How To Be A Grace-Giver
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
“Grace moments”, if we think hard enough we can remember some of them. These are the times when we either received grace from some gracious person, known or unknown, or times when we extended grace to others.
Grace can come in so many ways, helping the person in the grocery line pay for groceries when they are short on cash, the needed chore or fix-it job, baby-sitting, helping someone to celebrate a special event, relieving a burden, sharing grief or pain, jump-starting a car, these are all ways that grace can be infused in to the mundane tedium of life. It always arrives like a breath of fresh air on a stifling hot day, or like a cool drink of water to parched lips.
- The Lack of Grace:
On the other hand, there are graceless moments. They have a way of sucking the life right out of us. These are times that put clamps on our spirits and make us feel like we are suffocating. Inconsiderate, disrespectful, out to hurt, Graceless events always seem to come at the worst possible moment. They attempt to snatch all notions of faith, hope, and love right out of us and replace them with doubt, suspicion, and anger.
The apostle Paul knew about graceless moments. Even though he was the trailblazing pioneer of the Corinthian church, this particular group brought him loads of heartache. Despite the fact that he had been the first to bring the gospel to Corinth, the Christians there had fallen prey to more than one smooth-talking critic during his absence. The Corinthian Christians frequently ran high on expectations and low on grace for anything which concerned their founding pastor. In fact, a closer look at this congregation reveals much about what happens when we choose to live without grace.
- Without grace, labels abound:
Oh how the Corinthians loved to label. Strung hard around Paul’s neck were long-distance labels that read, “poor speaker,” “Unpopular,” “Pushy letter writer,” “Bold in print – weak in presence.” Let’s face it, labels can be powerful, and powerfully painful. We tend to place all kinds of labels on people every day, even in church.
Think about these labels, “legalistic,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “stingy,” “worldly,” “prideful,” “pushy.” We hurriedly slap the tag,“selfish” on those who disagree with us, “show-off” on people who prosper, and “uncommitted” on those whose agendas differ from ours. The younger people say the older ones are “stuck in their ways,” while the seasoned citizens say the “younguns’” are “immature.” And the real tragedy is that neither side takes the time to befriend and honestly inquire enough to truly know the other side.
When we label a person we combine two devastating forces. In essence, we judge and we measure according to our own set of scales and balances (Matt. 7:1-2). In addition to judging, we give up on hope. In effect we say to the person we label, “This is the way you are and will always be. I have no hope for you to change. I will view you through this label forever and always think of you in light of it. I have you all figured out. Any questions?”
- Without grace, comparisons emerge:
Early in the history of the church, her members drew lines in the sand and began to choose sides. Instead of being in awe of the person of Christ, they chose to be awestruck by the personalities who sought to represent Him. Playing favorites, some said, “I am on Paul’s side, He is our founder.” (Paul, Paul, He’s our man….) Others said, “Apollos is our man. He can really preach!” Still others, seeking to out-awe them all would pontificate, “Well, I am of Christ!”
One of Paul’s written confrontations with the Corinthians was over this very matter: He wrote “m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God… When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile? Who do you think Paul is anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us…We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow”. (1 Cor. 3:1-6 “The Message”
Comparisons, whether imposed by ourselves or others, create pressures God never intended for us to bear. Meanwhile grace says, “You are what you are by the grace of God. I accept you completely. I thank God for who you are and what you are becoming.” You see, without grace we tend to see things on the surface.
Paul sees through the Corinthians shallowness and in his second letter he offers gracious counsel: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12)
- Without grace, expectations increase:
The Corinthians gracelessness was saying to Paul, “You don’t meet our expectations! You fall short of what we had hoped for! We’re not sure you can meet our needs!”
A primary cause of stress in our lives is unrealistic expectations, both those others impose on us and those we place on ourselves. The chasm that exists between our realities and the expectations we feel creates stress.
When all we give people are our expectations, while withholding our understanding and listening ear, we achieve the opposite of grace. Instead of encouraging and empowering them to reach their potential, we discourage them, keeping them from it.
Despite the Corinthians graceless treatment of Paul, he refused to write them off. He would not label them, or ridicule them. He would not fight fire with fire, and refused to live out his anger. Instead, he imparted grace and love to their potential again and again.
- The Presence of Grace:
This brings us back to those “grace moments”. We can’t live without them. And when we extend grace to others, despite our flaws and weaknesses, we reflect something of the very nature and character of Christ. In fact, we are never more like Christ than when we extend grace to others.
- With grace, sin becomes the enemy, not people:
What was it that enabled Paul to endure such sinful opposition and rotten attitudes from a group of people he risked his life to reach for Christ? What was it that kept him coming back and writing, instructing, teaching, even when it seemed like nothing was sinking in?
Well, this is precisely where grace comes in, for grace believes the best of people and draws it out of them. There is nothing cowardly about a gracious person. Grace is the most courageous of virtues. It enables a person to face up to ridicule, slander, un-forgiveness, and hatred, and to do so much more than just react to it. Grace empowers a person to see beyond the sin of his enemy and love the soul, to look beyond an angry brother’s faults and see his needs.
You see, love is the fuel of grace. The gracious person is one who is convinced that love conquers all. No wonder that Paul penned the classic love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, and addressed it to the grace-deficient Corinthians.
The gracious person has a great tool at his disposal. In the face of conflicts and challenges, he chooses to overcome them instead of being overcome by them. His way of working is the deep conviction that the “storms” he faces go deeper than the people who bring him grief. The root cause is sin itself. And for this he knows, and freely extends, a great remedy, grace.
Understand now, that giving grace doesn’t mean we excuse sin. Graciousness is not the same thing as mere tolerance. The gracious person sees sin for what it is but chooses not to repay kind for kind. Instead, in the face of bitterness he exhibits thoughtfulness. In the face of greed, generosity. In the face of anger, calmness of spirit. To words of wrath, he offers affirmation. And to hurt he gives a listening ear and a kind heart. Rather than striking at the sinner in anger, he confronts the sin with the antidote of grace.
- With grace, we give people space:
What Paul wanted from the Corinthians had nothing to do with their graceless suspicions of him. His gracious heart and concern are easy to detect in a few of his last written words to them, “Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you… I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?” (2 Cor. 12:14-15)
The attitudes of these Corinthian believers would have drawn a scathing rebuke from many other leaders. Paul chose, however, to speak the truth in a spirit of love because the Christ he had come to know was full of “grace and truth.” Therefore, Paul reflected to them what he had already received from God. He gave them grace and he also gave them space.
We all need grace, in virtually every relationship and event in life. We need grace for forgotten appointments, broken promises, abrupt words, missed deadlines. We need great doses of grace to live for a perfect God in such an imperfect world.
The best part about grace is that we have been given a wonderful promise from God about grace to live graciously. The promise is found in 2 Cor. 9:8 which says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Think of it, God is able to supply enough grace to you so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in grace toward others. Now there is the power for ministry! This is the reservoir for generosity! This is how gracious people are able to be gracious! Remember, we are never more like God than when we give grace to someone.
So how can we become grace givers like the apostle Paul? Well, let’s start by asking some diagnostic questions:
What am I living out of – grace or anger?
What fuels most of my actions or reactions toward people?
What is behind the words I use or the tone in them?
Do I believe the best about people – or expect the worst?
Do I expect too much of the people in my life?
Do I look beyond the obvious faults to see the desperate needs within?
Do I endeavor to make people comfortable or uncomfortable?
Do I know how to give grace?
It’s so easy as Christians to get caught up in the idea of a grace that makes a way for us to enter heaven, but there is another aspect to Christ’s work on the cross, something He wants us to see today. Christ wants to use my life and yours to bring some of heaven to earth, into the lives of people on this planet, in the realms of our relationships, and in the form of a gift called grace.
This message by Rev K. Edward Skidmore is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at Sermon Central