The Simplicity of Grace

Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world… Phil. 2:14-15

The Apostle Paul is undoubtedly one of the greatest figures in history. All you need to do to prove this is to type “Paul” or “Apostle Paul” or “Saint Paul” into Google search or Youtube, and you will have material that you will be reading or watching or listening to for the rest of your life. That’s how important Paul is to history. The fame – or infamy – of Paul rests entirely on the fact that he attempted to bring about an understanding of or a ‘revelation’ of the grace of God. There are many Christians, even today, who are bothered by the amount of freedom that Paul allowed into the church, as well as many of his other teachings.

Now, considering the earth-shaking repercussions that Paul’s teachings have created in the last 2,000 years (in one place in the scriptures they declared that he and those with him had “turned the world upside down” – Acts 17:6, the Apostle Peter warned of “unlearned and unstable” men who would try to wrestle with Paul’s teachings – 2 Peter 3:16; and those were still early days); considering all his, you would expect Paul’s writings to comprise some of the most advanced, complex and thought-twisting doctrines found anywhere on the universe. This should be more so when you consider, as I have said, that Paul’s distinction has to do with trying to ‘reveal’ a subject as inscrutable and ‘philosophical’ as God.

And yet when one reads Paul’s writings, it is surprising to find that he wrote the simplest expositions on the nature of God and then proceeded to give us the most mundane instructions on how to live out that God-nature here on earth. The writings and directions of Paul are so simple that even a child can get to know exactly what Paul is talking about. They do not require anyone who attempts to understand them to have ever seen even the inside of a classroom.

Although Paul was a very learned man, he did not use his education or his mental capabilities to understand or explain God. He used his heart instead. All that we require to understand God is a recipient heart. Or, as the Bible says, a believing heart, a heart of faith.

Let us take the above scripture in Philippians as an example. In the context that Paul wrote this scripture, another word for “disputings” would be “rivalry”. And for “murmurings” we could substitute “complainings”. Both words speak of discontent.

In effect, therefore, this scripture says that when we live out our Christian lives without complainings and rivalry – that’s a contented heart – we will become blameless and harmless, which is how God’s children are meant to be.

Even in our basic human vocabulary, “blameless” and “harmless” are fairly simple words to understand. You can teach those words to children in Sunday school and they will understand exactly what you are telling them.

These two words are the most beautiful words in God’s Kingdom. They are words we need to meditate long on. The character they embody is what we have been called to embrace.

And yet, again, these two words are amongst the most difficult for us to accomplish. Living a blameless and harmless life might sound easy but it really is not. You don’t have to carry a gun to be harmful, y’know. Living that kind of life demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ. In other words, it requires a heart of grace. It is a spiritual thing, not a mental one.

To “lay my heart bare” as one blogger put it, I  must say that personally I have a problem with this scripture. I find I am still a good complainer. Woe is me! I pray for God’s grace!

Let me end with a testimony. I am proud to be associated with a certain simple, uneducated lady (who has now gone to be with the Lord) who many years ago took to task some young men who were backbiting their pastor in her presence. What actually happened was that there was a problem in the church. Seemingly out of nowhere, as it sometimes does happen, someone rose up with a grudge against the pastor and, through whisperings and murmurings, his discontent soon spread to some other unstable souls within the church.

The three young men who went to visit this old lady on this particular day happened to be in the group that had ganged against the pastor. As the dear sister prepared dinner for them, the young trio began to talk about the pastor. Totally ignoring the ‘inconsequential’ old woman, they ‘dug’ at the pastor to their satisfaction.

Well, these guys had made the mistake of their life. After eating their supper, one of them put on his religious mask and said in the most pious voice, “Dear, beloved brethren, let us now pray.”

At which the old lady said, “No, please, you cannot pray in here. What are you going to pray about, seeing that you have been back-biting the pastor all evening?”

The young men left deeply embarrassed. Inevitably, the story ‘went viral’, and through that single incident many parishioners were forced to reconsider the condition of their hearts. What followed was a wave of repentance within the church and God brought healing to that church. An old, unlearned woman had taught the church what Christianity was all about.

Today that church is one of the strongest amongst all our churches.

We may be very intelligent and know many things about God. We may have degrees, diplomas and many other exalted paperwork all to do God. We could know the Bible inside out, we could even manage to be reading it through once or twice each year. We could write new versions of the Bible, and books. We could be internationally- acclaimed preachers, and have big ministries. We could be all of these things and more.

All these things are commendable to the highest degree. If we can do them – and we should – so much the better for the Kingdom. But on a strictly personal level with God what is required of us is something far simpler than that. God requires a simple, humble heart above everything else. He requires a heart of grace. All else should come from that. Whatever proceeds out of such a heart is acceptable with God.

It sounds mind-twisting (and it should), but the truly deep things of the Spirit comprise a life simply and humbly lived.