A certain poor man spent many years saving money to realize his dream of going on a cruise. When he finally saved the required sum, he bought a ticket. Knowing he could not afford the extravagant food on board, he took what he could afford—crackers and peanut butter.
After a few days of observing the other passengers eating luxurious meals, his peanut butter crackers became stale and tasteless. Desperately hungry, he begged a porter to allow him to work for food.
“Why, sir, didn’t you realize meals are included with your ticket? You may eat as much as you like!”
Lots of Christians live like that man. Not realizing the unlimited provisions that are theirs in Christ, they munch on stale scraps. There’s no need to live like that! Everything we could ever want or need is included in the cost of admission—and the Savior has already paid it for us!
There’s a single word that encompasses all the riches we find in Christ: grace. What a magnificent word it is! It is used more than 150 times in the New Testament to speak of divine favor bestowed on undeserving people. It is the means by which we receive every physical and spiritual benefit.
To some measure even unbelievers benefit from God’s grace. Theologians call that “common grace” because it is common to all mankind. Common grace is God’s continual care for all creation, providing for his creatures’ needs. Through common grace God restrains humanity from utter debauchery and maintains order and some sense of beauty, morality, and goodness in society’s consciousness.
Christians, however, receive a greater grace (James 4:6). To us God’s grace is inexhaustible and boundless, including all that we have talked in earlier posts about regarding the all-sufficient provisions of Jesus Christ.
We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) and in grace we stand (Romans 5:2). Grace upholds our salvation, gives us victory in temptation, and helps us endure suffering and pain. It helps us understand the Word and wisely apply it to our lives. It draws us into communion and prayer and enables us to serve the Lord effectively. In short, we exist and are firmly fixed in an environment of all-sufficient grace.
Grace upon Grace
One of the most wonderful statements about our Lord is that He was “full of grace” (John 1:14) and “of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). “Grace upon grace” speaks of accumulated grace—one grace following upon another. Such grace is ours each day. It is unlimited and sufficient for every need.
Paul called it “the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), “the riches of [God’s] grace” (Ephesians 2:7), and “surpassing grace” (2 Corinthians 9:14). Peter called it the “manifold” (in Greek, poikilos, “multifaceted” or “multicolored”) grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). He used the same Greek word in 1 Peter 1:6 with reference to the various trials believers face. That’s a wonderful parallel: God’s multifaceted grace is sufficient for our multifaceted trials.
Perhaps nowhere is the magnificence of grace more wonderfully stated than in 2 Corinthians 9:8–11. The superlatives here are staggering: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. . . . You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (emphasis added).
In a sense, those two verses sum up everything that could ever be said about our sufficiency in Christ. Set in a context describing God’s material provision, they have meaning that obviously extends to limitless proportions. Surpassing grace indwells every believer (2 Corinthians 9:14). Is it any wonder Paul could not restrain his praise to God for such an indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)?
Paul experienced God’s grace as few others have because he endured suffering as few others have. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Lord gave him one of the most profound truths in all revelation: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” That wonderful promise extends to every believer, but its context is one of severe difficulties, distresses, persecutions, and human weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In chapter 11 Paul chronicles many of the hardships and life-threatening situations he had endured. Included in his list are great physical trials—imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, dangerous rivers, robbers, Jewish and Gentile persecutions, sleepless nights, inclement weather, and lack of food and drink (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). More painful than all that was the daily concern he had for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). God’s people and His church were Paul’s greatest passion (Colossians 1:28–29) and presented the highest potential for pain and disappointment.
The greatest pain he ever knew came from some of the people he loved the most—those to whom he had given his soul and his gospel, but who now had turned against him. Their rejection, betrayal, criticism, false accusations, and even hatred cut deep into his heart. In 2 Corinthians he wrote as a man who was unloved, unappreciated, distrusted, and deeply troubled in his soul.
The Lessons of Grace
Paul’s distressing circumstances put him in a position to learn some marvelous lessons about God’s grace, which he passes on to us in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
There is so much to be drawn from this marvelous text. For the purpose of this post I’ll simply make brief mention of the lessons we can draw regarding God’s grace.
Humility. God knows that men are prone toward pride, especially when they are in positions of spiritual privilege. Therefore He often uses opposition and suffering to teach them humility. That God places trials in our lives to restrain our sin and produce godliness is an act of grace.
Dependence. Often other believers are channels of God’s grace, but He alone is its source. We tend to turn to people with our hurts, but God wants us to look to Him first of all in times of trouble.
Three times Paul appealed to God to remove the thorn—three times the Lord said no. He prayed persistently and faithfully, yet he learned that God’s purposes could be better accomplished by the answer no.
Sufficiency. Paul was content with God’s decision because he knew that God would supply sufficient grace for his trial. “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ ” (2 Corinthians 12:9). “He has said” is in the perfect tense in the Greek text, implying that every time Paul prayed, God said the same thing and kept on saying it. “My grace is sufficient for you” was his standing answer. After three times, Paul dropped the request. This was not a sign that Paul gave up on God, but that he rested in God’s sufficient grace.
Power. The same suffering that reveals our weaknesses reveals God’s strength, “for power is perfected in weakness” (v. 9). When we are least effective in our human strength and have only God’s power to sustain us, then we are suitable channels through which His power flows. And so we should praise God for adversity because that’s when His power is most evident in our lives. There is no one too weak to be powerful, but there are many too strong.
Contentment. Paul gives us a key principle in verse 10: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul embraced his deepest trouble as a friend to lead him to greater spiritual usefulness.
God’s grace is more than sufficient for your every need. Is your relationship with Him deep and trusting enough to draw you to Him during times of difficulty? Are you content to endure weaknesses, insults, distresses, and persecutions for Christ’s sake so that you can be spiritually strong even amid physical and emotional weakness?
The story is told of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was riding home one evening after a heavy day’s work, feeling weary and depressed, when the verse came to mind, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
In his mind he immediately compared himself to a little fish in the Thames River, apprehensive lest drinking so many pints of water in the river each day he might drink the Thames dry. Then Father Thames says to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”
Next he thought of a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt, afraid lest its daily nibbles exhaust the supplies and cause it to starve to death. Then Joseph comes along and says, “Cheer up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”
Then he thought of a man climbing some high mountain to reach its lofty summit and dreading lest his breathing there might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator booms His voice out of heaven, saying, “Breathe away, oh man, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you!”
Let us rest in the abundance of God’s wonderful grace and the total sufficiency of all His spiritual resources. That’s the all-sufficient Savior’s legacy to His people.
“May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure” (1 Peter 1:2)!