PHILIPPIANS 34: Evening Grace (4:23)

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phil 4:23).

Paul begins with “grace” (1:2), and ends with “grace.” The gracious love of the Lord Jesus was the joy of his heart. For Paul, grace was the name of his game. Grace was the blood running through his veins. Grace was the water that sustained him in the midday heat of various trials. Grace was his only song, his recurring message and his healing balm for the wounds of weary souls.

The grace of Christ is to Paul what the love of Christ was to John the beloved disciple. Many have noticed how frequently John mentions love in his first epistle. In his commentary on Galatians 6:10, St. Jerome tells a famous story of “blessed John the evangelist” in extreme old age at Ephesus. He used to be carried into the congregation in the arms of his disciples and was unable to say anything except,”Little children, love one another.”

At last, wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked: “Master, why do you always say this?””Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”

Similarly, I picture the Apostle Paul in his final years, when his well traveled legs have no more miles in them, and his sharp mind began to soften, roaming to and fro, speaking of “the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

I imagine him telling over and over again the story of his blinding light conversion on the Damascus Road. I imagine him boasting of the undeserved favor God showed him while he was yet an enemy of the cross. I imagine him finding at least 200 fresh new ways of communicating the basic truth of Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Paul breathed grace in and out like spiritual oxygen, receiving it anew every morning, and dispensing it lavishly to all who would receive it. Cornelius R. Stam shows the centrality of grace (Gk. charis) in Paul’s ministry and writings:

In the four Gospels (nearly twice the size of Paul’s epistles) the word grace (Gr. charis) with its derivatives appears in the original only 13 times…By comparison, the epistles of Paul…employ the word grace and its derivatives no less than 144 times, more often than all the rest of the Bible together and nearly twice as often as the whole Old Testament and the four Gospels together!

Every epistle signed by his name opens with a proclamation of grace and peace “from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the epistles we find that we are “justified freely by [God’s] grace” (Rom. 3:24), that “where sin abounded grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20) that grace might reign (5:21). There we read that we are “not under the law, but under grace” (6:14), that “God is able to make all grace abound” toward us that we may “abound to every good work” (II Cor. 9:8), that it is God’s purpose for “the ages to come” to “show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

When Barnabas “had seen the grace of God” in saving Gentiles at Syrian Antioch, he “was glad” (Acts 11:23). When Jews and religious proselytes at Pisidian Antioch received Paul’s proclamation of salvation through Christ, without the law, he and Barnabas “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (13:38,39,43). At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas gave bold testimony to “the word of His grace” (14:3).…On his way to Jerusalem Paul declared his determination to fulfill his Christ-given commission “to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (20:24) and then commended the Ephesian elders to “the word of [God’s] grace” (20:32) (From Paul, Apostle of Grace, http://www.BereanBibleSociety.org). 

Yes, all is grace and grace is all. If Paul drove a car, he’d probably have a bumper sticker that said, “Grace happens!” If he came back to write a 21st century bestseller he’d call it, “Grace Wins” (and maybe stir up some controversy).

As we bring our lengthy journey through Paul’s letter to the Philippians to a close, we should have no lingering doubts concerning Paul’s purpose in life and his deepest held beliefs.

But what about you and me? The drumbeat of Paul’s life was sharing the message of the God’s grace with others. The drumbeat of John’s life was extending God’s love to one another.

What one word captures the heartbeat of your life?

What burning passion flows through your veins?

What special task has God called you to accomplish?

What unique message has he called you to share?

What would your bumper sticker say?

May you follow Paul’s example and give yourselves whole-heartedly to God’s purpose for you and through you. So, on your final day you can say with a clear conscience with Paul:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Tim 4:7).

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phil 4:23).

This ends my devotional reflections through the entire Letter to the Philippians. Check out the entire series here.

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