As with most things in my Christian life while living here in America, and in the West, I’m having to relearn what God’s Word really teaches about the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit knows I (and many more of you worldwide) yearn for God’s true truth. He knows the handicap we all labor under in this culture because of its worldwide false teaching conjured up and leading to a false identity of the God who is.
The great I AM…
When you think of grace, what comes to mind? Unmerited (i.e. free) favor with no requirements? With absolutely no limits whatsoever? No rules? Complete freedom? Covering any and all sin? For all time? That’s what I was taught. And I believed it lock, stock, and barrel.
But is it so?
First of all, any basic understanding of grace (or any other part of God and His kingdom) described in His Word would need to discover what God intended when He wrote it; i.e. the then and there. I mean the historical context. If we just look at our current modern times, the here and now, without first evaluating the then and there, we’re in for big trouble.
Unfortunately, most of the things Americans and Westerners are taught are through the tainted lenses of our culture and times first. I’ve relearned much the hard way, previously having been a naïve fool. God knows my heart in this, and has applied His grace to see me through thus far!
So, then, what might be at least one overriding concept of such importance in the past, the then and there, that God choose to deposit many of His truths within? I believe it’s the Patronage System, which was a mid-eastern idea but also much in play here in the West. It’s absolutely crucial in understanding our God, how He operates, and what He expects from His creatures.
Why is it so important? Because the Patronage System is not a free, independent system in the final analysis. It has very specific expectations, both for the Patron (the person in charge of favors) and the Client (the person in need). Oh yes, there’s one other vital player in this theater – the Broker (the person who mediates between Patrons above and Clients below).
It’s absolutely essential for eternal life to know who God really is, and His role, who we are, and our role with Him. I’m afraid we often have the two roles reversed, i.e. He serving us is foremost in our minds.
I quote in part from Malina and Rohrbaugh’s magnificent work, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, “Patronage System in Roman Palestine,” page 388-90:
“Patron-client systems are socially fixed relations of generalized reciprocity between social unequals in which the lower-status person in need (called a client) has his needs met by having recourse for favors to a higher-status, well-situated person (called a patron). By granting the favor, the client implicitly promises to pay back the patron whenever and however the patron determines. By granting the favor, the patron, in turn, implicitly promised to be open for further requests at unspecified later times…By entering a patron-client arrangement, the client relates his patron as to a superior and more powerful kinsman, while the patron sees to his clients as to his dependents.”
So far, we see then that the client must pay back the favor, and the terms are open-ended depending on the patron’s desire. In the end, there’s no free ride.
Please hear me closely: our salvation is by grace and not of works. That is very very clear. And Ephesians 2:10 states we are His workmanship that we should walk in the good works He prepared beforehand. Also, it’s vital to preach that faith without works is dead. You may recall Martin Luther was dead set against the Epistle of James, falsely calling it “straw.”
Malina and Rohrbaugh continue:
“Patrons, then, are powerful individuals who control resources and are expected to use their positions to hand out favors to inferiors based on ‘friendship,’ personal knowledge, and favoritism…Brokers mediate between patrons above and clients below. First-order resources – land, jobs, goods, funds, and power – are all controlled by patrons. Second-order resources – strategic contact with or access to patrons – are controlled by brokers who mediate the goods and services the patron has to offer…In the Gospels, Jesus often acts as the broker for God, the one through whom clients obtain access to God’s favor. An example is Matt. 8:13 (between Jesus and the centurion’s servant). “
We now begin to see more clearly the role that Jesus has in offering access to the Father, but on certain conditions. Friendship was crucial, and implied strict guidelines. Again we see as they write:
“Clients are those dependent on the largesse of patrons or brokers to survive well in their society. They owe loyalty and public acknowledgment of honor in return…Note that according to Matthew and Luke, one cannot be client to both God and the wealth system (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13)…(In Luke 7:1-10 we see the centurion that acts as a patron for the local population, yet) he signals to Jesus that he doesn’t not intend to make Jesus a client (“I am not worthy..”), but considers Him a superior. Surprised, Jesus acknowledges the centurion has placed faith in Him as broker of the resources of God and hence heals the servant.”
Finally, we see the role of grace in the Patronage System:
“In the New Testament the language of grace is the language of patronage. God is the ultimate patron whose resources are graciously given, often mediated through Jesus as broker…He (Jesus) also sends out a core group of His faction, the Twelve, to function as brokers of divine grace (Mark 6:7-13).”
In conclusion, what can we learn from this description of patronage? God operates within this system in His Word, using Jesus as His broker. Those entering in to His patronage system were “graced.” He expects something in return for His favor, i.e. obedient faith and unswerving loyalty to go and sin no more, counting the cost beforehand, praise, and honor, etc.
We, like the Twelve before us, are commanded to also act as brokers of divine grace.
A logical question might be: is this normal for our modern times, that is, is this eternal, or has something changed over the years, and this was only temporary back then? I think it’s His plan for all times based on His story to us. Much of His Word, and His principles, are timeless and applicable to His creatures for their short stay here on His earth.
In Hebrews 4:12 the inspired writer reports:
For the word of god is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I leave you with two separate translations of a vital verse dealing with grace. The operative verb is the Greek word charitoo. I’m normally quote the New American Standard Updated version. But in this case, I think the old KJV more accurately describes grace in light of the patronage system. So, we take a peek at both:
Ephes. 1:6 – New American Standard – to the praise of the glory of His (the Father) grace, which He (the Father) freely bestowed (charitoo) on us in the Beloved (Jesus).
Ephes. 1:6 – King James – To the praise of the glory of His (the Father) grace, wherein He (the Father) hath made us accepted (charitoo) in the Beloved (Jesus).
Here in the KJV rendering we see the father has made us acceptable, i.e. favored us with special honor.
The verb “charitoo” is used one more time the NT record:
Luke 1:28 And coming in, he (Gabriel) said to her (Mary), “Greetings, favored one (charitoo)! The Lord is with you.”
Next time we’ll begin diving into the many verses in the Holy Scriptures that show us much more about God’s marvelous grace! Will you begin this week to go ahead of me and have the Spirit guide you in looking at grace and its role in His Word?!
A prime role of grace is defined:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Titus 2:11-15
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Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
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