If you’ve been with us for the last six months, you are in for a wonderful surprise today. We will complete Paul’s letter to the Philippians within the next 30 minutes! For some of you, I’m guessing reading and studying through one of the 66 books in the Bible is a new experience, and I hope you’ve found that the Bible could be understood and is significantly relevant and helpful to your life. After all, the Bible is God’s manual for how we are to live with Him and with each other.
By the way, not only will we complete the book of Philippians with this morning’s teaching, we will also begin a nine message series on the characteristics of a successful participant to fulfilling the mission and vision of our church. Because the first of the nine characteristics is foundation to our Christian faith, we will address this characteristic even before we commit to our mission and vision statements.
Let’s begin with reading the passage for this morning, Philippians 4:21-23.
From this morning’s text, Paul shows us that grace has no boundary, and I want to point that out, then I want to use the passage as a springboard to define grace and to illustrate how grace sustains our lives.
Maybe I’ve told you about the coffin-maker who moved into a new town. In order to build his network of clients, he sent out a form letter to every home, and he signed it, "Eventually Yours." How one signs his or her letter can reveal a great deal about the kind of relationship the writer has with the reader.
Paul here is saying his good-bye in this letter, and he has again chosen to address his readers, those with him and those around him as "saints." Not only that, Paul signs his letter calling his readers to possess "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."
If you remember, our first message in Philippians defined what a "saint" is. The New Testament’s use of the word, "saint," does not refer to a super-Christian or to someone who is qualified by the Catholic Church after his or her death. A saint is someone whom God has set apart from the world to be at peace with God. The Bible tells us peace with God is given through trusting the grace of Jesus Christ, not through the goodness or the good works of the individual.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, "For it is by (Jesus Christ’s) grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." When we put this truth together with Paul’s last three verses of Philippians, we see that Jesus Christ’s grace is without boundary.
Let me explain. You might know that Paul tried everything from being religious to doing everything right in order to have peace with God. Paul even opposed the grace of Jesus Christ, but he received Jesus into his life after the experience on the road to Damascus. We read this in Acts 9. From that point on, Paul had a right relationship with God and was given the charge by God to spread the good news of a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ’s grace and not through self-effort.
If you’ve been with our study, you would know that the grace of Jesus Christ not only made possible for Paul to have a right relationship with God, but Jesus Christ’s grace also did that for the Greeks, Asians and Romans in Philippi. Moreover, Paul writes in verse 22 that those who imprisoned him, even the Roman Emperor’s household, his staff, servants and possibly his family members gained a right relationship with God through the grace of Jesus Christ.
The grace of Jesus Christ cannot be restricted or contained. The grace of Jesus Christ was revealed two thousand years ago to a small group of people by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and now this grace has spread around the world, and keeps on spreading, despite serious and ongoing persecution and government restriction. In fact, the very countries and people who have tried to restrict the spread of the grace of Jesus Christ are time and again receiving the grace of Jesus Christ. The year 2000 estimate from the Global Evangelization Movement for the population of the world is 6 billion 55 million and almost 2 billion of the world’s population consider themselves Christians.
You might be wondering what in the world is this grace of Jesus Christ that seem so mysterious and so powerfully able to transform people’s lives, even those who once opposed it. If you are not sure that you have a right relationship with God, you’ll want to understand what part the grace of Jesus Christ plays in obtaining a right relationship with God. If you are a Christian because you’ve received the grace of Jesus Christ, but the joy and the peace Jesus promised is not a part of your experience, you’ll also want to pay attention. Ignoring or misunderstanding the grace of Jesus Christ is major problem in the Christian life. We will see why as I begin to define what grace is.
Grace is not a well-mannered person. Grace is not simply something we say to God before we eat, and grace is not a well-coordinated athlete. Too many Christians have allowed our culture to color what grace is. Grace is not tolerance, not an excuse for laziness or half-hearted effort, not a substitute for lukewarm faith and not a license to sin.
As I’ve suggested in the beginning of this message, the grace-sustained life is foundation characteristic of a successful participant to fulfilling the mission and vision of our church. The concept of grace is present from the creation of the world to the end of the world, as we know it. Although we do not see the word, grace, in the book of Genesis, we find God’s grace demonstrated throughout. We find the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the last sentence of the Bible in the book of Revelation. Furthermore, thirteen of Paul’s letters in the New Testament begins and ends with grace. The life of Jesus Christ was characterized by grace and truth. That’s how important grace is to God
The Old Testament Hebrew word for God’s grace gives us the picture of God bending down to us to offer kindness and favor that we cannot earn. The New Testament Greek word for God’s grace means favor, gift or kindness that is undeserved. When we understand the Biblical definition of grace, we can better understand how grace sustains us and brings to reality the promised blessings of God.
Steve Brown tells the story of a father who caught his son smoking. "You know how disappointed I am in you right now," he said to his son. "I’ve told you before that I would punish you if you smoked. You deserve three smacks across the bottom"
Then the father got his belt, but he hit the boy only once. Then he sent his son up to his room. A short time later, the father went to the boy’s room and asked, "Would you like to go out to get some ice cream?"
Sitting at the ice cream parlor, the father said, "You do know that when I caught you smoking, you deserved 3 hits with my belt?"
The boy replied, "Yes, sir."
"You noticed that you only got one, didn’t you?"
"Son, that is mercy, and I want you to remember the lesson. Are you enjoying the ice cream?"
"Son, the ice cream is grace. Remember that too."
Grace is not simply mercy, but a gift on top that we don’t deserve. Let me give you a working definition of God’s grace, and then help us see how the grace of Jesus Christ fits into this definition and how the grace of Jesus Christ can bring us the joy, freedom and peace He promised.
God’s grace, as observed in the Bible and in life, is the undeserved, unpayable but not always unconditional favor or gift of God. Let me repeat that definition for us. God’s grace is the undeserved, unpayable but not always unconditional favor or gift of God.
The Bible describes two kinds of undeserved and unpayable favors or gifts from God, that which is conditional and that which is unconditional. For instance, God’s creation of the world and His creation of us are unconditional. Furthermore, the grace of Jesus Christ as summarized in John 3:17 is unconditional. John 3:17 reads, "For God did not send his Son (Jesus Christ) into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
These are undeserved, unpayable and unconditional gifts or favor from God. What could we have done to deserve being created and deserve having a planet to live on? What could we have done to deserve God sending His own Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins against a Holy God? What could we give to God in order to pay off the cost of creation? What could we give in return for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf?
In what condition could we be in order to convince God to create us? Before He created us, we were in no condition because we did not exist? In what condition were we when the undeserved, unpayable gift of Jesus Christ was given on our behalf? Romans 5:8 tells us, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." We were in no condition to persuade God to give us the grace of Jesus Christ.
Yet, certain of God’s gifts and favors are conditional. A little boy was visiting Washington DC, and he saw the Washington Monument. He wanted this rocket-shaped building for himself, so he ran up to the guard and asked, "How much for this building?"
The guard asked, "How much do you have?"
The boy pulled out 2 dollars.
The guard then told him, "Son, not even 2 million dollars will buy this building. This building is not for sale. But if you are a citizen of the United States, this building belongs to you already."
The little boy didn’t earn the building, nor could he pay for the building, but because of his condition as a citizen of the United State, the building was already his.
Certain undeserved and unpayable favors or gifts of God are like that. They are conditional. For instance, Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." In other words, the only time God promises to give us the gift of turning the bad in our lives into good is when we love Him and when we are living the purpose God called us to.
Let me give you another example of an undeserved and unpayable gift or favor of God that is conditional. This undeserved and unpayable gift of God is eternal life with God in heaven. We read this in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." We did nothing to deserve Jesus Christ and we don’t have enough to pay for this gift.
The condition for receiving the gift of Jesus Christ is that you trust Jesus Christ alone to be sufficient in fulfilling your requirement of passing into heaven for eternal life. Many people in this world are trying to be good enough long enough so that God would notice and welcome them into heaven when they breathe their last breath. That’s foolish. No one can ever balance the evil with the good he or she has done, said or thought. God recognizes no other solution whereby we can enter heaven, so He gave us Jesus Christ.
If you are not at peace with God and you are not sure that heaven will be your eternal home, you can be sure this morning by trusting the undeserved, unpayable, conditional gift of God. The condition is that you believe and trust Jesus is sufficient for you to have a right relationship with God. Do you trust Him or your own effort? Are you willing to lose face to gain heaven? Or will you maintain your pride and lose your soul?
The grace of Jesus Christ is more than the solution for eternal life. His grace is also the reason we can have joy and peace in a hurting, uncertain and scary world. One of the followers of Jesus reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." What have we ever done to deserve His care? What can we pay with for His care of us? This is an undeserved, unpayable, yet conditional gift of Jesus Christ. The gifts of peace and joy are ours if we trust His care enough to leave our anxiety with Him.
Unless our lives are sustained by the God’s grace, which includes the grace of Jesus Christ, we cannot expect to be meaningful, purposeful, joyful and peaceful people. From where do we get our meaning, if not from God? Eighteen years of school, forty years of work, ten years of retirement, with a few moments of excitement and pleasure in between? And then we become fertilizer to push up daisies? If that’s meaning and purpose, we’re living in denial, or we have very low expectation for life. "Busyness" in life has not allowed us to consider the meaning of life.
Where do we get our joy and the peace? From relationships and material possessions, knowing all that will be taken from us at death? What about background anxiety we have because of the uncertainty of life after death? Unless we’ve trusted the grace of Jesus Christ for eternal life in heaven and his care and provision for the present, we cannot possibly begin to live a healthy, purposeful, peaceful life.
Let me close by encouraging us who have experienced the undeserved and unpayable favors and gifts of God to offer such favors and gifts to each other. Jesus Christ came to offer Himself as a sacrifice, but he also came to offer Himself as an example of grace and truth. As we become more like Jesus Christ, we become more able to offer others undeserved and unpayable favor and gifts
We can begin with a few basic gifts to one another. The first gift we can give to one another is acceptance. Romans 15:17 tells us, "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you." Do you accept people for being human and imperfect? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, knows our every flaw and sin, and He still accepts us. Don’t wait for your child or your spouse or you friends to be perfect to accept them. Accepting someone does not mean that you agree with what the person thinks or does, but it does mean that you will love her even if she never change.
The second gift we can give to one another is sacrificial love. Ephesians 5:1-2 calls us to "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Do we love each other to the point where we are willing to sacrifice for one another? Jesus didn’t wait until we were good before he loved us to the point of giving his life for ours. Loving someone does not require the one being loved to be lovable, or else that would not be love but reward.
The third gift we can give to one another is forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 commands us to "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Forgiveness is one of the most powerful and in demand favors and gifts we can give to one another. The grace of Jesus Christ makes the forgiveness of our past, present and future sins possible. Are we willing to forgive the past, present and future sins of those who have hurt us? Apply this unlimited forgiveness to our spouse, to our children, to our co-workers, to our relatives and to our friends. Forgiveness is giving up the right to hurt the one who has hurt you.
Billy Graham was asked what he would do if his son were homosexual. Mr. Graham replied, "I would love him more, because he would need more love." Grace does not ask what you deserve or what you can afford, but grace asks what you need, and then provides it.
What is the grace-sustained life? The grace-sustained life is a life that receives the undeserved and unpayable favors or gifts from God and then allows the favors and gifts to overflow into our relationships. Why is the grace-sustained life a foundation characteristic of a successful participant to fulfilling the mission and vision of our church? Because relating and serving together with imperfect and sinful people can only succeed when grace, such as acceptance, sacrificial love and forgiveness, overflows our relationships.