God’s Priorities for His Churches: Grace (1)
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. John 1.16
The meaning would be more simple if you were to take the word for(ἀντὶ) comparatively, as meaning, that whatever graces God bestows on us, proceed equally from the same source. It might also be taken as pointing out the final cause, that we now receive grace, that God may one day fulfill the work of our salvation, which will be the fulfillment of grace. For my own part, I agree with the opinion of those who say that we are watered with the graces which were poured out on Christ; for what we receive from Christ he does not bestow upon us as being God, but the Father communicated to him what would flow to us as through a channel.
- John Calvin, Commentary on John 1.16
Grace to you
The apostle Paul was very clear in all his epistles that the work of Christ, His Church, and His Kingdom must be grounded in the truth. Truth – as revealed by the prophets and apostles in the Word of God – is the foundation on which Christ builds His Church. The Church, in turn, upholds the truth as its pillar, and flows it as living water to the world (Eph. 2.20; 1 Tim. 3.15; Jn. 7.37-39; Mic. 4.1-8).
God’s priority for His churches is that everything done in them be according to truth – all our worship, disciple-making, and mission, and all the activities and arrangements by which we prosecute these high and holy callings. We are not likely to promote healthy, growing churches if we neglect or ignore the truth of God as it speaks to all aspects of the life of Christ’s Body. Only the truth of God can set us free from the whims of men, the wiles of the devil, and wrong-headed notions about what a church should be and do.
Next in the priorities God intends for His churches, as Paul and the other apostles understood these, is that the grace of God should abound in and through the communities of His people. “Grace to you” is how Paul begins his letters, so that his readers should understand that everything that follows, whether for their instruction, encouragement, comfort, direction, or correction, is intended as a means whereby the grace of God may reach them and transform them according to His purposes and will.
We are pursuing God’s priorities for His churches, and working to build healthy, growing churches, when grace is right up there with truth as the end and means of all we do.
What is grace?
The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us that “All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His graces…” (26.1). We are united to Jesus in His grace – wave upon wave of grace – when, by denying all self-interest and yielding to His Word and Spirit, we are changed from glory to glory into His image, lay hold on His Spirit and gifts, bear the fruit He expects from us, show a measure of His understanding, kindness, compassion, courage, love, patience, and truth to every person, at every moment in our lives, and thus live as witnesses to Christ and agents of grace in the world.
No wonder grace is so high on Paul’s desires for the churches he served.
Grace is that divine disposition of favor, expressed as spiritual power for uprightness, for realizing the goodness of God in the land of the living (Eccl. 7.29; Ps. 45.6; Ps. 27.13). In 2 Corinthians 8.9, Paul summarizes the character and operation of grace: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Here we understand why grace, as embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ, is so much to be desired in the churches of the Lord. Grace is self-denying, for it focuses on the needs (poverty) of others and seeks their enrichment, that is, that they might be brought near to God to enjoy all the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus, and that they might reign with Him in His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. Grace looks outward, away from self and to the concerns of others (Phil. 2.1-4), seeking some means of flowing Jesus into others’ lives.
Jesus is the exemplar of the operations of grace. He ruled with the Father, in all the joy, might, beauty, pleasure, and peace such a position entails; yet He laid aside all those great riches and became poor (Phil. 2.5-11). That is, He came among us, identified with us, saw our need, and put Himself in the place of meeting our need, there on that desolate cross, that we in Him might be exalted to the right hand of the Father, seated with Jesus in glory, ruling in His Kingdom, and growing in grace and knowledge continually.
In a narcissistic, materialistic, sensual, and shallow age such as ours, grace, flowing from truth in all aspects of the life of the church, is the great need of the day.
It is such grace that Paul wished for all the churches, that Barnabas observed in Antioch, and that is one of the true measures of a healthy, growing church. Where people imitate Jesus and Paul (1 Cor. 11.1), they will deny themselves, seek the wellbeing and prosperity of their neighbors, and give of themselves and their time, treasure, and talent so that others might be exalted into the presence of Jesus, and there know fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Grace flows from the heavenly throne to the heavenly throne through the channels of believers and their churches. In the process it bathes, refreshes, revives, renews, and buoys up everyone it touches with help and hope. Grace, flowing from Jesus to and through His churches, is the means whereby all things are being made new.
When grace thus operates, local churches flourish in the resurrection life and power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We become the Body of Christ in reality, and not merely in principle, as the grace of Jesus washes over and through us and from us in all aspects of the life of the church.
Grace flowing from truth is a true measure of a healthy, growing church.
What is a missional church?
Be sure to watch the first of five Conversations with Rev. Robert Lynn, Associate Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, MI (click here). In these five Conversations Bob will share what he has learned from his reading and years of experience in pastoral ministry and theological education about what churches need today if they are to fulfill the Lord’s priorities. In the second Conversation, Bob and I take up the question of the mission of the church, and what it means to be a missionalcongregation. Watch this Conversation by clicking here.
Prayer for Revival
“By riches, Paul means the knowledge of godliness, the cleansing away of sins, justification, sanctification, the countless good things which God bestowed upon us and which he intends to bestow.”
- John Chrysostom (344-407 AD), Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 17.1
God has called His people to be bringers of grace and joy to the world. Our booklet, Joy to Your World!, can show you how this can work out in the lives of the people you serve. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).