But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18
When Peter wrapped up his second letter to Christians scattered across Asia, before he put down his pen, he wrote a final directive: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). I’ve been thinking about his comments in the context of the twenty-first century, and I’m not sure we understand what he was talking about half as well as did those battered but not broken Christians who were the recipients of his letter. They had felt the fire of persecution and the brutal end of the ill-will coming from people who didn’t like them or their faith.
Yet says Peter, “Grow in grace!” I suppose one of our challenges is even to understand what grace is and what it is about. Yes, we sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” yet part of our confusion comes because the word seems to have slipped from our vocabularies today. In fact most modern translations avoid the word, substituting concepts such as “kindness” or “favor” or “compassion,” things that are well and good but fall short of the real meaning.
Doing an acrostic on the English word grace, g-r-a-c-e, someone said that grace is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” That is a good start in understanding this. But grace is even more than that. It involves the interaction of God’s love, compassion, and care with your need in such a way that He guides, overshadows, and enriches your life, usually when you don’t sense it or know what He is doing, and can only look back in retrospect and say, “Wow! I now see how God met me in this time of crisis!”
It’s clear that we are to grow in this interaction of God with the challenges we face. That’s what grace is about. So where do we go from here? You plant flower seeds, cultivate the ground, and watch the green sprouts eventually push through the soil, burst forth, and finally blossom. It takes time and a combination of conditions–not too much heat but enough sunshine, nutrients but not so much that the flower burns, and so forth.
African violets are tender and sensitive and grow well in a hothouse environment, while cactus is tough and can handle the scorching heat of a desert. So is it with people. God knows how much you can handle and never gives you more than you can take. Warren Wiersbe says that when we face affliction, God always keeps his eye on the clock and his hand on the thermostat.
In recent days I’ve had concern over the vast numbers of people–many of whom have written to me–who feel that God has forsaken them, turned His back on them, or shut the door of concern in their face–when tough times confront them. No, God hasn’t forsaken you. He’s simply pruned the tree. He’s breaking up the hard soil so you can grow in grace. He’s exposing you to enough heat to allow you to grow, not despair. Remember, the sun that melts the wax also hardens the clay.
Once you have a deep-settled understanding that God is a good God, and that when trouble comes, He hasn’t turned His back on you or shut off the phone when you are calling on Him to help you, you are in a position to grow in grace. Let the strong hand of God lead you through your experience, knitting the spiritual sinews of your soul together in such a way that you will someday look back and say, “Ah, yes, now I see how the grace of God brought me through the many dangers, toils and snares that John Newton wrote about.”
Resource reading: 2 Peter 3:14-18.