Zebras, Ostriches, and Corporate Grace by Tony Cooke

Zebras, Ostriches, and Corporate Grace
Tony Cooke

Corporate GraceWhen believers think of God’s grace, they often think in terms of how it affects them personally. God certainly has grace for each of us individually, and He desires that His grace fully impact every area of our personal lives. But God’s grace is not just for me; God’s grace is for we. God intends that His grace flow freely amongst His children, and He wants all of His children to be conduits or distributors of His grace. This is why God distributed various and diverse gifts to different members of the Body of Christ (see Romans 12:4-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

God designed nature to illustrate the idea of mutual benefit in what we call “symbiotic relationships.” Symbiotic comes from two Greek words meaning “together living.” In biology, symbiotic relationships are those where two entities are interdependent upon one another and each benefits from the other.

For example, zebras and ostriches are often together in the wild. Ostriches have a very poor sense of smell and hearing, while zebras are proficient in those senses. Zebras, though, have poor eyesight, but ostriches have excellent vision. As a result, ostriches and zebras often move together, each benefiting from the other’s strength. Each is able to use its “strong” sense to help alert the other to danger. Another “mutualistic” relationship involves rhinos and a bird known as an oxpecker. This small feathered friend of the rhino rides around on its back, eating ticks and other parasites off of its hide. The oxpecker gets the benefit of food, while the rhino gets pest control. These may be rudimentary examples, but they remind us that God wants our relationships to be mutually beneficial.

Consider what Paul said to the church at Rome: “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours (Romans 1:11-12, NLT). The NKJV renders verse 12, “…that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”

The testimony of the early church was not simply about individuals enjoying an abundant life as everyone did their own thing and pursued their own interests. Rather, we read in Acts 4:33 that, “…great grace was upon them all.”If you read that verse in its entirety, this is what you see: “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”  The verse before this says, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul… (4:32).”

Are you catching the themes that are being highlighted here?  Power, grace, unity. There is something dynamic about being vitally joined to others in a corporate atmosphere of grace and faith. The more we study Scripture, the more we see that God’s purpose and plan is that His grace permeate our churches and our relationships, not merely our individual lives.

When the church in Jerusalem began hearing of Gentiles being converted, they wisely sent Barnabas to find out what was happening. A man of lesser character might have observed these people and gotten stuck on their non-Jewish cultural practices, but Acts 11:23 says, When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”  Barnabas didn’t just see the grace of God on individuals; he saw the grace of God on congregations.

These newly formed congregations were vibrant and thriving. Barnabas didn’t see strife, confusion, or apathy. He saw the grace of God upon these believers corporately as they fellowshipped, worshipped, received the Word of God, and served together. Barnabas was glad because of what he saw!  There was life flowing in and amongst them. God’s grace bound these believers together and energized their relationships.

Grace in Marriage

Peter described the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives, and admonished couples to treat each other with respect and love (1 Peter 3:1-7). He concluded his statements by admonishing the husbands to, “…dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

“Relational grace” can make marriages rich with the Presence and the blessings of God. When couples are not functioning as “heirs together of the grace of life,” Peter indicates that the spiritual life of the couple can be hindered, even to the point of their prayers being hindered.

Grace is Contagious Through Relationships

One of the truths we see in the New Testament is that grace can be shared and transmitted from one person to another. Paul said to one group of believers, “…you all are partakers with me of grace (Philippians 1:7). He told others, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29).

What an amazing thought!  Grace is transmittable!  It is accurate for us to think of receiving grace directly from God through His Word and His Spirit, but He also has made provision for us to be conduits and distributors of His grace toward others. In short, graced people speak gracious words and do gracious things. W.H. Griffith Thomas expressed this well when he said, “Grace is first a quality of graciousness in the Giver, and then a quality of gratitude in the recipient, which in turn makes him gracious to those around.”

Isaiah 32:8 says, “But a generous man devises generous things, and by generosity he shall stand.”  If we adapt that principle and apply it to grace, it would seem true to say, “But a graced person devises gracious things, and by graciousness he shall stand.”

What would happen in homes if husbands and wives (as well as the kids) deeply partook of the grace of God and then released graciousness toward one another?  What would that look like?  This may sound idealistic, but you would see kindness, love, honor, and respect in great abundance, and I believe you would hear words of care, edification, and encouragement. Likewise, what would happen in churches if all the people received grace (and recognized the grace they’d already received), and then released that grace and graciousness toward others?  I think it would be absolutely amazing!

Pastors are always mindful of their need to impart life to their church members. They recognize that God has called them to stand in a particular office and has graced and them to impart the Word of God to those under their care. It is important, though, to remember that church is not just about one “professional” minister blessing others. Churches (and marriages) both work best when everyone is receiving and sharing God’s grace.

The Bible teaches that relationships, when they are functioning well, are mutually beneficial. This is why we are told to:

  1. Love one another (John 13:34)
  2. Prefer one another (Romans 12:10)
  3. Receive one another (Romans 15:7)
  4. Admonish one another (Romans 15:14)
  5. Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
  6. Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  7. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  8. Forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)
  9. Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
  10. Increase and abound in love toward one another (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
  11. Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
  12. Edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  13. Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13)
  14. Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another, that ye may be healed (James 5:16)
  15. Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  16. Love one another (1 & 2 John, multiple references)

As each of us receives grace from God, He desires that we release that grace for the benefit of others. God has not called us to be grace hoarders. Interestingly, the very last verse of the entire Bible reads, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21). Grace is for us all, individually and corporately. Let’s enjoy it in our hearts and express it in our relationships.