I confess that I don’t listen to many radio or TV preachers, and I don’t read many books by preachers. There are many good preachers who teach the Bible clearly and present the gospel clearly. But so much of what is preached seems to be lacking in grace.
There are tirades against, and handwringing about the sins of America. There are predictions of coming judgment. And there are also calls to follow Jesus. But little of grace is heard. We don’t hear much about God’s grace, and we don’t hear any grace demonstrated by those who preach. And our politicians are sounding more and more just like those graceless preachers.
In a previous post (GRACE II, the Grace ofGod), I defined God’s grace as “The expression of God’s love without condition toward those who do not merit it.” Also that grace is a “communicable attribute of God” – that is “a characteristic of God that is also found in human beings.” Then I noted “He apparently expects it of us.”
We don’t usually think of God’s grace in this way. We like to think on His grace in saving us, of His grace that we experience daily, even of His grace in our suffering. But to think of it as something that He expects of us is to me and I suspect, to many others, a bit troubling.
But if grace is as defined above, and if we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and one another as Christ loved us, then we have to see grace also as “the expression of our love without condition toward those who do not merit it.”
And this is the way that both Peter and Paul use it a few times. They tell us how we need to demonstrate grace in our relationships, whether with our fellow believers or with unbelievers, or even with oppressive masters. It is to be demonstrated in our speech as well as in our actions.
As often, however, we find that the ideas that these writers attempt to communicate are found first in the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Of course, Jesus is the embodiment of grace, and as He walked this earth, He was the example of grace. He exemplified grace in His actions and even in His speech. As Luke records of those who were listening to His sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth:
“And all were testifying to Him and were marveling at the gracious words (literally “words of grace”) coming out of His mouth …” (Luke 4:22).
Jesus doesn’t use the word “grace” very often, but He uses it three times as seen in Luke’s record of the Sermon on the Mount:
“And if you love those who love you, what grace is it? For even the sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what grace is it? Even the sinners do the same thing. And if you lend to those from who you hope to receive, what grace is it? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive the same.
However, you are to love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing back, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful (literally “graceless”) and evil” (Luke 6:32-34).
I translated the Greek word charis as “grace,” which is its usual meaning. Most English versions translate it as “credit” or “thanks” with the understanding of Jesus’ question as meaning “what favor or credit do these actions gain with God?”
This is, of course, a legitimate translation, but I suspect (can’t be dogmatic) that Jesus is not speaking here of God’s grace, but that of His hearers. He’s asking “If you love only those who love you, how does this show grace on your part?”
If we do loving acts toward those who reciprocate, we are exercising love but not grace. My love for my wife is powerful but it isn’t grace. Of course, when I fail to reciprocate, when I return her love by being a jerk and she still acts in love toward me, she is exercising grace.
Jesus tells us that when we love our enemies, those who wish to do us harm, or who actually do us harm, we are demonstrating that we are God’s children. We are showing grace.
And this grace should characterize our relationships with our fellow believers as well. There are those weaker brothers and sisters who need building up. As Paul says:
“No nasty word should come out of your mouth, but only what’s good for building up of the one in need, in order that it might give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Peter tells us that even when suffering we are to exercise grace toward those who abuse their authority over us:
“You house-servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the crooked. For this is grace if for the sake of conscience toward God, one bears up under grief when suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if you endure when you are beaten for sinning? But if you endure when you suffer for doing good, this is grace with God” (1 Peter 2:18-20).
And Paul tells us that our conversation with those who do not know Christ is also to be characterized by grace.
“Walk in wisdom toward those outside, redeeming the time, your speech always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you know how to give an answer to every one” (Colossians 4:5, 6).
I believe that our conversation with unbelievers is to show grace in two ways. We are, of course, to be able to clearly tell them of God’s grace that He has demonstrated toward them in the sacrifice of His Son. But this message is to be conveyed with grace on our part. There should be no place in our relationships for a critical or judgmental spirit. If we do not demonstrate grace toward others, how can we expect them to desire the grace of God?