Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This passage is in the bigger context of Jesus being our high priest. This passage is important because we should be able to come to God with confidence (the word used here means to be able to speak freely and unhindered).
One of the biggest things that trips up Christians is the lack of belief in ourselves because of our sins or shortcomings. Earlier, this passage says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (vs. 15). This is vital because, oftentimes, our sin leaves us feeling guilty and unequipped to carry out the works of God’s kingdom.
Our lack of confidence leads to a downward spiral, where we feel like even God isn’t on our side. It’s vital, as the church, to have confidence in approaching God’s throne of grace. Without grace we will always flounder and hesitate to do good works. However, when we have confidence we won’t hesitate to do what’s right in the eyes of God, because we know that we have already received his grace. Hesitation turns into procrastination, and procrastination leads to stagnation.
Paul made an appeal to the church in Corinth to be reconciled to God: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV). Paul prefaces this by saying that this ministry was given by God himself: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (vs. 18).
Paul says that in Christ God was reconciling the world to him, not counting their sins against them. This is certainly not a human mindset, as we all struggle not to hold sins against others. But God has the power to not hold our sins against us, thereby reconciling us back to him. Paul says that anyone in Christ is a new creation where the old has passed away.
This is the very reason God sent his son to Earth. Christ came to reconcile us to God “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (vs. 21). Paul implores the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain. Paul is not even hinting at cheap grace. The grace of God comes at a very steep cost. It cost Christ his life. Therefore, we are urged to live according to this grace that we receive when we put Christ on in baptism.
Our theme this year is equipping the saints for works of ministry. The text comes from chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. But there is a lot of context leading up to the passage on unity that comes through equipping of the saints. In chapter 3, Paul said that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (Ephesians 3:3 ESV). Paul told them that the mystery wasn’t even made known to the sons of men in generations past, but was only made known to the prophets and holy apostles by the Spirit. The mystery, Paul concludes, is “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (vs. 6).
Paul goes on: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (vs. 8). It’s important to note that Paul didn’t feel like he was the very least of every Christian. He actually was. We know this from the blunt, matter-of-fact statement he made. The word he used only appears once in all of the Bible. It literally means “less than the least.” Paul wasn’t using hyperbole. He actually killed Christians. He was full of venom and zeal. Paul singlehandedly wrecked families for the rest of their earthly existence. And God used him.
Paul is clear that God’s grace is the only reason he was chosen to be a mouthpiece to spread the gospel. Paul, writing from prison, is equipping the Ephesians to be equippers. If he, the least of the least, can do it, so can the “upper” saints! The mystery of the gospel binds everyone together as heirs of the kingdom of God! If God can use Paul to reach a massive group of Gentiles, he can use you too! God’s power is made perfect in weakness!
Jesus told a parable of laborers who were hired for a day to work in a vineyard. Jesus started, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1 ESV). The master agreed to hire them for a denarius, which was a typical day’s wage. Then going out at the third hour (9:00 AM) and hired more who were standing in the marketplace. He agreed to pay them “whatever is right.” He continued this at the sixth hour (12:00 PM) and the ninth hour (3:00 PM).
At the eleventh hour (5:00 PM) he found others standing idle and asked them why they were not working. They replied, “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7). The master hired them and they worked for an hour. In the evening, the master told his foreman to pay their wages, “beginning with the last, up to the first.” As the wages were paid out, the first were angry to learn that the last people hired received a denarius, the same amount that they had agreed to work for. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” they bemoaned (vs. 12).
The master was quick to point out that the first agreed to work for a denarius and that he was free to use his own money however he wanted. The master replied, “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first, last” (vs. 16). By comparing the kingdom of heaven to the master, Jesus was demonstrating that God will extend grace to whom he will extend grace. We don’t know what kind of shape the last were in, but one thing we do know is that nobody would hire them. It’s possible they had some deformity or illness that rendered them not hirable. Whatever the case, the master extended grace and generosity to them because of his compassion.
As we equip others to serve, we need to remember that we labor for the Lord because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t do it to receive an earthly reward.
The past several weeks have been very challenging for us with several recent deaths. With every death we are reminded of just how short and precious life is. Each breath we take is truly a gift from God. There is much that we take for granted, there are lots of sins that we commit, and there are decisions we will regret. But God’s love is powerful, and he loves us anyway.
When our beloved friend, deacon, and brother in Christ died this past week, I was honored to be able to read Psalm 86 at the graveside. Bill had a love for both the psalms and music. Before his death he was working on a project to have a composer write sheet music to turn Psalm 86 into an A Cappella arrangement. Psalm 86 was one of Bill’s favorite psalms. It certainly has deeper meaning now, for sure.
Psalm 86 is about pleading for God’s mercy and receiving it because of God’s love: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you–you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day” (Psalm 86:1-3 ESV).
In this prayer of David, he recognizes how small he is in the presence of God, and that he is in desperate need of God’s mercy. It is because of God’s steadfast love that David received mercy, and David is giving thanks to God: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vs. 12-13). It’s important not only that we recognize God’s steadfast love, but that we extend it to others as well.