Grace to You
Reviewing Our Vision
Our vision for 2019 is the vision of Jesus stated so plainly by Paul in Ephesians 4—“building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
If I were to summarize the past four weeks of study, I’d say, that vision is attained by the use of individual gifts and by the conscious decision to daily be filled with Christ’s Spirit.
Now, as we systematically work toward that vision—greater unity, deeper knowledge, and a more robust maturity—we are taking to the Scriptures to more fully understand those spiritual fruits. Therefore, our first many many many messages will concern spiritual unity. Just what exactly does Christ envision a wholly unified church to look like? What measures must be secured to attain to Biblical unity?
There’s no better resource to answer those questions than Paul’s letter to Philippi. The cry for which Paul hearkened the ancient Christians in Philippi is “be unified!” Here are three brief evidences: (1) There was some kind of conflict in the church that Paul wanted settled: “Euodia I urge, and Syntyche I urge, to think the same way in the Lord” (4:1, my own translation). (2) Paul told the Philippians “to complete” his joy by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2). What may we infer by Paul’s demand to complete his joy? Implicit is that his joy is incomplete. For which reason? At least some of the brethren did not have the same mind. (3) In all four chapters, Paul mentions koinonoa, the Greek word for fellowship.
This letter is a beckon for churches through ages to be wholly unified in Christ. Therefore, having established where this letter will take us, let’s bring that context into the initial greeting which will serve as the basis for this week’s and next week’s messages.
A Weighty Greeting
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1-2).
How often do we fail to understand the significance of a simple greeting? I don’t think Paul was mindlessly penning the words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” You don’t pronounce grace and peace on just anybody. While God’s grace and peace are extending to all, very very few receive it.
The grace of God and the peace of God are arguably two of the most significant truths around which the Christian faith is centered. Therefore, today I’d like to speak about the grace of God, and next week I’d like to talk about the peace of God.
Four Portraits of Grace
In order to grasp the depth of those words—Grace to you—I’m going to paint four Biblical portraits of the grace of God.
Grace is an untouched pile of dry tinder surrounded by a forest fire
Imagine an uncontrollable forest fire, blazing across thousands of acres of forest. In the midst of the fire—dead in the center of it—there’s a pile of dry tinder, totally unaffected by the flames. It’s inexplicable scientifically, but there appears to be an invisible forcefield working to protect the tinder from being set ablaze. If you can imagine everyone in here as dry tinder unaffected by a forest fire, you might begin to grasp the goodness and the miracle of grace.
In Hebrews, it is said, “our God is a consuming fire” (12:29). In Deuteronomy, Moses warned against idolatry and said, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (4:24). Through the Law and many prophets, God’s wrath is likened to an all-consuming fire. Jesus described a day when all who are disobedient will be burned with unquenchable fire.
In a word, the consuming fire of God is aimed at sinners. It is bent toward idolaters. In other words, it is directed at mankind in general, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23), and “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
We are dry tinder encroached upon by unquenchable fire. After Israel abandoned God’s covenant and made for themselves an idol for worship, God told Moses, “let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Exodus 32:10). But just moments later, “the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14).
The true motive for which God relented his wrath came just days later when “The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses], and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:5-6).
Israel stood condemned before God, deserving his fire, but the Lord relented, for his name is mercy and grace! We stand before God’s presence untouched by fire because of grace. What we deserved, we did not receive. We are dry tinder surrounded by a forest blaze. This is grace.
Grace is a homeless harlot rescued by an upright and pure suitor
Several hundred years before Jesus came to earth, God told a man named Hosea to marry a harlot. He then told him to keep loving her despite her continual unfaithfulness. As the prophecy unfolds, God revealed to Hosea the likeness of his people Israel to a harlot. Everyone goes astray. All abandon him. But he, like Hosea, never abandons his people.
In Ephesians 5, Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Consistently through Scripture, God’s people are likened to unclean adulterers. But Christ saw us in our destitute state, and he sought us out. He cleansed us. He removed from us our sin and presented us to him as a beautiful bride adorned for her wedding day. If you can imagine the transformation from a homeless harlot to a beautiful bride, you may better understand the grace of God.
Grace is a decayed body upon which God breathed life
Imagine a rotting corpse, surrounded by vultures—lifeless. He was a no-good drunk who was in a bar fight and was thrown out onto the ground. Envision a beaming figure in white robes approaching the body and breathing into it life. See in your mind’s eye wounds vanishing and a foul stench fading away. Picture the dead and lifeless figure taking in a sharp breath and opening his eyes. He stands up, he lives again. This is a truly Biblical portrait of grace.
Paul said in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (2:1-2a, 4-8).
Three times Paul says, “grace, grace, grace!” We were dead! But God—even when we were dead!—made us alive and seated us with him. This is grace.
Grace is a loving father giving chores to his disobedient boy
Picture a twelve-year-old boy who went against his father’s express wishes. And therefore, lovingly but firmly the father called to him his son and said, “I want you to rake our entire yard (half-acre), then bag all of the contents. Afterwards, I want you to clean the entire garage. Then, I want you to vacuum and clean out your mother’s car, after which you will give it a good wash. Then you may come to me and see what’s next.” That list is mighty specific…I may have been 12 once.
This is grace! Now, grace is an untouched pile of tinder amidst a fire storm; grace is a harlot made to be beautiful and pure by an upright man; grace is a rotting corpse made to live again; and grace is a lengthy list of instructions meant to teach a lesson. If I were to ask a group of fourth graders, “Which one of these doesn’t belong with the rest of the list,” they’d say the list of chores. How’s that grace? How did I determine this to be grace?
Here’s how: Before Paul reprimanded the Roman Christians for missing the entire nature of justification, he wrote, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Before rebuking the Corinthians for their acceptance of sexual immorality, drunkenness during the Lord’s supper, and immaturity concerning spiritual gifts, he wrote, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Prior to telling the Philippian Christians that they needed to be more unified, he wrote, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul's saying, "All of these instructions are coming from a place of grace. I'm not coming in hostility. It may look that way, but it isn't. This is the grace of God to keep you protected from fire, separate from the world, and alive." God’s grace protects, renews, resurrects, and instructs his people.
As we come to a close, go back thirty or fifty years and see the family gathered for supper when the father asks his boy, “Will you please say grace?” We don’t use that phrase very much anymore. Probably because we don’t understand it.
In 1 Corinthians 15:57, Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word for “thanks” here is actually the Greek word grace. The ancient understanding of grace is that it not only was extended from God as grace but it was received as grace. We participate in grace when we see the goodness of God and give thanks for it. Grace be to God!
Are you saying grace with your life?