GREAT GRACE WAS UPON THEM

“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
Acts 4:33

The Book of Acts records the miraculous power and influence of the New Testament church. The world was shaken by the testimony and lifestyle of these first century followers of Jesus Christ. They were unselfish and unafraid, witnessing was a way of life, and their unity would be the desire of every true church. In describing their spiritual condition and zeal, the Word of God says, “great grace was upon them all.” Their attitude and their efforts were an expression of the measure of grace that they were receiving from God. This church’s growth and mutual love was not the result of some program or plan. It was a manifestation of what God was doing in them, and thus, through them.

All of us that are saved are recipients of God’s grace. We are saved by grace, kept by grace, sanctified by grace, and we serve by grace. However, the fact that all that we have received from God is a result of His grace does not mean that we have experienced all of His grace. We need more of His grace at work in our lives. We could say that we have experienced a measure of His grace, but we also could admit that there is more of His grace available. James 4:6 says, “he giveth more grace.” No matter how much grace we have known, there is more grace available.

Our churches need “great grace” to be upon them. It stands to reason that if we are going to have “great grace” upon the ministry of the churches, it will be because “great grace” is upon the individual members of the churches. It is only as God’s grace is manifesting itself in us and through us that we really see His work accomplished. None of us can be all that God wants us to be apart from His grace. Our conduct will not be Christ-like unless His grace is flowing through us.

Is there some means of acquiring more grace or seeing His grace multiplied on our lives and ministries? The Bible tells us in more than one place that God “giveth grace” to the humble (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5). As we recognize our inadequacies and humbly surrender to His leadership and will, He promises to give us more grace. Grace is not bestowed because of effort or achievement, but it is given to those who realize how desperately they need God’s help.

NEITHER EGYPT NOR CANAAN

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 18:2-4

The Israelites were familiar with the customs of two worlds. For generations, they had been accustomed to living in Egypt. They knew the Egyptian culture, and they had been exposed to the Egyptian gods. God had miraculously delivered them from their Egyptian bondage and had placed them in the land of Canaan, which He promised to Abraham. They found the world of the Canaanites also to be filled with idolatry and wickedness. How would God have His chosen people to live? Were they to live according to the world of the Egyptians that they had known for centuries? Were they to pattern themselves after the lifestyle of the residents of Canaan?

Our text clearly tells us that neither of these lifestyles were to be an option: “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do.” They were not to adopt the morality, priorities, value system, or worship of the world. God’s people were to live according to another standard: “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.” They were to live according to the Word of God, not the culture or traditions of their society. God’s Word would dictate the lifestyle of His people.

These words are as relevant to us today as they were to the people of Israel thousands of years ago. We are not to pattern ourselves after the world that we live in. We should not seek to emulate its fashions or values, or lack of them. We are not looking for the world’s approval. We are a peculiar people unto the Lord. When individuals and churches begin to imitate the world’s methods, its music, and its morals, they are inviting spiritual decline. First of all, we do not need that kind of compromise in our lives. It is leading to great apostasy. Additionally, the world does not need our compromise. If we are no different from them, why would they want what we are offering? We are to live according to God’s Word.

TRANSFORMED THROUGH DEATH

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:”
I Corinthians 15:36, 37

The primary theme of I Corinthians 15 is the resurrection. Our text tells us that something must die before it can be resurrected or quickened: “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” When a seed is sown, it is hoped that a new plant will emerge and fruit will be produced. With faith, the seed is committed to the ground. However, before the plant can appear, a change has to take place in that seed. The seed, in essence, must die before the plant can be formed.

The same is true in a spiritual life. A transformation has to take place in our bodies before they are resurrected to be eternally with God in Heaven. Before our bodies are quickened, they must also die. When we die, our spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord. At the return of Christ, our bodies will be raised incorruptible. The moment we die physically, we are immediately transported to our eternal home.

In reality, we never die. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:” (John 11:25). The same principle of death applies to our daily walk. In order for us to live the life that God has planned for us, we must first die to self. We will only live in the resurrected power of Jesus if we are willing to let death work in us.

Another wonderful promise is also contained in our scripture. The seed that is sown is not the same in appearance and essence as the body that will appear. “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.” When one plants an apple seed, an entire tree with many apples will one day grow. When it comes time for each of us to die and our body is placed in the grave, it is not the same body that will one day be resurrected. The body that will be quickened will be a glorified body. It will not contain the sinful desires of our present body. It will be a body free from disease and pain, and fitted for Heaven.

In our earthly journey, this is also true. When we are willing to die to self and let the Holy Spirit control us, the life that we will live will not be the same as the life we live in the energy of the flesh.

CALLING EVIL GOOD

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Isaiah 5:20

The prophet of God pronounced a strong warning against those who were confusing the distinctions between right and wrong. His message was certainly timely when it was delivered and would be equally appropriate in our day. These words clearly describe the result of generations of humanism, Biblical ignorance, and apostasy in a society. The lines of morality have been blurred. Biblical standards have been replaced by situational ethics. As unbelievable as it might seem, men who claim to be God\’s servants are sometimes guilty of promoting this erosion of values. What the Bible calls evil, people are now calling good. Immorality is glamorized, slothfulness is rewarded, and dishonesty is respected.

At the same time, what was once accepted as good is now considered evil. Purity is scoffed at, godliness is unpopular, and true Christianity is seen by many as a menace to society. However, one thing we can be sure of—that which was once evil is still evil and that which the Bible calls good should still be considered good. Society does not set the standard of true morality. God does. We cannot be reminded of this too often. We are not to look to other sources for our standards. We are to look to the inspired Word of God. We are not to let popular trends determine our course. We are not to let the voices of the media influence our convictions. Popular church growth strategies minimize holiness and separation and encourage compromise and worldliness. Those who are calling for a return to the old paths are counted as being old-fashioned and out-of-step with reality.

Isaiah has a word for our lives: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.” We need more voices like the voices of the old prophets. We must condemn those things that God condemns and approve the things He approves. This is not only true in the world that we live in, but it is also true in our personal walk as well. We must be careful to honestly weigh the matters of our lives, using God’s truth as the guide. It is easy to justify compromise for the sake of convenience. It is easy to make excuses that allow for disobedience. When we do so, it is essentially the same as calling evil good and good evil.

UNBELIEF AND HARDNESS OF HEART

“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”
Mark 16:14

The humanity of the disciples helps us deal with our own blunders. Our text is a case in point. One would think that they should have been prepared for the resurrection that followed the crucifixion of the Savior. They were familiar with the Old Testament, which prophesied His triumph over death and the grave. Jesus repeatedly taught them that He would rise three days after His death. And yet, when the news began to spread that Jesus had risen from the dead, the disciples were slow to believe.

They did not accept the initial report from Mary. They did not believe the testimony of the men who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Our Scripture tells us that Jesus “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Our Lord reproved them for their failure to believe those who testified of His resurrection. In one form or another, we have all been there. We have found ourselves doubting instead of believing. In essence, the disciples did not believe what they had been told concerning the resurrection of Christ.

I would not want to be reminded of all the times I have failed to believe some promise of God’s Word. I, too, have doubted when I should have believed. Think of all His wonderful promises to provide for us, to accept us, to protect us, to keep us, to empower us, to guide us, to comfort us, to love us, and to use us. Have you ever doubted any of His promises? Of course, we all have. God’s Word is the eternal truth and will always be completely trustworthy in every point. But we sometimes fail to believe what He says.

Like the disciples, we can have a “hardness of heart.” When our hearts are not tender to God’s truth and receptive to His Word, we will not believe as readily as we ought. This is something we should guard against. It is with our hearts that we believe His Word, and the heart can become calloused and insensitive. We want to be open to His Word and responsive to His direction. When our hearts are hardened by sin and disobedience, the natural inclination is to doubt God’s promises, instead of believing.

HALTING BETWEEN OPINIONS

“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”
I Kings 18:21

This classic confrontation between Elijah and the false prophets warns us against indecision and compromise and challenges us to single- minded commitment. There were eight hundred and fifty false prophets that ate at the table of the notoriously wicked queen Jezebel. They were not true prophets, but hirelings. They did not stand for the truth in a day of perversion, rebellion, and idolatry. These false prophets, along with all of Israel, were called to assemble on Mt. Carmel.

Elijah succinctly called for the people of God to come to a decision. Who were they going to serve? The man of God asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” They were guilty of going back and forth between God and Baal. Elijah charged them to make up their minds and serve the true God. We still need men of God who will issue a clear call to devotion and dedication to Christ and His Word. It seems that the answer would be simple and the response would be swift. However, the text states, “the people answered him not a word.” In deafening silence, they refused to decide.

We need Elijahs today to call us to definite decisions and commitments. Far too many who profess to be Christians are like the Israelites, satisfied to “halt ye between two opinions.” They claim a love for God at one moment and demonstrate a love for the world the next. This is not true devotion. To be partially devoted is not to be devoted at all. This kind of double-mindedness is typical in our day of ecumenism and compromise. Preachers are comfortable mixing worldliness with worship and humanism with truth. In an effort to please the Lord and not offend sinners, unholy alliances are formed.

If the prophets in the days of Elijah were true men of God, they would not have been welcome at Jezebel’s table. The result of this ungodly course is not spiritual, but wicked and unacceptable to God. The Israelites were unwilling to stand for the truth. Elijah said, “if the LORD be God, follow him.” We know that the Lord is God, and we ought to follow Him. May these words challenge us to follow the Lord at all cost. We are to be willing to buy the truth and stand in the old paths, regardless of our popularity or acceptance.

GOD IS ABLE

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:”
II Corinthians 9:8

This popular and powerful verse is located in an exhaustive teaching on the subject of grace giving. God used Paul to expound upon these great truths to the Corinthian church. They were being challenged to give by faith, trusting God to guide and provide as they obeyed His leadership in their lives. The churches of Macedonia were mentioned by Paul as an example of sacrificial giving to the Lord’s work. Our text is a resounding response to those who might question their ability to participate in this joyful experience of generosity.

It is natural for people to ask questions when it comes to the subject of generous giving, such as “What if I give, who then will meet my needs?” The inspired answer is found in this Scripture: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” There are three very encouraging parts to this glorious promise.

First, we are told, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you.” God is our Source. His ability is not limited. When we think of our giving, God would have us to think in terms of His ability to provide. We are only vessels or channels of His resources. He is able to supply for us if we are willing to share with others.

Another aspect of this promise is that He is able to assure us of our “having all sufficiency in all things.” God can make certain that our every need is met. He does not want us to do without, that others might abound. When it comes to the matter of our giving to God’s work, He promises that our needs will be met.

Finally, we see that He can enable us to “abound to every good work.” God wants to meet our needs and provide for us to give, or “abound to every good work.” What a difference this is from the way many people look at giving. Some Christians can think only in terms of their limited supply, their own needs that must be met, and their inability to contribute to worthy causes. God answers every one of these concerns in this verse. His supply is limitless. He is able to meet our needs. He wants to enable us to give generously to His work. The appropriate response to this truth is that we would begin to trust the Lord to accomplish His will.

AN EXCELLENT SPIRIT

“Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.”
Daniel 6:3

After the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonians, Darius structured the kingdom to be governed by one hundred and twenty princes. These princes would be chargeable to three presidents, and Daniel was the chief of the presidents. It is such an incredible thing that Daniel, this Jewish captive living in Babylon, became the man in this position. How is it that he would find such favor and promotion?

Our verse reveals why Daniel was elevated to such a place of prominence and responsibility in this kingdom. The Word of God says that it was due to the fact that “an excellent spirit was in him.” There was something in the spirit of Daniel that caused the king to prefer him above others and influenced the king to place Daniel over all others in the kingdom. This is something worthy of our individual consideration. How important is it that we have a right spirit, and what does that mean?

For one thing, it would imply that our attitude is right. If we are going to have “an excellent spirit,” we are going to have to keep a good attitude. Why would someone want to promote anyone with a critical spirit, a jealous spirit, a bitter spirit, or a prideful attitude? Daniel was humble, yet he was committed to excellence in his personal life. Daniel was concerned for his reputation, as well as, the way God was respected. He strove to be his absolute best, but not for personal gain or glory, rather for the glory of God.

Another thing that is included in one having “an excellent spirit” is our character. Daniel was diligent and faithful. He was a committed learner, being recognized for his wisdom and skill in knowledge and understanding science. This quality is woefully lacking in the average person in our society. Here we find Daniel, a devoted follower of God, being honored and elevated in a pagan and non-believing environment. He was recognized for having “an excellent spirit.” Even the unsaved society is capable of identifying good character and attitude. The cry of employers today is for men and women of character. One of the best things we can do for our children is to teach them the value of honesty, integrity, faithfulness, diligence, and having a right spirit.

LOOKING UNTO JESUS

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1, 2

There is a “race that is set before” every one of us. Although we share similar paths and goals in our spiritual journeys, the particular race that each of us is to run is unique to us. Our races begin in the same way, commencing when we are born again. Our races will end in the same way, taking us to the feet of Jesus and our new home in Heaven.

However, the course will differ for each of us. According to our text, Jesus is our example in running our race; and we are encouraged as we see His stamina and determination. His race took Him to the old rugged cross, where He died for our sins. Jesus accepted His race, ran His race, and finished His race. Thank God for that!

We are given in this Scripture valuable advice for running our race. For instance, we are to remember that we are a part of a much larger group of runners. When the Word of God says, “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” it is referring to those mentioned in the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 speaks of the men and women who served and sacrificed by faith. The names of very familiar men and women of God are mentioned, but we are told that it would not be possible to list them all. These former men and women of faith form a “great . . . cloud of witnesses.” This implies that we are being watched by a tremendous group of spectators who have already completed their race.

We are then told to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” This race demands that we trim from our lives all that would hinder us in our running. We are to run this race with “patience,” which is another word for “endurance or continuance.” It is not a sprint or short race, but an endurance race. Finally, we are told to be “looking unto Jesus.” We are to keep our eyes on the Savior. This is simple and profoundly helpful counsel. Throughout this Christian life, we are instructed to train ourselves to keep looking unto Jesus.

SET THINE HEART

“And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.”
Ezekiel 40:4

During the time of the captivity, Ezekiel was brought into Israel in a vision. In this vision, Ezekiel would be shown the temple in great detail. Our text is the beginning of the message that was given to the prophet. When you look at the four parts of the instruction given to Ezekiel in our text, you see a progression that would practically benefit us. Notice the messenger told Ezekiel to “behold with thine eyes…hear with thine ears…set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee…declare all that thou seest.” Ezekiel was to look, listen, set his heart to it, and inform others. These four practices would be useful disciplines in our lives.

First, we should be looking for what God wants to show us. That would be true of our Bible reading, our church attendance, or our daily experiences. We ought to be alert to what God might want us to learn or know. Along with looking, we should be listening. One has to wonder how much truth we miss because we are not purposeful listeners. Both of these activities involve the discipline of paying attention. We can easily be distracted and thereby fail to see or hear something that could have a profound affect on us. The Spirit of God wants to teach us, leading us into truth. In order to see, we must be watching. In order to hear, we must be listening. Sometimes, we cannot hear important messages because of the chatter of the insignificant.

Then Ezekiel is told to “set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee.” When God shows us something, we are to take it seriously. We should set our heart upon it. The phrase means that our mind should be intent upon it. We ought to ponder the things we learn from the Word of God. We are to believe and receive what we have been shown. How much spiritual truth is lost because we do not set our hearts upon it?

Finally, Ezekiel was to “declare all that thou seest.” He was to proclaim what he had seen, heard, and set his heart upon. The same could be said of us. God teaches us and shows us that we might, in turn, teach others. The lessons we learn are lessons that others also need.