“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What is it that has made you what you are today? Who we are is a complex web of many different factors. Some of it has come by the intentional effort of someone else trying to shape us into one thing or another. Some of it has come by a set of circumstances over which we had no control. Some of it has come by things that we have pursued ourselves. Paul identifies a fourth factor here, and this should be the big one.
Before we go much further, let’s put this verse in its proper context. Context is king in understanding the text. I usually only comment on a single verse, maybe two, but I never want to give you the impression that they can be understood on their own. No text from the Scriptures can be understood to mean something it’s original author never intended or could have understood it to mean, and its context gives us some major clues on what his intention was. And, each text has three contexts to consider: chapter, book, and Bible.
In this case, Paul is talking about his calling as an apostle. His call came later than the other guys’ did. It is clear from both this letter and some of his other letters that this was something about which he was pretty self-conscious. He was confident in his call, mind you, but his confidence, as we see here, was in the God who called him, not in Himself.
As a pastor, I can really appreciate this. Being a pastor is a calling from God. One dare not enter into it without that. But, that being said, pastoring is a skill that can be learned. You can get good at being a pastor, good at leading and growing a church, without ever once leaning on the Spirit of God.
This idea, though, runs bigger than that. And while Paul’s words here are very personal, I think this is the avenue by which we can appropriately apply them to our own lives. Who you are and what you are doing is a function of God’s call on your life. Or at least, it should be.
Through hard work and determination, you can become proficient and even good at a number of different things. Notice, I said a number of different things, not anything. The modern, feel-good notion that you can be anything you want to be is a lie. Some people are simply not possessed of the skill set to do some things and no amount of effort is going to change that. On the other hand, some people have a natural inclination for some things and doing them requires almost no effort on their part. A modest amount of effort will lead to superlative success in their particular area of skill.
If, however, we simply rely on our own hard work and determination, we will be limited to the extent of our abilities. Those may be considerable depending on our natural, God-given skill set, but there is a natural limitation there. What’s more, something in us in our most honest moments, and regardless of what the rest of the world sees, knows when we are running on and limited to merely the extent of our abilities.
There is another way. We can lean into who God has made us to be, into what He is calling us to do. We can lean into His power and abilities which do not have any of the limitations ours do. We can put ourselves in a place where we can say with Paul that we are who we are by the grace of God.
The real question, then, is this: What has God called you to do? Getting our minds around this is its own post, but it will always be at the intersection of the world’s great need and our driving passion. What has God called you to do and how are you leaning into Him to be able to do it? If you will, He will make you more than enough.