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” is 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!


In what way can our weaknesses and vulnerabilities be a perfect showcase for God’s strength and brilliance?



26 thoughts on “Our Elbow Grease, or God’s?

  1. When we can honestly and without self-pity acknowledge our weaknesses and failings in front of others, we open the door for them to see the grace of God at work in us. God has moved through me in powerful ways in working with others addicts and alcoholics. I honestly relate my story of the helplessness and sense of total loss that I knew before I knew God’s grace. This has helped some to consider that God can do for them what He is doing for me. To your point, Jennifer, my sobriety is 100% reliant on God; He does for me for I can do for myself. This awesome lesson has carried into all my life, keeping me humbly aware that without Him, I am nothing.
    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing,

    Liked by 4 people

    1. How precious, Chuck, that His mercy on your brokenness now translates, in a majestic ripple effect to His glory, on His grace finding so many other lives so thirsty for His mercy! Jesus, we give You all the glory forever!

      I sure appreciate hearing from you, my brother. It blesses me every time. Truly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Every believer can offer themselves as a “showcase” if we are honest with ourselves. Growing up, it would have been laughable to predict that I would be a public speaker without fainting in fright. When we let go and let God lead, strange and wondrous changes happen, and we wind up capable of things we never would have thought possible!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Jennifer, I only look at my past to see how far God has brought me ! Only He can take those things in my life that I used for SELF and NOW use for His Glory. Yes, like day and night. Amazing Grace how great thou art, to save a wretch like me. Amen. Len

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jennifer, you got me cracking with the math equation of Paul! I plugged myself in and thought: Gladys without God = disaster!!!! Gladys with God = a working progress of beauty! I am thankful for the Lords continuous work. A few weeks ago I went on a business trip with a colleague – new hire. At the end of the day after visiting an interacting with many customers, we sat for a meal in a restaurant. He looked straight at me and said, he knew this time would come but lets do it, talk about our life journey with Christ, how we got here! I was blown away and said how did you know and he said, from the moment I met you, I knew you were a believer! I thanked God for the work He is doing. We both sat and rejoiced in the little stories God has given us and brought us this far!!

    Liked by 3 people

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