Grace Available and Accomplishing Part Two
Topic: Holy Spirit Passage: 2 Corinthians 6:1–6:13
Grace Community Church
January 24, 2021
Grace Available and Accomplishing Part Two
Let’s turn to 2 Cor. 6:1-13 as we continue the message Grace Available and Accomplishing. This was a one morning sermon, that got extended to be a two-part sermon, and guess what? This week it became a three-part sermon. As I was working on it this week I realized that we’d have to rush to get it all in, and it’s more important to receive all that God has for us in His word than to get through large chunks fast, and this portion-at least to me – has proven to be unexpectedly rich for mining truth. So sit back, relax, if you’re watching at home, go grab another cup of coffee, and let’s dig into God’s word.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 Cor. 6:1
The word “vain” means to be empty or useless and last week we asked the question, can God’s grace be received in such a way as to make it empty or useless? Can God’s grace fail to accomplish what God means it to accomplish?
In the big picture, the answer is no. God is sovereign over all and nothing He does is empty or useless and nothing and no one can stop God from accomplishing His purposes. But in the small picture God’s word indicates that men can position themselves in the flow of grace or out of the flow of grace. The gospel of Luke tells us the Pharisees rejected the purposes of God for themselves. They couldn’t stop the purposes of God, in fact their rejection of the purposes of God only served to further the purposes of God! The river of God’s grace flows unstoppably forward, but the Pharisees refused to get into that river.
When someone receives the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, God’s grace saves them. We are saved by grace through faith. That grace has accomplished all God gave it to accomplish – we will never be more saved than we are at the moment we believe – and it doesn’t depend on what we do except that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise God for His saving grace!
But Paul writes to Christians in Rom. 12 that God has given each of us a measure of grace-gifting and then he urges us to steward that grace. It’s not automatic that the grace God gives us will accomplish all God means for it to accomplish. We have a responsibility to steward that grace.
If we put that grace on a shelf where it sits dormant, it will have been received in vain. It won’t accomplish what God gave it to accomplish in our lives. The grace is available, but it’s not accomplishing. If we, by faith and obedience, take that grace off the shelf and put it to work, we will see God’s grace accomplish the good works He wants to accomplish through us.
With that as a backdrop, starting in verse 3 Paul lays out his ministry resume and it’s the opposite of empty grace. It’s accomplishing grace! His ministry is the ministry of reconciliation: declaring what God has done through Jesus Christ to reconcile lost sinners to Himself. And he doesn’t want anything he does or doesn’t do to block people or make it hard for people to come to Christ and be reconciled to God.
3 We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:
At first glance it can look like Paul is bragging about how good he is at his ministry: We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, we commend ourselves in every way. Sounds more like Paul accomplishing than grace accomplishing. But listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 1 Cor. 15:10
There is a beautiful synergy between our efforts and God’s grace. We aren’t meant to dissect it, when we work hard by God’s grace, it’s us working. But it’s grace working. But we’re working. But grace is working.
We should just say, by the grace of God I am what I am, and you are what you are. Don’t compare yourself or your life with someone else, by the grace of God be what God made you to be and do what God made you to do.
And never forget God’s heart is to reconcile men and women to Himself and He wants to use your life, your influence to help people come to know Jesus.
But what does that look like in real life? Grace accomplishing…what? OK, we work hard that our influence doesn’t make it hard for people to come to Christ, but commends Christ, but in real life, where the rubber meets the road, what does that mean? What does that look like?
Paul is about to tell us. He says we put no obstacles, we commend ourselves in every way, but that’s not the end of his thought. There’s a colon there, not a period. The colon says, “here’s how we do it”. And he goes on to outline four ways grace accomplishes a life that effectively proclaims Christ.
- Grace for endurance in hard times
by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; vv. 4-5
There used to be a great commercial that showed some normal dude trying to imitate an NFL athlete and inevitably failing big time. The tag line was “you wouldn’t make it in pro football”. We wouldn’t make it as apostles either. We can’t relate to all the hardships that Paul went through, we wouldn’t make it.
But what Paul is describing is intense hardship, pressure, stress, and pain. And we can relate to that.
We all know what it is to lie awake at night unable to sleep cause worry pounded away at us. We know what it is to be sick or physically afflicted. We know the helplessness of watching a loved one go through a fiery trial or a long valley and there’s nothing we can do except love and pray.
Many of Paul’s hardest trials were man-made. People who viciously hated and opposed him for preaching Christ. Many of our hardest hardships will also involve people. Conflict, misunderstanding, gossip, criticism, belittling, betrayal.
Pressure, stress, worry, pain.
Here’s the good news: at the very point that hardship intersects with our life there is a great opportunity to display the grace of God in our lives. The grace isn’t that we have hardships (everyone does), the grace is that we have endurance in the hardships.
By great endurance in afflictions…
I remember as a kid wrestling with my uncle Mike. He was only two years older but he was always stronger than me. Invariably at some point he’d have me wrestled to the ground with my face in the dirt and he’d say, “do you give up?” I’d say “no!” and thrash around. But eventually I’d say, “yes, I give up!”
Hardships try to wrestle us to the ground and say, “do you give up? Are you gonna quit?”
Quitting can be to stop trusting God. It can be to stop telling people about Jesus so we don’t offend them. It can be to put our gifts on the shelf where they may not help anyone, but we also don’t risk messing up and falling flat on our face either. I think a lot of grace sits dormant in the church because people had a hard experience.
Quitting can look like complaining. Or becoming bitter against God.
Pressure, stress, worry, pain, hardships all taunt us saying, do you give up? God’s grace gives us endurance to keep going.
Some of the most powerful examples I’ve seen of grace at work in people’s lives has been seeing the Spirit give them strength, faith, even joy, in the darkest of times, in the deepest of trials.
Grace at work doesn’t mean they don’t feel the pressure pressing on their hearts. Doesn’t mean the stress doesn’t pound on them, or that the pain doesn’t hurt them. It does. Grace at work doesn’t mean they don’t cry tears or question God or get discouraged.
But grace gives endurance to keep going in hard times. Without backpedaling. Without becoming bitter or complaining. And people are watching, people who also face pressures and stresses and pain in their lives, and they see the grace of God in our lives when we endure with grace. One of the ways Paul cleared the lines to be an effective influence for Christ was by enduring in hardships and affliction.
- Grace for retaliating through opposite weapons
6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
You might be surprised to hear me use the word “retaliating”. When we have people attack and oppose us – as Paul did – God wants us to retaliate. And He has given us weapons for retaliating.
Paul says we have weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left hand. In Roman battles, the right hand was used for attacking and the left hand was used for defense. Sword in the right hand, shield in the left. One for attacking, one for defending. When attacked, we defend and we retaliate, but God has given us unusual weaponry: we defend and we retaliate with the opposite of what we’ve been attacked with.
When we’re attacked, our flesh wants to retaliate with the same weapons our enemies used. It’s natural. Someone insults us, we want to insult them back. Someone hurts us, we want to what? Hurt them back! Someone embarrasses us, we want to humiliate them in return. It’s called payback!
God puts different weapons in our hands to defend and retaliate with. The opposite weapons. We see it in Paul’s life (and we see it in Jesus’ life):
- People attacked Paul with impure motives and accused him of impure motives, he retaliated with purity.
- As Paul preached the gospel, he was opposed by people living in the blindness of ignorance, he answered their ignorance with knowledge.
- Angry, cruel people came at Paul, he pulled out the weapons of patience and kindness.
- People came at him filled by an evil spirit, he blocked and parried their assault by the Holy Spirit.
- They hurled hatred, he hurled love.
- They spoke lies, he spoke truth.
- They leveled the power of Satan at him, he answered with the power of God.
Maybe you’re thinking of a battle you’re in right now. Someone has hurt you and everything inside of you wants to hurt them back. Someone has ripped you apart with criticism, or disappointed you when you needed them most. And your flesh wants to retaliate in kind. I know when I’m hurt that’s what I want to do.
But when we try to hurt people, we also hurt our gospel witness. When we get our eyes on the attack, we lose sight of the person. We lose sight that’s a person made in the image of God, a person Jesus died for. We lose sight of what God’s grace is desiring to accomplish through us: their reconciliation with God.
This isn’t a call to wimpiness. It’s not being a welcome mat for people to step on. We don’t need to allow ourselves to be abused or exploited or taken advantage of. We don’t need to let people walk all over us. We can and should stand up and protect our loved ones and those who need to be defended.
Sometimes we need to cut off a relationship. Jesus did. Paul did and he tells us to. When we encounter a consistently divisive person, Paul says, warn them a couple times then have nothing more to do with them. Sometimes we need to let the consequences fall hard on someone for what they did.
No one walked all over Jesus. Or Paul. Or Peter. Or Priscilla. Or Mary. Courage, strength, conviction, and fight characterize every NT figure, starting with Jesus!
But don’t forget you are new a creation in Christ. And God gives His new creations new weapons to fight with. The weapons God gives us are weapons that counter the attack, not the imitate the attack. We retaliate against hate with love. Love is more powerful than hate. We retaliate against curses with blessing. We retaliate against cruelty with kindness.
God’s goal with these weapons isn’t to destroy that person, it’s to save them. And to protect us from the poison of hate, vengeance, and bitterness getting inside of us, by filling us with love, truth, kindness.