The Way of Nature and Grace

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:17-18

There are two ways to live under the sun. They are the way of nature and the way of grace.

What the early church was doing wasn’t natural. Persecuted by the Pharisees and ridiculed by the Gentiles, they joyfully persevered, having all things in common, as Acts 2 and 4 state.

Their words and their deeds were filled with grace. They were rich in their giving and faithful in their witness.

Their way of life contrasted with the surrounding world. We can see the way of nature in history and all around us. It is the way of envy, which says “You have what I don’t; therefore I will do all I can to take it from you, and will even get pleasure in watching you fall and fail.” It is also the way of jealousy, which says “You don’t have what I do have, therefore I will do everything in my power to keep you from getting it.”

This is the way of nature. It tears down but doesn’t build up. It claws and scratches to get to the top then turns around and kicks at those beneath. It is the way of the world. We see it every day. Envy, jealousy, wrath.

But the way of grace is different (Acts 3-4). It is the way that sees someone in need – someone who does not have what we do – and responds with compassion. It is the grace that reaches down and lifts up. It sees our money, possessions, time, and abilities not as our own to be hoarded, but as gifts from God to be held with open hands, giving to and serving those in need. 

This generosity is not just a marker of the church. It is also a marker of what it means to be a Christian. Look at what John writes in 1 John 3:17-18:

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

The way of God’s Grace gives us contentment when we see others who have what we don’t. It is the opposite of envy. It is the way of being thankful in all things – of learning, as Paul wrote, “The secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12-13). God’s Grace gives us strength to be grateful for each day.

This is the grace that says everyone is my neighbor, and those who are in Christ are my brother, sister, and my mother.

And it is also the grace that enables us to be bold in our witness, to stand strong and say there is salvation in no one else but Christ – that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

It is God’s grace that gives us the power to cling tightly to Christ, holding on to the pure doctrine of the Word while remaining ready to give to any as they have need.

This way of life is only possible because of God’s great grace on our lives. Only through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, are we taken from spiritual death to life in Christ. By faith in His name, we are raised to walk in newness of life.

And we know from the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John that this continued – albeit imperfectly – in the early church. Read their concern for all members of the body, for the widows, for the poor, for the churches in need. Paul’s collection for the church in Jerusalem took up much of his life’s work.

We also know this was the marker of the early church from one of the earliest writings from the second century. The Didache, written somewhere between 100 and 150 AD, opens this way:

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbour as yourself; … And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same?”

Many of these statements should sound familiar. The early church was so steeped in Scripture that their writings, their words, and their cadence, echoed the words of Christ and the Apostles.

That image of the early church in Acts 2 and 4 is a foretaste of Heaven.

As we read at the beginning of Acts 5, it is a foretaste because we are still human, prone to sin; we are still tugged, pulled away from perfect unity in Christ by the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride of life. We are still at war. The world, the flesh, and the devil – though defeated – still grasp at our feet as we walk the path of life.

Irenaeus said, “The Church is planted as a paradise in this world.” I agree. But I would add this paradise is planted amidst weeds, thistles, and thorns.

If we look around today, we see that this still is but a foretaste. We are still imperfect. Sin still clings so closely.

But the same great grace God gave the early church is the same great grace He gives His people. He has given us the grace to be radical in our generosity, and faithful in our witness. Rest in that grace today.

That great unity and love the early church had for Christ and each other would rise and fall, as we see it rise and fall in us. But in Heaven, separated from the very presence of sin, we will only desire what God desires.

May the same markers of radical generosity and faithful witness be the same ones that mark our churches today. And we know they will be if the same words said of the church in Acts 4 be said of us: “Great grace was upon them all.”

For further reading
The Didache
Acts: An Expositional Commentary by R.C. Sproul
Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Joseph L. Hamrick III


Joseph L. Hamrick III is a Reformed Baptist Christian who serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3) in Commerce, TX, where he and his wife, Jesse, live. Joseph holds a BA in Liberal Studies from the Texas A&M University-Commerce and works for the Herald-Banner in Greenville, TX where he writes about the Christian life in his column entitled “Things to Consider”. When he is not at work, he can usually be found with a Bible, a work of Dostoevsky, or some other book in his hands.

March 5, 2024

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