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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 6 – John 6:1:16–18 – The great gift of Jesus

These verses say: ‘Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’
Great stuff, but what does it mean. The problem is that ‘grace’ is, in English anyway, a very difficult word to pin down. My dictionary lists 17 different meanings for it ranging from the way a good dancer moves, to a prayer before a meal and the way one is supposed to address an archbishop or a duke!

However one of the meanings is ‘the free and unmerited favor of God shown to a human being’ and that is a reasonably good starting point for what it means in the Bible. The (different) words being translated in both Old and New Testaments both relate to what happens when a big guy helps a little guy through the goodness of his heart not expecting anything in return. So the gift given can be asked for, received without commitment, and even withdrawn but it cannot be demanded or bought. The giver may be honoured, thanked and even given a token thanksgiving in response but there is no possibility of buying or earning the favour.

All of which means, of course, that no one English word can convey all that is implied in the word ‘grace’. Different English versions have used ‘kindness’, ‘generous bounty’, even ‘love’ to try and get round the problem, but none of them are really satisfactory and we must stay with ‘free and unmerited favour’ clumsy though that is.

The new NIV has ‘grace in place of grace already given’, while other versions have ‘grace upon grace’, ‘grace after grace’, ‘one blessing after another’ or ‘grace for grace’. If from that you think that no one is quite sure what it means you might be right! One commentator says it ‘underscores the superabundance of the gifts available to the believer through the incarnate word’ and I think that is about right and says it all.

The problem is – what is the grace already given? The next verse makes it sound as though John is thinking about the grace given in Old Testament days, which the grace of Jesus now replaces, but I prefer to think of this more on a personal level. For each believer there is the grace given in conversion, when they turn, or rather are turned, from a life without Christ to one with him, their conversion, when they are born again. But we need to remember, and John here reminds us, that there is still more to come. The Lord does not leave any one of his people to struggle on alone. We will receive more grace, more generosity, more free gifts, more unmerited favour from him, through all the rest of our lives.

This is grace, rich grace, for each one of us. Who gets this grace, this richness, this incomparable gift? There is one little two letter word in this verse. ‘we’, ‘WE’ are the recipients of these good gifts from the Lord of Creation.

Sometimes it does not feel like it – things can go wrong. People can turn against us; we can struggle with illness and weakness, with things going wrong with our bodies or our minds. But whatever our current disaster or problem may be God is still our Father! Jesus is still at his side in heaven.

In the wonderful words of Isaiah 43: ‘When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;’
He will be with us – He is with us! That is grace, super-abundant grace, and it is ours if we are His.

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