Last week I began the morning by explaining why we do the same thing every Sunday. We open the Bible. Why? Because it is God’s method of transforming and maturing us. It completes us. It shapes and forms us and restores the fulness of our humanity.
That’s true for us as individuals. It’s true for us a church.
We have a thing called church because of this book.
This church shares a common core of characteristics with gatherings of people all over the world who have met together over 2,000 years of history.
We are doing this morning what gatherings of people were doing on the day they called the Lord’s Day nearly 2,000 years ago. In Jerusalem, in Rome and Antioch and Ephesus. It’s a grand and historic tradition.
Let’s read and see what it has to say to us today. We’re in Ephesians 4:7-16.
What is grace? The Greek word is Charis. It can mean a quality of charm, sweetness or loveliness. It can also mean good-will, loving kindness or favor. In the New Testament, Charis is used in the latter sense of the word.
Here’s how a few people define grace:
the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it.
His voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting them justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which they deserved.
“Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
The key quality of grace is that it can never be earned.
“Grace can neither be bought, earned, or won by the creature. If it could be, it would cease to be grace.”
Arthur W. Pink
And grace is more than just unearned favor.
“Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite.”
Earlier in Ephesians, Paul has given us some instruction on grace.
1. Grace is initiated by God.
“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
2. Grace is ultimately for God.
“to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Ephesians 1:5 (NIV)
“in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
3. Grace is rich and lavish.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV)
Why does God initiate grace? How does it bring him glory?
Here’s the principle:
The greater the sin, the greater the grace required.
The greater the weakness, the greater the grace.
The greater the need, the greater the grace.
The greater the grace, the greater the glory.
What is the glory of God? What makes God great? His grace.
How does he display the greatness of his grace? By lavishing it on people who deserve the opposite.
Sometimes we think of God’s grace as something that comes with a grumble. That there is a reluctance in grace. Maybe we had parents like that, maybe we are that kind of parent sometimes.
Thank God, he is not like us.
Do you remember the story of the father in Luke 15? The one whose son shamed him by demanding his share of the inheritance and then blowing it all on loose living? Do you remember what happened when that son, covered in the filth of a pig pen came home ready to beg for a spot in the servants quarters? Can you picture that father running gleefully down the road to embrace his unworthy son? Can you picture him handing over the finest robe and ring and calling the whole neighborhood over for a raucous celebration?
It’s lavish. It’s rich.
How backwards is it, that we so often come to church thinking we need to have it all together. We come to church and what is on the forefront of our minds is ourselves. We come with insecurity and fear and we put on masks.
God looks down on us and says, haven’t you heard anything I’ve said?
No one comes here on a Sunday morning and deserves to be here. What qualifies us to be here is a total and complete dependence on grace. In fact, the more grace we require, the greater the opportunity for God to pleased in the demonstration of his glory.
“He gives more grace as our burdens grow greater, He sends more strength as our labors increase; to added afflictions He adds His mercy, to multiplied trials He multiplies peace. When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed ere the day is half done, when we reach the end of our hoarded resources our Father’s full giving is only begun. His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; for out of His infinite riches in Jesus He gives, and gives, and gives again.”
“God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs, He always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, He always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first, we cannot forfeit our salvation, for there is always more grace. No matter what we do to Him, he is never beaten. We may play false to the grace of election, contradict the grace of reconciliation, overlook the grace of indwelling – but he gives more grace. Even we were to turn to him and say, “What I have received so far is much less than enough,” He would reply, “Well, you may have more.” His resources are never at an end, His patience is never exhausted, His initiative never stops, His generosity knows no limit: He gives more grace.”
4. Grace is at work in you.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
I think that some of our resistance to grace is the sense we have that it sounds like passivity, it sounds like a path of inaction and ineffectiveness.
That’s not what grace was to Paul.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)
“For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Grace is not just lavished on us in the forgiveness of sins. It is lavished on us for a life of love and service. It is poured out on us for work and labor.
5. Grace is measured by the hand of Christ.
Note where the grace comes from.
Verse 7, the grace you have received is a gift from Christ.
In verse 8 Paul quotes 68:18.
“You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.”
It’s an interesting quote. Psalm 68 is a Psalm of praise, honoring God as a conqueror who defeats his enemies in order to save the oppressed – represented by the fatherless, the widows and the prisoners.
“5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”
It’s a Psalm expressing the joy of someone who see the injustice of the world and knows that it is not the end of the story. It’s the song of someone who knows that the downtrodden and the hurting are not left to themselves but they have a strong warrior who will rise to fight for them. It’s climax is the victory parade of the conqueror who is surrounded by his vast army and the dancing masses of the rescued.
“17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18 You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.”
You may have noticed that Paul’s version is different.
Rather than a king receiving honor and gifts from adoring fans on his victory day, Paul presents to us a king who gives away honor and gifts along the parade route.
Why is that? Some biblical scholars say that in the Hebrew the difference between the two versions is one vowel sound and that a tradition developed over the centuries that sees in the Psalm God giving the gift of his laws and his word in his victory. For instance in the Targum, a Jewish Aramaic paraphrase of the Psalms, Paul’s version is used.
It’s likely that Paul is taking us deeper into a revelation of the character of the Messiah by showing us, not a king who receives gifts, but one who surprises everyone and turns norms on their head by giving them away.
The point is that Paul begins his explanation of the grace given to each of us by drawing us into a meditation on their source. In verses 9 and 10 he shows us that our grace comes from the great king who descends from his throne to join his people in the lower regions of his realm and, gathering his people up, rises to take them into the heavenly high places. Paul uses the phrase “far above all the heavens” to express the transcendent greatness of Christ. There is nothing higher than him. There he fills all things, there is not one atom in the universe that is outside of his awareness and his reign.
“He is supreme over all the powers of heaven and earth (cf. Col. 1:16–18); there is nothing that is not subject to him, no place or order of existence where his presence may not be known and felt. Both the descent and the ascent have this purpose. In particular, as Barclay puts it, ‘the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted, but a Christ-filled world’ because of the giving of his Spirit (cf. John 16:7). Secondly, we are to realize that the ascended Lord whom the church now worships is the same as he who came down and lived among us, sharing our sorrows, trials and temptations, and therefore he feels those of his people today.”
Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 123). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
So Paul shows us where the grace comes from, and he shows us how it comes: according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
The NIV translates it like this:
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
What gifts do you have? You have the ones Christ wanted you to have.
How strong are you in your giftings? You are as strong as Christ wanted you to be.
That means that in Christ, you are enough for everything God wants to do in and through your life.”
Note that we are not saying that you are enough in yourself. Standing alone, on your own basis, you are not enough and not one of us is. Paul is not trying to build you up with high self-esteem.
This is evident in the language of grace. Whatever strength we have is a gift that we have received.
Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)
“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
Grace leaves no room for boasting.”
On the other hand grace also eliminates insecurity.
Grace provides a basis for confidence without arrogance and for humility without insecurity.
Paul is not trying to tear you down, but rather build you up. The grace of Ephesians 4 pulls the rug out from self-esteem, but it seeks to replace it with a Christ-esteem.
You are not enough, but you have a God who is and when you look to him for grace and strength you find in him everything you need. In Him you are perfectly sufficient. You are ideally gifted for the works he has prepared for you.
Rest this morning in the knowledge that Christ’s grace and his measurement are wise. Believe that what you have in him is enough. Believe that what you are in him is enough.
Here’s a paraphrase of our passage:
Believe that you have been given just the right gifting by the one who fills the heavens, and get to work.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown