Growing Churches by Grace: To Corinth, Rome and Beyond

God’s Grace to Us 

“According to the grace of God which is given” should have a special meaning to us now. God has set believers apart, called them, equipped them, and continues to use them to build His church.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church reveals that God’s grace stewardship had been given to the Corinthians.

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:4)

Note the direction of the pronoun used by Paul. God’s grace was given to you . . . speaking of the Corinthian believers.  This is extremely significant! Paul did not say “according to the grace of God that was given to me,” but to “you.”  This small phrase could be used with all true believers.

“That in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:5-9)

Let’s break down this passage into smaller parts.

  • That in everything you: Corinthian believers
  • Were enriched: Greek – plutidzo; to be made rich
  • In Him: position in Christ.  These Gentiles were now in Christ and had become a part of His body.
  • In all speech and all knowledge: in speaking and understanding
  • Even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you: witness of Christ has been established in them
  • So that you are not lacking in any gift: the word gift is “charismata.” It is the familiar combination of two Greek words, grace and gift.  The Corinthian believers had become the recipient of God’s grace, which involved being equipped by God to build His church.

Building Upon the Foundation

Paul continued. The Corinthians had been quarreling over the leadership that God had sent to them. Paul explained that we have all been given a special grace responsibility from God and that we are all to build on the foundation that has been laid for us.  This is our stewardship!

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:10-11)

Paul repeated again his familiar phrase “according to the grace of God which was given unto me.”  This grace stewardship given to Paul had been passed on to Apollos and to all of the members of the body of Christ. They were to build upon the foundation that the apostles had laid. God had given to each of them a grace stewardship.

Later in this book Paul clarified exactly what he meant.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:5-13)

“But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” (1 Cor. 12:18)

God has a grace plan, and He is carrying out His plan in meticulous detail. The Corinthians, like Paul and the Ephesians, had been foreknown by God, called, and equipped by Him to build the body of Jesus Christ.

Roman Responsibility 

It should not come as a shock to us to realize that the church at Rome also received God’s grace stewardship to build up the body of Jesus Christ.

“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1:11)

Paul had completed eleven chapters containing the most complete explanation of God’s work of grace recorded in the Bible. He concluded with a challenge for the Romans to respond appropriately to God’s extended mercy.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1-2)

In response to God’s magnificent work of grace on their behalf, the apostle urged them to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices. The Roman believers were not to be conformed to the world system but were to be transformed by renewing their minds so that they might show that the will of God is good, acceptable and perfect.

But notice what he said right after this life changing charge.

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3)

Does God measure out faith to each believer? That’s what it says!  Paul is saying that God dispensed to each one of them a measure of faith. God is the planner! What did he mean? Read on!

Gifted Roman Believers

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function“

The body is one, but it is made up of many members. The members are not all given the same faith-capacity to perform their stewardship responsibility. We have been gifted by God to differently and given different amounts of faith to perform that gift. All who have the gift of teaching are not called of God to teach at the same level.  But as God gives faith, we are to respond.  We are all different but we make up one body. This has become a familiar theme of Paul’s.

“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.   Since we have gifts (charisma) that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly”

  • If prophecy – prophetea: prophetic utterance.  According to the proportion of his faith.
  • If service – diakonia: serving tables.  In his serving
  • Or he who teaches – didasko: instruction from the Word. In his teaching.
  • Or he who exhorts – parakaleo: to call along side in order to encourage.  In his exhortation.
  • He who gives – metadidomai: to share with others. With liberality.
  • He who leads – proistemi: to lead or to rule over spiritually. With diligence.
  • He who shows mercy: eleeo: to have compassion on. With cheerfulness.

It was not Paul’s purpose to mention all of the gifts. His point was that the stewardship responsibility to help establish the body of Christ was given to the Roman believers.  They were to become distributors of the grace of God that they had received.  Roman believers were asked to carry out their ministry as each one had been given a measure of faith.  Again, this is the grace way of growing a church.

Timothy’s Responsibility

Recognizing that his time on earth was short, Paul sought to encourage others to stay the course and faithfully carry out God’s stewardship plan.  Paul had led young Timothy to Christ, and he challenged his son in the faith to carry on his ministry responsibilities.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (1 Tim. 4:14)

“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.  For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:3-7)

Because Paul felt that his time on earth was short, his words to Timothy were extremely important. He challenged Timothy to “stir up” the gift that was in him. The stewardship responsibility that he had received from God had been extended to Timothy.  The ministry of God’s grace was Paul’s reason for living, and it was also to become the same for Timothy. This stewardship responsibility is not optional for believers. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you have become the recipient of God’s grace. You have been given a grace stewardship trust to carry out to the body of Christ.

Peter’s Challenge

The apostle Peter picked up the same theme used by Paul.  The church that had been led to believe that their time on earth was very short. Peter’s letter was written at a time when the body of Christ was receiving great persecution. In fact, the recipients of this letter had received word that Rome had discovered where they were located and had possibly sent soldiers to arrest them. Peter’s encouragement to them was extremely important!  Notice what Peter considered to be the most important activity that this church could be involved in if their time on earth was to be short.

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet. 4:7-10)

There were many things that Peter could have instructed this church to do, but he chose prayer, love, and their stewardship responsibility! To him these were most important!

Those who have believed the gospel have been saved and set apart by God for a special purpose. We are to share the gospel of God’s grace, and we are to carry out our duty that we have been gifted by God to do. This is our stewardship responsibility to God.

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2)