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Growing Churches by Grace: Grace Given to Paul

We get sick; we go to the doctor; he checks us over, makes a diagnosis, and we believe what he says. He then writes a prescription that we can’t read.  Yet we confidently take it from his hands. We take the prescription to a pharmacist, and we assume that he can read it.  He fills the prescription and we take the medicine home.  We do not know what is in the bottle.  We do not know whether the pharmacist picked the right medicine, and we do not know whether the drug company put the right ingredients into the medicine. Yet we confidently take the medicine!  We trust the doctor’s education and expertise; we trust that the pharmacist knows his field and has chosen the right medicine, and we trust that the pharmaceutical company put the right ingredients into the medicine.  We probably do not even think about any of this. We simply take the medicine because we want to get well!

God has given to the church His prescription for growing a church.  God’s prescription is to grow churches the grace way!  There is no other formula given. In order to understand God’s plan, we must go back and take a short glimpse at the life of God’s grace champion, Paul.

According to the Grace of God

Paul’s ministry was unique, but his life and work significantly parallel our own. Let’s go through the steps of Paul’s life and find the principle that may give us some insight into God’s plan for growing churches.

We begin our study by zeroing in on some words from a prisoner.  Paul was in jail! This is not the place that many would pick to begin to think about church growth, but read on!

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you” that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” (Eph. 3:1-13)

Notice these words:  “If you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you.”  This small line is loaded with spiritual truth! It is the sole reason behind everything that ever happened to Paul, and to us!   In fact, this “grace given to Paul” holds the very key to growing churches.  There is a world of truth locked within these words.

The outward appearance of Paul’s life seemed very depressing.  Paul had been thrown into prison for preaching God’s message. Yet he called himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He recognized that God had prearranged his entire life!  Nothing could happen to him that was apart from God’s will for him, nothing!

Paul’s Early Life

In his first letter to a group of believers – the Galatians – Paul gave this testimony. He said that God had set Him apart even before he was born and had called him through His grace.

“But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” (Gal. 1:13-16a)

God had “foreknown” Paul (Rom. 3:29-30). (See “What does God Know.”) God had set Paul apart for his life’s work even before he was born.  It was God’s will that Paul be born a Jew. Paul had no choice!  It was also God’s will that he begin his earthly life in Tarsus, Cilicia, which was a Gentile city. Paul had no choice! Paul’s father named him Saul, Saul of Tarsus. Paul was completely in God’s hands!

Our Lord had asked his disciples who men thought He was. After the disciples gave various answers, Christ asked Peter directly. Peter’s answer was straight and correct. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter was right on target.  Jesus Christ is God manifest in human flesh. The Lord Jesus then said to Peter.

“I also say to you that you are Peter (a stone) and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matt.16:18)

The rock that the church was to be built upon was Christ’s identity. Note our Lord’s words: “I will build my church.” This line should be forever etched into our minds. Jesus Christ is responsible for building the church, and He is still doing that today. We are going to see exactly how Paul figured into our Lord’s plans.

Paul’s Call

Saul later moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem and became a very prominent leader among the Jewish religious crowd. Saul, at first, hated Christians and attempted to destroy them (Acts 8:3).  Then God reached into history and changed this arrogant Pharisees’ life forever. Saul was on his way to continue his personal vendetta against the people of God. Jesus Christ personally met him and struck him down.  God was calling him into His ministry.  Christ spoke these words to the startled Saul.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)

How was Saul persecuting Jesus Christ?  This was the first time that he had seen Christ! He had had no previous contact with the person of Christ, had he?  Yes, in fact, he had! Saul was persecuting Christ’s body, the church.  The body of Christ is made up of believers (Eph. 5:30).

“And Saul said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’“ (Acts 9:4-5, see also Acts 26:14)

One glimpse of the Savior in His resurrected glory immediately deflated Saul and left him shaken to his very soul. Saul at once addressed Jesus Christ as “Lord.” No one can call Jesus “Lord” but by means of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). He knew that he was standing in the presence of God Himself. Paul believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Saul later changed his name to “Paul,” meaning “little.” The name change marked the great change that had taken place in his life. God orchestrated all this!

“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” (Gal. 1:13-14)

Chosen Vessel

God led His champion to the house of a man named Ananias. God was in complete control. Nothing was left to chance!

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.’” (Acts 9:10-15)

Words like “chosen vessel” and “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” reveal to us clearly that God had marked out Paul’s life. Now we begin to understand the meaning of the small phrase “according to the grace of God which was given to me according to the working of His power.”

Paul’s Message

Paul was to be God’s messenger to the Gentiles. The Gentiles up to that time had been excluded from the blessings of God’s promises to Abraham.  God promises had been for Jews only (Amos 3:2; Matt. 10:5).

“But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry.” (Rom. 11:13)

“For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Tim. 2:7)

“According to the grace of God given to me was now running full-throttle in Paul’s life.   God had set him apart in his mother’s womb, called him, and had given him the message that he was to preach.  Paul received his message by revelation directly from the lips of Jesus Christ.

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man, for I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 1:11-12)

“I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Gal. 1:17)

Equipped By God

In order for Paul to carry out his special grace calling, Jesus Christ equipped him with the gift of apostleship.  The work of apostles and prophets was used by Jesus Christ to build the foundation of His church  (Heb. 2:3-4).

The word “apostle” means one sent with a message. Because the written word of God had not been given at that time, apostles became “living, walking Bibles.” The word of God was communicated to them and then through them to us.

“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13)

“Paul, an apostle (not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead).” (Gal. 1:1)

Paul’s gift of apostleship was unique. It was unique because he – along with other apostles – would be used to build the early foundation of the body of Christ.

Paul’s Stewardship

“The stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you” should take on new meaning to us. God had set Paul apart before birth, called him, and equipped him for a very special purpose.  A steward is one who manages domestic concerns or superintends an estate or farm; or a waiter on a ship. (Webster’s Dictionary; PMC Publishing Co.)

The Bible word “stewardship” is from the Greek word “oikonomeo.”  It means “household manager.”  Through Paul, God made it known that He was forming a new body from both Jew and Gentile. This new body was the body of Jesus Christ, the church!   Paul was to be among the first human instruments that Jesus Christ would call in order to build His church. The body of Christ was to become a new creation – not Jew, not Gentile, not slave, or free, not male or female, but an entirely new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Paul’s stewardship is illustrated in his letter to the Corinthian believers.

“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:15-17)

Paul explained to the Corinthians that because he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, he could expect to receive certain rights. He should have the luxury of a wife and he could expect to be paid a salary. But he voluntarily set aside his rights for the purpose of making the gospel without charge to everyone.

If he had volunteered to preach the gospel, he could have expected a reward because he would have been a willing participant. But he was not preaching the gospel willingly.  He had been set apart before birth, called, justified, and He had been given a trust from God, a stewardship. I say it clearly!  It was not Paul’s choice to preach the gospel.  He preached because God had given to him a stewardship responsibility to preach.  That is what Paul wrote, and that is exactly what he meant.  His ministry was all of God.  His ministry was to build the foundation for the body of Jesus Christ, Christ’s church. Paul’s stewardship responsibility was clearly marked out with the words “according to the grace of God given unto me.”

However the Lord Jesus Christ had other “stewards” in mind. They were to come on the scene later.  They, like Paul, were to be chosen, called, equipped, and given a special stewardship responsibility. And all of the others would be set apart with these same words, According to the grace of God given…!  (See “Growing Churches by Grace: On to Ephesus.”)