Our Logical Divine Service

by J. Philip Scranton

GRACE is usually defined as favor, and in the case of sinners as unmerited favor. But this is a narrow sense for a word with broad meaning and application. Grace involves the whole method of operation employed by God that accredits all glory to Himself.

God is " . . . the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will" (Eph.1:11). All is out of God—all originates in Him. All is through God—He is the great Cause behind everything and brings to pass everything that happens. All is for God—everything serves His purpose, and nothing can come to be apart from His design (Rom.11:36). These verses are true regardless of our belief, appreciation or understanding. But a vital part of our life and service for God depends upon our realization of this truth. And that vital part involves this matter of grace.

Paul tells us plainly that very few who are wise, powerful or noble are among the ranks of the calling in grace. The reason for this is to exclude all boasting of the flesh (1 Cor.1:26). And the Scriptures give abundant examples of how "the stupidity of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor.1:25). Shamgar slew 600 Philistines with an oxgoad; Sisera, captain of the Canaanite host, was slain by a woman with a glass of milk and a tent peg; Gideon and 300 men defeated the hordes of the Midianites with pitchers, torches and a shout; the shepherd boy defeated Goliath with a sling; Jehoshaphat placed the singers in front of the army as the people went out to face the enemy—not a sword of Judah was unsheathed, yet it took three days to carry away the spoil; Israel, the smallest and weakest nation, will rule the earth; the ecclesia, unworthy of the smallest earthly blessing, is blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing among the celestials.

Great and mighty are the workings of grace, and the glory always belongs to God. Yet before we can be profitable instruments of grace in God's operation, we may need some adjustment. Probably all of us have some degree of talent or self-reliance which sets us askew to the framework of grace. Thus it is necessary for God to bring about the trials and testings that dispel the confidence of the flesh and encourage reliance upon God.

Paul's life is full of examples that illustrate the principles of grace. Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, was energetic and intelligent. But because he was self-reliant and capable, he needed to be schooled by the Lord in the workings of grace. How significant it is that his life of service to the Lord began with three days of blindness and helplessness. His second letter to the Corinthians abounds with such experiences, but we will focus on the one in which the light of his self-confidence flickered out.

"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which came to us in the province of Asia, that we were inordinately burdened, over our ability, so that we were despairing of life also. But we have the rescript of death in ourselves, that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in God" (2 Cor.1:8,9).

We cannot be sure what incident in the apostle's experience is referred to here, but that is immaterial. What Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize was the depth of despair to which he had sunk: " . . . so that we were despairing of life." The difficulties appeared so insurmountable that, to Paul, it seemed pointless to continue living. Possibly the reader has experienced similar feelings. But the Lord did not leave Paul in that condition. Soon Paul was to say, " . . . we are not despondent . . . . Being, then, courageous always . . . we are encouraged . . . we are ambitious always" (2 Cor.4:1,6; 5:6,7,9).

What then was God's purpose for giving Paul such an experience? The answer is not far to seek. Paul said he had an official decree of death in himself so that his confidence would not be in himself but in God (2 Cor.1:9). We should also look for the same design in the trials we face. realizing that all things are of God, we can find our afflictions turning ourselves from self-confidence to reliance upon God. When the glory goes to God, grace can work mightily in and through us.

There was a time in Israel's history when Judah was attacked and mostly overrun by Assyria. The rab-shakeh (field commander) of Assyria sent a message to king Hezekiah, saying that if Hezekiah was depending upon Egypt for help, he was like a man who was leaning upon a fractured reed. The reed would break under his weight and pierce his hand (Isa.36:4-6). This is a perfect example for us. Dependence upon our own abilities or plans to accomplish something for God may yield a result worse than failure.

God can and may use the most talented of individuals. Moses is an example. He was a prophet, politician, diplomat, military strategist, leader and poet. But the Scriptures also tell us that he was the most humble of men on earth (Num.12:3). It was not the education of Egypt that so thoroughly prepared Moses. It has been said that he still needed his B.D. degree, not "Bachelor of Divinity" but "Backside of the Desert." God schooled him for forty years before he was ready to lead the people.

One's disposition toward himself and toward God is the key issue. Let us remember that it is God Who is accomplishing things. This is the lesson of grace, and if we are to be used of Him, we must be attuned to His glorious operation of grace.

J.Philip Scranton
[Return to main indexpage]