Sunday, May 17, 2009

Waiting - Part 4: Grace


Matthew 18:23-33 “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Ever had someone try to sell you something? I was leaving a mall on Friday, ahead of Bonnie and the kids with some groceries. This nice young man stops me by a booth and goes into a spiel about moisturizer and dead sea salt and oils. I was able to walk away without buying anything, especially when I found out I needed to spend $60 to get something. He rubbed some stuff on the back of my hand and it went into my skin. He did the same thing on the inside of my wrist and it didn’t - and he claimed it was his product that made a difference. I understood that it was because the skin is slightly different and he was just using it as a sales pitch.

I am up here speaking from the Bible. Sometimes people may look at me and think I am doing a sales pitch, just trying to get their money or something from them. What they don’t understand is that I am trying to give them something… for free. No strings attached. In fact, it is not even me offering it, I am just trying to make them aware of it.

In the Old Testament the word for grace means “to bend or stoop”. It talks of a superior granting something unasked and unearned to a subordinate. We often read in the Old Testament where people found favour in the sight of God. That is the word Grace being used. The first time it is used is when Noah finds favour in the sight of God – in the midst of judgment for sin, we see the grace of God. It is something that is extended fully and freely to those who won’t ever be able to repay it. It is favour undeserved and unearned.

You and I, then, could never offer grace to people on a human level, because we are not superior. What we understand, is that we never offer our grace, we offer the grace of God to those around us. He is the Lord God, the gracious Host of Heaven. His grace is offered freely to all. Romans 6:23 talks about the free gift of God. The passage where we started this series of sermons was Romans 5 where we read that it is grace in which we stand. So what is this grace? What is this thing that allows us to find a place to stand even in the midst of struggles and difficulties?

First of all, Grace is Freedom. What is freedom? In a sense it is the opposite of legalism. Galatians 5:13-14 says “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."” It is freedom from control, from the tyranny of sin and the Law. The Law could never grant us freedom, never will. It was there to show us the need for grace; the Law was there to show us that we could not do it. Romans 6:17-18 says this: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Do you hear that? Sin is no longer master over you. People are walking all around us in this city in bondage to sin and they don’t realize it. They may feel it; they may know something isn’t quite right, because the Spirit of God is pointing them to the answer. But they are still without hope, for hope is found in Jesus Christ. The hope you and I have is that Jesus is coming back for us; that He has gone to heaven and is preparing a place for us. You are free, in the grace of God, from the tyranny of sin. Romans 8 explains that God has provided you everything you need to live a life of holiness. He has given you the Spirit to guide and direct; to chastise and convict. All you have to do is respond in faith to the grace of God and you will be victorious.

Understand that Grace provides the way, but it doesn’t force you down the narrow path of righteousness. You have to respond to the grace that goes before you. Did you hear Kathleen’s testimony last week? She knew something heavy was coming her way. God was getting her ready, so that when her husband Rick became seriously sick with the West Niles Neurological Syndrome, grace was already surrounding them and going before them. God is faithful and just and will not allow us to be tempted or tried beyond what we are able to endure, but will with the trial provide a way through it.

This grace is also the freedom to be all you can be. The armed forces are notorious for campaigns that talk about being all you can be. The truth is we are in a spiritual war. We are involved in a heavenly battle not just for a commodity in the ground, or a piece of land, but for the very souls of people. God gives us in His grace the freedom to use our strengths and gifts and talents unhindered by sin and the fallenness around us, if only we respond to Him. Grace is freedom, the freedom to choose where we had no choice before.

Grace is also all about God and what He has done for us, not about what we have done for Him. Listen to this quote from Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening: “To believe by grace and to live by grace include the reality of risk. Most people find this uncomfortable. Most want some moral report card that objectively measures their progress. Works provide that. But if works are not the basis of our relationship with God, then there is no external proof of salvation or spirituality. If, on the other hand, grace is the basis of our relationship with God, then the reality of our faith is internal. It can be seen – and judged – only by God.” In trying to be obedient to God, to living holy lives, we can sometimes think it is about us. We think that we are doing God a favour. He has done all the work. There is no more work that needs to be done, other than worshipping Him. And holiness, works of service, kind and encouraging words, those are of a higher worship than standing here singing a song. All your doing and stuff, if you are not doing it out of worship to your Creator, it does nothing for you except maybe make you feel good for helping. It does benefits the one you are helping – but I am talking to you as mature Christians. Do it for God, not for my approval, nor for the approval of the person in the chair beside you. How many of us have seen what we thought was a “wonderful Christian” blow it. Anger, or words, or bad deeds… somehow they blew it and we were surprised because we thought we had pegged them as a great Christian. You know what? Extend them grace, God’s grace. Let God worry about where they are at with Him and encourage and do what God calls you to do and be with them. If I blow it, I hope grace is extended my way from you. Life is too short, and the work too much and too hard to be “piddling” around without grace. It is only in grace that God will move in and through us.
Grace is also to be given away. Remember the Scripture we read earlier in the service? How can you and I, who have been forgiven so much, go through life with an unforgiving spirit? God has said we will be judged for that. Jesus said it in so many ways: Your brother strikes you on your cheek, turn the other and let him strike that one. He took your coat? Give him your shirt as well. The point is that we are called to be agents of grace. It is not our grace. Our grace could never be big enough or broad enough. We are agents of God’s grace. Let me leave you 4 thoughts on how to do this:

1) Accept others as they are. Don’t approach relationships trying to change people. Let God do that part, for that is His business. The Commandment is to love our neighbour as ourselves; not love them if they look like us.
2) Let others decide for themselves. We can’t force people to follow Jesus, or to be kind, or even to talk to us. We can pray for them, try to talk to them, encourage them with a verse of Scripture – Grace is lived out in so many ways.
3) Refuse to judge others. Again, this is God’s business to know where they are at with Him. Our business is to love them with the love of Jesus. That is balanced with the stewardship we have of what God has given us, but judging is not part of it. Let people be who they are, and recognize God loves them as much as He loves you. He died for them just as He died for you! And who is to say you have it all together? Who’s to say that you are worthy of being the most Christ-like follower of all?
4) Lastly, express your freedom in grace wisely. Don’t be doing things that cause a brother or sister to stumble; model for them integrity. This does not mean you give in to someone’s legalistic control over you, but be aware of a genuine concern someone approaches you with. Do everything as unto Jesus, not people.


It takes time, it takes pain, and it means change. Are you ready to experience grace anew in your life?

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