Paul begins almost every one of his letters to the early churches, Christians, or friends with a variation of a simple greeting: grace and peace.
At first glance this opening appears antique and outdated. Honestly, how many times a day do you hear someone meeting up with a friend and the first words that come out of their mouth are “grace and peace?” We are in a totally different culture than the time Paul was writing. Because of this, we tend to gloss over simple statements like this because they appear to be irrelevant to our current situation or inapplicable to our present circumstances. But if this phrase is repeated at the beginning – and sometimes end – of almost every single Paul writes to the new churches in the Gentile world, it must hold some sort of significance worthy of exploring.
The greek word for grace is the word “charis.” Theologians have posited many definitions of grace, but the most simple definition can be summed up as: unmerited favor. The word “charis” means good-will or favor, but the most important part of the definition is unmerited. Unmerited means receiving something that you do not deserve.
The greek word for peace is the word “eirene.” The meaning of this word is more than just the absence of conflict. This word carries the connotation of security, harmony, safety, and prosperity. There are echoes of the Hebrew word “shalom,” which refers to where a person’s life with God, others, and themselves are in order both physically and spiritually. This is not a passive peace, but active. It is not a state to be achieved, but rather a a gift that God gives.
If you look at these definitions and explanations, you see a reoccurring theme.
These are not actions or intangibles that can be attained by man. Both are gifts of –and from– God.
If these are things we –as sinful human beings– cannot attain, then why is Paul blessing us with these attributes?
So what exactly is Paul saying in his greetings? Is he just blessing those he is writing to, or is it something else?
What if Paul’s greetings are more than just greetings, what if they were petitions? What if Paul is petitioning God, on behalf of the church at Philippi, to pour out his grace and peace on them; to showcase his favor and harmony upon these believers?
We have to remember that grace and peace are out of our control. They are gifts from God. We cannot earn or attain them, but we can ask God to show us His grace and allow us to experience his peace.
Paul petitioned God to reveal His grace and peace to others, but there was a prerequisite. He, himself, had to experience these gifts first.
Like Paul, we can ask God to reveal His grace and peace to others, but before we do that, we must experience it for ourselves first.
My benediction is this: May the God of unity, prosperity, and security allow you to live in harmony with those around you, live a fully integrated life where the physical and the spiritual overlap constantly, and live in-tune with the grand narrative of God’s larger story. Never forget that you are a recipient of God’s unmerited favor every day. Live in a way that you are consistently gracious, humble, and aware you are living only because God has allowed you that next breath. Above all else, may you find God’s favor permeating every facet of your life in every way.
To you, my brother or sister, grace and peace.