Grace Available and Accomplishing Part Three
Topic: Grace Passage: 2 Corinthians 6:1–8, John 2:24–25, 2 Corinthians 6:11–13
Grace Community Church
Jan. 31, 2021
Grace Available and Accomplishing Part Three
Let’s turn to 2 Cor. 6 and begin with a word of prayer. Pray
In chapter 5 Paul says that God through Christ was reconciling the world to Himself. Reconciliation is necessary when a relationship is broken and the Bible tells us that mankind’s relationship with God was broken because of sin, and Jesus came to heal it. When we trust in Jesus’ finished work on Calvary, we are forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God as our God, our Father, and our Friend. Reconciliation is a beautiful word.
Jesus did the work of reconciliation but we see in chapter 5 that God then gives us the message and ministry of reconciliation. We are to speak and to work to see people who are alienated from God be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We can do that well. We can do that poorly. And we can not do it at all. Paul appeals to the Corinthians in chapter 6:1 not to receive the grace of God in vain.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
Over the last two weeks we’ve talked about what Paul means when he says not to receive the grace of God in vain so we’re not going to cover that ground again but starting in verse 3 Paul lays out four ways the grace of God is working and accomplishing in his life and ministry.
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: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 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;
- Grace for endurance in hard times
- Grace for retaliating through opposite weapons
The third way we see grace accomplishing is:
- Grace to value reality over reputation
…through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. Vs 8
Paul experienced the ping pong of human opinions: sometimes people honored him, sometimes they dishonored him. Sometimes they praised him, sometimes they slandered him. People’s opinions are fickle. In the gospel of John chapter two it tells us that large crowds of people started to believe in Jesus. That’s great! That’s ministry success! Now that they believed in Jesus, he could relax and know they would always be on his side, right? Wrong. Listen as John gives us insight into our Lord’s thinking:
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25
Many who believed in Jesus one day, would be crying out “crucify him!” the next. Paul knew that some of the people who honored and praised him one day would dishonor and slander him the next. People are fickle. What they think of us is fickle. And we’re not exempt. What we think of others will be fickle too.
When we try to derive our identity from what other people think of us, it’s like trying to anchor our lives in shifting sand.
My dad and I spent a summer living on a sailboat and sailing around Long Island, and one night we anchored in a small bay, but the bottom we had anchored in was sandy and the wind was strong and over time as it grew dark outside my dad noticed that other boat lights were getting closer to us. They were anchored, we were anchored, but someone was moving. We spent the night getting up every hour to make sure we weren’t about to bump into another boat.
By the light of early morning we could see we had drifted from the center of the bay to very near the beach shoreline. We were anchored, but the sand couldn’t hold us and all night long, little by little, we had been drifting and moving.
When we anchor our identity in what people think of us, we will always, always, always be checking and rechecking: what do they think of us now? Are we still good? Are we being honored? Are we being dishonored? Are we being praised or slandered? We have to keep checking cause we’re trying to anchor our identity in shifting sand.
Paul shares this interesting contrast between how people see him (reputation) and how God sees him (reality):
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Cor. 6:8b-10
This confronts us with a heart question: what do we care about more, what our reputation says we are or what we really are?
People treated Paul and his team as one thing, but Paul knew the reality was the opposite. People looked at them with a limited and inaccurate perspective and saw them as imposters, but they were the real deal. People evaluated them as unknown (unimportant), but heaven knew them well. And history would know them well. Notice we’re still talking about Paul – we have no idea who those other people were.
People saw them as dying, as missing out on life, but they were filled with living waters, and with the assurance of eternal life. Reputation said: sad, reality: joy! They didn’t have a lot of material wealth so those who did looked down on them as poor but as they shared the good news of Christ, people all over became rich beyond all earthly wealth. Some said, “these people have nothing to their name.” God said, “everything that I have is theirs.”
This goes deeper than we probably realize: how much we care about what people think and say about us is a powerful driver in life. And it’s ok and natural to want a good reputation. Proverbs tells us a good reputation and respect are worth more than silver and gold.
The problem comes in when we pursue the reputation at the cost of the reality. When we care more about what people say about us than what God says about us. Hypocrites are simply people who are one thing on the outside and another thing on the inside. Reputation is everything, reality is unimportant.
Sometimes following Christ will mean looking bad to people who don’t know or love him. God’s grace in us will do the hard work of cutting the cord that ties us to man’s opinion and anchors us to what God says about us. We are His children, accepted in the beloved, precious in His sight. We are those God gave His Son to redeem. And nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
When we are anchored to God’s unchanging, unfailing love, we can let down our guard and let Him work deeply in our heart and on our character. So that our reality becomes (by the power of the Spirit) a deepening Christlikeness, a deeper honesty. We become bolder to share the gospel and not just when we think the audience will agree with it.
Ironically the more we’re freed from needing people’s approval, the more we can actually love people. When people’s opinions govern our lives, and for whatever reason they don’t like us or respect us, then we feel our identity is in jeopardy. But when our identity is rooted in Christ, we can love people even if they don’t like us.
I’m not saying I’m there. I still find my anchor drifting, I find myself checking and rechecking at times how people look at me. I’m on journey with you in this. But God’s grace accomplishing can little by little re-anchor our identities in His reality and make what people think of less and less importance.
By the way, this is a two-way street. People might think we’re amazing, everyone might applaud us, and God may know that our reality is our hearts are far from Him, we’re being hypocrites – showing one thing on the outside, being something different on the inside. That’s why we always need to asking God’s Spirit to be shining His light in our hearts.
In the end, the reality is all that matters. Grace accomplishing anchors us in Christ and tethers our identity to what God says about us.
- Grace to open our hearts in a closed-heart world
11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. 2 Cor. 6:11-13
This isn’t really part of Paul’s list of grace accomplishing in his life, that list ended in verse 10, but I think it’s an important example of what grace wants to accomplish in our lives.
In verse 11 Paul gets very personal. And vulnerable. Remember Paul and the Corinthians have just come through one of those raw, messy conflicts that leaves a tension in the air. There were people in Corinth bad-mouthing Paul, dismissing and disrespecting him. When Paul went there to correct the problem his visit only made matters worse. He then fired off a strong letter of rebuke but regretted it as soon as he hit “send”.
There’s a tension between them. There’s a rawness between them. Things are awkward.
Now we’ll learn in the next chapter that things are getting better, but there’s still leftover tension in the air. And with that tension comes the temptation to be guarded, to dance around each other, everyone afraid to be the first one to be vulnerable. Afraid to let down their guard and be open-hearted.
It’s Paul who takes the first step. Grace accomplishing in Paul looks like an open, honest heart. An openness full of affection. Paul loves them enough to risk opening his heart and loves them enough to risk asking them to love him back, to open wide their hearts in return.
It’s important to remember the context. Paul isn’t opening his heart to his enemies. We are to love our enemies but that doesn’t mean we open our hearts to them. Jesus warned us not to cast our pearls before swine. Don’t give precious things to people of bad character – they will only use it to take advantage of us and hurt us. That’s not what we’re talking about.
But I’ve seen Christians of good, loving character break off relationship because of disagreements, misunderstandings, and sinful wrongs done by one or both parties. And that is a blockage to the grace of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. Jesus said the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, but way too often the world knows we are Christians by our distrust, disagreement, and dislike for one another. That’s a real obstacle to unbelievers coming to Christ! When we find ourselves meeting Christians and our first reaction is suspicion and mistrust, our first impression of them is negative not because of anything they did, but because we just know they’ve got an angle, they’re going to hurt us, they’re not to be trusted – we’ve become close-hearted.
Paul’s example is to press past the awkwardness to open-heartedness. Remember, he’s the one who led them to Christ. He’s their father in the faith and they’ve turned their backs on him. They did him wrong, he didn’t do them wrong. He has every right to be offended by their actions. He could say, they hurt me, they need to take the first step. But grace accomplishing doesn’t focus on the hurt, it focuses on reconciliation.
Because here’s an important aspect of grace accomplishing: while the primary work of Christ is to reconcile sinners to God, and while the primary power of the Spirit is to unite our hearts with Christ in sweet fellowship, a vital by-product of that is to reconcile us to one another as well, and to unite our hearts together in Christ.
Maybe there’s someone you’re thinking of. An awkwardness, a tension. They love Jesus, you love Jesus, but things are pretty cold between you. Guarded. You’re dancing around each other. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the boldness to open your heart. If there’s disagreement you don’t have to be phony about that, but…
- Emphasize the person over the problem
- Emphasize relationship over the disagreement
And often – not always – you’ll see that as you open your heart and express your affection, they will feel safe to do the same.
Grace available and accomplishing all that God has given it to us to accomplish. To the glory of our beautiful Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s thank the Lord for grace!