Thursday, July 4, 2013

What about grace?

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 6.1

“You have no reward in heaven.” 
“You have no reward in heaven.” 
You have no reward in heaven.” 
“You have no reward in heaven.” 

I want to make sure you see that.  This isn't my opinion; these are the words of Jesus.  God’s son said that if you act “good” so that people will give you praise … you have lost your heavenly reward. 

Wait a second … what about Grace? 
Working for a reward isn't my idea of receiving a gift!
Does this line look to you like Jesus doesn't know about grace?  To some people it may appear that Jesus was telling his disciples that their heavenly reward is based on works, not grace.  So … what’s the deal? 

This will be a constant theme in our next section of the SOM, so let’s pause now and clear up this matter.  There’s going to be a lot of emphasis on our works … so let’s figure it out.  We’ll use a story from the New Testament to understand.

Who’s your favorite preacher?

Apollos was the new preacher at the Corinth church of Christ.  Some of the people loved his great preaching.  Others preferred Paul, who had founded their church.  Paul wasn't nearly as good as Apollos – Paul was a dry, bible-scholar kind of preacher; very knowledgeable but long-winded.  When the church wrote a letter to Paul, the people carrying the letter told him what was happening, and that some were bigger fans of Apollos than they were of Paul.  (People had their favorite preachers, even then) 

Paul opened his response letter by addressing the issue.  Part of his response is below.  Read it carefully, because we can learn a lot about works and grace. 
Dear Corinthians, I hear that you’re divided over your favorite preacher.
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul?
Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to each one.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; y’all [Corinthian church] are God’s field, God’s building.  According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it.
But each man must be careful how he builds on it!  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.  Don’t you guys know that y’all are God’s temple and the Spirit of God dwells among you all?
If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that’s what y’all are.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God….
So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos … or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.  (1 Corinthians 3:5-23)

If you read carefully, you saw Paul’s works, Apollos’ works and God’s work.  Disciples are like farmers who plant and water, but they can’t actually make stuff grow – only God can do that.  In fact, it’s by God’s grace that we’re able to work at all!  Grace isn't merely about being saved, it’s about being able to serve!  Without grace Paul could not say that “we are God’s fellow workers.”  How cool is it to think that you and I can be fellow workers of God?  Only by His grace

And since God gives us grace to work, serve, and build … God gets the glory, not us.  That’s why Paul wrote, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,” and “Let no one boast in men.  As our Lord will teach us in the SOM, Paul didn't want human praise.  He saw them picking a favorite preacher as a problem – their problem; not because he wasn't the favorite, but because they praised men and divided.  Paul did not want glory, fans or praise.  He did not want to be popular.  He wanted people to listen to him, but only because he was working in alliance with his Boss. 
Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.  (Galatians 1:10)
Paul was different than many pastors, preachers and church workers today.  Paul used God’s grace to God’s glory – many today use it for their own glory.  They tell themselves that they need to have a good name so people will listen to them, buy their books, attend their church.  Today it’s all about marketing – the most popular guy (or church) wins.  Paul spoke about that in one of his letters, too:
For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.  (2 Corinthians 2:17)
You see that Paul is more concerned with God’s opinion of his speaking and writing than he is with any human’s opinion. What Christian do you know today who doesn't crave praise & approval?

But what about the works we do?  These are things we do AFTER we’re saved.  Paul doesn't doubt his salvation or the salvation of the people in Corinth, except under one condition: those who harm the church.  Paul and Apollos planted and watered, but it’s God’s plant, God’s house.  Those who destroy God’s work are His enemies.  Without repentance, they will be destroyed.  Clearly that wasn't the intent of the Corinthians.  They didn't mean to hurt their church, it was the consequences of their division and childishness.  They were far from teleios, and the fruit of immaturity is squabbling, complaining and bickering.  It’s what children do.

a question of quality

Paul wants them to focus on the quality of their work.  He describes the church as a spiritual building; as God’s house, His casa.  The question for them (and for us all) is … are we working together to build a great mansion for God, or are we throwing together a shack?  Or worse yet, are we merely sitting in a house built by others and barely participating? Or - maybe you argue over who is your favorite builder from the sidelines, or which builder you refuse to even fellowship.  

You see that Paul wants to build those people into a magnificent palace, not merely a tent, a trailer or a mud hut.  No matter what kind of building they are, they’re still God’s.  They are saved.  But it is up to each of us to present ourselves before God as great builders or lazy bums.  Most Christians prefer to receive their “grace certificate” and then play in the sandbox of grace, caring little for how they will stand before God. 

We often reduce grace to a matter of salvation, and that’s too bad.  Grace is so much more.  The word “grace” is another word for “gift.”  All good gifts are from God, including your ability to become a wise, capable, hard-working builder of quality.  What better way to thank God and praise God than to use His gifts to His glory?

So the issue here isn't about salvation at all.  They are saved.  God sent planters and caretakers and builders, and God has been causing growth.  And as a result the worker will pass through the fire and “he himself will be saved.” 

The issue here is whether you pass through the fire with nothing, or if your life has amounted to anything that will make God smile.  If you do the kind of work that survives the fire, then God smiles at you after resurrection.  We will see this later on in the SOM when Jesus instructed his disciples to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” 

People who think they can work to be saved are missing the point, and have fallen from grace:
“You who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
People who think we won’t be judged by our work are also rejecting truth: 
 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” Matthew 16:27
 “An hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.  John 5:28-29

Remember that Jesus was speaking specifically to his disciples in the SOM.  These are people who have already (past tense) agreed to follow Jesus no matter what.  Their concern is not salvation – their concern is pleasing our Father – and that’s what Jesus is teaching them to do.  He understands that it will be tempting to become like “good” church folk and do things to be pleasing to humans – and in so doing, their reward is what they’re after – compliments, praise and adulation from other humans. 

So here’s the challenge for baptized disciples (saved folk) today:
  • Are you working at all? Or are you lounging in the hammock of grace?  (Matthew 24.45-51; 25.1-13) Or maybe you’re hiding under the covers of fear and guilt? (Matthew 25.25-30) If you’re not working – get with it!!
  • What’s your motive?  If you are working – why?  Are you trying to look good, to feel good, or to bring praise to God? Are you trying to get others to like you, forgive you, respect you, love you … or is your entire effort focused on people loving and fearing Yahweh? 
  • What’s the quality of your work?  Do you try to do a good job, to be prompt, effective, capable and produce other good workers like you?  Do you work hard? Do you make sure you always, only tell God’s truth, or do you fling out opinions mixed with truth?  If you were working on “commission” for God … would you be broke?  (Matthew 25.14-30)

God has given you the ability to love and forgive and be compassionate shepherds. 

What will you do with His grace?
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense … to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.”
1 Corinthians 10:31-33

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