Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” A life with Christ is not meant to be lived alone, rather together with a community of Christ followers. This requires intentionality and vulnerability. Togetherness encourages focusing our eyes on what matters most—Jesus. Bonhoeffer continues, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this”
Here four actions to focus our minds and encourage togetherness.
Set your hope on future grace
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13, ESV
The mind is a battle ground. While there are many pressures from outside, it is in the mind that one is most often tempted to fear, lose hope, or skirt holiness. Alone we are prone to distraction and disillusionment from the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. If your hope is in anything, but Jesus you will be disappointed. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are together in this fight of faith and that we will be together around the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” – 1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV
Above any other attribute of God, his holiness is mentioned the most in the Bible. God is holy, meaning he is “set apart” and there is none like him. If God is holy he wants his children to be holy too. God is not a militant nor a mongrel demanding perfection, but he is a loving father who wants his children to pursue holiness everyday. Encourage one another to be holy in an unholy world.
Have a healthy fear of God
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” – 1 Peter 1:17, ESV
Peter tells us that God is a Father and we should have a healthy fear of him because he judges his children fairly. While we aren’t perfect kids, he is a perfect daddy. Sometimes we are tempted to view God through the lens of what our earthly father was or is like. While this can be helpful, not everyone had a father who was loving, caring, or taught them right and wrong. God is a good Father.
Look to Christ our example
“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21, ESV
Christ came to earth. He lived a holy life and obeyed his Father in everything. He even obeyed God by going to the cross becoming the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through Jesus we can have faith and hope because in Jesus we see what God looks like with skin on. Jesus also helps us to see what holiness looks like as a human. Follow in his steps.
Life together is primarily about keeping our minds on Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ comes again and makes us completely like him. Walking in grace, holiness, and a fear of God is impossible alone, but together it is a lot more encouraging and doable.
Questions for Reflection:
- What does holiness mean? What does it look like to be holy? What is the opposite of holiness?
- How does the illustration and reality that God is Father and you are his children encourage you? Why do God and parents ask their children to do good things not evil things?
- What does it mean to obey? Are there any rules or standards from the Bible or your home that you don’t think are fair or right? Why? What rules or standards are difficult for you to obey? Why?
- How is God a Judge? Why is it good that God judges?
- How does the world make fun of Christians for being holy or different? How does knowing that at the end of our life God will reward us for holy life?
- What is the meaning of the word redeem? How did Jesus redeem mankind?
- How do thinking on these verses help guard your mind from temptation?
I once heard a church member say, “The church would be a lot more peaceful if there weren’t any people in it.” As true as that statement may sound, what would the church be without people? No church at all.
A church is a community of imperfect people striving for peace together (Hebrews 12:14). This is no easy task. Often it is exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking and wrought with conflict. However, relationships, especially difficult ones take work, but the rewards of these relationships are rich and healthy to your faith (vs.12-13).
What is the goal of the church? A church can have many goals, but the author of Hebrews cues us into a common goal—to aim for peace with all and live holy before Christ (v.14). This is the pathway to growing a great church.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” – Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV
The church that received the letter to of Hebrews was experiencing persecution from outside the church and conflict from inside the church too (v.15). How discouraging would that be? Who would want to visit that church? Yet this is what church is like for many around the world. Living in a fallen world with broken and imperfect people, the church often reflect the world. That is okay. It is no reason to dog the church. Church and relationships are messy. Yet the church working together in grace is light and example to the world of what grace looks like between imperfect people who love the Perfect Christ.
Work in the church begins with confession. There is great power and freedom in confessing our sins to one another and encouraging one another (James 5:16). The power in confession is that we admit we cannot fight alone. We need one another. We are weak, but together in Christ we are strong. A force hell cannot reckon with.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16, ESV
The example of Esau is a serious warning for the church (vs.16-17). In the story of Esau, he turned his back on grace. He sold his birthright for fast-food (see Gen. 25:29ff). He did not fight for holiness rather he was driven to bitterness. When Esau wanted to inherit the blessing from his father, he was rejected—it was too late to be reversed. He became a memorable example of someone who failed to appropriate God’s grace by wasting the opportunity. Likewise turning from Christ and failing to be one’s brothers keeper will lead to ruin and sorrow in the church.
Church relationships take work. It is a two-way street. Like a family, those within the church often know intimate things about one another. A church that loves Jesus and strives for peace and holiness will grow even more intimate together because they see that the grace of Jesus can fully heal brokenness and hurt caused by sin within the Body. May we be more like Jesus with one another.
Questions for Reflection:
- How does this passage encourage you? How is it meant to encourage you to strive for peace in the community of faith?
- How do we reach the goal of peace with all people and live holy before the Lord, especially in the church? What happens when the community doesn’t aim for this goal with one another? How does this text help churches before of during conflict?
- What makes relationships within the church difficult? Why is it worth the work to strive for peace and holiness? How have you benefited in your faith with the church? What would be the detriment to your faith if your were without the church?
- What responsibility do we have to one another in the church? What is your role and responsibility to help your brothers and sisters? How will you strive for peace and holiness together with them?
Are you in need of grace? I am. Everyday. Every moment. I am serious need of grace.
If we’re honest, we really don’t like stories of grace. If we’re in the story it can be hard and there’s nothing we can do about it. Prior to experiencing grace many experience shame, pain, loss, and heartache. On the other hand, if someone else enjoys the gift of grace we cry unfair. Yet Grace isn’t about fairness. Grace offends us because it tells us we can’t do anything to deserve it! Grace costs nothing for the recipient but everything for the giver. Grace is an extravagant, ridiculous, over-the-top gift.
The Scriptures are swarming with stories of grace—Adam, Noah, Abraham. David, the murderous adulterer became king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart. Peter, the man with foot-in-mouth-disease, cursed and swore that he didn’t know Jesus became a powerful soul-winner and fed of Jesus’ flock. And Jesus taught many stories of grace that rattled his hearers like the Prodigal Son, the Unfair Landowner, the One Lost Sheep and the Wedding Banquet. He hung out with sinners. His whole story was one of grace— the Servant King—God in skin bearing the wrath of God for man’s sin (2 Cor. 8:9).
The Apostle Paul was a story of grace. Even in his day, his story had some people puzzled. They said, “Paul claims to be an apostle, but he didn’t become one like the others.” They cried foul and spread rumors that he was a fake apostle. How ungracious they were, but before we point fingers let’s see how Paul responds. It is here in his letter to the Galatian church that he defends his call and ministry.
Paul’s letter to the Galatian church was his very first epistle. He wrote it right after his first missions trip to Galatia (central Turkey) where he stayed less than a year. The letter sets the tone for future letters. Interestingly, no more than two sentences into each letter Paul greets his readers in the “grace of Jesus.” Grace is a big deal to Paul because he has been so impacted by that grace.
To better understand Paul’s defense of his apostleship it’s important to know what an apostle is and does. In order to be an apostle, one needed to complete this checklist: 1) An eyewitness of Christ and his ministry, 2) an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection, 3) appointed by Christ Himself, 4) able to perform signs and wonders like Christ, 5) received divine revelation, and 6) laid the foundation of the church. If you can check ‘Yes’ to all, then you’re an apostle. Not many could say ‘Yes’. Paul could legitimately check all the boxes along with the original twelve, yet he didn’t necessarily check them in the same way they did. He took the delayed route.
In Galatians 1:11–12, Paul states his defense: my message and ministry are from God not man. He didn’t claim to concoct or change the Gospel, but insists he got it straight from Jesus Himself (cf. v.1). Paul goes on to defend the gospel message and apostolic ministry by sharing three stories from his past. Each story zeroes in on the grace of God for the grace of God is Paul’s greatest defense for his message and ministry. (And I would add, yours too, since we are are all stories of God’s amazing grace.)
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Galatians 1:11-12
GRACE COVERS A SHADY PAST (Galatians 1:13-14)
Paul’s first story stretches back to before he met Jesus. He highlights in this story two aspects of his life and resume—his religious heritage and his religious radicalism (v.13-14). Why would he choose to share these two parts of his religious resume here? Why wouldn’t he choose the other parts? It’s that these two aspects highlight how much he needed grace. Paul was the rising star in his field. If he had Linked-In, he’d be suffocated under an avalanche of requests from major synagogues, law schools, and terrorist organizations. He was a stud and knew it. He was a shady guy who was ripe to be a story of God’s grace. As Paul later reflected, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) Grace covers a shady past.
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” – Galatians 1:13-14
Like Paul, before Jesus intersected with your life you were an enemy of God. You were filthy rags, scum, a lover of darkness, an orphan, and lost. You were self-righteous to the core. You did some shady things. (You say were, what about are?)
Yet the hope of the gospel is that your former or current life can become your former life. You don’t have to be who you were, but by grace you can be who you were meant to be in Christ. What part of your shady past do you have a difficult time allowing God to cover with his grace? So many Christians today are handicapped by their past sins. There sins cause an ever looming shadow. They are crippled. But grace says pick up you mats and walk. This is Amazing Grace!
GRACE FOREVER ARRESTS THE SOUL (1:15-16b, 24)
In Paul’s second story, he tells how grace not only covered his past, but also captures his present and his future. He reflects on and relishes in his conversion story. What we see is: All God and all grace! For we see to save Paul,
God did it. “He who set me apart before I was born.” (vs.15a, 16a) God did what, when? God saved Paul! He intended it before he was born! Do you see the beauty and patience of God saving Paul in his good timing? That’s what we call sovereign grace at work (cf. Eph. 1:4).
God did it by grace. “And [God] called me by His grace,” (v.15b) It wasn’t because Paul deserved it, earn it, or asked for it. Far from it. Paul was in dire and desperate need of grace. God saved Paul while he was on an anti-mission trip with documents in hand to oppress, imprison, and stone Christians (Acts 9:1-8, 22:4-18, 26). Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It means that I, even I, who deserve the opposite, am invited to take a place at God’s table.
God did it through Christ. “…was pleased to revealed His Son to me.” (v.16a) How humbling is it that the One who Paul was persecuting became his Savior? Yet the Judge makes a convicted criminal headed for death row his friend and brother. And this brought God pleasure! As C.S. Lewis said: “Christianity must be from God, for who else could have thought it up?”
God did it for the sake of others. “…that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” (v.16b; Acts 9:15-16, 20) Paul was God’s poster-child to the world of what grace does. As an apostle, Paul will go on to do works that I won’t or can’t (i.e. new revelation). However, you and I can know the same grace of God like Paul and God can use you as his poster-child to the world of what grace can do.
God did it for his glory. “And they glorified God because of me.” (v.24) Why did they glorify God? They saw amazing grace on display! They glorified God because nothing or no one could have changed a man like Paul apart from the grace of God.
From the moment God intersects your life by his grace you are forever changed. Grace arrests the soul. It doesn’t just stay in your past, but it becomes a part of who you are everyday. Timothy Keller said,
“Grace is not unconditional acceptance, but it is undeserved. That is a very difficult balance to strike! God’s grace comes to us without prerequisites, finding us as we are. God’s grace does not come to the “deserving” (there is no such person), and it does not discriminate. Rather, initially it comes to us freely. But once it enters into our lives, God’s grace demands changes; it holds us accountable. Why? Grace demands our holiness and growth for our sake as well as for God’s glory. Grace intercepts destructive behavior, protects us from the ravages of sin, sanctifies us so we can be “holy and happy,” two inseparable qualities… [Grace] says, “Your sin cannot separate you from me,” and then, in addition, says, “I won’t let your sin destroy you.” Grace comes to the unlovely person, but refuses to let him remain ugly.” – Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ. 1997. 226-227.
The world of ungrace tried to discredit Paul and the gospel. It will try to do the same to you. Satan will try to allow you to wallow in your past or ongoing sin, but allow God’s grace to forever arrest your soul. Grace changes everything. And it will change you. Rest in God’s sovereign grace calling you before you were born. Revel in the fact that you were completely undeserving of his grace. Remember, God was pleased to cover you in his grace. Radiate grace for the sake of others that they may glorify God.
GRACE MULTIPLIES GRACE (1:16c-23)
Paul’s last story shares how he went on to grow in grace and spread that grace to the Gentiles (vs.16c-22). Paul formerly an ungracious religious punisher is now grace’s powerful promoter. The people even said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (v.23) Paul is a changed man and has become a messenger of grace. That’s what grace does. Grace multiplies grace. What we see from this point onward is grace multiplying grace in Paul’s message and ministry.
Paul’s story is a story of grace. From Paul’s story we learn: (1) Grace saves sinners. Everyday sinful, broken people all over the world are being transformed by the message of Jesus Christ. (2) Grace sustains us from the moment we are born again to the day we die. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) (3) Grace, in you, is a humble, powerful witness to the world. You are a story of grace. You are a vessel of grace. You are God’s means of multiplying grace to the world. Who are you a multiply grace to right now? Is there anyone by grace you are needing to forgive?
Paul shows the paradox of grace. Before Christ, he thinks he’s “the best”, but after he thinks he’s “the worst” (1 Cor. 15:9-11; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:12-16; Rom 10:1; 11:13-14). It is not that Paul has a poor self-esteem or low self-image. He has a self-awareness like John Newton knowing he is “a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” What greater defense of Paul’s ministry and the message of the gospel is needed other than the one word “grace”? Grace is your greatest defense too.
My story is a story of grace. I was born to two teenage parents who divorced before I could speak. I grew up mostly under my grandparents roof while my mom worked. I was a bitter and troubled kid. I had reckless friends. My teacher wrote me off. The school counselor mocked me. My child psychiatrist was stumped. I even considered suicide. I was broken.
One Sunday, shortly after my mother remarriage and we relocated to a new part of our state. We attended Bible church together. It was a bit weird at first. Everyone had Bibles. My mom later went to Sam’s Club and bought Bibles for the family. I began being discipled. That was a new thing. I gained new friends who really cared for my soul. I enjoyed serving rather than being served. I went to Bible College. I became a Pastor. I really had a passion for broken people. And for the last 4 years spreading the fame of God in North Africa. That is a crazy story of grace from my perspective. I’d like to say I’ve arrived but I am still daily in need of grace. This is my story. God’s grace covered my shady past, arrested my soul, and has given me reason to multiply grace with others.
What is your story of grace? Will you allow God’s grace to arrest your soul? With whom do you need to multiply grace? Are you needing grace today?
- How does Paul’s defense of his authority and call echo that of Jesus’ own defense of his authority and call?
- Do you ever find yourself thinking you deserve God’s grace? What prompts you to think this way?
- How does the gospel of grace free you from pride and from guilt?
- In what ways can you see how God worked in your life before your conversion to equip you to serve Him after it?
There are days that are downright hard, ugly, and overwhelming. Sometimes there are seasons of life when all I see is what overwhelms me most.
There are so many things that can overwhelm us that leave us feeling like we are sinking and can barely breath. Many of things that overwhelm can begin as good things, but become hard and ugly like a struggling marriage, a wayward child, a strained relationship, or a load of expectations or responsibilities from work or home.
Do you ever have days or seasons like that? Do you sometime have a difficulty seeing the good in grim situations? Do you dread the idea that God sometimes places you in really hard places or situations to help you to realize just how desperate you are and how delightful He is?
Today I will look into the heart of a man who is overwhelmed. He is overwhelmed in a unique way. Yet he has the help of a good friend with new eyes to help him see the good in the overwhelming.
Paul is the friend who wrote two personal letters to Timothy; a young man. Timothy was a leader in the church at Ephesus, which Paul planted a decade earlier. He wasn’t passionate and radical like Paul, rather he was timid and tender. Paul, as a spiritual father and mentor, writes Timothy a critical juncture to encourage him through heavy challenges he was facing because certain persons were taking cracks at his youthfulness and in the same breath undermining the doctrine of Christ. Timothy was overwhelmed.
What Paul models for Timothy is that while ministry is difficult and problems with people are real and overwhelming, it is possible to be overwhelmed by the realities of God’s promises and see His purposes in all situations. Paul helps us to see an alternative in a biblical pattern toward becoming overwhelmed by God, even when my day or season in life is hard or ugly or overwhelming.
1. OVERWHELMED WITH THANKS (vs.12-14)
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Thankfulness is where becoming overwhelmed with God begins. As we look under the lid of Paul’s heart we see a man overwhelmed with thanks. He cannot help but thank God. He saw the deep crimson stains of his sin, yet saw the grace of God being deeper still.
Before Jesus, Paul was a religious terrorist. He was the Jewish equivalent to ISIS. He was radically devoted to his religious system and aimed to stop anyone who differed or threaten it. When God intersected with Paul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), God miraculously altered Paul’s faith and future. Only God could have altered Paul’s route.
Do you remember who were you before Jesus? Similar to Paul, you could say, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent—though formerly I was an enemy of God, doubter, skeptic, agnostic, cheater, liar, thief, addict, adulterer, womanizer, slanderer, sloth, fool—But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Aren’t you grateful for that “but”? That little conjunction brings hope in the most hopeless situation.
Paul reflects on his unglamorous past and what the glorious gospel has made him to be. The gospel takes him back, like when you’re driving in the car and “your song” comes on the radio taking you back to a certain time and place. Thinking of the gospel had that affect on Paul. He is so thankful. Does it have that affect on you?
‘Thank you’ is one of the highest forms of praise. When someone says, “I am thankful for you,” it can be one of the most precious and powerful things said. When is the last time you said those words to God?
My first year of life in North Africa was the hardest. I had created a list. Not a written list, but a mental list of all the things I was unthankful for; all the things that overwhelmed me most. This is the part of the message that you should not take home nor replicate, but I want you to see under the hood of my heart because maybe you can relate.
My Unthankful List: It’s hot (again). I have heat rash (again). I am so tired and exhausted. Someone is knocking at the gate and it’s 5:00am? I feel so used. Do people only come to visit to get ice, charge their cellphones, and ask for ride to the next town? If another person comes to visit and I am expected to be hospitable, I think I will snap. Are those boys throwing rocks at the tin roof again? The man who I thought was really interested in hearing about my faith is now forcing his faith on me. I cannot understand the language or be understood. They are laughing at me (again). I am trying so hard. Today my chores took me all day and I’m still not finished. Why am I here? I am sick again. This has to be my 43 day in a row with diarrhea. Sophia has lost a quarter of her body weight is she going to be okay? What I wouldn’t give to have a burrito right now. I am so fellowship starved. What I wouldn’t give to be in a church right now surrounded by my brothers and sisters. I feel like my faith is mimicking this dry thirsty land.
Maybe you can relate. Although we might live in different places, we are still so easily overwhelmed.
That was until a friend recommended that I go take a walk and pray. So I did. I began prayer walks a few times a week. It took a few walks to stop thinking about all that overwhelmed me and to see what God was doing in me. Out of these walks came a new list. A list that I wrote down. A list that I am proud to share and recommend that you would take home and replicate.
My Thankful List: I am not alone. God, you have surrounded me with a family, a team, and a cloud of witnesses. I am seeing You answer prayers from the front lines. God, you are providing for all my daily needs (again and again). When I am tired You are my strength. You are my protection. You have helped me make new Chadian friends; many who are hearing the good news for the very first time. Little by little You help me to communicate (and laugh at myself) and be hospitable. People are knocking on my gate to visit me. You are giving me a love for those I’ve had a hard time loving. God you are changing things. You are changing me! Thank you!!
A thankful heart is the remedy to one overwhelmed by a myriad of things towards becoming overwhelmed by God. Thankfulness helps us to see hard and ugly situation through new eyes. Ask God for a thankful spirit.
2. OVERWHELMED BY SALVATION (v.15)
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Paul is overwhelmed by his salvation. He is overwhelmed that God would redeem a sinner like him. He knew who he was and would be without Jesus. Paul had the right scale on which to measure himself. Often I don’t. More often I compared myself with another person thinking I look pretty good in comparison, but compared to Jesus there is no comparison.
This realization can change your life—I am the worst sinner I know. Like Paul, I am Public Sinner Number One. I am the worst sinner I know because only God and I know the depth of my sin. But thanks be to God that he stepped into my shoes, lived sinlessly, died in my place to clear my debt, championed the grave, all so that God could save me from God’s wrath and my own destruction.
The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m not that bad! I teach Sunday School. I listen to Christian radio.” Remind yourself just how bad you are by looking at the cross. Remember the price paid for your sin. Remember the red blood shed for your sin. Remember how ugly and horrible cross of Jesus was. That’s how ugly your sin is. Doesn’t that overwhelm you in a good way? You got to see your utter depravity before you can see Jesus’ glory.
John Newton was a captain of slave ships for the British Royal Navy and in his own words said he was a ruthless businessman and unfeeling observer. Despite a regrettable past God intersected with him en route and saved him. Like Paul, as he looked back on his past he said, “I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Savior.” Later he wrote a song which we sing still today, “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound), That sav’d a wretch like me!” Many would say that is “my song.”
Verse 15 is a beautiful missions verse, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That is the gospel in a nutshell. That alone gives me the motivation to wake up everyday and share Jesus with others because if it weren’t for Jesus I would not love my neighbor or stay in Africa. That alone is enough motivation for you to do the same wherever God has placed you, even if it is hard and ugly. That is a verse to rehearse to yourself everyday.
Why evangelize those around you? Why go to the ends of the earth? If God can save Paul. He can save anyone. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He can save your boss, your father, your child, your crazy uncle, your annoying neighbor, the abuser, the prostitute, the terrorist, even you. It happens when God gives faith to a person to believe that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
To be overwhelmed by God is to be overwhelmed that God would save a sinner like you. Or that God would even use a sinner like you, which leads us to the next thing.
3. OVERWHELMED BY MERCY (v.16)
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Have you ever heard the words, “You’ve changed”? Those can be words you either love or hate to hear. But God changes people. It’s his job and joy to change you. He himself never changes. But he loves to keep changing you more into his image. People who do not want to change are either perfect or disobedient. Which are you?
Paul is overwhelmed by mercy. To him God’s mercy is a river wide that keeps flowing and never runs dry, it is flooding over its banks, and Paul’s is drowning in it. And one who is given mercy, gives mercy to others. Mercy multiplies mercy. God’s design in saving Paul is to make him the poster child parading God’s mercy. God’s shows off Paul as if to say, “Here is what I can do. See for yourself.”
God had you in mind when he saved Paul. That is what the verse says. That is an awesome thought. God saved Paul for your sake. So that you would see God’s “overflowing grace”, divine “mercy” and “perfect patience” and take courage and hope for your own salvation and the salvation of others.
God wants you to see the most unlikely people can believe and do believe. God can change people and is changing people. God’s mercy and power are not limited to people who have been set up for Christianity by a good family or live near a church or have a clean moral track record. The chief of sinners was saved. And that means hope in evangelism and in your own underwhelming walk with the Lord.
Don’t belittle the mercy of God by saying, “I can’t be changed” or “I’m just the way I am!” The message of God’s mercy is that what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. A critical spirit can be changed. Alcoholism can be changed. Irritability can be changed. Ingratitude can be changed. Laziness and overeating and lust can be changed. The habits of not tithing and excessive TV watching and gambling can be changed. Lack of hospitality can be changed. Self-righteousness can be changed. Fear of telling others about Jesus can be changed. It’s God’s joy and job to change you.
In what ways are you parading the mercy of God to those around you? Everyday you are displaying God’s perfect patience and as an example to who are to believe in Jesus for eternal life. This is a reason to run to God not from God unashamed because of his mercy.
In Africa, sometimes it’s too hot inside that we sleep outside. Our night light are the bright stars in the sky. Why are the stars so bright and beautiful? It is because the sky is so dark. In the same way, you live in a dark world tainted by sin, but God in his mercy uses you as his lights to shine for all to see what God can do in a person or a community overwhelmed by him.
4. OVERWHELMED WITH PRAISE (v.17)
Paul ends his personal thoughts with a bang. He does this from time to time. Its as if he gets caught up in the thought and his pen explodes into doxology on the page. God’s goodness becomes his anthem. He is overwhelmed with praise.
To the King of the ages (past, present, and future), immortal (who never naps, takes a break, or dies), invisible, the only God (who doesn’t have a living comparison), be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (For more see Revelation 5)
When comprehending God saving power over your past, when you see yourself against the cross, when you acknowledge the mercy of God saving a sinner like you, it is natural to be overwhelmed, overcome, overjoyed, and overflowing with gratitude and worship to God. A person overwhelmed by God sees his troubles or trials through news eyes. He sees people problems through new eyes. He sees whatever is hard and ugly and overwhelming through new eyes. For all that you lack is supplied for you in Christ. All that ruined you was renewed in Christ.
May God give you new eyes to see the beauty of what he is doing in you and those around you, even when it is hard and ugly.
May we be around the worst sinners looking for gospel opportunities.
May your complaint turn to thanks and praise. May you be refreshed by the joy of your salvation and that God would use a sinner like you. May God overwhelm you and your church.
What areas of your life do you struggle with thankfulness? How does thankfulness change the way you see your circumstances, even difficult ones? Spend some time in prayer thanking God.
What do you remember about your salvation story? What does it look like to rehearse the gospel to yourself everyday? Why is it important to be reminded of the gospel so often?
What is the mercy of God? How have you experienced the mercy of God? In what ways are you parading the mercy of God as an example for others to see?
Read Revelation 5. How is Revelation 5 a bigger picture of 1 Timothy 1:17? How is John’s vision of Jesus overwhelming with praise? Why is it helpful to have this future picture of Jesus?
When was a time when you were overwhelmed by God? What about God’s working in your past, present, or future marvel you?
A relationship that his been vital to me has been to long-time missionary Marc Blackwell. I first met Marc during my year long church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. By the time I met him he had already been serving overseas for three decades and had been used by God to plant churches from Sarasota, Florida to Harare, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. In the short time that I was with him he demonstrated how to plant churches, showed the innards of being a godly husband and father, and helped me “act like a man”. It was a high privilege.
Today we have the high privilege of hearing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had just wrapped up his third missionary journey and for two decades he had planted churches around the northern Mediterranean coastline.
If you could describe Paul in one word, what word would you use? There are certainly many words one could choose, but I would choose the word “defender.” Paul was a defender of the faith, a defender of Christ, a defender of the resurrection, a defender of his own ministry, and today we will see him as a defender of the unforgiven. Today’s message is on forgiveness and ministry,
2 Corinthians has a different flavor than 1 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter has a zesty flavor as he addresses questions and concerns in the church, but his second letter has a sweet n’ salty flavor as he shares his heart as a pastor and defends his calling from Jesus.
We don’t know much about the explosive situation that happened at Corinth between letters, only that there was a man who opposed Paul and shredded his character and ministry. A mutiny arose and some in the church sided with the man. It was sticky enough to cause Paul to leave Corinth. It also caused him and the church much pain. Paul wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” which is not included in the NT. It was clearly a difficult letter for him to write (v.5; cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-13a).
By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the majority of people in the church agreed with the apostle Paul, not the false teacher. The church grasped onto Paul’s guidance and disciplined the man from the church. The discipline proved to be effective for the man grew sorrowful and it led to his repentance. Isn’t it wonderful to see church discipline work? Yet there was still one problem at Corinth: some in the church had not forgiven the man nor did they restore him to the church. For whatever reason, whether some members of the Apostle Paul posse were offended more than Paul and wanted to inflict more punishment or some were skeptical if the man really had repented or if there was fear he would be a repeat offender, we are not sure. But what is sure, this type of situation can shipwreck a church and the reputation of Christ. This is why Paul takes time to address the situation.
When Paul used the title the Body of Christ to describe the church he wasn’t using it as a churchy slogan (cf. Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12). It was a God-ordained image for a community of brothers and sisters with radically interconnected relationships. That’s why Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). The pain that Paul felt by this man’s personal attack was also felt by the church, but the joy Paul had for his repentance was not shared.
You are most like God when you forgive (vs.6-9)
One of the hardest thing to do in life is to forgive an offense, maybe it’s because of the pain and shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s because our world elevates revenge and retribution, when forgiveness is viewed as weakness. I love superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America, but within each you will see a theme being “Revenge is mine. I will defend my pride.” Today, revenge is in and forgiveness is out.
Paul is a hero of a different kind. He felt the pain from being shamed. And most in his shoes would find a way to round house kick this man Chuck Norris style. Yet Paul walks a different road and he submits to another power. And he asks the church to forgive the man and restore him to fellowship (vs.6-8). What we see is Paul’s heart, a heart that Christ had freed and restored on the Damascus Road, where he—the chief of sinners—had come face-to-face with the grace of God. He was a man given much grace and becomes an agent of grace to others. Like Joseph, Paul understood the plan of God is to forgive and restore his brothers.
Paul praised Corinth for their obedience to discipline the man, but he poo-poo-ed their reluctance to welcome him back into the family. The offense bounced off Paul. The pain of his opposer didn’t rub him wrong. He already forgiven him. He thought their discipline was punishment enough, it worked, and the man didn’t need to suffer anymore. Enough was enough. Paul now saw the man was being swallowed up in his sorrow and if he wasn’t restored soon the man would drown in it. What the repentant disciplined man understood, many in the church do not understand—life apart from the Body of Christ is to be void of its benefits and securities and comforts and joys.
If forgiveness is of paramount importance for this man and the reputation of the church, so it is with us. Forgiveness is not optional, rather it is a matter of obedience (v.9). Our ministry is a ministry of forgiveness. We extend the forgiveness of God with those who hope God will forgive them someday. To forgive an offense is to act most like God, while withholding forgiveness is the most self-righteous act. God is a forgiving God. He forgets our offenses as far as the east is from the west. Jesus is forgiving even on the brink of death on the cross (Lk. 23:34, 43). What would a lack of forgiveness on our part say about our Christ or his church? Let us freely forgive because we have been forgiven much.
You are only able to forgive an offense because you were also forgiven (vs.10-11)
Paul makes his plea to the church to forgive by saying, “I, the offended, did it, and you can do it too.” (v.10a) And he adds that the forgiveness was for you—the Corinthians’ sake—“in the presence of Christ.” (v.10b) The fact was, if the Corinthian church refused to forgive this repentant sinner, a poison would choke the way of grace and their refusal to forgive could kill their church.
Jesus said that unwillingness to forgive is proof of not having experienced His forgiveness. Remember Jesus prayed, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He drives the truth home in the next sentence, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Jesus is serious about forgiveness. This “forgiven people forgive” teaching was so elementary to Jesus’ teaching that he devoted entire parables to it, “‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (Matthew 18:35).
Your example to forgive an offense might be just the encouragement that a lost sinner or a young believer or a well-established church needs to see to help them when an opportunity to extend forgiveness comes their way. A few years ago, I met a elderly missionary couple who served on an international team in the jungles of Brazil. A small misunderstanding caused one couple to be offended and it grew to be so painful that the villagers could feel it. The team was on the verge of separation. They tried one last meeting to discuss the situation, but before they did they shared communion. As curious villages looked through windows at the three couples they saw them break bread and drink together. The meeting to follow never happened because in the image of communion the couples remembered who they united around first and foremost. The team wept, prayed and embraced one another. Decades later after a church was established in the village and the church began to have it’s own issues and the elders remembered the example of the missionaries who had broke bread and forgave one another as Christ had forgiven them.
What do you learn about forgiveness and ministry from this text? I have learned two vital truths: First, my ministry of forgiveness comes from Christ. I am challenged by how Paul minimizes the offense and maximizes the presence of Jesus. I see that the motivation to forgive was given to Paul “in the presence of Christ,” as He looks on in approval and empowerment.
Second, unforgiveness is Satan’s strategy. Paul concludes his plea by saying if you don’t forgive the man you have been duped by Satan — “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (v. 11) The young church in Corinth could have collapsed if they refusing to obey God by forgiving the repentant sinner, even though he caused such pain. If they had let him stew in his sorrow, they would have cooked him and them. And Satan could then have put a fork in the church of Corinth.
Corrie ten Boom recalled in her book The Hiding Place a postwar meeting with a guard from the Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister had died and where she herself had been subjected to horrible shame:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”
God’s Word says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And again, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). It is your ministry to forgive because you have been forgiven.
Is there unforgiveness in your heart today? Is there pain or embarrassment or shame caused by someone that you need to allow God to restore? Will you rejoice, today, in your own forgiveness?
I was born to two teenage parents. My parents submitted to their parents and married while I was still in the womb. Their marriage lasted two years, but they remained close. I bounced between apartments and my grandparents. It was frustrating and heart-aching for me not to have consistency in the home, but I imagine it was equally difficult for my parents whose young adult lives now included a little boy.
During my elementary school years, I was both distracted and a distraction. I was known as the class jester. I became such a distraction that my school moved me to the ‘special class’ where I received ‘special’ attention. I got the attention I desired, but I still craved more. My attitude grew out of control. Rage and bitterness held the reins of my life. Most wouldn’t know it because I learned how to manufacture masks to cover what really was under my skin. Occasionally, it would flare up and my outbursts got me into a lot of trouble. It became such a problem that my school sent me to multiple counselors and child psychologists.
It was about this time, my mom remarried and we moved 3-hours north, away from my dad. I started going to a new school, but my past behavior soon followed. My new guidance counselor created a motivational tool he called, “The Hutts-O-Meter”. It hung just outside the principal’s office. The meter would go up one ‘tick’ on a detention-free day, but it went down two ‘ticks’ if I sat in detention. If the meter reached 100 “ticks”, the entire 5th grade would receive a pizza party in my honor. At first, it was cool. I was overdosing on attention. It didn’t take long to see through my classmate who just wanted a party. On top of this, a certain teacher said to me, “Justin, you will either end up in jail or the psych ward.” I was crushed.
My family started attending a small Bible Church, which was different from the Catholic church I grew up attending. I received a lot of attention there, but it was different. People cared for my spirit and mended my wounds with the Word of God. It was there, Jesus redeemed my life. Thereafter, certain men in the church discipled me and helped me to find joy and affection in Christ.
Years later, I met the teacher who prophesied on my future. He didn’t recognize me, as I was fitting his feet with new shoes. I was working at Schmidt’s Sporting Goods through high school to save enough money to go to Bible College. I asked him if he knew who I was. It took him a minute with a look of surprise he said, “Justin? No! Really? Wow, you’ve got a job?” I shared with him what Jesus had done and was doing. His look of surprise became a look of shock. God’s grace was on display that day.
Also in this Series…
Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (today).
Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.
Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).
Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.
Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.
God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).
God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.
God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,
“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]
In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!
Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).
Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).
With a flash like lightning, God intersects with Saul (and his entourage). “Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” (v.3) It was an unexpected encounter. It is interesting, unlike many Christians, Paul never links his conversion to a long process of God convicting or frustrating him of sin or stories scaring him out of hell. All those things may have happened in the instant he fell to the ground.
As Saul lay there on the ground, what did God say to him? First, He says in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul.” (v.4a) God singled out Saul by name. Fifteen times in Scripture names are repeated (i.e. God>Abraham, God>Moses, God>Samuel, David>Absalom, Elijah>God, Jesus>Martha, Jesus>Jerusalem, Jesus>God), which was used to gain attention or warning. Second, God says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (v.4b) Notice He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My people? Why are you such a bull?What’s wrong with you?” We discover in verse 5, the voice of God identifies Himself as Jesus. And Jesus clarifies that the persecution Saul is inflicting is ultimately against Him (v.5). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.” Those words bring such comfort to those suffering persecution for His name sake.
Notice how Saul responds to Jesus. He’s not passive nor is he defensive (v.5). He knows the voice is the Sovereign One of heaven. I can image Saul is as white as a bleached sheet and under the tremendous conviction of all his crimes. Yet in that moment, God’s grace is sufficient for Saul. It is also sufficient for your weakness too.
When I consider Saul’s conversion, it gives me courage to speak about the name of Jesus with friends and family. Their salvation might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. Like My Grandpa Dale. He was a generous and kind man, he didn’t have many enemies (and he worked for the IRS). I’d share the gospel openly with him, since I was a teenager. He would listen intently, but normally respond saying, “Justin, that’s good, but I am happy being Catholic.”
A few years ago, Gramps called me at the church. In his quirky way he’d say, “Hey Huttshead. You’re a counselor, right? I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about me and my girlfriend living together? Second, could you tell me again how you think one gets to heaven?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answered his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry, but that dearly I loved him. We spent the majority of conversation going to the Word, the source for the answers to his second question. Gramps, thanked me for the chat. He didn’t convert that day, but seeds were sown. Later, I found out that he had just been diagnosed with a malignant cancer that would soon take his life. Questions about his eternal destiny were his present reality.
A week later, I received another call from Gramps at the church. He started off by say, “Hey Pastor Hutts. I have two things I’d like to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, after talking to a pastor in town I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” Gramps went into hospice care a few months later. I leaned over the edge of his bed, he looked into my eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.”
Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, as it might be with your neighbors, loved ones, or enemies. When you consider Saul’s sudden conversion how does it call you to persevere and be patience? How does it encourage you as you think about those who hard to love or hard to the gospel? As we will see (next week), Saul’s conversion is meant give you encouragement.
Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (today).
Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (next week).
Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (in 2-weeks).
Have you ever known a heinous somebody, who miraculously turned their life around? Have you ever been threatened by someone and struggled with doubts about them ever changing? Have you been praying for a loved one or friend to believe the gospel for a long time without any difference?
Saul, also known as Paul, is one of the most beloved characters in the NT. He is known for his boldness and bravery for the sake of Jesus’ name. However, don’t forget Saul’s beginnings. I suppose that’s what makes his story so sweet. He the proud student of the Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to obeying the Torah among other Pharisaical laws [Galatians 1:13-14]. He rose in rank, becoming a member of the elite group that wielded considerable religious and political power in his Israel. He was a Hebrew through and through and he devoted his entire life to promote Judaism, no matter the cost.
The one thing that Saul saw as the biggest menace to Judaism was the growing movement of people who called themselves followers of the Way (cf. John 14:6). Jews were converting by the hundreds and thousands, believing “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of Jesus.
In zealous response, Saul wreaked havoc and terror on Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way. In Acts 9:1–2, Saul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” Like a bull snorting and stomping his hooves he was ready to charge at the church. With permission from the theocratic ruler of the Jewish people, his next stop was Damascus.
Saul’s intentions, like a terrorist, was to inflict debilitating fear that would squelch the new movement of Jesus followers (cf. Acts 8). Unbeknown to Saul, God had different intentions for his journey to Damascus. God was leading him down redemption road.
Remember, Saul began as an enemy of Jesus. Like Saul, we all began our journeys as enemies too. But as we will see (next week), God’s grace will be on display (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)! He is powerful enough to redeem any enemy into a friend. He is powerful enough to redeem the your friend or enemy or anyone. Don’t forget that!
How can the begins of Saul’s journey and the promise of God’s grace give you hope for those you know who are hard to love or hard to the gospel? How are you an example of God’s grace being powerful enough to redeem?
Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion.
Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments.
Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood.