Our Elbow Grease, or God’s?

“In fact, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (1 Cor 15:10b, NET)

The words above flowed through the pen of the Apostle Paul two thousand years ago. The words below, through the mouth of the Reverend Billy Graham in much more recent history:

“If anything has been accomplished through my life, it has been solely God’s doing, not mine, and He – not I – must get the credit… I am just a spectator watching what God is doing.”

Through the ages, this bedrock Kingdom truth remains the same. God does all the work, and God gets all the glory!

Our flesh may protest, “Hey now, I have been putting in serious elbow grease for Jesus – you can’t say that I haven’t been working hard! Give me a little credit here!” Yet, if we believe that the Word of God is infallible truth, our verse for today lovingly points out that any arduous, fruitful labor produced through us was not actually us, but the grace of God working in and through us!


If you and I had the strength to get out of bed this morning and get to work, it is because God gave it to us. If there is air moving in and out of our lungs, that is His gift too. If we have any intelligence, any smarts, any gifting, any outstanding abilities, every single one is directly from His hands — as is the power to carry them out, to employ them for the blessing of others around us. He, and not you or I, must get the credit!

Paul’s words, “not I, but His grace with me” are not just an expression of modesty. Without the Holy Spirit’s grace entering into Paul, raising him from spiritual death, surgically removing the scales from his eyes, and enduing him with heaven’s power, what was this man?

The preceding verse transparently reveals the answer: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (v. 9).

Again, this is not mere polite modesty. This is truth. In another passage, Paul accurately refers to himself as the chief of sinners.

This brings to mind a mathematical equation: Paul minus God’s Flabbergasting Grace equals Murderer (P – GFG = M).

Here’s the astonishing flipside equation: Paul plus God’s Flabbergasting Grace equals Apostle Extraordinaire (P + GFG = AE)!

The grace of God, and only the grace of God, made Paul into His very most powerful human instrument for the building of the early church. He purposefully chose the most vile sinner possible for this role, so He could get all the glory!

Holy Spirit very bluntly expresses this principle here as well: “Who made you superior to others? Didn’t God give you everything you have? Well, then, how can you boast, as if what you have were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7, GNT).

Like Paul, Billy Graham was not simply speaking in an effort to remain unpretentious. Like Elijah, Billy is a man just like us. We honor him and rejoice for the mind-boggling Kingdom advance accomplished through his life. At the same time, we unite ourselves to his own request and we give God all the glory, because God does all the work!


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