Friday, May 17, 2013

Infinite Grace 6

Not even out of bed this morning, I received two compliments, from my husband who was already up for the day!

Me: It is such a good thing I don't have to look at my face; even I wouldn't want to have anything to do with myself, looking the way I do.
He: Like Smokie, I want to cuddle only you. (Smokie is our pet cat who never fails to come and cuddle with me the minute I sit in my favorite chair.)

Me: I love that shirt you're wearing.
He: You would. You picked it. Have you noticed how you pick all these effeminate colors for me that only women would like? No man would wear these colors.
Me: I can get the colors you like. You don't have to wear what I pick.
He: I don't care. Only your opinion matters.

I want to cuddle only you; only your opinion matters. I've always taken my husband's deep love for me for granted. As time passes, however, I am learning to appreciate him more and more including his gift-giving and many different ways of being kind, expressing love. This must be how irresistible grace feels, I thought, feeling totally loved, accepted, and treasured. Love plus grace, what a powerful combination to build a marriage, family, indeed a community. I pray that our local churches and Christian groups be similar powerful reflectors of God's grace and love.

As you know, I've been writing a series on Infinite Grace. This has included a short story, What's In A Name?Grace and Discipleship; Grace and Discipline; Grace in the Wilderness; and The Grace of God. I've been trying to remember some of the adjectives I've heard coupled with grace. The first two that came into my mind were the doctrine of irresistible grace and the hymn Amazing Grace. Today, I will do a biblical word study of charis, according to Paul. I believe this is necessary before we can discuss any of the doctrines of grace. Calvin's doctrine of irresistible grace will be covered in future posts along with others such as Augustine's prevenient and other forms of grace. Now, do you understand why I titled this series Infinite Grace? God's grace is infinite, forever!

Charis, the Greek word for grace, is used 100 times in the Pauline letters. It is used only 55 other times in the rest of the New Testament. Why did Paul use it so often and how did his usage differ?

In the Old Testament, two words, chen (grace, favor) and chesed (gracious favor, loving kindness, covenant love) denoted the generous act of a superior to an inferior. Chen was generally given for a specific situation, and could be withdrawn unilaterally. Chesed, in secular usage, was the relational term, implying a degree of reciprocity. In religious usage, chesed was recognized as God's initiative without any possibility of a comparable response.

Paul used charis to denote the independence and one-sidedness of chen and the lasting commitment of chesed. Another reason Paul used charis is while the word has a range of meanings in Greek - beauty, goodwill towards, favor, gratitude for, delight in) it did not have any religious or theological connotation during his time. Charis, however, was an important term of benefaction. To Paul and his readers, charis, favor done, and charites, favor bestowed or returned, was visible daily in the inscriptions that adorned Greek cities, commemorating and honoring their benefactors. This is the context in which Paul's readers would have understood his many references to grace. Except Paul always uses grace in the singular (never plural as it was in the inscriptions).

Elements of Paul's theology of grace are:

1) Grace has a single source, God, and is grounded in the single redemptive act of Christ dying on the cross.

2) Grace is a gift of God, a spontaneous kindness and a generous giving. God's grace is always a gift.

3) Grace is a powerful act - event - of God expressing the attitude.  The actual favors were lauded by the commemorations around the city. Grace as power is seen in the Lord's reply to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." II Corinthians 12: 9

4) Grace is fully God's action. We can say thanks and be grateful but we can never return it. The ideas of mutuality and reciprocity are gone. God's grace is an "overflow" (grace that is extending and reaching more and more people) 2 Corinthians 4: 15; "grace abounded," "abundance of grace," and "grace overflowed in abundance." (Romans 5.15, 17 20) Other adjectives used by Paul include "immeasurable riches of his grace" (Ephesians 2.7) and "surpassing grace" (2 Corinthians 9: 14).

5) When we receive God's grace in Christ this results in gracious acts. As the Pauline scholar Dunn shows, "charis bestowed comes to expression in charisma... Charis came to fuller expression in charisma as a gift to the community, a benefit for the common good (1 Cor. 12.7)." (Dunn, 2006, p. 323). The action of God's grace results in reciprocal giving and even as it saves the individual, it also builds the community.

Charis (Grace) stands with agape (Christian love) at the very center of Paul's gospel. In fact, Paul's theology can be summed up in these two words, charis and agape.

Dunn, J.D.G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2006.
Hawthorne, Gerald, and  Martin, Ralph, Editors. Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1993.