Grace is a power that can help us become the productive, fruitful, and contributing people God created us to be.
1 Corinthians 15:10 — But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them– though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
We don’t want to live in vain, to live lives that are unproductive or void of significance. Paul believed he became what he was by grace. Grace had real effects in his life, and one was that it empowered the way he lived his life and what he did in his ministry.
Paul learned to let grace into his life. He learned to receive it, he learned to work with it, he learned to rely on it, and he learned to share it. We can learn these things, too.
Usually when we think of grace, we think of God’s free, unmerited favor, especially shown to us through Jesus on the cross. That’s a big part of what grace is. But it is also more than that. Paul says God’s grace to him was not in vain. It empowered productivity in the things of God. For Paul, God’s grace is the true subject, the real doer, of the work he did. Grace played such a big role in what he did that he could say, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
His comment about working harder than all the other apostles is a little defensive and polemical. It seems Paul struggled with comparing himself to other Christian leaders. In 1-2 Corinthians he accuses other leaders of making comparisons and participating in rivalry, but he seems to have struggled with these things himself. He wanted to be the very best, and he probably was. But even if he had some mixed motives, and cared too much about being better than other leaders, we can learn from what he recognized about relying on grace for making progress in his life and ministry.
And no-one can doubt that Paul lived a productive life, starting churches and strengthening first-century churches all the way from Judea to Rome. He says in 1 Corinthians 3:10, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation.” Grace was the power that made possible his work and his influence. Grace made him the master builder that he was, laying the church’s foundation from city to city.
We can learn about how grace worked in his life as a route to learning the same strength for our own lives, so we can say with Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And, “It was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
It’s a principle: Grace is a power that can help us become the productive, fruitful, and contributing people God created us to be.
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