Here’s another principle concerning how grace works: The extension of grace through us tends to involve us in vulnerability and difficulty, which then opens us up to receive empowering grace again.
That part about vulnerability and suffering needs some explanation. The paradigm here is Christ himself.
2 Cor 8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
There has never been a greater catalyst for grace than Christ’s incarnation and death. And these events meant suffering for Jesus and self-emptying so that others could be filled. He became poor and weak so that we might be enriched with grace.
That’s a paradigm. It was true for Christ, and it’s also true for us. Christ suffered so we could have life. But Scripture also teaches that, like Christ, people who minister suffer difficulty, and as a result, others can receive grace and new life.
Consider 2 Corinthians 1:6 –“If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.”
Paul saw that the difficulties he walked through turned into comfort and even salvation for others.
2 Cor 4:7-15 is important for this principle.
In 4:7 Paul says we who bring the treasure of Christ and the gospel to others have the experience of being clay. We’re like fragile clay jars.
He goes on to say he’s hard pressed on every side. He’s persecuted. He gets struck down. But look at what he says in verses 10-12. As he goes through these hardships, he sees these experiences as a carrying around in his own body the suffering of Jesus, and as a result, Christ’s life gets revealed to others. Paul’s pain is others’ gain. He goes through difficulty, but others see Christ in his life.
And then he says in verse 12, “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
We who do service and ministry sometimes feel like the ministry is going to do us in. Sometimes obedience and ministry feel like death. Paul says in 1 Cor 15:30, “I die every day.” But the result is life (and I would add grace) for others.
2 Corinthians 4:15 — All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
This experience of difficulty and weakness also has a special result for the ones doing the ministry. This takes us back to the principle of 2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Difficulties in ministry put us back in the position of readiness for the grace that’s sufficient for us. The weakness and difficulty become the thorn that pierces us but that also opens us up to the grace that’s sufficient for us.
Obedience to God in ministry involves us in weakness, difficulties, disappointments, and pain – but these are all are doorways, entries, to the grace and power of Christ. And then that grace which we receive empowers us again. It’s like a cycle, a grace cycle.