1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 105
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2009|
|What does it mean to be a godly man, whether a godly father or a godly husband, a godly employer, a godly employee?|
1 Corinthians 15:8-10
John Ankerberg: Hi, this is John Ankerberg and today I want to present to you my very, very good friend, Dr. Wayne Barber. For 18 years he was pastor of the huge Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was co-teacher with Kay Arthur for 14 years at Precept Ministries. He studied with Dr. Spiros Zodhiates and co-hosted with him the national radio and TV program “New Testament Light” for 10 years. Wayne has taught the message of living grace, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory, all around the world. He is president, founder and principle speaker of Living Grace Ministries. And in February 2011 he returned to Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as senior pastor. Wayne has authored several books. The most recent one is entitled Living Grace: Letting Jesus Be Jesus in You. And he’s also co-authored the Following God series of studies published by AMG. I hope that you’ll enjoy listening to Dr. Wayne Barber.
A Man that God Can Use
Dr. Wayne Barber: Turn with me this morning to 1 Corinthians 15. We’re going to talk today about a man that God can use. We’re going to look at a godly man. Every man in here—and that doesn’t mean the ladies are off the hook—but the guys, it’s just sort of zeroed in on us today. We’re going to be looking at the apostle Paul and I want to read with you the verses that we will look at in a few moments, verses 8-10 of chapter 15. He says in verse 8, “And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
What does it mean to be a godly man, whether a godly father or a godly husband, a godly employer, a godly employee? What are the characteristics of a person who could be called a godly man, a person who God can do His work through, a person that is a vessel that brings only the glory back to God? We’re going to look at a man this morning who was just that. Our model is the apostle Paul himself. God used him to write about two thirds of the New Testament. In fact, when you by the gospels anything you read just about was written by the apostle Paul. Certainly there was Peter and James, but most of it is written by the apostle Paul. And I believe we must learn from him, men. Ladies, I don’t want you to take a vacation this morning, but, men, we need to learn from the apostle Paul how we can be the vessels like he was a vessel through which God can do His work.
It’s amazing to me when I studied Romans 15:17-18, the contrasts that I saw in Paul of Philippians 3. In chapter 3, when he gives his testimony of his past, he gives his pedigree. You can sense that before he came to know Christ he was a very arrogant and proud man, a man who could do religion, a man who knew how to work for God. But over in Romans 15 you find a broken man, a man who’s learned it’s not what he can do for God, it’s how God can do through him. And the difference, the contrast, is like black and white. It’s like night and day.
Romans 15:17 says, “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God; for I would not presume to speak of anything.” That word means I would not dare to make a noise in a crowded room to speak of anything, “except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles in word and deed, or by word and deed.” What an amazing change had come in Paul. If you remember Philippians 3, what he said, you know, they were having trouble with those adding law to grace and he’s dealing with them. And he says, you want to talk about the flesh? You want to talk about how men can pride themselves in the flesh? He said I far more. In Ephesians 3:4 he says “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more; circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. As to the law, a Pharisee.” You know, the Pharisees were the strictest sect of all the religions of that time.
And then in verse 6, “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” What? Paul what do you mean here, “as to the righteousness found in the law found blameless”? Only one man, flesh and blood, ever stood before the moral law of God and say He can be found blameless, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man. So, Paul, what are you talking about? He must be talking about the 612 commandments the Pharisees added, and these were the laws that they could do, and these were the laws that they did and then justified themselves by and turned around and condemned everybody else. And Paul said there was a day I had obeyed 612 laws. “Look at me. You want to brag. I can brag.” But then in Romans we have quite a different man, a man who now has realized it’s what God does through him, not what he does for God. The arrogant old religionist now had become a surrendered vessel which God could actually use.
Well, in our context we’re going to see this today. I want to get a running start at it, so let’s go to verses 1-2. He starts off the chapter after coming out of chapter 14, and we’re so grateful to get out of that chapter. He comes out of it and in verses 1-2 reminds the Corinthian believers of the gospel that he had preached to them, that they had received and that they were saved by. He says in verse 1, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which was preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
And then he goes back and rehearses what the gospel is. This is the gospel they had walked away from. In verse 3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”—the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ—and you believed that. You received that, most of you. And you were saved because of it. Then in verses 5-8, he spends his time proving the resurrection which becomes a foundation for the rest of the chapter.
The whole chapter hinges off this main truth of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says in verse 5, “He appeared to Cephas.” Cephas is Simon Peter, and he picks the unsung hero of the Christian church of that time and says, “Now listen, you respect Simon Peter, he saw the resurrected Christ.” He also picks the twelve, the actual twelve that walked with Him in verse 5. He says, “Then to the twelve.” Now that was simply a term that designated His disciples. Then in verse 6 he says He appeared to more than 500 eyewitnesses at one time. “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time,” verse 6 says, “most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep. He then appeared to His half-brother James.” Why do we say half-brother? Because Jesus was born of a virgin, but later on James was in that family, and so He was in a way kin to James. And he says, “Then He appeared to James.” And the appearance of the resurrected Lord Jesus in James’ life led him to become the main elder, the head of the church in Jerusalem.
He goes on and says “He appeared to the apostles,” which is just his way of saying that those disciples also were, became the apostles which God used to give us the New Testament. He says, “Then to all the apostles,” in verse 7. And then he brings it home.
And in verse 8 that begins our text today he says, “And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” Now, in the verses that we’re going to study today as I was studying it, God so ministered it to my heart. The thing you see about a man that is used to write two thirds of the New Testament is the humility that just bleeds out of him. The word humility is not used in the next three verses, but it’s modeled by the apostle Paul. The word “humility” is the word tapeinos. Tapeinos means to get down as flat as you possibly can. John the Baptist understood that. He said, “I must decrease that He must increase,” and that’s the idea of humility. It’s a mindset that one has when he understands the greatness and the awesomeness of God. He gets down. He gets down as far as he can. He doesn’t want anybody to see him. He wants everyone to see the God that lives in him. That’s humility. And that’s what we’re going to see in the apostle Paul.
He’s come out of the Jacob mindset of the Pharisees in which says, “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it, I can.” Paul was now a broken man. Paul is a man who knew what he wasn’t, apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we’re going to be used of God this morning we have got to come to this understanding in our life. No wonder he says in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me.” I love that statement. And I think you’ll understand it better. I hope you will after the message today.
“Through the grace given to me, I say to every man.” In other words, he said I couldn’t say anything to you had it not been for the grace of God. I have no reason to stand before you were it not for the grace of God. He said, “I say to you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” Oh, that we could all come to this realization this morning. I’ll tell you what. When you look in the mirror in the morning that’s the biggest problem you’re going to face all day long, same with me. No big I’s, no you’s. We all fight the same old thing. The middle letter of the word “pride” and the middle letter of the word “sin” tells the whole story, doesn’t it? Take that letter out, you don’t even have a word. Big old “I.” As a matter of fact, do you know the word “I” in Greek is the word ego? We get the word “ego” from it. That’s the Greek word for “I.”
Oh, I wish we could catch Paul’s attitude. He says, “And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” I want us to observe the humility of this man this morning, a man God could use, a man that when God used him, never took any glory for himself. He took it and pointed it back to where it came from. A man who’s a product of the grace of God. There are three things that I want you to see in verses 8-10.
Paul knew what he did not deserve
First of all I want you to see about him, and I want us to learn from it. Men, I want us to learn from it. I want to learn from him. First of all Paul knew what he did not deserve. One of the first things you’ve got to learn if we’re going to be servants of God, and vessels that He can use, we’ve got to learn the meaning of the word “grace.” The word is something that is not really used until verse 10, but it’s defined in everything that we see and it’s something that cannot be deserved in any way whatsoever. The word is charis. It’s found in verse 10 of our text as I said. It’s an interesting history behind the word. You know the word “grace” most people think of it as what God does, but they forget that the word grace begins with who He is. Who He is determines what He does.
As a matter of fact, if you’ll trace a history of the word—and I enjoyed doing that; I know it’s a little quirky in my mind, but I like to follow it all the way back. But when the word first began to be used and finally was baptized into what we understand in Scripture, the word had to do with a beautiful person. A person is beautiful because they’re beautiful inwardly, not necessarily outwardly. You know, 1 Peter talks about that, how let your beauty be that of the heart, from the inward part of you. And that’s what a beautiful person was, someone who’s inwardly beautiful. Have you ever known somebody like that, that was so inwardly beautiful, that even though their outward features did not look that well, it caused them to look beautiful when you’re around them because you knew what they were really like?
And then it became, if a person’s beautiful inward, he’s a person that gives to others. And then it came on; it continued to evolve. A person that gives to others that’s truly beautiful, and if this is a wonderful characteristic, then they’ll give to people who cannot give back to them. And so the word “grace” here is a word that not only describes what a person does, the beautiful things that he does, but it describes the beautiful person that they are. And so grace is who God is. Grace is who Christ is in us. So it began then with the person, but then it extended to what that beautiful person did. If anyone could qualify for grace in any way, whether it be baptism, any work that you can think of that somehow would qualify for grace, it nullifies the whole word. Man cannot deserve it. It is totally unmerited in a person’s life.
And again the source of it, the well of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:1, “Be strong in the grace that is found in Christ Jesus.” He’s the only well we can run to. That’s where the grace is. That’s the beautiful God that we serve. That’s the beautiful One that lives in our hearts. Paul of all men understood this. And it begins to show this in verse 8, “And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Now look at the phrase. Take out the middle phrase and put the two phrases together. He says, “And last of all,” and then skip that middle phrase, “He appeared to me also.” What Paul is doing here is putting himself into a class all by himself. While the other disciples were serving Christ, he was out persecuting Christians. And Paul understands his unworthiness. You know, if you read it with a little more emphasis, “And last of all He appeared to me, and last of all He appeared to me,” of all people, He appeared to me. You see, Paul never lost the awe of his salvation. A man that’s going to be used of God can never get over the fact that God appeared to him, that God found him and he didn’t find God. That’s the very basis of it. This is where gratitude flows out of a human heart, is when a person is overwhelmed daily at the awesomeness that God found me, and he lives in this. It motivates everything that’s about him. He never lost the awe of his salvation.
Vance Havner said, “You know what’s wrong with Christianity today? We’ve lost the wonder of our salvation.” And that little man would walk in and just when he opened his mouth the mercies of God flowed out of him. He was a vessel that you could see God all over him, and he said the thing that keeps me going is the wonder of my salvation. If we’re going to be used of God we can’t get over the fact that God found me.
He said, “and last of all He appeared to me.” And that middle phrase is so important. He says, “as it were to one untimely born.” You know what that word is used for? Ektroma is the word that’s used to describe a miscarriage. It means literally that which is unfit to live, ektroma. When you would use it describing yourself would be used as a debasing term. And what Paul was saying is, “I’m unworthy. I’m unworthy. Don’t anybody give me any glory. I’m unworthy of being an apostle. I’m unworthy of ever being called. I’m unworthy that He revealed Himself to me.” He considered himself to be the least of all saints, totally unworthy. But it was God’s grace and God’s grace alone that came and revealed Himself to Paul.
Oh, how Paul understood God’s grace. If you’ve ever studied any of his epistles; when I get to heaven one day and I see the Lord Jesus for about a million years then I want to spend some time with the apostle Paul. No, it won’t be that way, I know. But I’m so impressed with him as I study the epistles. When I went to Jerusalem and went to Israel four different times I’ve enjoyed every trip. I enjoyed Petra. I enjoyed the seven churches of Asia Minor. But I’ll tell you what I really enjoy, I really enjoyed Greece. I really enjoyed going to Philippi to Thessalonica and then going down to Athens and going to Corinth. I really enjoyed that because this is a man I’ve been studying verse by verse, I’ve been reading his life for so long, to understand the old legalist really understood grace.
Can’t you see the council, the Godhead looking down one day. He says, you know, we need a preacher of God’s grace. I think we need a legalist. I think we’re just going to have Paul born in a Jewish family in Tarsus. We’re going to raise him up to where he knows the law. It’s going to be tattooed on his nose. We’re going to put him over here and study under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. And then one day we’re going to pop his bubble. On the way to Damascus we’re going to stop him in his tracks, blind him for three days and overwhelm him with the message of grace and let that man preach that message to all the world.
What a beautiful picture here of a man who understood grace. If you’ve studied his epistles you already know this. Ephesians 3:8 he says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” He says man, it’s all by grace. I get to do this; I get to preach this message. Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man.” I couldn’t open my mouth had it not been for God’s grace. Romans 1:1, “Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures. And concerning His Son who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
And then in verse 5, of that chapter, he says, “Through whom we have received grace and apostleship.” We didn’t achieve it; we received it and it was only by grace. Romans 15:15 he says, “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again because of the grace that was given me from God.” First Corinthians 3:10 he says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me as a wise master builder I laid a foundation.” In 2 Corinthians 1:12, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially towards you.”
Paul lived and existed in the transforming enabling power of the grace of God. I mean, here’s a man, when he mentions the word he understands it, lives in it and depends upon it day in and day out. In 2 Corinthians 12, after he’s been exalted into the third heaven—and if he were living today, we’d have the third heavenites. A denomination would grow out of it. John had the same experience, got to write the book of the Revelation. John got to write a book—Paul got a thorn and the thorn was to keep him from exalting himself. And so Paul goes before the Lord, says, “God, this is Paul, the greatest missionary on earth. Now would You take this thorn out of my flesh?” And God says no three times. And then He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And he has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for power is perfected in weakness.’” And so Paul is led to say, “Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Now Paul thought, felt, that this grace, and he was right, was extended to him before he was ever born. Do you understand that in your life today? God knew you before you were ever born, before you ever knew Him. Paul says in Galatians 1:15, “But when He who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” You know, I love the song “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” but if there’s one person who understood it like nobody else, it seems to me, was the apostle Paul, because he knew what he had that he didn’t deserve. To Paul, God’s grace was the enabling power that it caused him to be able to be who he was.
Galatians 2:20, we quote it all the time, “I’ve been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” And then verse 21, which we rarely quote; he says in verse 21, “I do not nullify the grace of God.” In other words, I don’t frustrate the grace of God. “For if righteousness comes through the law then Christ died needlessly.” Paul knew what he did not deserve. He knew that it was only by God’s grace that he was an apostle. Paul gratefully lived in God’s power daily.
Let me ask a question of all the men that are here this morning and, ladies, you know I’m asking you too, but just really the men. Men, do you know this morning what you have that you do not deserve? Do you recognize that? You may be a pagan here this morning and you’ve been invited by somebody and you don’t realize that everything you have in this life still finds its roots in the grace of God. You say, “But brother Wayne, I don’t have what you have, and I don’t have this and I don’t have that.” Listen, anything less than hell is grace. We must start there to understand everything that we have that is good is because of the grace of God. There’s so much pride in all of us that it renders us unusable. We forget what we are apart from His grace.
John Stott, the great Scottish preacher was praying one day and a little arrogance slipped out. Sometimes that happens to preachers; quite frequently, as a matter of fact. And he said, “Oh, God, give me Scotland or I die.” And there was an old preacher there with him when he was praying and he corrected him, as if to say, who do you think you are? And the preacher said, “You’re praying wrong.” He said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Die and then maybe God will give you Scotland.” The attitude of self slips into the very best of our intentions. How many of us here this morning understand what we have that we do not deserve? That’s step number one in being usable by God.
Paul knew what he did not design
But the second thing is that Paul knew something else: Paul knew what he did not design. The very fact that he was an apostle had nothing to do with Paul’s ambitions. This is not something he went out to achieve. This was in the heart and the mind of God. It was not Paul’s design that he would become an apostle of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, he was on his way to Damascus breathing threats. He was going to arrest some more Christians; stood there and watched Stephen stoned to death, one of the great Christians of the early New Testament. And God stopped him in the road, blinded him for three days, and turned him around. As a matter of fact, in 1 Corinthians 1:1 it says “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” And he says almost the same thing here in our text in verse 9 of chapter 15. He says, “For I am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Now, I want you to examine this with me for a moment. That term, “the least of the apostles,” the word elachistos. It was the word that is the extreme of something. It stretches it way out. You know what a superlative is. A superlative takes a truth that is a truth and then extends it as far out as you possibly can. It does that with the word mikros. Mikros means small or least, but this word means beyond that. The very smallest, the very least. Because of the stigma of his past, the apostle Paul, when he put himself with the other apostles, said, “I’m the least of the apostles.” He says, “For I am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle.” That term “not fit” is the word hikanos. Hikanos means there’s nothing within me that is competent. There’s nothing in me that’s worthy of being called an apostle. Oh, how we need to learn this lesson, not only of what we don’t deserve, but of what we have that we didn’t design.
When I think of all of this, I was in Clinton, Mississippi, Mississippi College. I went there two years. I flunked out. I loved college. I just hated class. And I went to speak just a few months ago at my sister-in-law’s church. And Doc Quick, he was the dean of men, had been all these years. And he was retiring this year, showed up for the conference, at noon session on the first day. And I looked back there, saw Doc Quick and big old smile is on his face, and I had a smile because I remember that night that we put toilet paper in all the trees on the campus and I didn’t really have a lot to do with it. I just sort of followed along, of course. And it was going to rain the next day and Doc Quick came out there and he said head’s are going to roll boys. Heads are going to roll, but you know who he was looking at. He looked right at me.
Doc Quick came up to me after I finished speaking at that noon session. That was the sweetest time. I loved that man. God just did that for me. And he came up and put his arms around me and he said, “Wayne, you see the gray hair in my head?” I said “Yes sir.” He said “You put 80% of it there.” But he said, “Seeing you today and hearing you today overwhelms me at the grace of God.”
We have got to understand this if we’re ever going to be usable of God. We’ve got to realize that what we are is not by our design, it’s by His design and His eternal and divine intervention into our life. We often forget what we’re not apart from Him. We become opinionated, arrogant and, personally, if He would move over we could really do a better job. Paul remembers what he was before Christ found him. He says, “I am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.” That was his past. You know my past. What’s your past this morning? What was the day where you were like before God’s grace found you? You say, “Brother Wayne, He hadn’t found me yet.” Well, maybe He’ll find you in this service this morning. Be honest as to what you’re not. You become a candidate for His grace in your life. “Why I am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.”
You know, I don’t know how many of you have bad remembrances of your past. Mine aren’t too good. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, you’ve got to be encouraged by the apostle Paul. Can you imagine the nights he was tormented thinking about the fact that he actually stood there and condoned Stephen being stoned to death? Can you, in your mind for a second, understand what it meant to be stoned to death, the rocks bashing one’s brains out, the awful, awful way in which a person would die? Well, he said in Philippians 3:13 something that might encourage you this morning. He says, “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal.”
Paul had learned something. He had to put that under grace. He had to put that under the blood, but never did he forget what he was like before. Oh, the damage that Paul had done to Christianity before Christ found him on the Damascus road. Paul experienced the power of God unto salvation. Now, folks, listen, that power could have destroyed him, but because of who God is that power saved him.
Now I want us to remember that this morning. If we’re going to be used guys we’ve got to understand what we don’t deserve that we have. But secondly, we’ve got to realize what we are that we didn’t design if God is doing anything in our life at all. Paul never came up with the design God had for his life. It was His design from the start. Paul knew it. So I ask the question of the men this morning: do you know what you have that you don’t deserve? Do you realize what you are is not by your design?
Paul knew what he did not do
Now third thing, and the last thing I want to share with you this morning, Paul knew what he did not do. History has already been written of all the accomplishments that God did through the apostle Paul. But I’ll tell you what, the man who was the least impressed was the apostle Paul himself. He knew; he knew who actually did it. He was just a cooperative partner in the whole process. Verse 10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” You know, sometimes Christians can strut sitting down. You ever known anybody like that? And they give token credit to God, but they really are patting themselves on the back. They know, they believe what they have done for God. They live as if to say “look at me, look what I’ve done.”
I heard about the frog, it was trying to get to the other end of a cornfield. And the only thing he could figure out was his arms weren’t strong enough to hold on. But he said, you know, I’ve got a big mouth and if I can talk a bird into putting a string around its feet, and putting that string in my mouth I think I can hold on, and I believe I can get to the other end of the field. So sure enough he called his buddy the hawk in, and he said, “Hey, I’ve got a plan here. And if I tie this thing around your foot and I hold on by my mouth will you take me to the other end of the field?” And the hawk said, “You can’t do that.” He said, “Oh man, I can do it. I can do it. I can.” So he put the string in his mouth. The hawk began to flap his wings. It took him a little while to get off the ground. He finally got up and up and up and up and up and got in the air current and finally everything was going super. And they were almost to the other side of the field when two farmers standing in the field looked up and said, “Whoa, look at that. That’s a frog holding on to a string by his mouth wrapped around the foot of that hawk. Who in the world came up with such and ingenious plan?” And the frog said, “I did.” Splat!
What a contrast in the apostle Paul. What a contrast. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I’m not a self-made man, I’m a God-made man. Now let me tell you something here that’s very important that so much that I wrote it down. The more a person realizes his position in Christ—now listen to me—the more he begins to see the darkness of the pit from which he came. And that’s true the rest of your life. If you’re going to be used of God the more He uses you the more you’ll be reminded of what you’re not apart from Him, and the more of the gutter you begin to realize He’s pulled you out of. And when something good happens, all you can do is fall on your knees and say, “Oh God, but by Your grace I would not be anything. The glory has to go back to You. It can’t come back to me. But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Think back to 1 Corinthians 4:7 when he talked about the arrogance of these Corinthians. Look at the contrasts. And he says, “For who regards you as superior and what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? By the grace of God I am what I am.” “I am” is in the present tense. That means my life, my lifestyle, anything that you look at me and see that is good, Paul would say, it’s because of the grace of God. It’s because of His transforming power in my life. That’s what makes me what I am. There was no conceit in what Paul says, only humility.
Roy Hession, that many of you got to meet, I remember when Roy called me from New Orleans and I said, “Brother Roy, I’m looking forward to your coming.” And he said, “Oh, brother Wayne,” and the desperation in his voice, he said, “I’m empty, I woke up this morning and I’m empty. I have nothing to give to anybody. Pray that God by His grace will fill me so that somebody can be ministered to before the week is out.” And I sat and listened to him that week and I cried through every service, cried every night. I thought I was going to completely lose all water in my system before that thing was over. But, you see, that was a man who knew what he wasn’t apart from the grace of God. That was a man who knew what he couldn’t do. It was a man who knew what he didn’t design. That was a man who knew what he didn’t deserve.
He says, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” First Timothy 1:12 is very similar. Paul says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me because He considered me faithful putting me into service. Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor and yet, I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was more than abundant with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” Paul not only was what he was because of the grace of God, Paul did what he did by the grace of God.
Verse 10 says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace toward me did not prove vain, but I labored even more than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Even though Paul was the least of the apostles there were none of them that could compare with his determination to surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ in the grace God gave him. And if you don’t know one piece of the puzzle here you begin to misunderstand his statement. He’s not being proud. He’s just being real and honest. In 2 Corinthians 11 it tells us about that. It begins in verse 23 and Paul’s not dealing with the true apostles. He’s dealing with false apostles and he’s showing the contrasts in his life and these false apostles. And he rarely ever defended himself, but here he does out of necessity. He called it a foolish thing is what he was doing.
He said in verse 23, “Are they servants of Christ? I speak as if I’m insane. I more so.” He says, “In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, five times I received from the Jews thirty nine lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I spent in the deep. I’ve been on frequent journeys and dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren. I’ve been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights and hunger and thirst often without food, in cold and exposure.” And then he said, “Apart from such external things there’s the daily pressure of me of concern not for one church, but for all the churches.” He said, “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” And then he says, hey, “But I’m not boasting of me.” He says in verse 30, “If I have to boast I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”
Paul understood something. Paul said, “Hey, look, look at all of this; and I’m foolish for doing it, but let me defend myself to these false apostles and their accusations.” But in that we see that he doesn’t want any glory for it. He knows it wasn’t him. He knows it was God’s grace working in and through him. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” The same grace that was responsible for calling him was the same grace that was responsible for sanctifying him. Paul said I am what I am because of the grace of God.
Paul believed, responded, obeyed, remained sensitive to most of his life, but he understood something. Without the grace of God everything he ever did would be worthless as far as all of eternity would be concerned. It was God’s grace enabling him. No wonder God can use him.
You know several years ago I got a picture of this in a strange way. My wife and I took a vacation and ended up in Ashville, North Carolina. So we got off and when we got off there’s a big exit there said “The Cove.” We drove up in it. I mean, just the Lord in front of us, and we drove up, parked our car and walked over. And they took three and a half hours just to show us around the Cove. And I want to tell you something. I don’t know what you think about Billy Graham, but I know what I think, and I’ll tell you very openly, without any shame whatsoever, I love the man. I love the fact that the whole time I was there I never saw Billy Graham. I saw the grace of God in a man’s life. Everything pointed to what God did, not to what he did. Got to go into his office and there was an old worn out chair and they let me sit in his chair. I think, “I’ve got to sit in the chair of Billy Graham.”
I tell you what, before we left that place that day God began to overwhelm me with something that I haven’t been able to understand. But I think what it was He was trying to say to me one more time, “Son, I want you to understand something. If you will just die to Wayne I can use you. I’m not a respecter of persons. I’m waiting on people that understand what they don’t deserve, that understand what they didn’t design, and understand what they can’t do, only God can do, and if you’ll come to me on that basis, Wayne, I can do something through you.”
I know what I’m not apart from Christ. As a matter of fact, in recent days I’ve had a lot of people to help me remember that. Isn’t it amazing how sometimes people are appointed to keep you honest about what you’re not? But I’ll tell you what, more and more and I think of the last 18 years that God’s given me here at this church and I think only by the grace of God, only by the grace of God. And, folks, I want to tell you something, if you ever pray for me, pray I’ll be a man that God can use. I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose that. And I’m going to pray for you that you’ll be a church that God can use. God will share His glory with no man. The moment you think you can is the very moment God can’t in your life. It’s got to go back to basics, folks. Know what you don’t deserve. Understand what you had never designed and realize what you can’t do. And God will say, thank you, thank you. I want to use you because the glory will never go back to you. It’ll go back to Me. That’s what He wants.
One more time. Yeah, I know I’m hot, but that’s not why I’m taking my coat off. That’s us without Christ. That’s us without the grace of God. I’m the owner of this coat. And since I’m the owner of this coat I have the right to command things of this coat. Coat sleeve, are you listening? Alright, now are you ready? I want you to impress all these people. Raise up. Come on, hey, hey, hey. Hey, you paying attention to me? I own you, remember. Raise up! I’m commanding you raise up! Not a lot of response is there. Kind of like in the Christian life. God says to us, dads, love your wife as Christ loved the church. What’s our response? Well, that’s impressive, isn’t it. But you put this coat on and you say to the same sleeve as owner of the coat. Now that I’ve got you on, raise up. Whoa, what a transition!