May 18, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (NRSV)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
New Testament letters often begin with the salutation, “Grace to you and peace.” This greeting was original to early Christianity, adapting both Hellenistic and Jewish traditions. But grace and peace are much more than words. They are some of the most precious gifts of God to us. And they are what our heart longs for. God gives us the gift of peace by grace in Jesus Christ. When we receive this gift, we are able to give it away to others.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
About a decade ago I started signing my letters and emails with the words “Grace and Peace.” You’d be right in supposing that I did this imitation of the letters of Paul in the New Testament. But I wasn’t trying to sound all pious and biblical. Rather, I decided to end with “Grace and Peace” rather than “Yours in Christ” or “Best” or “Sincerely yours” because I really wanted the recipients of my correspondence to experience grace and peace. By writing “Grace and Peace” I was saying, in effect, “May God grant you genuine grace and genuine peace.”
The Apostle Paul was my inspiration, as I mentioned above. His use of “grace and peace” as the opening greeting to the recipients of his letters was innovative in a clever way. In the first century A.D., letters were written in Greek usually included the greeting chairein, the infinitive of the verb “to rejoice,” which meant “greetings” (for example, Acts 23:26, James 1:1).
Paul chose instead to use the word charis, which meant “grace” and sounded a lot like chairein. To this, he added the word eirene, which meant “peace” in Greek and echoed the Hebrew greeting shalom. So, “grace and peace” was a unique greeting that combined both Greek and Jewish elements. As far as we know, Paul himself coined this particular greeting, which shows up in other New Testament letters as well, probably under the influence of Paul (1 Peter, 2 Peter, Revelation 1:4).
I find Paul’s creativity intriguing. He took that which was culturally common and tweaked it to carry a new message. Though we who are familiar with Paul’s letters are not surprised by “grace and peace,” his original readers (indeed, listeners, since his letters were read in churches) might have been surprised by what they heard. It sounded familiar, yet curiously different. They might have wondered why Paul made this unusual rhetorical move. What was so special about grace and peace?
Grace is God’s unmerited kindness and favor, given to us through Jesus Christ. Grace is God giving us good things that we haven’t earned and don’t deserve. Most importantly of all, it is by God’s grace in Christ that we are saved from sin and death, and reborn into new, full, and abundant life (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
Peace in Scripture includes the absence of conflict as well as deep inner tranquility (Philippians 4:6-7). But God’s peace touches far more than this. The best definition of biblical peace that I have found is based on the work of Cornelius Plantinga:
Biblical peace, what Scripture calls “shalom,” is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” It is “a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed.” Ultimately, shalom, “the way things ought to be,” is found in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and who makes peace through the cross. (Quotations from Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, p. 10)
Peace is the world as God intended it to be, the world as it will be when God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness.
When Paul greeted his letter recipients with grace and peace, he wasn’t just showing people how clever he could be. Rather, he was wishing before God that they would actually know these priceless gifts of God. Those who had already begun to know grace through Christ had so much more of God’s unmerited kindness to experience. Those who had already begun to know the miraculous peace of God had so much more peace to experience, not just in their hearts, but in their relationships, their churches, their communities, and beyond. They would experience this peace, not only as recipients of God’s grace, but also as peacemakers in the world.
Today, our hearts yearn for genuine grace and genuine peace. We want to experience these gifts of God in our own lives. And we want those we love to experience them as well. Moreover, as we feel the brokenness of our world, we cry out for God to grant, by grace, the peace that only God can give, the peace that comes through Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Grace and peace, therefore, aren’t just greetings at the beginning or end of a letter. They are some of our deepest desires.
So, let me close this devotion as I would one of my letters. Remember, I’m not just repeating empty words. I am praying for these things to be real in your life, and through you in the world.
Grace and Peace,
When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind? What do you feel?
When in your life have you experienced God’s grace in a profound way? How did you respond? What difference did this make in your life?
When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to mind? What do you feel?
If biblical peace describes the world as God meant it to be, when have you experienced some approximation of biblical peace?
Be ready to extend grace to someone today. And then do it!
Gracious God—yes, I often pray to you as “gracious” because grace is so much a part of your nature, your way of being, your way of relating to me. You have been good to me far beyond anything I deserve. Most of all, you have poured out your grace upon me through Jesus Christ. Thank you, dear God, for your grace.
Thank you also, God, for your peace. We catch glimpses of true peace in this broken and conflict-filled world. But we know there is so much more of your peace yet to come. We long for the day when your peace fills the earth. In the meanwhile, we thank you for those glimpses of peace, and for the gifts of peace you give in our hearts and in our relationships.
May we be people who not only receive grace and peace, but also who pass on your grace and peace to others. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Grace and Peace
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.