This is how Paul began all his letters. Nowadays, we usually end letters and e-mails with a greeting – ‘lots of love’, ‘all the best’, ‘kind regards’, ‘yours sincerely’. But it was standard practice in Paul’s day to start with the greeting. I think that’s really nice.
Back then, you’d begin your letter with ‘Greetings’. The Greek word (chairein) for ‘greetings’ sounds a bit like the word (charis) for ‘grace’. But the meaning couldn’t be more different. Grace doesn’t come from the writer of the letter; it comes from God. In fact, Paul usually emphasises this by adding, ‘from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. God’s grace isn’t just a feeling. It’s much more. It has content. It touches and changes lives.
And peace. That’s the usual Jewish greeting, ‘Shalom’. Like grace, it’ not just a feeling. It’s far more than the absence of trouble and turmoil. Here are some of the words our English translations of the Bible use for it: completeness, soundness, health, prosperity, tranquillity, contentment. Peace follows grace because peace is what grace imparts.
But what I really love about Paul’s greeting is this. At some point in every letter, he will deal with problems in the churches – sometimes, huge problems. Things like false teaching, disunity, sexual immorality. When I see somebody getting things wrong, living in an ungodly way, believing the wrong things, I find my first reaction is all too easily one of criticism. But Paul always begins with ‘grace and peace’. Yes, he will address the issues; but only after ‘grace and peace’.
When I see that person with whom I disagree, what will be my first thought, my first reaction? Or when I see the person who says unkind things behind my back, or the one whose lifestyle is so ungodly?
When Paul started his letter to the divided, quarrelling church at Corinth, how did he start? Or when he wrote to the Galatian Christians who were going off the rails over basic belief and living? Or to the Colossian believers who were following heretical teachings? He began with ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ’. He aligned himself with ‘God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.
We serve a God whose heart is always to bless, always to pour out grace and peace. Yes, He will discipline and correct His children, but always with grace, and always to bring them to a place of peace. Can we afford to be different in our attitude to them?
And one more thing: Before you pray, just remember that your Father’s first words to you will be, ‘Grace and peace to you’.
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