"Paul and Barnabas, who speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God." Acts 13:43
That must have been quite a scene. People hearing the Gospel for the first time, and then begging for more. It is the picture of every preacher's dream coming true, a listening audience hungering for more.
The response of Paul and Barnabas to their willing listeners should be in every preacher's playbook, and shared with his audience before he finishes his message: URGE THEM TO CONTINUE IN THE GRACE OF GOD.
I have a deacon friend who helped me focus my preaching, after he lost his business. He encouraged me, "Give people hope." Thanks J.C.
His point was well-taken. People need hope. When people attend church, it is rarely a sign that they have it all together. The opposite is often true. Their lives are falling apart, and they are in need of a fresh perspective on how to pull it all together.
H.O.P.E. in my understanding of the word is HAVING OUR PERSPECTIVE ELEVATED. The people who heard Paul and Barnabas are no different than those hearing the Gospel for the first time today. They need H.O.P.E. They are burdened down by fear, real and imagined, and in need of grace, free and undeserved.
Grace in its most basic definition is the gift of God. It is His unmerited favor poured out on those who need to be forgiven, but are in no position to ask God for favors. It is closely related to mercy, and the opposite of judgment.
In the determination between the saved and the unsaved, grace is the key component. It is impossible to be saved without grace, and it is equally impossible to earn it. It is a gift. It is free, but it cost God His Son to make grace available to those who receive it. Free does not mean cheap.
In the arena of grace, the way you come on is the way you go on. Paul and Barnabas exhorted, encouraged, or urged their listeners to "continue in the grace of God." This is a great reminder.
Those who are recipients of God's grace have a tendency to begin to believe they deserved it, after they receive it. Grace was not meant to separate the pious and the pagan with the former exercising a sense of superiority or lording it over the latter. Unfortunately, the longer people live under grace, the more they develop a wicked streak that tries to keep people under the law.
Judging people who do not possess the grace of God, is like expecting and inspecting fruit from dead trees. It is a fool's errand. Living in the first phase of grace, and being unwilling to continue to grow in grace produces stunted trees with bitter fruit. Both miss the mark.
"Discernment is given for intercession, never fault-finding." Oswald Chambers
If God gives you discernment about the lack of grace in one person's life, or a crop failure of it in the life of another, pray for both. You get no favor from God for delivering judgment, but by growing in grace.
Note to self: Don't be so quick to take credit for something God did in your life that you did not deserve. Show some grace.
Praying for people who are not growing in grace is a full time job. There will be no lack of material from which to build your prayer life. Praying for people to live under grace will make you a bigger person. Stop praying and you stop growing in grace.
Talking about people leads to running them down, but it never builds you up. Judging their lack of grace makes you small in the eyes of God, and in the eyes those who hear you do it. Stop trying to build your own reputation by tearing other people down. Show some grace. Pray for them.
Paul and Barnabas urged people who were in the first stage of grace, to continue in it. This is the New Testament message. There is so much more that God wants to release, of the character of Christ in the lives of those who follow His Son. He didn't just offer them grace to be saved, but to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Being conformed to Jesus eventually transforms a person in the eye of those who know them best, and hate them the most. God's favor saves, but it also invests the character of Jesus into the lives of those who stay connected to Him. Prayer is that point of connection, where the fruit of the character of Jesus is released through the branches of His family tree.
Continuing in grace takes place by continuing in prayer. Is their any resemblance between your prayer life and the prayer life of Jesus? He prayed early and often for those He came to seek and to save. His fruit never falls far from His tree. Show some grace. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!