Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grace and peace to you

I love the way the Apostle Paul starts most of his letters to churches in the New Testament. Almost every one of them begins with something like "Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." That's how he starts Philippians, which I started reading this morning. Every once in a while I pause when I read these phrases and just think how people must have felt when they read that from Paul for the first time. Most Christians in that time period were not favored politically, socially, or any other way. Christianity was relatively new and still viewed as the red-headed step child of the Jewish faith. Most people didn't understand that it was the continuation of God's eternal plan to announce the Kingdom of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But that's for another time.

Imagine it for yourself. You're in Philippi, huddled into a small building or even more likely in another Christian's home (many churches were in homes at that time), and someone just brought a letter from Paul who is currently in prison. Paul, who started the church in Philippi probably 5 or more years ago. Paul, who was one of few well-known Christians at the time. Paul, who suffered mightily in the name of Jesus, preaching the Gospel everywhere he went and who always had a soft spot in his heart for this little flock. What is he going to say? How is he doing? What is his mood going to be? The questions are answered immediately when Paul extends a warm greeting to the church: grace and peace to you.

Those two words are words that should stir the soul of every Christian. Why? Because they sum up the theme of the Gospel better than perhaps any other two words can. Grace: you have been received by the Creator of the Universe as one of his children. God has dealt kindly with you, placing the wrath you deserved on the Son, Jesus Christ. You haven't earned your way into this relationship - in fact, you've done everything to keep yourself OUT of the relationship. But you've been brought in, loved, and given grace. And now Paul offers you grace again from God. God didn't only give it to you once, at the moment of salvation, he gives it to you continually on earth until the day you see him face to face and enjoy unending grace for eternity.

Peace: you have been made right with God through Jesus Christ. God reconciled you when you were his enemy. Paul has unpacked this for us (I don't know that the Philippians had the book of Romans) in Romans 3-5 in majestic fashion - read it sometime if you haven't... or even if you have, do it again for good measure. God has re-created you, given you new life and peace in the name of Jesus. You can rest your soul on the work Christ did on the cross. And, like grace, peace is not a momentary feeling you have only at the moment of your redemption. It is being given to you even now. It is available always, even in the darkest hour of your life. Even when you're unloved, when earthly relationships are not peaceful, when your job is stressful and unfair. God's peace is given to you at every moment.

Grace and peace to you. Take a moment to dwell on these words further, ask God for more insight on what the words mean for you today. How has he shown you grace and peace lately? How would you describe God's peace to someone who doesn't have the slightest clue as to what it feels like? Give it some thought, and I'd love to hear what you come up with!

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