|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 12, 2014 at 4:50 AM||comments (0)|
Courageous, Selfless Ministry by the Grace of God
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, 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. (Acts 20:24)
Paul was given ministry by the grace of God. "I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me" (Ephesians 3:7). To put it another way, he received his ministry from the Lord: "the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus." Paul's bountiful ministry was developed by the grace of God. "I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). Also, his ministry was to declare God's grace: "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." Paul's life demonstrates that such "grace saturated" service leads to courageous, selfless ministry.
Paul's ministry was courageous. "But none of these things move me." The things that Paul faced were formidable. "The Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me" (Acts 20:23). Down through the centuries, matters less substantial than these have moved many a professing Christian from completing his calling. Yet, by leaning upon the sustaining grace of God, Paul courageously endured great hardship and danger in the service of the gospel of grace. "But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings" (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).
Related to this courageous service was Paul's selflessness: "nor do I count my life dear to myself." Soon, he would encounter another sober warning. It was given from a prophet of the Lord, who took Paul's belt and bound his own hands and feet. "So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles" (Acts 21:11). Those standing by, who loved Paul deeply, urged him not to proceed. Nevertheless, Paul confessed his willingness to even lose his life for the gospel, if necessary. "Then Paul answered, 'What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus'" (Acts 21:13). Such renouncing of self allowed Paul to "finish [his] race with joy." Thus his final testimony would become, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 11, 2014 at 8:35 AM||comments (0)|
Given Ministry by the Grace of God
Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:7-8)
As we have seen, "give" is the language of grace. "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus." Our heavenly Father wants to give us all the blessings of His kingdom as a gift of His grace. "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). No wonder then that we are given ministry by the grace of God.
The Apostle Paul had a special stewardship entrusted to Him by God's grace. "If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you" (Ephesians 3:2). This special calling given to him by God concerned the miracle of Jew and Gentile being made one in Christ (as the body of Christ): "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6). This wondrous "mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:4) was a distinctive emphasis of his ministry. "Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power." Paul repeatedly stated that this ministry calling was given to him by grace. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
On other occasions, Paul spoke of his ministry without referring to this special emphasis of Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ. Still, he described his ministry in the same terms of grace given to him. "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation" (1 Corinthians 3:10). Here, Paul views his service unto the Lord as a spiritual builder, who is being used to lay a spiritual foundation for the construction of godly lives. God's grace given to him equipped him for, and sustained him in, such service.
We are all called to serve our Master. In our hearts there is a desire to be used of our King. How comforting to know that our ministry will develop by God's grace given to us. Again, humble dependence is the path to such grace for ministry. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given."
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 10, 2014 at 2:45 AM||comments (0)|
Give, the Language of Grace
I have written more boldly to you on some points…because of the grace given to me by God…I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 1:4)
The grace of God (which produces boldness in those who live by it) is a gift from God. "I have written more boldly to you on some points...because of the grace given to me by God." In fact, "give" is basic to the language of grace.
When Paul began his first letter to the believers in Corinth, he emphasized this truth. "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus." This is the starting point for all of the work of God in human hearts. The initial work of salvation is by the gift of God's grace. None of it is produced by the work of man. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). This same pattern of the giving of grace is true concerning every good thing that God wants to accomplish in man. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).
Whatever God wants to do in the family of man is by His grace, which must be given to us by Him. This is true concerning eternal life. "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish" (John 10:28). This also pertains to the Holy Spirit in our lives. "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16). It is true concerning spiritual gifts. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all...But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7). This pattern applies to spiritual rest and peace as well. "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest...Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 11:28; 14:27). When it comes to the greatest matter of all (getting to know the Lord better), God must give to us what is required for such growth: "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17). All of these precious benefits from God are a result of His giving of His grace into our lives.
Will the giving heart of God ever cease toward us? We need never fear that God will tire of giving us grace. "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 7, 2014 at 2:25 AM||comments (0)|
Grace for Serving the Lord Acceptably
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)
We who follow Jesus dwell in a unique kingdom, the kingdom of God. "For our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). In order to serve the Lord acceptably, we must learn to serve in a unique, heavenly manner — by grace.
We all began in a different kingdom than the Lord's. We were under the powerful influence of spiritual darkness. We existed in a realm devoid of true love. Then, our great God rescued us, bringing us into a kingdom of light and love: "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Colossians 1:12-13). Furthermore, in that former kingdom, we were easily threatened by every manner of instability. Our lives were built upon the sand of philosophical speculations and human inadequacies. Now, we are in "a kingdom which cannot be shaken." We entered this kingdom by the rock solid provision of grace, and we stand in this same grace today: "justified freely by His grace...we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom 3:24; 5:2). When circumstances change, we need not be shaken. Our King and His grace are constantly available and always sufficient. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
When we received the King as our Lord and Savior (see John 1:12), the full resources of His kingdom became our portion forever. God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Yet, in a profound sense, we are still receiving His kingdom. "We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken." This process of receiving is comprised of practical appropriation of His kingdom provisions, by faith. The provision of grace is especially strategic, since this is how we serve God acceptably. "Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably." We are called to serve our King. We cannot serve Him by merely attempting to do the best we can. That would be law performance, energized by the flesh. We need to have grace as our empowering resource, just as the early church had. "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). Desiring to minister by grace allows our service to flow forth acceptably as worship unto the Lord: "with reverence and godly fear."
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM||comments (0)|
Even More on Continuing in the Word of His Grace
I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able... Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed"... For this reason I have sent Timothy to you... who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (Acts 20:32; John 8:31; 1 Corinthians 4:17)
God's grace characterizes His word: "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace." This permeating presence of grace in the scriptures is what makes God's word so able to effect godly changes in our lives: "the word of His grace, which is able." This is why the Lord wants us to continue in His word: "continue in the faith" (Acts 14:22). Also, continuing in the word allows the Lord to remind us of things pertaining to grace, things we need to hear over and over again.
Jesus called professing disciples to continue in His word. "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide [remain, continue] in My word, you are My disciples indeed'." It is impossible to truly live as a follower of Jesus without continuing in His word. The Christian life is lived by grace. The Bible is "the word of His grace." We cannot follow Jesus by grace apart from hearing regularly of His grace. The natural bent of our humanity (including, the flesh of true believers) is toward human works and law performance. This is one reason why the Lord wants us to hear of His effective grace day by day.
The ministry of reminding is part of this process. The Apostle Paul sent out his ministry partner, Timothy, to remind the saints of matters that he himself had previously expounded upon in all the churches. "For this reason I have sent Timothy to you...who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church." Later, after Timothy had become a pastor in Ephesus, Paul wrote urging him to remind the saints of some basic elements of grace (matters pertaining to the faithfulness of God). "This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things" (2 Timothy 2:11-14). Such vital truths need to be considered repeatedly. The Apostle Peter knew that it would amount to spiritual irresponsibility to neglect the import of reminders. "Therefore I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know them, and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you" (2 Peter 1:12).
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 2, 2014 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
Continuing in the Word of His Grace
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith... And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace. (Acts 14:21-22; 20:32)
The Lord desires for us to continue in a growing relationship with Him, continuing to draw more and more upon His grace: "continue with the Lord...continue in the grace of God" (Acts 11:23; 13:43). One vital aspect of this process is to be continuing in the word of His grace.
As Paul and his missionary team passed through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (in Pisidia), they urged the disciples there to "continue in the faith." "The faith" is often used in the scriptures to refer to the revealed truth of God (in which we are to place our faith). Jude wrote in this manner. "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude v. 3). Thus, the word of God is "the faith." Consequently, the call to "continue in the faith" was an exhortation to live by abiding in the word of God.
Later, when Paul was visiting the church leaders from Ephesus for the last time, he entrusted them unto the care of the Lord and His word. In doing this, he referred to the scriptures as "the word of His grace." Grace characterizes the word of God. Grace permeates the word of God. Grace flows from the word of God. It is in the scriptures that we learn of God's grace. There we learn of what it is (the Lord's undeserved riches, poured out freely for our justification, sanctification, and glorification). There we learn of our great need for grace (a desperate, comprehensive, continual need). Also, in the word we learn of how we can access it (through humble dependence upon the Lord).
If we are going to continue in grace as the Lord desires, we must continue in the word of His grace. We will want to read it prayerfully day by day. We will want to study it regularly for increased understanding. We will want to meditate upon it often for growing implications and applications. Above all, we will want to be in the word consistently that we might get to know the Christ of the word. In knowing Him more, His mighty grace will properly impact our lives.
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on December 1, 2014 at 1:25 AM||comments (0)|
Continuing in the Grace of God
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... 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. (Acts 11:23; 13:43)
Whenever the grace of God is allowed to work in human hearts, visible spiritual evidences eventually appear. This can bring joy to those who are outwardly observing this inward work of grace. Still, it is appropriate to exhort those who have made progress in grace to continue in the grace of God.
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch to evaluate the reported spiritual revival, he was able to observe the outward confirmations of God's inward work of grace. These verifications of grace caused him to rejoice. "He was glad." However, he knew that words of exhortation were appropriate. Thus, he began to urge them to press on with Christ. He "encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord." It is important for those who have started out with the Lord (through faith in His name) to go on with the Lord. Life in Christ is basically about the most vital relationship of all. "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). The Christian life is not only about meeting the Lord and receiving eternal life. This life-giving relationship with the Lord is to be nurtured and developed day by day unto abundance of life.
Some time after Barnabas shared this exhortation with the saints in Antioch (north of Israel), he and Paul were visiting the believers in another Antioch (in Pisidia, in the region of modern day Turkey). Here, they gave a similar exhortation. However, on this occasion, their urging was related to God's grace: "persuaded them to continue in the grace of God." Yes, grace is not only the way we begin with the Lord, but it is also the means by which we go on with Him. God's grace is something we are to be seeking after every day. It is a major error of the faith to relegate grace to days gone by. We can praise and thank the Lord for all of His grace experienced in previous years. Nevertheless, the grace of God is essential today — and in each new day. Also, it is so fitting that the saints in one town were exhorted concerning continuing in the Lord, whereas others later were urged regarding continuing in grace. Grace cannot be separated from the Lord Jesus. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on November 30, 2014 at 4:45 AM||comments (0)|
The Observable Nature of the Grace of God
The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 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. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad. (Acts 11:21-23)
Fundamentally, the work of God's grace takes place within human hearts. "It is good that the heart be established by grace" (Hebrews 13:9). Yet, whenever grace is at work in lives, visible indicators inevitably appear: "When he came and had seen the grace of God." This statement raises for our consideration the observable nature of the grace of God.
After Stephen was stoned by the religious leaders, an expansive persecution arose. God used this widespread difficulty to extend the proclamation of the gospel. "Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only" (Acts 11:19). Others began to reach out to those whose background was Grecian. "But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20). God used them to touch many lives. "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." Word of this spiritual harvest soon reached Jerusalem. "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." So, Barnabas traveled to Antioch, where the first great Gentile church was being birthed. When he arrived, the invisible was being made visible: "When he came and had seen the grace of God." It was obvious to Barnabas that God had been working by His grace.
What Barnabas saw was undoubtedly similar to the spiritual phenomenon that had occurred in the church at Colosse. When the gospel was embraced there, it clearly impacted lives: "the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:5-6). In Colosse, the outward effects of the inward work of the grace of God was spiritual fruit. When Barnabas saw this same process unfolding in Antioch, "he was glad."
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on November 29, 2014 at 8:30 PM||comments (0)|
Jesus' Example of Grace for Our Speech
You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips... Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Psalm 45:2; Colossians 4:6)
In our two previous meditations, we saw Jesus as our two-fold example. First, He exemplified the suffering that prepares us for more of God's grace to work in our lives. Second, He exemplified the related issue of God's grace developing our lives comprehensively. Now, we consider Jesus' example of grace for our speech.
Centuries before the Messiah (Jesus) came into this world, the Psalmist prophesied of the words of grace that would flow from His mouth. "You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips." The manner in which the grace of God guided and poured forth through the words of Jesus set His speech above that of every other person. Those who listened to Him during His earthly pilgrimage testified of this fact. "All bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22). One of the distinctive aspects of Jesus' words was the unique authority that this outpoured grace imparted. "Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority" (Luke 4:31-32). At one point in Jesus' ministry, the Jewish leaders wanted the temple officers to take Jesus into custody, but they returned empty-handed. "Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, 'Why have you not brought Him?' The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!' " (John 7:45-46).
The Lord intends for this same grace to impact our speech. "Let your speech always be with grace." When we humbly allow the Lord to flood our speech with His grace, our words have a heavenly flavor to them: "seasoned with salt." His grace will also add heavenly wisdom to our words: "that you may know how you ought to answer each one." This causes our speech to be edifying to others, because our words are ministering God's grace into their lives. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).
|Posted by Rev. Jeff Ferguson on November 28, 2014 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
Jesus' Example of Grace Developing Our Lives
And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him... And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:40, 52)
In our previous devotional, we looked at the suffering that prepares us for God's grace to work in our lives, developing us spiritually. Jesus was given as the primary example of this truth. In our present verses, we see Jesus as the example of grace developing our lives comprehensively.
When the Son of God came into the world as a man, He laid aside the independent exercise of His deity: "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:6-7). He then developed as any man should (except, He was without sin). "And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom." Jesus grew in spiritual strength, as the Lord wants us to do: "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy" (Colossians 1:11). The wisdom of the Father began to permeate His life, as He also desires for us: "that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Colossians 1:9). When Jesus was twelve years old, His spiritual maturity and wisdom were evident, as He discussed the faith with the leaders of Israel. His parents "found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers" (Luke 2:46-47).
Jesus continued to develop in spiritual maturity, pleasing His heavenly Father and impacting the people. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased...Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, 'How does this Man know letters, having never studied?' " (Matthew 17:5 and John 7:14-15). The Lord wants our walk with Him and our testimony before others to grow, just as in Jesus' life. "Walk as children of light...proving what is acceptable to the Lord...that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Ephesians 5:8, 10 and Philippians 2:15).
In Jesus' life, this godly progress was accomplished by the grace of God at work: "and the grace of God was upon Him." So it is to be in our lives.