Paul’s Greeting of “Grace and Peace”

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MP3 Audio (8.42 MB)


Paul’s Greeting of “Grace and Peace”

MP3 Audio (8.42 MB)

The Bible is filled with many such examples. A particularly notable one is the greeting the apostle Paul uses in each of his letters to church congregations preserved for us in the Bible: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul uses this same greeting in the first few verses of each of his letters to the churches, and he uses the same or a very similar greeting when writing to individuals such as Timothy and Titus.

What did Paul mean by this greeting? Since he uses these same words in each of the letters that bears his name, we should pay close attention to them—and what they meant to Paul as well as to his immediate audience.

While Paul’s words are similar to the common greeting used in letters among Greek speakers and writers of his day, he had actually coined a new phrase that was infused with deep meaning. With a minor tweak to common wording, and some key expansions, he conveyed some great spiritual truths that hold profound significance for Christians 2,000 years ago as well as today. Let’s examine these more closely.

“Grace to you . . .”

Gordon Fee, professor of New Testament studies and author of many scholarly volumes on the Bible, writes regarding Philippians 1:2 in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament: “The traditional greeting in the Hellenistic world was chairein . . . meaning simply ‘Greetings!’ . . . In Paul’s hands this now becomes charis (‘grace’), to which he adds the traditional Jewish greeting shalom (‘peace,’ in the sense of ‘wholeness’ or ‘well-being’). Thus instead of the familiar ‘greetings,’ Paul salutes his brothers and sisters in Christ with ‘grace to you—and peace.’”

These were not unusual words, but Paul filled them with a new and deeper significance. He greeted his fellow believers with grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ. This transcended the common greeting and was exclusively Christian.

Grace, as Paul stated, came from God the Father and Jesus Christ. Paul understood that it is a divine attribute, a uniquely Christian concept not found in other religions and belief systems. Outside of Christianity and Judaism, no other religion taught of a God who loves, accepts and forgives human beings not based on anything we do, but in spite of what we do. God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son lavish Their love on human beings because that is who and what They are. God is love personified (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).

In many ways grace summarizes God’s interaction with humankind and the message of the gospel or good news.

Paul begins his letters with the unmistakable message that God is a God of grace. So Paul brings greetings of grace to the churches of God to which he wrote. In context, he is saying to them, “May God’s abundant and loving grace be with you all.”

This apostle well knew that God has reached out to us in grace. As he wrote, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As the apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth,” and “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”(John 1:14; John 1:17).

John 3:16-17 adds: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Through the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son, God forgives our sin and reconciles us to Himself.

God“did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32, NLT). God freely gave His only Son, and Jesus freely gave His own life (John 10:17-18). This supreme love is called grace. Grace is the giving of every good thing to those who of themselves deserve nothing.

“And peace . . .”

What about the next part of Paul’s greeting of “Grace to you and peace . . .”—what is the significance of his mention of peace?

We’re certainly more familiar with the word peace than grace. Peace is a common word, usually used in the sense of the opposite of war. As wars rage and threaten nations around the world, we regularly hear of the need for peace.

But what did Paul have in mind in using this word? Being Jewish, Paul was very familiar with the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “peace,” used more than 200 times in the Bible. It was a common Hebrew greeting then and still is today. But shalom wasn’t a vague wish of greeting or of simply all going well for a person. In Hebrew with regard to God it meant being reconciled to God and having God’s peace in one’s heart.

This is something every person badly needs. Worries and fears prevent many from having inner peace. And sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), creating conflict between us and Him. It robs us of joy and peace with God (Psalm 51:10-12).

Paul was referring to an inner peace, a sense of well-being and wholeness, as he wrote this greeting. This peace, he wrote, came “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He understood that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). So it is actually a peace from God and peace with God.

Paul mentions grace first, and then peace, for good reason—because peace flows from grace. We receive well-being and wholeness after having received grace from God. This peace is a profound gift from God. Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Paul wrote that Christ “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Through Him and His sacrifice we have peace with God.

That peace should permeate every aspect of the life of a Christian. “Be anxious for nothing,” Paul wrote, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

“From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

In Paul’s repeated greeting we see that the source of true grace and peace is both God the Father and God the Son, “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Both are the source of divine grace and peace.

Unlike greetings in that day sent in the names of the pagan gods and goddesses, Paul sent Christian believers greetings of “grace to you and peace” from the true God, the one source of true grace and peace. Paul pointed them to the grace and peace available through God the Father and Jesus Christ.

As Professor Fee notes in his commentary on Philippians 1:2: “In a profound sense this greeting therefore nicely represents Paul’s larger theological perspective. The sum total of God’s activity toward his human creatures is found in the word ‘grace’; God has given himself to his people bountifully and mercifully in Christ.”