“PARTAKERS OF MY GRACE”
God blesses our lives in ways we frequently do not understand. This evening I want to speak to you about how God blesses you by blessing me. Turn in your Bible to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, an epistle he wrote while imprisoned in Rome. When you find Philippians 1.7, stand for the reading of our text: “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.” The particular focus of our attention this evening will be the last phrase, “ye all are partakers of my grace.” What was true for the Philippians with respect to the apostle Paul is also truth for you with respect to me. You folks are all, to a greater or lesser degree, partakers of my grace.
I once talked to a troubled boy. I loved the kid, I liked the kid, and I wanted to see God work in his life. However, he stubbornly resisted the means God has established to be a blessing to him. To put it another way, the kid would not listen to me. Unless he listened to me, it was unlikely that he would ever turn his life around. Turn to First Corinthians, so I can lay some groundwork for you to follow my thinking. You folks need to realize that I know I am not much. Whatever is accomplished in my life and ministry is entirely attributable to the grace of God. As Paul wrote in First Corinthians 15.10, “by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Writing to that troubled congregation, the Apostle made sure, before he addressed the specific problems they faced, that they understood some important truths: First, he made sure they understood that the grace of God is available to every Christian. In First Corinthians 1.4-5, this is clearly stated:
4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
Next, in verses 6 and 7, he makes plain the fact that the grace of God had always been available to them:
6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
Third, in verses 8 and 9, he shows that the grace of God would always be available to those Christians:
8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our confidence that God’s grace will always be available to us is partly based upon our confidence in Christ, “Who shall also confirm” us “unto the end,” and partly based upon the character of God, Who is faithful. Therefore, let no believer deny that God’s grace was available, is available, and will always be available. The Corinthian’s problem was that they had not availed themselves of God’s abundant grace. Is that your problem this evening?
Sadly, Christians sometimes do frustrate the grace of God. In Galatians 2.21, Paul wrote, “I do not frustrate the grace of God,” suggesting, of course, that the Galatians were doing that very thing. In Galatians 5.4, Paul refers to falling from grace when he writes, “ye are fallen from grace.” Precisely what falling from grace is lies outside the scope of this message. Whatever it is, it cannot be a good thing, even though it is a possible thing for a believer. What about Second Corinthians 6.1, where Paul and his co-laborers pleaded with the Corinthians that they “receive not the grace of God in vain”?
It is when my duties as a preacher take me elsewhere that I am reminded how very much I love you folks, how very central to my existence is this pastoral ministry God has called me to, and how feeble a minister of the gospel I am. As poor as I am, I would be completely bankrupt but for God’s precious grace. So, because God’s grace was, is, and will be available to you, and should therefore be availed by you, and so you will not frustrate the grace of God, fall from God’s grace, or receive God’s grace in vain, I bring this message from God’s Word.
In Second Corinthians 9.8, Paul declared to the Corinthians “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” That is, Paul states yet again that God has grace sufficient for each one of our needs, enabling us by His grace to do the good works He wants us to do, enabling us to live the life He has called us to live.
Keeping in mind that we have not yet established what God’s grace is, only that whatever it is it is available to each and every one of us who know Christ, allow me to encourage you with three very simple points this evening:
First, THE NECESSITY OF GOD’S GRACE
There can be no doubt that grace is critically important. After all, what distinguished Noah from everyone else of his generation is stated succinctly in Genesis 6.8: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Everyone else perished in the Flood, but Noah found grace. Grace is necessary, but for what?
First, for salvation from sin’s penalty. In Acts 18.27, Luke, the companion of Paul and the author of the book of Acts, described those whose sins had been forgiven, who were saved from the penalty of their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, as those “which had believed through grace.” Thus, it is by the grace of God that sinners come to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Turn to Romans 3.23-25, where we see the same truth stated in a different way:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.
Therefore, you see, faith is the result of God’s grace. This is just another way of saying that believing is the result of God’s grace. In other words, it is by God’s grace that a person is saved from the penalty of his sins.
Next, grace is necessary for salvation from sin’s power. I do not need to take you back to First Corinthians chapter one to remind you that before Paul addressed their various sin problems he pointed out that God’s grace was, is, and ever would be available to deliver them from the power of their sins. Christians always struggle with personal sins. How are Christians to experience victory over the sins that plague them? God’s grace. But for God’s grace in any Christian’s life, he would be overwhelmed by his sins. So you see, each and every day, in every conceivable way, the child of God has a constant and ongoing need for God’s grace, so that he might not be overpowered by sins.
Finally, grace is necessary for salvation from sin’s presence. If you are a Christian, you entertain the hope that some day you will arrive at your anticipated destination of heaven and the presence of the Lord. Of course, if you are not a Christian you will surely go to Hell, on your way to your ultimate destiny of the lake of fire, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Just how do you think you will actually end up in heaven? Speaking about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and your anticipated rendezvous with the Lord Jesus Christ at that time, First Peter 1.13 reads, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, it is by grace that a sinner is saved from the penalty of his sins. It is grace that a Christian is saved from the power of his sins during the course of his Christian life. And it is by grace that the Christian is brought into the presence of the Savior. Whatever this thing called grace is (and we have not yet established what grace is to this point), it is necessary for your salvation and eternal well-being.
Next, THE NATURE OF GOD’S GRACE
I am not of the opinion that anyone completely understands what God’s grace is, no matter how much you study the Bible. However, there are a couple of things about God’s grace that we can understand:
First, grace has to do with God’s favor. This can be seen in Luke 2.40, in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Did God the Father like the Lord Jesus Christ when He walked the earth as a child? Of course, He did. Was He kindly disposed toward Him? Of course, He was. Did God the Father bless His Son at that time? Yes, He did. Therefore, it is obvious that whatever else grace signifies, it must include favor toward someone, being kindly disposed toward someone, blessing in some way.
Of course, our concern is with God’s favor toward Christians. In Romans 1.7, we read these words: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a common greeting from the Apostle Paul, following a pattern found in a number of his letters. The greeting is revealing. It shows that those who are beloved of God, who are also described as saints, are recipients of both grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. My friends, the peace that a person enjoys with God is based upon that same person receiving grace from God. No grace, no peace. Now turn to Romans 11.6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” As much as any other passage in the Bible, this verse shows that however grace is acquired it is not deserved by meritorious works. To put it another way, you do not earn God’s favor by doing good deeds. The point is, there is nothing you can do to purchase God’s favor, for as soon as it is paid for by someone (as soon as it is worked for), it is no longer grace. How important is this to understand? There are few things more important. You cannot earn, nor will you ever deserve, salvation from the penalty of your sins. You cannot earn, nor will you ever deserve, salvation from the power of sin in your Christian life. No Christian ever earns or deserves any of God’s blessings, no matter how obedient or consecrated his life is. Thus, though you may be saved from your sins and experience victory over sins in your Christian life, you still do not deserve to go to heaven. That, too, is a blessing God gives to His own by grace. Abraham’s selection by God was grace. Joseph’s imprisonment was by grace. Job’s trials were by grace. The martyrdom of John the Baptist was by grace. The thorn in Paul’s flesh was by God’s grace.
Finally, THE “MEANS OF GRACE”
Just because grace is not something that a person can earn by working for it, does not mean that grace is not something that a person can acquire by working for it. What I mean by that is that the method by which God sometimes gives grace to His children is by means of things He wants us to do. This gives rise to a phrase the Puritans used called the “means of grace,” by which they referred to something God wants His children to do through which Him blesses them with grace. Thus, though doing stuff does not make anyone deserve God’s grace, doing stuff is the means by which God blesses His children. For example:
There is the grace of speaking. In Ephesians 4.29, we read these words: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” This means that you are an instrument through which God gives grace to other Christians by means of the words that you speak to them; words that edify and encourage, words that instruct and exhort, words that benefit and bless. Of course, in order for this means of grace to operate effectively, the person you speak to must be of a mind to listen, to pay attention, to heed your words.
Of course, a specific kind of this means of grace is preaching. When Puritans referred to making use of the means of grace they usually meant attending church services and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. Though First Corinthians 1.21 does not specifically make mention of grace, since preaching is the ministry of the Word, the preacher must be understood to be one who God uses to minister grace to the hearer, since salvation is by grace through faith in response to the preaching of God’s Word: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” I think it is easy to see how ignoring preaching, refusing to heed the preaching, and not even attending church to hear preaching, would all be examples of frustrating the grace of God.
Another means of grace is praying. Hebrews 4.16 reads, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Several observations related to this verse:
Then, though surprising to some, there is the means of grace, which is the grace of giving. In Second Corinthians 8.1, Paul made reference to the willingness and the ability God gave to the Christians in the Macedonian churches to give to Paul’s relief effort, even though they were very, very poor: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.” This grace of giving was not tithes, since tithing is not giving at all, but returning to God that portion of your income which actually belongs to Him and which He wants returned to Him. The grace of giving is giving above your tithes, to special projects that congregations work together to support, doing together what we can only feebly do alone. With Paul, it was a collection for Christians in Judea facing starvation. For us it may be ongoing offerings above the tithe to reach out through our missionaries to plant churches, or a one-time yearly offering. Through the act of giving to the cause of Christ God blesses His people.
I conclude this evening’s message by pointing out the grace of partaking of my grace. I mentioned at the beginning that I once talked to a kid who did not do a good job of listening to me. Turn to Philippians 1.7 once again to see what that kid robbed himself of. The last phrase reads, “ye all are partakers of my grace.” My friends, I am not claiming greatness. Neither do I claim great skill. However, God has called me and equipped me for the gospel ministry. To be sure, many men are called and given a much greater measure of grace than I. Still, there are some people in this world who God has provided grace for through my life and ministry. Those people who should listen to me, who God is pleased to bless through my preaching, do themselves great disservice when they miss church, when they do not pay attention, or when they refuse to do what God’s Word that I preach tells them to do. Some people listen to me but do not follow my counsel, will not respond to me as their pastor, or insist on being a sheep who refuses the benefit of a shepherd. Such people may be among those who “receive the grace of God in vain.” In Ephesians 4.7, we are told by Paul that “every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” That is, every Christian is given grace by God and has the capacity to impart grace into the life of another in some way. However, one who has been called to the gospel ministry, who is equipped by God to minister grace to those who hear him, should be listened to with special care.
Some of you in this room do quite well in your Christian lives, in part, because you pay attention when your pastor speaks. You do not frustrate the grace of God. You see yourself as needy and you both want God’s grace and make use of God’s grace when you get it. You are serious about praying, serious about listening to sermons, serious about reading your Bible, serious about being a good and gracious giver. Can I tell you something? God’s grace is evident in your lives.
Others of you make a point of staying as far from your pastor’s influence as you can. You do not make good use of me to your own benefit. Neither do you study your Bible or pray as you ought. You seem unaware of how important God’s grace for living is, and you do not seek after it by the means God has ordained.
Do I brag to you, this evening? Please, do not think so. I am no special man. My feet are feet of clay. However, like Paul, I can say “by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.” My only desire for you is for you to avail yourself of God’s abundant grace. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Did God make use of some kind of means to impart grace to Noah? Noah almost certainly listened to the preaching of Enoch. And he certainly prayed.
The point that I seek to make is this: You need God’s grace. There is some grace God has for you that can only be obtained by the right use of means, by praying for it, by reading the Bible for it, by attending church for it, by listening to wise counsel for it, or by listening carefully to the preaching of God’s Word for it.
An undeniable fact of the Bible is God’s design to give grace to His children through the life of another believer, a preacher. I invite you to partake of my grace. Listen when I preach. Learn when I teach. Respond when I counsel. God greatly blesses me when I can be a blessing to you.