I find grace an overused word in Christian circles and american churches. Not that grace itself could ever be overused or run out. What I mean is that the word is used so frequently to describe so many things its true meaning has almost been lost at least to me. In some ways “grace” is synonymous with Christ himself, with the evangelical world, with salvation the idea of God’s very existence that it has ceased to hold a specific and unique aspect of God’s provision. We use it in song, God shed his grace on thee, we use it in prayer, Lord give us grace to handle this problem, we use it in conversation God’s grace is unlimited sister don’t worry, we use it to describe God, He is Gracious. of course none of those deserve my rebuke and they are all true. but is there something more to understand in this beautiful word. In simplest and technical terms Grace defined is the unmerited Favor of God, no one could argue. Its favor i don’t deserve and i haven’t earned. But that is broad meaning.
2 Corinthians 8:1-2 the grace of God that was poured out in Macedonia that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of the liberality.
this seems to be one of those verses that truly was written for a specific church in regard to some monetary gift that was being given and i typically don’t find a lot of meaning in them. But something Caught my attention i had to read it over and over and slowly and break it down but i think i got it. When we speak of God’s grace and God’s graciousness it is every bit his kindness towards us. when someone expresses kindness to you, they are gentle, they are loving, caring compassionate and generous regardless of what you have to offer in return or what you have done to illicit such things. You drop your hat a stranger pick it up and hands it to you. You lose your phone a friend puts their arm around you and comforts you in your disappointment, someone brings you flowers for no reason, grace is a free will offering. and the Grace of God can be understood according to this verse as Joy in affliction and freedom in poverty. this is how we best recognize Grace.
AS human beings we experience affliction on a fairly regular basis to varying degrees. sorrow, pain, and suffering are all a huge part of life . if you have a heartbeat, you have seen affliction. the Christian in addition to this ordinary affliction has an additional promise of affliction; persecution trials and suffering for his faith as he is called into fellowship with Christ who also suffered. I often wrestle with understanding how to be happy when in conflict and painful situations? i see joy is commanded, i also see joy is expected, but i truly madly deeply do not know how to muster joy in my deepest moments of sorrow and i even feel frustrated that God would ask me to. yet there are times that i am surprised by the way i respond to travesty in life.
consider poverty. Many people understand what how it feels to lose a job, live in low-income housing, scrape together lunch money, get their phone or heat turned off, have to say no to family vacations, live paycheck to paycheck, not manage money well, claim bankruptcy, or the shame of not having enough. being “poor” is limiting and restrictive, when money is tight, it feels like the chains around your neck are tight, like you can’t do anything, go anywhere, you’d like to sign up for classes, but you can’t, youd like to take that weekend in Florida but it’s impossible, you’d like to buy a new car but its way beyond your budget. You are a prisoner to work and less. Money won’t make you happy, we always say but it sure gives you freedom and opportunities that can lead there.
Now consider this: “so the Lord said to Adam cursed is the ground for your sake in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life both thorns and thistle’s it shall bring forth for you and you shall eat the herb of the field in the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” genesis 3:18
not only is this affliction and poverty a result of the curse but Adam was indeed doomed to be a slave to the earth, to work, to never being full or satisfied, he was limited. He couldn’t eat from the tree of life, he couldn’t return to paradise, to the peace and freedom he once had. He was now burden and unable to thrive, being separated from God and from blessing. God didn’t spare him the consequences of his disobedience. but in every way he planned on expressing Grace to Adam and the sons of Adam in the midst of the ground from which he was formed.
does being poor and afflicted mean we are under a curse for sin and disobedience. not necessarily. There is both poverty and affliction in the world for one reason because sin entered. It is here, like the sun and the oxygen and gravity and it just effects all people regardless of our diverse scenarios. Whether Christian or non, whether sinner or saint, God uses suffering in our lives to grow us period. Christ didn’t erase Poverty and affliction they are part of our human experience, and the first universal sin brought it here. and sometimes as a consequence of a stupid decision we suffer. But that is not what i am here to say. What i want to say is this God’s grace entered because sin is here. As Paul says, where sin abounds grace abounds more. God’s grace is not removing affliction or poverty. God send his grace like a light in the darkness. and in fact light, like grace, has no meaning without darkness. “in the beginning there was darkness, the earth was void, poverty stricken, and God said let there be light.
God has chosen not to “reverse the curse” on earth. He has very much left the consequences of the curse of sin but sent his grace in the midst of it. God’s grace, kindness and favor to those afflicted is to bring them joy rather than sorrow, and in their poverty, he brings freedom. He interrupts the natural and normal ramifications of sin. those who experience God’s grace are no longer slaves tethered to limitations because there is no money. The Christian’s outcome are not tethered to the consequences of sin, they are not tied to the world’s narrative and expectations. God’s provision operates in our deepest troubles. That is his grace. Provision in the midst of. His grace is the angel of the Lord in the lion’s den, it is Jesus in the furnace, it is the ark in 40 days of rain, it is the decree that Jews could fight back. The grace of God is a lamb caught in the thicket, it is shoes and clothing in the wilderness , manna from heaven, water from a rock, it is the bronze serpent in the midst of poisonous snakes, it is a cross. God’s grace is God’s provision to not reverse the unfortunate event that we might experience, Gods grace is his provision to give us the most unlikely help. He lifts us above the attitude of rebellion and unrighteousness even though as Job’s wife the world tells us to curse God and die, no one would blame you, but Grace gives us the ability to praise him in the storm, and give him glory for the blessing and the challenge, the full and the hungry, the good gifts and the stones. He gives us this amazing faith and courage that people look at the Christian and say, “how can you be joyful? how can you be free? how can you be praising God? how can you be ok when all your money is gone and your affliction is great? and your dying? and then we say, it is God’s grace that i have joy. OUR JOY is evidence of HIS GRACE!
It is God’s kindness that i am free. it is God’s provision that I am saved? it is God’s work that I believe. this is the grace of God joy in affliction, freedom in poverty, life in death. God’s grace seems to be the thing that shouldn’t be but is. It’s not logical, it’s not practical, it’s not normal, it’s not possible, that is the place where you will see God’s grace at work. and it’s true we don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it and it will never run out.
God’s grace is most present when we are most unable to meet our own needs. Paul sais in my weakness he is strong for his grace is sufficient...God’s grace sometimes looks like a punishment, when he sent Adam and eve out of the garden of Eden, but it was his provision in the midst of their sinfulness.
in the book of revelation God says you say you are rich and have become wealthy and need nothing, but you do not know that you are wretched miserable poor blind and naked, i counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may be rich and clothed…God’s grace is joy in affliction and freedom in poverty. It is not simply abundance, wealth, perfection, no troubles, lions or fires. we see this here in this verse, we might think we have everything, but God’s grace isn’t drawn to or compelled by our prosperity. God’s grace is not a “happy life” it is joy in the midst of an afflicted life. It is not being debt free and with a big 401K. it is freedom even though you have nothing to make you free. It is not having need of nothing, it is having need of everything, being totally empty, naked, and poor and wretched and yet contented, free, loved, strong, and dancing. you could be rich and be poor as this church was, or you could be rich and be rich, or poor and poor or poor and rich. it’s not about what we have or don’t have its about what we have when we don’t have.
if you don’t have joy in the sorrow, don’t beat yourself up, you cannot earn or conjure the grace of God, you cannot force yourself to have joy and freedom, you cannot free yourself. If you are afflicted ask for God’s grace, if you are in the fiery furnace ask for God’s presence, if you are in 40 days of rain, ask for an ark, if you have been targeted ask that God would send his edict that you might fight, if you are naked and wretched and poor and blind ask for God’s provision. Do not despise affliction and poverty that God permits in your life for seasons or for lifetimes, embrace the things that will reveal God’s grace to you, in the affliction and poverty you will find Him there. You will find Jesus in the midst of affliction and poverty, you will find grace, joy and freedom there in the hardships. we are all so afraid of the cross. God’s grace doesn’t remove us from trouble it gives us strength to endure it with gladness. that is supernatural aspect of grace. Grace is not normal.
God delivered Israels children from Egypt, but that wasn’t his grace. That was his salvation, his grace was the blood on the doorposts in the midst of terror. They endured all through the night as the angel of death ripped the souls and the breath from all the firstborn and they had to listen to the screams, they had to fear, they had to huddle together hoping God was real. God’s grace wasn’t the exodus, it was the wilderness, it wasn’t the red sea crossing although that was gracious of him, but it was the laws given. it wasn’t giving them the promise land that was covenant, it was them living surrounded by enemies in the promised land. Sometimes we think God’s grace is the good things he brings to us or us to. We say, oh God is so gracious look how he made the way clear nad gave me the job i wanted and the surgery went well, and he is gracious, and he does often intervene in compassionate and kind ways to help. but I believe God’s grace is His supernatural provision in the midst of the most natural circumstances. and by natural i mean the darkest nights. he lets the fishing nets be empty after a hard nights work, and the blood flow for 12 years and the girl die and the people be hungry, and then enter Grace.
this is why we can rejoice in the midst of tribulation. because God’s grace is Joy in affliction, and we can know it no other way.
“God’s grace gives us what he wants us to have in the midst of where we don’t want to be.”