The Grace

“Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.

When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.” Colossians 4:10-18

Paul kept great company. He mentions eight people who ministered to him and with him during his imprisonment. Except for Luke their names carry no great weight. Still, their reputations earned side by side with Paul raise the bar. For all who serve in God’s army, Grace Company remains one of the elite units.

Paul remembered Grace Company as…
·      Fellow Prisoners
·      Bond Slaves
·      Fellow Workers
·      Proven Encouragers
·      Earnest Intercessors
·      Deeply Concerned
·      Beloved Physician
·      Hospitable Hosts
·      Reliable Messengers

These words do not describe a pecking order of hirelings guided by the fine print of their job descriptions, on file in the human resources department of a contemporary church. They are the expressions of blood bought, Spirit filled ministers, men and women, who identified with Paul and stood by him through thick and thin. Though their names are listed, they are not remembered for making a name for themselves. They made a difference. May their tribe increase!

When asked to share one of the earliest words of insight I received from a mentor in ministry, I recalled a statement made to me by Dr. W. Fred Swank. In 1974 he was the long-tenured pastor of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church of Fort Worth, eventually serving that congregation for 42 years. I was 24 years old, single, a newly enrolled seminary student, and recently returned from a two-year mission assignment in East Africa.  I asked,  “Where do I start?” Bro. Fred said,

“When I look for staff, I look for a person who is already a faithful member of a local church. I don’t put a person on my staff sitting in a pew looking for a paycheck. I bring on people who are already actively serving. Join a local church and make yourself indispensable. If you’re good for nothing, you will be good for something. God will take care of the rest.”

His words made sense to me. Don’t get me wrong. Bro. Fred would never have used the word mentor to describe his relationship with me. I don’t suffer from BME Syndrome. Belated Memory Embellishment Syndrome causes people to elevate relationships they once had with people into something more than they really were. Paul didn’t suffer from it either. His assessment of those who ministered with him was spot on. We should take aim at it.

Forty years later, I continue to lean on the simple, pithy words of Bro. Fred. They remind me of the importance of investing my life in ministry before I look for a benefit from ministry. I have shared my own version of them with more than one seminary student seeking a place of service.  In my own words, I say, “If a minister is willing to be good for nothing, God will make a minister good at something.” Sound familiar? It should.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

In the past 40 years paychecks have come and gone, but ministry has always been abundant. Paul surrounded himself with grace filled people focused on investing their lives in the advancement of His Kingdom. Their selfless sacrifice touched him. With his last words he honored them, and with his own hand he reminded us all of the key to ministry, “Grace be with you.”

Grace is the God-given capacity to draw on the resources of the fullness of The Spirit of God, in the face of a relentless adversary and in the absence of a faithful friend. Grace can be described accurately, as unmerited favor, or divine dispensation. It’s more.

Grace is the infusion of Christ’s character at the moment it is needed most. Anyone who has died to self, and called out to God has received grace. Grace releases the power of the resurrection at the very moment death is declared and defeat is certain. Grace is provided for every breath and each step in life for the glory of God. If you are in need of it, pray for it. Grace never arrives before it is needed. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!