"The Ministry of His Grace"
March 1, 2012

C. R. Oliver

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March 1, 2012

"The Ministry of His Grace"

          In past newsletters, we have defined grace through several methods. First, we took an overview approach. We defined grace as being the power of God to bring the saint from where he is in Him and carry him to the place of perfection in the fullness of Christ. In the January newsletter, we explored our understanding of the depth of grace. February's newsletter showed how Jesus took the Old Testament mindset about grace and expanded it to the fullness of it within Him. We reviewed the Old Testament passages extensively to discover its concepts of grace.

          This month, we must look at Grace in light of "the ministry of grace" as carried out by the apostles and the early church. What did they do with the exploding manifestations of God's grace as they moved forward to evangelize the world?
Acts 11:22-26
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

          (Notice: "added to the Lord")

25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
As persecution became the norm in Jerusalem, many saints fled for their lives-taking their new found faith with them. Naturally, they gravitated to Jewish communities (where they found a common background) where friends and relatives were known. They began to preach the grace of God through Jesus Christ and found a following of converts. The Scripture says they were exclusive in their initial witness: Jews only.

However, a few began to see an element of God's grace appearing among the Hellenists (classical Greek culturists). Notice what happened; they found more evidences of God's grace moving among them. What was once the exclusive wisdom of the Hebrews, now went beyond their realms to those of pagan religions. Upon hearing about this phenomenon, the early church commissioned Barnabus to go and bring a report of his findings to them.

Notice in verse 23 his response: "When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad"

Antioch was more than a chance gathering. This display of grace exceeded the definitions of "revival" purported even by modern standards. What was going on in Antioch was, and should be today, the criteria for approval of a New Testament church. What Barnabus found was "God's grace working among them." That is the ONLY criteria for claiming a New Testament church. Listen, its God's grace at work we must look for. The presence of His grace meant He was Present. (Ah, that's what moves me. Ah, that's what I look for in a congregation. Ah, that's the criteria for determining where to lend effort, give monies, take up communion and assist a church.) When Barnabus spotted the great evidence of God's extended grace among this people ... it captured his spiritual eye and demanded his approval.

Deliver me from the dead trappings of a cold worship service ... give me an Antioch evidence of the moving of the grace of God upon a people ... that is where home is. Grace evidence is enough. God's grace pouring out among a people sets them apart, demands the attention of the real saints and calls for an involvement greater than shouting, clapping and drumming. Give me the sweet scent of the Grace of God moving and endowing and calling and melting hearts into the true unity of Christ and that's where I must be. Barnabus saw it; we must see it again or take down the name: Church! It "ain't church" if the evidence of God's manifest grace is not upon it and in it and operating broadly through it.

What Barnabus saw, we must see. We must again see the pouring out of God's grace through His people. These persecuted transplants from Jerusalem carried the upper room with them, and it spread into Antioch. The "great grace that was upon them" went to another area and "great grace came upon THEM." This is what Barnabus came to spy out. Had He seen no evidence of the fullness of grace, his report would have been vastly different. What is the report today?

What made them "Christians" in Antioch is still alive and able to brand Christians today; it is Grace! The term "Christian" has been disassociated from grace and that is the root of the matter. The Grace and Christian must again be married to each other. Their divorce has been a curse, and it has gone on too long. Great Grace and Christian are synonymous---listen church! Great Grace is the evidence of God's approval.

When Great Grace breaks out among a people-there is where work must be encouraged and help brought in. This is the failure of modern missions and evangelism. Our rubber stamp approach has failed because we have allowed NEED to dominate. Find the evidence of the manifest grace of God upon a people and build on it!

Barnabus went to find Saul, why? Was it that Saul (not yet changed to Paul) most manifest the grace of God in his life and Barnabus wanted to include him in the work at Antioch? Could it have been the Holy Spirit wanted to acquaint Saul with his life work and view Jews and Greeks coming under the same great power of God's grace? All we know is that Saul came and for a whole year people were taught and were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit and great grace was upon them, and these were the Christians that the world saw and knew and heard. Oh God, let your grace be seen among us again---too long we have suffered at the hands of those who called themselves Christians and are not!

Oh God, too long we have ministered to multitudes without the presence of "great grace upon them." We have accustomed ourselves to a meager fare, when all along You, Lord, wanted those outside to behold what "great grace" could do to people and make the outsiders WANT TO BE INSIDE.

Grace is what I'm talking about!
Acts 13:42-48
So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Notice please that the "Gentiles begged" to be included in this great grace. Notice the whole city came to hear about "great grace." This "gospel of grace" is a magnet that draws multitudes to hear the Word of God. Perhaps the emphasis of Word Churches should change to Great Grace Churches and see what happens! What did Paul (notice his name change) and Barnabus persuade those Antioch believers to do? He urged them to "Continue in the grace of God!"

Grace anoints and appoints! The flow of the grace of God is what should lead us to Divine appointments. It is all Him! Had the modern church heeded the advice of Paul and Barnabus and continued in the "Grace of God," it would not face the dilemmas it faces today. Instead, it would be filled with those who "had been appointed to eternal life." Those are the ones Paul and Barnabus wanted to minister to and fellowship with and continue to encourage. The criteria for their interest did not rely upon "how to grow a successful church and minister to millions by incorporating business practices to leadership."
Acts 14:1-3
Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
Preaching "the word of His Grace" will bring two things with it---signs and wonders and persecution. It is fascinating to hear the modern appeals to bring "signs and wonders" back into prominence in the churches. A great many preachers believe this is done through the transmission of their hands and hearts into the spiritual realm of "ministry" in the Spirit. Signs and wonders are exorbitantly linked to the ministry of the Spirit of Grace. When great grace is poured out in ministry, then the grace gifts, the power signs and wonders accompany it.

Persecution accompanies such as well. It happened in Jerusalem, Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Why should it be different now?
Acts 14:4-7
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.
The practice of preaching like Paul and Barnabus will stir the wrath of religious rulers who establish their authority from a base not rooted in Grace. Satan does not like the word of Grace, the Spirit of Grace, or the works of Grace. Satan's ministry is condemnation and guilt; his accusations are powerless against the embrace of Grace!
Acts 14:26-28
From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Fleeing persecution again, Paul and Barnabus returned to Antioch and the arms of those who were the fruits of the word of Grace. So powerful was Antioch's understanding of grace, that through it they commissioned ministries. The evidence of great grace in the life of Paul was the criteria for their ordaining. Today, completion of study courses, the recommendation of men, the embracing of certain rituals or catechisms has replaced the effulgence of the Spirit of grace. Give me one man that bases his ministry on the manifold grace of God, and I will show you a man qualified for papers. Strangely though, he will be the man who least depends upon credentials for his destiny.

Paul and Barnabus confronted another aspect of the preaching of the word of Grace. ..The Jewish converts. They wished to impose Judaism on the new pagan converts. Whenever the "gospel of Grace" is preached, there are those who wish to add to it "their constructs." Many churches add requirements to the grace of God that impede and discourage those who seek the Lord. Thank God for Peter (we shall study his epistle next).
Acts 15:7-11
Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they."
Simon, who once separated himself from Gentiles to fellowship only with Jews, learned something when the sheet came down. He learned the Grace of God was not in man's acculturation. This is the missionary's great treasure. All over the world, those who came bearing witness found the grace of God surpasses culture, social interrelations and language. I have witnessed many times the marvelous grace of God being poured out upon souls who did not understand my culture but understood the love and power implanted in my inner man bearing evidence of the "law of grace." I have stood in villages full of life-long followers of pagan beliefs and watched them change instantly by the flowing of the grace of God toward them. (In Ratatona, Sri Lanka, after having told them that the love of God had sent me eleven thousand miles to announce to them His grace, I pursued them in love and the grace of God poured out on them, and they were overcome by it. THAT kind of grace was operative in the early churches, and it must characterize the church today or it will perish in the flames of populas rejection.)

To operate in the manifold grace of God will require boldness. It will also incur resistance from religion. A case in point is a man who, by the grace of God preached all the gospel he knew and God's grace carried him into the arms of others who taught him the more perfect way.
Acts 18:24-19:1
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Notice Apollos gravitated to those evidencing the great grace of God in their lives. Apollos came to Ephesus (we shall study grace as seen in Ephesians soon) with the zeal of the baptism to repentance that John preached. John's baptism was one of identifying with the requirement to repent toward God and follow through with water baptism as a sign of commitment to be holy in the Lord. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they "took him aside." They cared about him and saw the grace of God in him. They shared what they knew of the preaching of Paul. (How necessary it is to do this with those in whom we see the grace of God working.) From that encounter, Apollos began to "vigorously refute." (There are times when silent acquiescence is not the will of God.)
Jesus encountered similar resistance to His message of grace during His ministry-see the February 1, 2012, newsletter.
Grace links one to the Spirit's operations on earth. Paul's writings and missionary efforts are still being felt today, and he is reaping the harvest of souls associated with every act stemming from his writing and ministry. Herein is the legacy that should be pursued by all clergy!

The final scripture in today's lesson is one directed to the Ephesians.

One look into that precious epistle reveals how grand the grace of God really is. In that First Century setting, a group of people were discipled and received some of the greatest doctrinal messages ever rendered by Paul The conciseness of the book of Ephesians compacted gospel truths so deep that congregations today cannot aspire to the depths of their demeanor. Ephesians proves the power of the grace of God in supernaturally bringing its converts to a spiritual prowess beyond themselves and to a theological plain beyond their fondest dreams. They knew things by the Spirit. Paul knew things by the Spirit, and his prayer that they might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the "knowledge of Him" was answered. They knew the hope of His calling; they knew the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints; they knew the mighty power toward them that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him on the throne. The grace of God took them to a place as a congregation that is the envy of all Christendom today. How? They understood the grace of God from the heart of one who experienced a bright light on a dusty road.

There comes a time, though, when earthly ministry gives way to the call of home. Paul, who was integral to the work of Antioch and Ephesus, summoned the disciples to him and gave them a final discourse. The content of the discourse is chronicled below:
Acts 20:24-32
... so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

25 And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified
Paul's final words to his followers were filled with testimony to the "gospel of the grace of God" He commended them to carry the grace message in his absence. He summed up his ministry as being a ministry of a living, verbal testimony to the grace of God. The "man of the Damascus road" was proof that what he preached was true. Paul wanted what propelled his life to continue in these Ephesians saints, but something worried him. He warned that "savage wolves WILL come in among you, not sparing the flock." He warned that "among yourselves" men will rise up distorting the gospel. That is what bothered Paul more than any prophecy about his death. (What bothers you? What is the treasure that you would transmit and protect at the end of your days?)

The answer lies in Paul's treatise. He found precious "the gospel of grace." He warned of who would seek to destroy its power in the church. The savage wolves he warned about are here. They are among the congregations of today. However, they have often appeared through history, for church history proves it. We shall have greater knowledge of their sort in next month's newsletter as we study Peter's epistles and that by the Grace of God too.

Until Next month,

Dr. Cosby R. Oliver, PhD.


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