Two words of enormous weight and depth so easily slip off our tongue as we hurry past Paul’s characteristic greeting: grace and peace. But let’s pause to consider them for a moment. In all his letters, these are the two things Paul wishes upon those to whom he writes. He wishes upon his hearers both grace and peace — first, from God, and also from himself as he writes.
A humbling question to ask then is this: Would the average unchurched person choose these two words to describe their experience with and perceptions of Christians? Are Christians known today for their outrageous graciousness toward others? Are they known for their ability to bring peace in their dealings with others? Sadly, many outside the church would quickly accuse Christians of being precisely the opposite of these: people who are quick to judge and condemn others, and people known for being divisive and argumentative.
Lord, help us to become people characterized by grace and peace.
But, as we know, Paul is not primarily concerned with our graciousness and peace for others. He wishes them the amazing grace and peace that comes directly “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. John Stott describes how these two words sum up the major themes of the entire letter:
True, this was the customary greeting which he began all his letters, a Christianized form of the contemporary Hebrew and Greek greetings. Yet we may safely say that nothing from Paul’s pen was ever purely conventional. On the contrary, both these nouns are particularly appropriate at the beginning of Ephesians — ‘grace’ indicating God’s free, saving initiative, and ‘peace’ what he has taken the initiative to do, namely to reconcile sinners to himself and to each other in his new community.
In 6:15 the good news is termed ‘the gospel of peace’. In 2:14 it is written that Jesus Christ himself ‘is our peace’, for first he ‘made peace’ by his cross (verse 15) and then he ‘came and preached peace’ to Jews and Gentiles alike (verse 17). Hence his people are to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:3). ‘Grace’, on the other hand, indicates both why and how God has taken his reconciling initiative. For ‘grace’ is his free and undeserved mercy. It is ‘by grace’ that we are saved, indeed by ‘the immeasurable riches of his grace’ (2:5,7,8), and it is by the same grace that we are gifted for service (4:7; cf. 3:2,7). So if we want a concise summary of the good news which the whole letter announces, we could not find a better one than the three monosyllables ‘peace through grace’ (Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 27-28).
Finally, on a personal note, a while back I was pondering the way we so flippantly sign our emails in our quick and thoughtless correspondences with others during our day. I know that a quick email today is much different from a personal letter carefully crafted on papyrus in Paul’s day and sent on foot by messenger. But I still feel that we should mean what we write, and write what we mean to convey. So, rather than tack on the generic “Sincerely” or “Warm regards” in my emails, or even use the classic “In Christ” or “Blessings” merely by habit, I decided to begin ending my emails with how Paul started his: “Grace and peace.”
I can honestly say that as I type those two words at the end of my emails, it often causes me to at least pause for a moment, reflect upon these two treasures we have in Christ, offer a silent prayer to God, and wish grace and peace upon the recipient of my email — no matter how insignificant the rest of the message might be.
So, friends, grace and peace to you!