No one knows the boundlessness of God’s grace better than the apostle Paul. He knows it experientially through what he has done and what he has become. According to Luke, those who stone Stephen “[lay] their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul confesses that he has been “a persecutor of the church” (3:6) but that he has put aside his former life and counted it as rubbish “because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).
The way Paul, self-described “prisoner for Jesus Christ for the sake of you Gentiles,” speaks about his commissioning by God’s grace prompts us to ask what grace is and how it works in our lives. In Paul’s understanding, grace is not merely a “gift,” as the Greek word charis signifies. Grace is God’s gift of Godself, God present and at work in human lives through the Holy Spirit. Such an understanding breaks through to Paul in his urgent prayer for removal of his “thorn in the flesh.” We do not know for sure what the “thorn in the flesh” is, but it is clear he wants it removed. He says, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me” (2 Cor. 12:8). Paul’s asking God three times signifies that he has pulled out all the stops. Yet he does not get the answer he wants. Instead, God answers, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). Grace is God with us, sharing our human vulnerability.
O God, help me to become attentive to your presence and your grace in moments both high and low in my life. Amen.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9. What does it mean for Jesus to be a Servant Messiah? In what ways does God suffer with or for you?
Read Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14. As children of God, we are called to reflect God’s righteousness. How do you defend the poor and deliver the needy?
Read Acts 10:34-43. Consider the author’s proposal that those who fear God and do what is right may include people of other faiths. What would this mean for your faith and your relationships with those of other faiths?
Read Matthew 3:13-17. Remember your baptism. Did you make the decision to be baptized or did someone else make the decision for you? How does remembering your baptism guide you to do what God wants?
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