By Larry M. Arrowood
We are not only to be recipients of grace; we are to dispense grace. As one hand is extended towards God, to receive of His goodness, the other should be extended toward our fellow man, reflecting the grace God has given to us. This becomes the grace of God active within our lives. Here we see the grace of God resulting in good works. Consider this scripture:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:29-32].
Though there is an immediate change that comes with salvation, most do not automatically happen because God has extended to us His grace. Chuck Swindoll, writing on the subject of Graciously Disagreeing and Pressing On, offers this insight: One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It takes grace. In fact, handling disagreements with tact is one of the crowning achievements of grace.
Unfortunately, the older we get the more brittle we become in our reactions, the more tedious and stubborn and fragile. For some strange reason, this is especially true among evangelical Christians. You would think that the church would be the one place where we could find tolerance, tact, plenty of room for disagreement, and open discussion. Not so! It is a rare delight to come across those in the family of God who have grown old in grace as well as in knowledge.’
Good works take effort. Note again the writing of the scripture by Paul to Titus. He did not say grace prevents bitterness and loud evil speaking towards others, nor does it always automatically manifest kindness and forgiveness. Though God’s grace brings the capacity to do these things (for we are new creatures in Christ Jesus), effort must come from within and it is still a choice; thus, we must produce good works. Stephen R. Covey, in his number one national bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shares a very moving story of Victor Frankl, a prisoner in the death camps of Nazi Germany. Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them.
His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.
One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response. If under such horrible conditions, one could choose a response, there is no excuse for the Spirit-empowered Christian to live apart from extending the grace of God through gracious living. We can choose our response to others.
Good works are a command of scripture: a command which comes with the power of the Spirit to perform. We are to render kindness, not because it is easy to do, nor because the new birth makes it automatic; rather, we are to be kind and forgive because it is the Christian (Christ-like) thing to do: “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32]. In so doing, we are not earning salvation; we are simply obeying the Savior: not works “for,” rather works “because.” Not works to earn, rather, works to express gratitude. Not works to impress, rather, works of obedience. Not works to prove, rather, works to please. Not works to manipulate God, rather, works to manifest the purpose of God. Not works to earn God’s love (for His love, agape, is unconditional), rather, works of extending God’s love.
Too often we extend grace only to the gracious: a reciprocal process, but Jesus challenged this on the basis of: “do not even the publicans the same”. Jesus continued, “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:46-48].
A publican, or tax collector in Jesus’ day, epitomized the most ungracious of humans, for he had no mercy as he collected taxes, profiting often by overcharging. Yet, the publican knew how to be gracious to his friends. Does this act of friendship make him one to be respected’? Of course not. Likewise, the Lord does not reward us for being kind to those who are kind to us, for such a response takes little effort. Too often this is the limit to our graciousness: a scratching-each-others-back concept. Yet we seem to find ways to justify speaking harshly to those who cross us, disagree with us, criticize us, or just plainly dislike us. However, the grace of God in our lives not only gives us the wherewithal to extend grace, but demands that we extend grace, both to those who love us and to those who hate us. As the goodness of God led us to repentance, likewise our goodness to those who do not merit a kind word (at least from our perspective) is a witness of the grace of God in our lives. Hurtful words, rude actions, and hateful attitudes are never appropriate in the Holy-Spirit-controlled life: graciousness is. “But,” you argue, “I only gave them what they deserve.” What if Jesus Christ had that attitude on the crucifixion morn’? Perhaps it would have been tolerable under the law, and “yes,” it is acceptable in some heathen atmosphere work places, but “no,” it is not acceptable by Christ from those whom He has bestowed His abundant grace. Consider Paul’s instruction to Titus on this subject of being gracious:
“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” [Titus 3:1-8].
Titus was Paul’s faithful assistant in the gospel. He had been won to the Lord by Paul [Titus 1 :4] and became a co-worker with Paul. One such occasion was establishing of the gospel in Crete, an island southeast of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Upon leaving, Paul entrusted Titus with remaining in Crete and continuing the work. Paul later sent this letter to Titus, offering instruction in areas of qualifications for elders, dealing with false teachers, the proper roles of church members, and finally, Paul emphasizes the necessity of good works as the product of a faithful life. For the Cretians had a reputation of being ungracious in their words and actions [Titus 1:12] Matthew Henry writes, “. . .they were infamous for falsehood and lying; to play the Cretan, or to lie, is the same; and they were compared to evil beasts for their sly hurtfulness and savage nature, and called slow bellies for their laziness and sensuality, more inclined to eat than to work and live by some honest employment.”3 Crete was an island country with its own reputation, and that not a good one. One could view them as sitting lazily all day, waiting for a ship to come by, full of people whom they could swindle. Yet, Paul wrote to Titus that, even the Cretians, once touched by the grace of God, now have the capacity to show forth the character and purpose of Jesus Christ through the manifestation of their good works. These are Paul’s instructions:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” [Titus 2: 1 1 -1 5].
When it comes to extending God’s grace through good works, no one is excluded: not for personality, background, circumstances, nor favor. The Cretians were not exempt. Paul emphasized the necessity of good works as being the fruit of a converted heart, controlled by the Holy Spirit. In one short letter Paul reminded them four times of their responsibility to gracious living: “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works” [2:7], “zealous of good works” [2-14], “to be ready to every good work” [3:1], . .be careful to maintain good works” [3:8]. If the Cretians were not exempt, even though their social reputation was far removed from the “beatitudes” of basic Christianity, why do we file for exemption when it comes to treating our fellowman with graciousness? Exemption request denied!
What do we mean by “gracious living”? Perhaps these two accounts can help us put a handle on the subject.
I have been associated with two ministers who come to mind when I think of gracious living. One was a model of graciousness, the other was the opposite; for he leaned towards an “eye for an eye concept” (he read that somewhere in the old covenant, so he tried to practice it, though it seemed to take little effort). Both ministers had encounters with cantankerous neighbors. One had a neighbor who threw trash on the church property. He picked up the trash and said nothing. I would want to say this so impressed the neighbor that he came to church, ran to the altar, and gave his life to God. Sorry, it did not happen that way; instead, the man threw more garbage on the church property. The minister graciously picked it up. This went on for weeks. Finally, the garbage dumping ceased, and yes, you guessed it, the man became a friend, even helping the pastor to purchase additional property for the church. Gracious living! Returning good for evil. Praying for those that despitefully use you and persecute you. Loving your enemy. Sound familiar? This is the teaching of our Lord about gracious living.
Now to the other minister and his neighbor. A cherry tree was on the church property — about three inches on the church property. One beautiful summer day, a neighbor’s children crossed the three inches onto the church property and stole some of the cherries: cherries that the pastor’s wife was going to use to bake a pie. Bad neighbors! The children were scolded from the tree and the church property with instructions for future activities. That day, the neighbors became an enemy for life. A few days later, black birds converged upon the tree and ate all the cherries: so much for a cherry pie. A more gracious approach has no guarantees, but it does raise the odds, and it certainly is Biblical. Solomon wrote, “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.. .” [Proverbs 1:19].
We must not think that gracious living will have immediate results in the lives of all we encounter. This is also true of people you deal with in church. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. There are those who interpret kindness as a weakness, using it to their advantage to barrel over their subjects. Let me share one last thought that may encourage you along your journey of gracious living. Not everyone will like you. In fact, no matter how kind you are to some people, they will not respond positively to your graciousness, but this must not prevent you from continuing to spread kindness everywhere you go. I vividly recall an account in my life where graciousness paid off, but it took years to see any results.
A parishioner had terribly misjudged my motives. His harsh and erroneous criticism was very painful to me. For years I lived with the accusations he had made, and because of the situation I had little if any opportunity to defend myself. And during those years I never retaliated nor did I speak harshly to others about him, while he openly voiced his anger against me. My kindness to him showed little if any positive results. However, I continued to do so, though I must admit that I felt all seemed hopeless. During a very difficult time in his life I went to him. Others were there, so I nervously waited to speak with him. When my turn came, he arose from his chair, extended one hand to mine and placed his other hand on my shoulder and tearfully expressed, “Please forgive me for what I’ve felt and said against you.” I was shown firsthand how the graciousness of God, through me, had won a brother.
True, there are times for confrontation. Paul told Titus to “rebuke with all authority” [Titus 2:15]. But even confrontations need to be done with love. Gracious living may not get the job done today, but it leaves the door open for another time, when the grace of God may enter into one’s heart, bringing with it the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding. . .” [Philippians 4:7].
The above article, “Gracious Living” was written by Larry M. Arrowood. The article was excerpted from chapter thirteen in Arrowood’s book, Grace Faith Works.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.