a few verses to give some biblical basis to this claim. In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says,
And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
The answer to that first question is "nothing." "What do you have that you have not received?" Answer: nothing. But in spite of this there was boasting going on in the church at Corinth. Which to Paul's mind was totally contradictory to reality. If all you have is a free gift from God—that's what grace means—then you can't boast as if it were not a gift. Grace eliminates boasting. You can't boast as though you create and sustain what grace creates and sustains.
That's why Paul said that he would not boast except in the cross of Christ which is the ground of grace (Galatians 6:14) and in his weaknesses which show his need for grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). And it's why he said in Romans 15:18,
I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.
So for Paul everything good that he has is a gift of grace, and everything he accomplishes with what he has is a work of grace. And so all boasting is excluded, except boasting in grace.
"Yet Not I, but the Grace of God with Me"
Here's another example of this all-supplying work of grace that makes it different from holding up a wheelchair so that strong people can finish showing their strength. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says,
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.
Now if you only read the words, "I labored even more than all of them," you might think that grace is like a few friends holding up your wheelchair so you could show your upper-body strength and finish the race. But that won't work in this text.
- It says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." In other words the Paul which labored so hard got to be that way by the grace of God. So even though he is working hard to preach the gospel, yet the "he" that is working hard is a work of grace.
- The other reason grace is not like holding up a wheelchair is at the end of the verse. After Paul says, "I labored even more than all of them," he says, "Yet not I, but the grace of God with me." "The grace of God with me" might sound like grace was holding up the wheelchair and Paul was independently doing his part to turn the wheels and get across the finish line. So riding well and getting to heaven would be a team project and grace would get some credit and Paul would get some credit. But Paul guards against that interpretation with the words, "Yet not I." The effect of grace is so all-pervading and so all-influencing and all-sufficient and all-necessary that when it has done its work, you say, "I worked, yet not I."
"For It Is God Who Is at Work in You"
That means that we really do work, but all our working is the fruit of enabling grace. Paul explains this in Philippians 2:12b–13,
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
We work, but when we have worked by faith in God's enabling future grace (rather than for the merit of the law), we turn around and say about our work, "My work was God's work in me, willing and doing his good pleasure."
All of Grace
So when we say here at the end of the Spiritual Dynamic that we are "sustained by all his grace," we do not mean sustained like friends sustaining a broken wheelchair while we do our own independent work. We mean that everything in this spiritual dynamic is sustained by God's grace. "Treasuring all that God is" is a work of grace in my heart. I would not treasure God without a mighty work of grace in my life (Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8f.; 2 Timothy 2:25). "Loving all whom he loves" is a work of grace in my heart (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; Philippians 1:9; Galatians 5:22). "Praying for all his purposes" is a work of grace in my heart (Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:21). And "meditating on all his Word" is a work of grace (Psalm 119:36).
The Giver Gets the Glory
Why has God set it up this way? Because the giver gets the glory. God has established the universe in such a way that it magnifies the glory of his all-sufficiency. You can see this really clearly in 1 Peter 4:11.
Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies [that's grace]; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
God gets the glory because he gave the grace.
So you see, I hope, why the goal (or the top) of our Spiritual Dynamic is the supremacy of the glory of God, and the ground (or the bottom) of our Spiritual Dynamic is the all-sustaining grace of God. All things are by his grace because all things are for his glory. The all-sufficient, inexhaustible Giver gets the glory.
Now let's draw out two lessons about grace from what we have seen so far.
Grace: Pardon for Sin and Power for Obedience
First, grace is both pardon for the sins of the past and power for the obedience of the future. This is what we have seen. We believe in the great news of Ephesians 2:8, "By grace you have been saved through faith." This is bygone grace. It's past. It was demonstrated in the death of Christ on the cross bearing our sins and removing the curse of the law and absorbing the wrath of God. Without this grace no good thing could come to us as sinners. No promises could be made.
But just as important as this bygone grace of pardon is the future grace of power. Jesus said to Paul, when he wondered how he would be able to endure his thorn in the flesh,
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.
Grace is power for Christian living. Grace is the power to treasure all that God is for us in Jesus. Grace is the power to love all whom God loves. Grace is the power to pray for all God's purposes. Grace is the power to meditate on all God's Word. We are utterly dependent on grace for our Spiritual Dynamic at Bethlehem.
So grace is not only a past experience of pardon, it is a future experience of power to do what God commands us to do. This is why gratitude for past grace is not the fuel for today's obedience. You can't run your car on gratitude for yesterday's gas. You need today's gas for today's trip. You need today's grace for today's obedience. And the pump is not gratitude but faith in future grace. The great challenge of this mission statement is learning how to live by faith in future grace.
God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him
The second lesson about grace from what we have seen is that it explains the connection between the supremacy of God and joy in our mission statement: "To spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples."
Why does a passion for the supremacy of God result in joy? Answer: because the inexhaustible supremacy of God's glory is experienced in the overflow of his grace. If you want to magnify the supremacy of God the way the Bible magnifies the supremacy of God, you have to call attention to the lavish overflow of God's grace. Remember, the Giver gets the glory. So knowing about grace and experiencing grace as the power for all Christian believing and living is the best way to magnify the supremacy of God. When you depend on God for everything instead of thinking of him depending on you, you call attention to the supremacy of his fullness and his all-sufficiency.
We like to say, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. So the connection between God's supremacy and our joy is that his supremacy is manifest most by his all-supplying, all-satisfying grace.
God's Grace and Bethlehem's Fresh Initiatives
Now let's conclude by applying this to a few of our fresh initiatives on page three. What we are saying is that the mission of the church is only possible by the powerful work of God's grace in our lives. Thus if anything good comes of this whole enterprise, it will be owing to God's grace. I hope in the years to come as we look back we can say, "By the grace of God we are what we are and his grace to us was not in vain, but we worked hard. But it was not we but the grace of God that was with us."
Fresh Initiative #1
Take the first fresh initiative, for example.
The value of relationships. We will take new practical steps to develop an atmosphere where personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships of love are highly valued as expressions of our passion for the supremacy of God's love.
The best exposition of this is in the side bar at the bottom:
Therefore, we embrace God's call for new, visible manifestations of love toward each other, our guests, and our neighbors. With a fresh openness and outgoing spirit to each other and to all new people, we henceforth put understanding above accusation, forbearance above fault-finding, and biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.
And I would add that the most pressing area where that needs to be applied is in the area of worship forms during this interim period at Bethlehem (fresh initiative number 4).
But now where do we get the help to be that kind of person if we by nature are accusing, blaming, and fault-finding? Hebrews 4:16 gives the most crucial answer:
Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.
This is a time of need in our church. And an exciting time of need for love, for patience, for understanding, for forbearance. Which means it is a time to go to God for grace. We need to be sustained by grace. And when we are full grace, grace will come out of our mouths.
Consider Ephesians 4:29.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Do your words about worship in this transition time at Bethlehem build people up and give grace to those who hear? Are they a spillover of the grace you are enjoying from the throne of grace as you go there hour-by-hour and fill up?
Fresh Initiative #3
Or consider Fresh Initiative number 3.
Interracial reconciliation. Against the rising spirit of indifference, alienation, and hostility in our land, we will embrace the supremacy of God's love to take new steps personally and corporately toward racial reconciliation, expressed visibly in our community and in our church.
The more I think about this and the more I listen to others who are working on it, the more it is plain to me that this is something that demands a long-term, persistent, rugged, in-your-face kind of love. This, perhaps, more than any initiative will feel depleting. So where are you going to get that kind of commitment—that kind of love?
2 Corinthians 9:8 gives the essential answer:
God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may abound for every good deed.
That is an amazing promise. Every good deed in racial reconciliation God has for you to do, he is able to give you the grace to do. You don't have to wear out. You don't have to give up. You don't have to be depleted. There is all sufficiency in everything for every good work. Future grace is the gas for tomorrow's obedience.
Live by Faith in Future Grace
Will we believe in it and live by faith in it?
There are promises of future grace for every one of our Fresh Initiatives. What this little booklet of our mission statement is calling for us to do is to learn how to live by faith in future grace. And the reason that matters so much is that when the all-sufficiency of grace is magnified, God is magnified.
Some of us here this morning need to repent of offending against the Spirit of grace—perhaps most of us. Hebrews 10:29 speaks of insulting the Spirit of grace. And Ephesians 4:30 speaks of grieving the Holy Spirit by our unedifying words. So let's repent and turn from old patterns of negativism and fault-finding, and learn together to walk and talk by faith in future grace.
God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may abound for every good deed.