GRACE is usually defined as favor, and in the case of
sinners as unmerited favor. But this is a narrow sense for a word with
broad meaning and application. Grace involves the whole method of
operation employed by God that accredits all glory to Himself.
God is " . . . the One Who is operating all in
accord with the counsel of His will" (Eph.1:11). All is out of God—all
originates in Him. All is through God—He is the great Cause behind
everything and brings to pass everything that happens. All is for God—everything
serves His purpose, and nothing can come to be apart from His design
(Rom.11:36). These verses are true regardless of our belief,
appreciation or understanding. But a vital part of our life and service
for God depends upon our realization of this truth. And that vital part
involves this matter of grace.
Paul tells us plainly that very few who are wise,
powerful or noble are among the ranks of the calling in grace. The
reason for this is to exclude all boasting of the flesh (1 Cor.1:26).
And the Scriptures give abundant examples of how "the stupidity of
God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than
men" (1 Cor.1:25). Shamgar slew 600 Philistines with an oxgoad;
Sisera, captain of the Canaanite host, was slain by a woman with a glass
of milk and a tent peg; Gideon and 300 men defeated the hordes of the
Midianites with pitchers, torches and a shout; the shepherd boy defeated
Goliath with a sling; Jehoshaphat placed the singers in front of the
army as the people went out to face the enemy—not a sword of Judah was
unsheathed, yet it took three days to carry away the spoil; Israel, the
smallest and weakest nation, will rule the earth; the ecclesia, unworthy
of the smallest earthly blessing, is blessed in Christ with every
spiritual blessing among the celestials.
Great and mighty are the workings of grace, and the
glory always belongs to God. Yet before we can be profitable instruments
of grace in God's operation, we may need some adjustment. Probably all
of us have some degree of talent or self-reliance which sets us askew to
the framework of grace. Thus it is necessary for God to bring about the
trials and testings that dispel the confidence of the flesh and
encourage reliance upon God.
Paul's life is full of examples that illustrate the
principles of grace. Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, was energetic and
intelligent. But because he was self-reliant and capable, he needed to
be schooled by the Lord in the workings of grace. How significant it is
that his life of service to the Lord began with three days of blindness
and helplessness. His second letter to the Corinthians abounds with such
experiences, but we will focus on the one in which the light of his
self-confidence flickered out.
"For we do not want you to be ignorant,
brethren, concerning our affliction which came to us in the province of
Asia, that we were inordinately burdened, over our ability, so that we
were despairing of life also. But we have the rescript of death in
ourselves, that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in
God" (2 Cor.1:8,9).
We cannot be sure what incident in the apostle's
experience is referred to here, but that is immaterial. What Paul wanted
the Corinthians to realize was the depth of despair to which he had
sunk: " . . . so that we were despairing of life." The
difficulties appeared so insurmountable that, to Paul, it seemed
pointless to continue living. Possibly the reader has experienced
similar feelings. But the Lord did not leave Paul in that condition.
Soon Paul was to say, " . . . we are not despondent . . . . Being,
then, courageous always . . . we are encouraged . . . we are ambitious
always" (2 Cor.4:1,6; 5:6,7,9).
What then was God's purpose for giving Paul such an
experience? The answer is not far to seek. Paul said he had an official
decree of death in himself so that his confidence would not be in
himself but in God (2 Cor.1:9). We should also look for the same design
in the trials we face. realizing that all things are of God, we can find
our afflictions turning ourselves from self-confidence to reliance upon
God. When the glory goes to God, grace can work mightily in and through
There was a time in Israel's history when Judah was
attacked and mostly overrun by Assyria. The rab-shakeh (field commander)
of Assyria sent a message to king Hezekiah, saying that if Hezekiah was
depending upon Egypt for help, he was like a man who was leaning upon a
fractured reed. The reed would break under his weight and pierce his
hand (Isa.36:4-6). This is a perfect example for us. Dependence upon our
own abilities or plans to accomplish something for God may yield a
result worse than failure.
God can and may use the most talented of individuals.
Moses is an example. He was a prophet, politician, diplomat, military
strategist, leader and poet. But the Scriptures also tell us that he was
the most humble of men on earth (Num.12:3). It was not the education of
Egypt that so thoroughly prepared Moses. It has been said that he still
needed his B.D. degree, not "Bachelor of Divinity" but
"Backside of the Desert." God schooled him for forty years
before he was ready to lead the people.
One's disposition toward himself and toward God is
the key issue. Let us remember that it is God Who is accomplishing
things. This is the lesson of grace, and if we are to be used of Him, we
must be attuned to His glorious operation of grace.