Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grace: God’s Unspeakable Gift by James Ryle

“Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
How does one describe that which is indescribable? Though my tongue may be the pen of a ready writer (or not), the challenge I undertake is quite daunting. For, according to the Apostle Paul, we will be speaking about something that is “unspeakable.”

Reaching for the words to express his feelings about the abundant grace of God, Paul said, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!”  The word unspeakable means, “incapable of being fully expounded.” Paul found himself in this predicament on repeated occasions.

In his Letter to the Ephesians he calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph.3:8), and marvels that God would give him the great honor of preaching it among the Gentiles. He exclaims in Romans that these matters are “unsearchable and past finding out”(Rom.11:33).

The word unsearchable means, “there are no tracks leading to where this may be found.” How then shall we find it? How may we be sure in our travels to this place named Grace? The Spirit of God must open our eyes to see what our minds can only wonder at, but never fully explain. Such is the case with Grace — it is unspeakable and unsearchable apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. 

How odd that today, in contrast to how Paul felt, we seem content to reduce that which is unspeakable  to “bumper-sticker” catch-phrases. “Grace,” we say, “is God being good to us though we do not deserve it.” As if that were the sum of it all.

And some clever lad came up with this one – “Mercy is God withholding from us what we DO deserve; Grace is God giving to us what we DO NOT deserve.” That sounds all well and good, but it is woefully inaccurate. (For the record, we will talk in detail about Mercy further along in our journey, so for now let’s stay on the subject of Grace).
Grace is the empowering presence of God enabling you to be who God created you to be, and to do what God has called you to do – right where you are.

Consider that Paul himself, an anointed apostle to whom this staggering revelation of Grace was given directly from the Lord Jesus, by his own admission exhausted the fullness of his inspired vocabulary in an attempt to explain it.

He flatly admitted to his inability to express the inexpressible; to utter the unutterable; to speak the unspeakable. And thus he heads the long line of prophets and preachers, poets and minstrels, sages and scholars, authors and orators – a line which stretches in rambling tracks through the winding corridors of the centuries; each in their time attempting to do what has yet proven to be beyond us: to fully speak of GRACE — God’s unspeakable gift.

So, let us press forward — and when we have completed this ambitious hike, I am certain that you, too, most surely will be saying, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!” (2 Co.9:15).

A Man with Grace on His Mind
We know from the context of this exuberant exclamation, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!”,  that Paul is talking about the Grace of God. A quick reading of what led up to this burst of enthusiasm from the apostle will show that he was a man with grace on his mind.

Consider this. Paul writes to the Corinthian church so as to ready them for a visit from himself. The primary purpose of the visit is to pick up a promised collection of goods and resources for the relief of the famine-smitten Christians in Jerusalem. Paul has told other churches throughout the region about the Corinthian’s pledge of generosity, and one of the churches – the Philippian church in Macedonia – had followed the Corinthian’s example and already given a gift of relief to Paul.

before the stroke of 12Now on his way to Corinth with a few of the leaders from the Philippian church, Paul thought it best to write and make sure they were ready to deliver on their promise. In this short section Paul speaks about God’s grace no less than seven times.

Let’s review.

First he tells them that God “bestowed His grace on the churches of Macedonia” and thereby empowered them to do what even they themselves did not realize was possible. “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2Co 8:3-4).

He then writes, “We urged Titus to bring to completion this act of grace on your part” (2Co 8:6), and then personally challenges them – “see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Then Paul lifts their vision high and points them to Jesus – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2Co 8:9).

Finally, Paul gets to the heart of the matter -– “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2Co 9:8). In other words, whatever it is that God wants you to do He will see to it that you have everything you need to get it done without skimping or cutting corners – and you will even had something left in reserve.

Paul then tells them he is on his way, traveling “with this grace” (i.e., the tangible evidence of God’s power displayed in and through the Philippians). (see 1 Co.8:19).

And he concludes his appeal with a promise – “men will praise God for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you!” (2Co 9:13-15).

Finding his heart full, and finding himself incapable of fully explaining what he feels about all of this, Paul erupts and shouts – “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Co.9:15). In a single word – GRACE!

How might your day be different if you go through it with Grace on your mind? Might you find yourself bursting forth into praise before the clock strikes twelve?

Clearing the Way So We can Move Forward
“Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people” (Isaiah 62:10).

We began our descent from the precipice down toward the Valley of Crossing on our way to the Place called Grace.

“But I’ve always been taught that Grace was unmerited favor,” someone in the pack calls out. And then another says, “Yeah, even the Bible dictionaries say that’s what Grace is!”

“Yeah,” says another, “My Professor at the Seminary told me this.”

And yet one more chimes is, “That’s what my Pastor preaches all the time.”

We now have a potential coup on our hands, so we must stop a little longer and address these legitimate concerns.

I fully understand that “unmerited favor” is the conventional view of Grace held near and dear across the vast reach of the Christian Church. But, I also know without a doubt that this is NOT what the New Testament teaches, and it is not what the first followers of Jesus believed. And I will to the best of my limited abilities demonstrate this in the following days as we journey onward together.

But the question for now is, “How did we come to this?”
Perhaps these Scales will help me provide you a satisfactory answer.

Using the King James Bible as our Lab, a search will show that the word “grace” occurs a total of 170 times – 39 times in the Old Testament, and 131 times in the New Testament. Clearly the NT tips the scales.

But there is more to consider. Of the 131 New Testament occurrences, the Apostle Paul accounts for 99 of those times. Clearly, the scale tips once more – and Paul is the man with the answer.

Nobody in history had a clearer and deeper understanding of Grace than did the Apostle Paul. He, being Jewish and fully acquainted with the OT, had a life-defining encounter with the Lord Jesus that changed his view about Grace completely. And if we want to understand what Grace truly is, then we must listen to what Paul wrote about it in the NT.

For the record, each time the OT uses the word “grace” it does in fact mean favor. The word derives from a root expression meaning “to bend, or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (see Strong’s #2580, and #2603).

However, the New Testament use of the word took on an entirely new meaning, and this is what radically altered Paul’s world.

“I am what I am by the grace of God,” he wrote. “And His grace given to me was not in vain, for I labored more abundantly than they all; yet it was not me, but the grace of God in me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10). God’s grace empowered him to fully do God’s will.

Paul is known and loved far and wide as the Apostle of Grace, for the revelation of this world-changing truth flowed from his inspired writing even as he was under-going some of the greatest challenges any one person could ever face. Truly God empowered Paul with His Presence to completely fulfill his mission with stellar success — crossing the finish line, showered with shouts of praise in Heaven!

So, let’s pick up from here and move forward; in the days ahead your questions and concerns will be fully satisfied.

I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post! Grace is such a difficult topic to tackle. One of my favorite resources on grace is Andy Stanley's new book (appropriately titled) The Grace of God. where he states, "The bottom line is this. God gives us grace because he loves us...unconditionally." He walks through the old and new testament and gives examples of God's grace throughout them. Here's a link to check it out


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