(All Bible quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).
Oftentimes, we hear people describe those who’ve excelled in ministry (or in life generally) as highly graced and gifted people. The conclusion usually is that, a man or a woman succeeds in whatever endeavour they’re into because they’re highly favoured by God, with a special gift, talent or ability. Most people reckon that geniuses are born, with little or no human effort needed in their success. Grace is thus judged to be the sole determinant of success: a person succeeds and excels because he has grace. Conversely, one fails because one lacks grace. Is grace alone a sufficient criterion for success? Can one be graced and fail to succeed? In this article, we shall examine the role of grace in success generally, but especially in ministry.
1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them —yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Paul acknowledged here that he achieved whatever he did in ministry by the grace of God. He admitted that he became the great apostle that he was by divine favour. In other words, without the grace of God upon his life, evidenced by his apostolic calling and the abundance of the gifts of the Spirit, Paul wouldn’t have accomplished what he did for the Lord in being the chief of the apostles. God’s grace is represented by the totality of the power of God available for a man to access and use in the service of God. The level of the power and gifts of the Spirit available differs from person to person, and is determined by God. Thus, grace differs from one person to another. God distributes to every man some measure of grace according to the work we have to do, and according to our ability.
Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
Ephesians 4:8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
1 Corinthians 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
1 Corinthians 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
1 Corinthians 12:10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Matthew 25:14 For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.
Matthew 25:15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away (ESV).
Is it possible to have grace in abundance and not excel? Is it possible to be highly favoured by God and still fail to accomplish one’s mission or fulfil one’s destiny? The answer is a resounding yes! Grace and the gifts of grace are just divine potentials and capabilities. They’re like latent energy that must be harnessed and utilised to accomplish a task. Grace requires discipline and hardwork to excel. To cultivate the gifts of grace requires patience, discipline and diligence. Yes, Paul had great grace, but he made us realise that he disciplined himself intensely, denied himself a lot of privileges, fasted often, prayed without ceasing, and worked tirelessly not to make the grace of the God in his life be in vain. An athlete may be massively talented (graced) but he needs to discipline himself to train for long hours, to eat the right kinds of food, to avoid ingestion of things that could affect his fitness, and to deny himself so many pleasures, all in a bid to be the best and to win the ultimate prize. Grace is nothing without discipline and hard-work! Grace can be frustrated and made useless and ineffective!
1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
2 Corinthians 11:22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.
2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.
2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
2 Corinthians 11:25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
2 Corinthians 11:26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
2 Corinthians 11:27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
2 Corinthians 11:28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (AKJV).
Let’s now consider an example of a man in Scriptures who was highly graced but fell way short of God’s glory and had his destiny aborted. That man was Samson, Israel’s supernaturally gifted but wayward judge. Samson was a uniquely graced and gifted person, the like of which the world has never known. The gift of supernatural strength that came upon him with the anointing of the Holy Spirit turned him literally into a one-man army! Imagine if Samson had been the kind of Nazarite that Samuel or John the Baptist was- sanctified and wholly consecrated to God. Imagine if he had separated himself to serve God the way the other two Nazirites mentioned above did. He alone was capable of exterminating the entire Philistines! He would have been the greatest warrior that ever lived among men! But, we all know what indicipline, lack of temperance and an unbridled romance with sin did to Samson’s grace. He grieved the Spirit of God continuously with his irreverent lifestyle, and the Spirit ended up departing from him. Samson ended up disgraced, humiliated and terminated prematurely by the enemy he was raised up to destroy! The great grace upon him did not attain its full potential! Though highly graced, Samson ended up in disgrace because he lacked the discipline and diligence to make the grace of God in his life count. In the end, he frustrated the grace of God! He failed God and his destiny. He was destined to destroy the Philistines, but the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes conspired to make him an object of ridicule and a piteous prisoner in the camp of the enemy! He had no temperance and no discipline to cultivate his gift and consecrate himself to his life’s calling. He couldn’t bring his body and his lusts under control. In the end, his unbridled lusts brought him down, at the prime of his life and grace. Samson was a case of extraordinary grace with no consecration, no preparation and no discipline. Such grace will end in failure, disgrace and disappointment.
Judges 13:2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth.
Judges 13:3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son.
Judges 13:4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean.
Judges 13:5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Judges 14:5 Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him.
Judges 14:6 The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.
Judges 15:14 As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands.
Judges 15:15 Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.
Judges 15:16 Then Samson said, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.”
Judges 15:17 When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi.
Judges 16:1 One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.
Judges 16:2 The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.”
Judges 16:3 But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.
Judges 16:18 When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands.
Judges 16:19 After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.
Judges 16:20 Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.
Judges 16:21 Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.
Judges 16:22 But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Judges 16:23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”
Judges 16:24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.”
Judges 16:25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars,
Judges 16:26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.”
Judges 16:27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform.
Judges 16:28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
Judges 16:29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other,
Judges 16:30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
Judges 16:31 Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years.
Success in ministry (and in life generally) is not just dependent on the grace and talents one has. Diligence in cultivating and developing one’s talents is equally as important, if not more important than mere possession of a gift or a talent. Unrefined and unprocessed gifts and talents will not take one far. The best an uncultivated talent or grace will achieve is a mediocre life. However, when a gift is diligently cultivated, it will bring the owner before kings and prominent people; it will advertise its owner and bring fame and fortune. And when diligence is coupled to seeking God and pleasing him at all times, grace and gifts will be multiplied and the result will be good success. Every grace is received from God, and every grace relies on God for success. Detached from God, the best grace will be but dim and lackluster.
Proverbs 22:29 See you a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men (AKJV).
Deuteronomy 28:1 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.
Deuteronomy 28:2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:
Deuteronomy 28:3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
Deuteronomy 28:13 The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
Joshua 1:7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Psalms 1:1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
Psalms 1:2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Psalms 1:3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.
In conclusion, the grace of God can be sufficient only when men make good use of it. For grace to be sufficient for us, we must take due diligence to cultivate and develop the gifts of grace given to us. We must have the discipline to separate and consecrate ourselves to God and dedicate ourselves to our lifetask. Grace and talent can be frittered away and wasted. Divorced from God and hard-work, the best of graces will just be a shadow of their potentials, and will fall way short of God’s expectations. Samson was the perfect example in Scripture of uncommon grace made common and vulgar by lack of consecration, discipline and diligence. Such grace will end in disgrace, and will be overtaken by less gifted, but more consecrated and diligent men. May God help us not to frustrate his grace in our lives. And may he give us the wisdom and diligence to cultivate and develop every talent in us, for the common good. Amen.