1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain…
"By the grace of God I am" — and he is going to say what he is, but he bethinks himself, as if he had reflected. "No! I will leave other people to say what that is! By the grace of God I am — what I am: whatever that be. And all that I have to say is that God made me, and that I helped Him. For the grace of God which was bestowed upon me was not in vain. You Corinthians may judge what the product is. I tell you how it has come about."
I. AS TO THE ONE POWER THAT MAKES MEN. "By the grace of God I am what I am." Now that word "grace" has got to be worn threadbare, and to mean next to nothing in the minds of many. But Paul had a very definite idea of what he meant by it; and what he meant by it was a very large thing, as being the only thing which will transform character and produce fruit that a man need not be ashamed of. The grace of God, in Paul's use of the words, implies these two things which are connected as root and product — the active love of God in exercise towards us sinful creatures, and the gifts with which that love comes full charged to men. What is it that men need most for noble and pure living? These two things precisely: motive and power to carry out the dictates of conscience. Every man in the world knows enough of duty and of right to be a far nobler man than any man in the world is. And it is not for want of clear convictions of duty, it is not for want of recognised patterns of life, that men go wrong; but it is because there are these two things lacking, motives for nobler service, and power to do and be what they know they ought to be. And precisely here Paul's gospel comes in, "By the grace of God I am what I am." That grace, considered in its two sides of love and of giving, supplies all that we want.. It supplies motives. There is nothing that will bend a man's will like the recognition of Divine love which it is blessedness to come in contact with, and to obey. You may try to sway him by motives of advantage and self-interest, and there is no adequate response. You cannot soften a heart by the hammers of the law. You cannot force a man to do right by brandishing before him the whip that punishes doing wrong. You cannot sway the will by anything but the heart; and when you can touch that deepest spring it moves the whole mass. The other aspect of this same great word is, in like manner, that which we need. What men want is, first of all, the will to be noble and good; and, second, the power to carry out the will. It is God that worketh in us both the willing and the doing. I venture to affirm that. there is no power known, either to thinkers, or philanthropists, or doctrinaires, or strivers after excellence in the world, which will lift a life to such heights of beauty and self-sacrificing nobility as will the power that comes to us by communication of the grace that is in Jesus Christ. And now, if that be true, what follows? Surely this, that for all you have, in any measure, caught a glimpse of what you ought to be, and have been more or less vainly trying to realise your ideal, there is a better way than the way of self-centred and self-dependent effort. All noble life is a building up by slow degrees from the foundation. And can you and I complete the task with our own limited resources and our own feeble strengths? Will not "all that pass by begin to mock" us and say, "this man began to build and was not able to finish"? I need not, I suppose, linger to remind you what important and large lessons these thoughts carry, not only for men who are trying to work at the task of mending and making their own characters, but on the larger scale, for all who seek to benefit and elevate their fellows. Nothing will truly re-form humanity, society, the nation, the city, except that which re-creates the individual; "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" entering into their midst.
II. Notice the lesson we get here AS TO HOW WE SHOULD THINK OF OUR OWN ATTAINMENTS. Well, then, it is not necessary for a man to be ignorant, or to pretend that he is ignorant, of what he can do. We hear a great deal about the unconsciousness of genius. There is a partial truth in it; and possibly the highest examples of power and success, in any department of mental or intellectual effort, are unaware of their achievements and stature. But if a man can do a certain kind of service, there is no harm whatever in his recognising the fact that he can do it. But the less we think about ourselves, in any way, the better. The more entire our recognition of the influx of grace on which we depend for keeping our reservoir full, the less likelihood there will be of touchy self-assertion, the less likelihood of the misuse of the powers that we have. If we are to do much for God, if we are to keep what we have already attained, we must make a conscious effort to copy these two things, which marked the apostle's estimate of himself — a distinct recognition that we are only reservoirs and nothing more — "What hast thou that thou hast not received? Why then dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" — and a humble waiving aside of the attempt to determine what it is that we are.
III. Lastly, one word about THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR CO-OPERATION WITH THE GRACE, IN ORDER TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF ITS RESULTS. "The grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain," says Paul. "Not I, but the grace of God which was with me, and so I laboured more abundantly than they all." That is to say, God in His giving love, Christ with His ever out-flowing Spirit, play round our hearts and desire to enter. But the grace, the love, the gifts of the love may all be put away by our unfaithfulness, by our non-receptivity, by our misuse, and by our negligence. Paul yielded himself to. the grace that was brought to work upon him. Paul said, "By the grace of God I am what I am." This man, because he knew that he had submitted himself to the often painful searching, crucifying, self-restraining, and stimulating influences of the gospel and Spirit of Christ, could say, "God's grace has made me what I am, and I helped Him to make me." And can you say anything like that? Take your life. In how many of its deeds has there been present the consciousness of God and His love? Is it the grace of God, or nature and self and the world and the flesh that have made you what you are? Oh, let us cultivate the sense of our need of this Divine help, for it does not come where men do not know how weak they are, and how much they want it. The mountain tops are high. Yes, and they are dry; there is no water there. The rivers run in the green valleys deep down. "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." Let us see that we open our hearts to the reception of these quickening and cleansing influences, for it is possible for us to cover ourselves over with such an impenetrable covering that that grace cannot pass through it. Let us see to it that we keep ourselves in close contact with the foundation of all this grace.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.