It is interesting to note the varying salutations with which we greet people. “Good morning!” “How ya doin’?” “Whatsup?” “Hey!” The authors of the letters collected in the New Testament did the same. We often see Paul begin with something like, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (Col 1:2) We don’t usually put too much stock in greetings, because most of the time, we really don’t want to know how others are doing, feeling, etc. So, we also tend to blow past biblical greetings, putting them in the category of pleasant words that make us appear to be pleasant, friendly people. It’s all about appearances – obviously, Paul was being pleasant to his readers so that they would keep reading.
But, considering Paul’s extraordinary trials, he didn’t say things willy-nilly. So, what was he intentionally saying when he opened with “grace and peace from God our Father?” Obviously, it was first of all a message from God Himself. After that… grace… peace… really big concepts that always seem in short supply. Was Paul pulling these blessings from a spiritual peanut butter jar to slather over his readers? Are we supposed to get them that easily? Seriously, Paul, do you have any idea what my life is like?!? Where was grace the last time I got bumped off that overbooked flight, which was my last chance home? (BTW, peace was also totally absent.)
What if we redefined grace from the quality of cutting us some slack, to the unprecedented work of God to redeem us through Jesus’ death on the cross? Then, grace would be defined as God NOT giving us what we deserve; and instead, giving us what we DON’T deserve: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 6:23) Most of us don’t realize that God’s grace also includes the succession of events that lead us to receiving Jesus as Savior. I, for one, would NEVER have chosen Jesus, if He had not first chosen me, and gone to great extremes to get my attention. But, Jesus goes even further to warn us that we will have troubles/hardships in this life (Jo 16:33), and that He will never leave us or forsake us in them (Deut 31:6). I wish I had focused on that when I was crying in the airport! The fact is, in the midst of frightening, overwhelming circumstances, it is only His grace that gives us His power to keep our eyes on Him, rather than succumbing to the hopelessness, devastation, and helplessness of the moment. This is grace that appears to grow as we see it more clearly. Actually, it is the same HUGE grace – we’re simply more aware that it is constantly in operation (even when we don’t know we need it), as never-ending gift.
There is not a blessing Paul could have bestowed on the church greater than God’s grace, except perhaps for God’s peace. Jesus described this peace best: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The sad confession for most of us is that our lives are anything but peaceful. Peace eludes us in a world of screaming children, heavy construction machinery, phones that won’t stop ringing, and unrelenting deadlines and schedules. We experience insurmountable stress, worries on all levels, and survival threats in loveless marriages, dead-end jobs or financial insufficiency. Being content in our circumstances, as Paul admonishes us, is about the most ridiculous thing imaginable. Yet, Paul learned to do it in situations more dire than ours. What was his secret?? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) When Paul directs us not to be anxious, he is telling us we don’t have to succumb to anxiety, but can instead flip that negative energy positively to prayer. Thankfulness goes hand-in-hand with this powerful way out, when we really understand that by giving our concerns to Jesus, we can receive His blessing of peace so unflappable that it doesn’t even make sense in our circumstances!
What if, instead of a polite, mindless salutation, we received Paul’s greeting in the reality of the Lord of all Creation, speaking very personal blessings to us today – this very minute – in our specific circumstances, however serious? Can we really receive those blessings by merely taking Him at His word? The prophet, Isaiah, spoke for God (Is 55:11), “so is My word that goes out from My mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
We’ll never know until we take that step of faith to try. (deep sigh)
Lord, I’m so glad You stopped me at “hello…”