God’s grace grows within us
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh
Background text: 2 Timothy 2:1-7
Devotional text: Titus 3:4-7
I have been exploring the meaning of God’s grace. God’s grace never changes. Throughout time, it has been a part of God’s very nature. This characteristic of God is his profound favor upon all humankind, unmerited, freely given and never ending.
I am continuing with the same subject because there is so much more to know and to hold onto as we learn about our loving, caring God. Last week’s scripture ended with Philippians 1:7 in which the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers that, whatever circumstances he might find himself in, he would always be sharing in the love of fellow believers and would be continuing with them to grow in the grace of God.
Today, we ask “How do we know God’s grace grows in us? How can we understand God’s grace?”
The words of those who wrote to us in the New Testament speak of God’s saving grace over and over. We also saw it in the Book of Acts, Romans and Ephesians. We continue to see it this week as we become aware of scripture pointing out to us that we can always trust in God’s loving favor toward us.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, a fellow missionary who was like a son to him, we find Paul’s encouragement to become strong in the grace of God. Paul explains to Timothy about “being a good soldier,” “following God’s rules” and staying away from worldly troubles.
Likening the work of spreading the gospel to that of a farmer, he tells Timothy, “The hard-working farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” In these verses, and others like it, Paul’s analogy is that of hard-working people, who do the right thing, have patience and await the glory of God in their lives.
Titus, another recipient of Paul’s writing, was a supervisor of the new church on the Island of Crete. In Paul’s letter to him, he talks about the importance of remembering that we are saved through Jesus Christ by the love and kindness and mercy and grace of God. Telling Titus (and all believers) that justification before God comes from grace (not our works) and through this grace we have both hope and eternal life.
Paul wanted Titus to take to heart his words and to spread the good news to others. He emphasized that people should be careful to do good, and, as they follow the lead of Jesus, they will have an “excellent and profitable outcome.”
We find those who wrote the Book of Hebrews reminding us in 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
This is our legacy as believers: we can come before God confidently knowing he hears us, cares for us and does help us. It is a trust born of faith and grown out of grace.
James, a brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter to the new believers concerning the importance of staying away from evil motives in the world. In chapter 4 of his letter, he tells the people that friendship with worldly ways (trouble making, evil, unkindness) makes a person an enemy of God. Scripture, he reiterates, tells us that the Holy Spirit within us is against these worldly ways. Instead, James tells us that we receive more grace from God as we grow in our faith and trust in him.
From Proverbs 3:34, he reminds us, “God opposes the (worldly) proud but gives grace to the humble (those who believe and trust in God’s grace).”
When we think of grace, we need but look in our Sunday hymnals to read and sing the words of some of the great hymn writers, who joyfully and passionately spoke about the saving grace of God.
Familiar to many, these hymns of grace include “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton and first appearing in published form in 1779; “Saved by Grace,” by Fanny J. Crosby, appearing in musical form in 1895 but written five years earlier (she called it her “soul’s poem”); and “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” written by William W. Walford and first appearing in print in 1845.
The hymn of grace I’d like us to look at today is “Grace! ’Tis a Charming Sound,” written by Augustus Montague Toplady and Phillip Doddridge. I found this hymn very appealing both for its constant use of the term grace with each stanza and the fact that it was composed by two writers. The most interesting piece is that the two men were not collaborators.
Doddridge was born in 1702 and died 1751, while Toplady was born in 1740 and died in 1778. Information about this hymn has Doddridge writing stanzas 1, 2, 4 and 6 in approximately 1740, and Toplady the third, fifth and seventh stanzas in 1776.
I was intrigued to discover how it came about that two pastors, who alone wrote hundreds of hymns, should both be the writers of this one hymn on grace. I was unable to find a clue to how or why it happened. I conjecture that Toplady was so taken by Doddridge’s hymn that he felt drawn to add to it. I’d like to hear from anybody who has other information concerning this.
Toplady is best known for his hymn “Rock of Ages,” while Doddridge is best known for writing “O Happy Day.” Their hymn about grace is based on Ephesians 4:7; each stanza begins with the word grace. In the hymn that is sung today, there are five stanzas: with 1 and 3 written by Doddridge and 2, 4 and 5 written by Toplady.
Here is Doddridge’s first stanza: “Grace! ’Tis a charming sound, Harmonious to our ear; Heav’n with the echo shall resound, And all the earth shall hear.” Toplady wrote this one:
“ ’Twas grace that wrote my name In life’s eternal book; ’Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb, who all my sorrows took.”
In summary of the stanzas, we find the following being said about grace: it is a charming and harmonious sound, it put our names in The Book of Life, it brings us on the path to heaven and is a constant help in everyday life, it taught us to pray and it keeps us close to God.
If, like found in these words of scripture and hymnody, we too can draw an understanding of God’s grace, then, hopefully, we can become confident before the Lord and trusting that God loves us without condition, always.
I leave you with this scripture found in 2 Peter 3:17-18, a chapter devoted to growing Christians: “ … be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … ”