"A Sunday sermon can turn your life around." Montgomery/Gentry, "Back When I Knew It All"
Common grace is the biblical teaching that God shows his goodness and kindness to all of his creation:
- The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and about in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8-9
- For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45 ESV
Last Saturday in Boca was spectacular. The sun arrived in all its glory; the sky was painted in a shimmering blue. Interestingly, God splashed that sunshine over all 89,407 residents of our town. The blue clear sky was there -- compliments of God -- for believers and unbelievers alike. God's good like that. The common grace of God includes the weather and it extends to the way he reveals the secrets of his creation:
Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech. Does he who plows for sowing plow continually? Does he continually open and harrow his ground? When he has leveled its surface, does he not scatter dill, sow cumin, and put in wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and emmer as the border? For he is rightly instructed; his God teaches him. Isaiah 28:23-26
Commenting on that verse, J. Alec Motyer says, "Here is an aspect of the Bible doctrine of creation. What appears as a discovery (the proper season and conditions for sowing, farm management, rotation of crops, etc.) is actually the Creator opening his book of creation and revealing his truth."
Does God allow only Christians to peek into his book of creation? No. He shares those secrets with believers and unbelievers alike. Why would God do that? The answer is both simple and profound. God loves his creation -- all of it -- and God is going to make sure he cares for and protects it.
God gives sun and rain, life, health, safety, understanding, skill, expertise, physical gifts (think LeBron James) to all his creation. When we understand that it changes the way we view the work of other people -- especially work done by people who are unbelievers. Specifically, I think it leads us to say three things:
1. Understanding common grace we say "Thank you."
Why? Because we know that God is using the work of others--even unbelievers to care for his creation." The psalmist sings,
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:15-16
How does God feed every living thing? He does it through the work of people. God gifts engineers to design tractors that farmers use to work their land to produce corps that truck drivers deliver to grocers where people shop in order to prepare delicious meals for themselves, their families and their friends. Gustaf Wingren says, "As we pray each morning for our daily bread, people are already busy at work in the bakeries."
This goodness of God to all people should impact the way we view all people. "Ultimately, a grasp of the gospel and of biblical teaching ... should lead Christians to be the most appreciative of the hands of God behind the work of our colleagues and neighbors. So we say 'thank you' and treat with dignity even the 'lowliest worker' because God is using that person to care for his world and to care for us."
2. Understanding common grace we say, "Teach me."
One of the books I read this past year was Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson, former 11-time NBA Championship head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson’s book provides some outstanding leadership insights. I learned a lot from this former preacher’s kid turned full-fledged Buddhist. The same can be said for many books I read by authors who are not believers.
In The Pattern of God’s Truth, Frank E. Gaebelein writes, “All truth is God’s truth. It is not accident that St. Paul, setting before the Philippian church a charter for Christian thought, wrote: ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true . . . think on these things (Philippians 4:8). He knew that Christian truth embraces all truth, and that nothing true is outside the scope of Christianity.”
God gave Jackson a brilliant mind. I can learn from him. Sure, I must test what I read by the truth of God’s Word, but when I understand God’s common grace I can humbly say to others, “Teach me.” Tim Keller writes,
“Without an understanding of common grace, Christians will believe they can live self-sufficiently within their own cultural enclave. Some might feel that we should go only to Christian doctors, work only with Christian lawyers …, or enjoy only Christian artists. Of course, all non-believers have seriously impaired spiritual vision. Yet so many of the gifts God has put in the world are given to nonbelievers. Mozart was a gift to us—whether he was a believer or not. So Christians are free to study the world of human culture in order to know more of God; for as creatures made in His image we can appreciate truth and wisdom wherever we find it.
God has blessed believers and unbelievers alike with insight and wisdom -- I can learn from everyone.
3. Understanding common grace we say, “Let’s work together”
Second Chronicles records Solomon’s desire to build a grand and glorious temple for God. Solomon was erecting this temple for the King of the Universe. It would have to be the best and Solomon would have to look for the best to lead the phases of design and construction. Interestingly, he went outside of his own kingdom – to an unbelieving king – to get the help he needed.
So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided. [The king said] “Now I have sent a skilled man, who has understanding, Huram-abi, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father. 2 Chronicles 2:7, 13-14 ESV
Keller writes, “Christian's work with others should be marked by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation. An understanding of common grace, as well as an experience of God's pardoning grace in Christ, should lead us to freely and humbly work with others who may not share our faith but can be used greatly by God to accomplish enormous good. At the same time, an understanding of the gospel worldview means we should at times respectfully pursue a different path or winsomely point out how our Christian faith gives us powerful Resources for what we are doing."
Sadly, well-meaning Christians can snub the gifts of God, ignore the wisdom of God, and miss out on help from God because the gifts, insight, or help comes from the hand of folks who are not following him. Understanding common grace helps me appreciate God's work in all of creation. At the same time, understanding common grace reminds me that our world needs special grace. Special grace is the favor of God expressed to those whom He has chosen and called to himself that results in salvation.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 ESV
God's grace comes in surprising ways and from surprising sources, but oh how it comes -- God's good like that!
- J. Alec Motyer says, "Here is an aspect ..." from The Prophecy of Isaiah by J. Alec Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Pages 235-36.
- Gustaf Wingre says, "As we pray each morning for our daily bread..." from The Fabric Of This World, by Lee Hardy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Kindle Edition). Location 627.
- "Ultimately a grasp of the gospel ..." from Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller. New York: Riverhead Books. 2012, page 201.
- "All truth is God's truth ..." from The Pattern of God's Truth, by Frank E. Gaebelein.
- "Without an understanding of common grace ... from Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller, page 195.
- “Christians work with others should..." from Every Good Endeavor, page 195.