“By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
The favors of God so far exceed human hope and expectation, that often they are not believed. For God has bestowed upon us such things as the mind of man never looked for, never thought of. It is for this reason that the Apostles spend much discourse in securing a belief of the gifts that are granted us of God. For as men, upon receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God.(John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, vol. 13, 13419).
One of the greatest of these gifts of grace is the minstry of grace. What grace God has given us to serve him and his people.
One of my prized possessions is a short little note sent to me 7 seven years ago. The letter is from Jerrie Barber dated April 2, 2009. There is this tremendous quote:
Working with God’s people and other sinners can get discouraging….You are responsible for yourself and not others.
Doing God’s work will quickly teach you to rely upon God rather than upon yourself. This is one of the great facets of God’s grace–he carries us through! Paul understood that when he said, “I planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Paul was in a tremendous position to speak about what God can do through us. He described that incredible process to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12-20 where we see how grace empowers us for ministry.
Jesus said, “come follow me and I will make you to be fishers of men.” He told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom.” He says to us “come unto me and I will give you rest.” He tells us to go because he sees what can be done through him.
HE SAW WHAT I COULD BE–1 TIMOTHY 1:12
“I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service”.
One of the great realizations about ministry is that none of us are good enough, but God can work through all of us. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament as a lot of the great works of God are performed through people who are “stinkers”! But God was willing to and able to use them anyway. I love the way Paul described this in his own life.
We know where Paul was. He was a persecutor and blasphemer, but God knew what he could become. So God “enabled” Paul. The word ἐνδυναμώσαντί which means “to cause one to be able to function or do something” (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 333).
The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:17, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear”.
HE SAW PAST WHAT I HAD BEEN–1 TIMOTHY 1:13
“although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” 1 Ti 1:13.
God sees us differently than we see ourselves. He looks at the heart of man rather than the appearance. He chose Israel specifically because they were descended from the second child, a small people, and physically insignificant. He chose what was weak in this world to magnify his power over all things in this world.
So it is with God’s working through each of us earthen vessels. He knows our frame. We are but dust. But inside this frail body he has hidden the unsearchable riches of Christ.
I am thankful that God knows my sin and still yet chose to save me and to utilize me. Paul is the great example of this very fact. He was everything should not have been. But God saw fit to make him into everything we should be. This is how he obtained mercy.
Paul himself wrote, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). Peter draws from Hosea and says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:10).
The reception of grace has its demands which must not be avoided. One of those changes is implicitly stated here. Paul was living righteously as he could under the Old Law. However, he was a sinner now! Why? Because the law had changed–Hebrews 8. The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ and his new Covenant. This new covenant also brought a new ministry.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Co 4:1–2).
We are blessed, with Paul, to be forgiven. We are also blessed to share the forgiveness with other lost souls.
HE SAW ME THROUGH THE LENSE OF GRACE–1 TIMOTHY 1:14
And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Ti 1:14.
God lifts us up because he views us through the lense of grace.
Paul stated that it took “exceedingly abundant” grace to save him! Paul liked to use the Greek prefix huper (meaning “an exceeding abundant amount”), and he often attached it to words in his letters. You might translate some of these as “superincrease of faith” (2 Thes. 1:3); “superabounding power” (Eph. 1:19); “superconqueror” (Rom. 8:37). This same prefix has come into the English language as hyper. We speak of “hyperactive” children and “hypersensitive” people.
Paul makes it clear that this salvation is not for him only, but for all who receive Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:15). If Jesus could save Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, then He can save anybody! (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (vol. 2; Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 212.
Perhaps we need to remember Abram, childless and in his father’s home. But in an extension of his grace, God called him to leave that world behind. The journey of faith led to children and descendants more numerous than the stars. From his family line would come the Messiah himself. Abram and Sarai thought it impossible. However, with God nothing is impossible. Abraham and Sarah became the great-grandparents of all the faithful. Why? because God saw what could happen through grace.
The same is true of Saul of Tarsus. The church had no hope for him. In fact, the church fled from him. It would take God and his grace to change the situation. In grace the church which fled from him now flocked to Paul to hear the grace of God expounded from the great example of grace.
HE SAW THE OPPORTUNITY TO DEMONSTRATE HIS GRACE TO ALL–1 TIMOTHY 1:15-17
Perhaps some of the most prized words of Scripture come from the humility of Paul.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Ti 1:15–17.
“The grace of God turned the persecutor into a preacher, and the murderer into a minister and a missionary! So dramatic was the change in Paul’s life that the Jerusalem church suspected that it was a trick, and they had a hard time accepting him (Acts 9:26–31). God gave Paul his ministry; he did not get it from Peter or the other Apostles (Gal. 1:11–24). He was called and commissioned by the risen Christ in heaven. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (vol. 2; Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 213.
Together, with Paul, we say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 2:13). Why? Because his grace reaches me. The superabundance of grace displayed in Paul was given to be a pattern for how all of us can be saved and work with God. Paul’s salvation and service was–as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Ti 1:16–17).
But By the Grace of God, I am What I am.
Perhaps rather, by the grace of God I can be far better than what I am. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he would look again at God’s grace as the great motivation of his life and ministry:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Ti 1:8–12.
Perhaps, Paul too would have said:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
Do you now stand in Christ? In his grace? Does his grace determine your destiny? Your ministry?