Christians love the words grace and peace. Those two words are laced through the Bible, peppered into prayers, and bound up in the benediction that ends many church services: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
For a long time, I read the whole Bible every year. I loved reading the nooks and crannies of the Bible that don’t get a lot of airtime (Ezekiel and Leviticus are not beach reads), but it was akin to driving a speedboat over a lake. I got from one end to the other, but I didn’t take time to enjoy the view.
Last summer, I slowed my Bible reading way down (under the influence of fellow Time of Grace bloggers Emily Krill at messyworship.com and Amber Albee Swenson) and was amazed at the jewels I discovered. To continue the analogy … I ditched the speedboat for a canoe and was dazzled by the gems covering the bottom of the lake!
Grace and peace hopped out at me as I read books written by the apostle Paul. He wrote 13 books of the New Testament, and guess what? He started every single book with those two words: “Grace and peace to you.” Don’t believe me? Check out the first few verses of each of his books.
Clearly, “grace and peace” was Paul’s signature greeting. If he lived today, those words would be considered his ministry’s mission statement, his “brand,” and probably be on his Instagram profile!
Whenever I came across this opening line, I would skim ahead, thinking, “Same old, same old, Paul.” I discounted those words until I read a commentary on Ephesians that showed me the unifying beauty of this greeting.
Since the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, some nuance is lost in translation—one instance being that Paul penned the word grace in Greek (charis was a common Greek greeting and the same word the angel Gabriel used to greet Mary when he brought news she would be the mother of the Messiah) and the word peace in Hebrew (the standard greeting, shalom).
Why the two different languages?
In Paul’s day, Jews and Gentiles had a tough time getting along. Lots of Paul’s work centered on writing to fractious churches where Gentile/Jew infighting was threatening to tear the congregations apart—and yet he started every letter with grace and peace, in Greek and Hebrew, showing that Jesus’ saving work was done for everyone. God doesn’t love just one group of people. He loves everyone who has ever lived! As it says in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Look around your life. How are things today? Is your world brimming with grace and peace? Or is infighting threatening to tear your family, community, government, and church apart?
In divided, uncertain times as we look to a new year with no clue what it will hold, I urge you to hold on to the treasure of these two words—grace and peace—as a reminder that God sent his only Son into the world to save us from our lost condition. God knows what 2024 will bring, and we can trust we are safe in his capable hands. We are forgiven by the blood of Jesus, whether we are Jew or Gentile, Democrat or Republican, healthy or sick, man or woman, rich or poor, Israeli or Palestinian, young or old. No matter what is in your past, God has forgiven it all. With this faith in your heart, heaven is yours, and earth holds nothing to worry you. You can keep a quiet heart, living in the light of God’s grace and enveloped in the protection of his peace.
Here’s to a new year!