Grace and Peace to You

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the beautiful and encouraging greeting of the Apostle Paul in most of his thirteen letters that are part of our New Testament. Four of the letters—Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians—are known as the Prison Epistles. The “grace and peace” greeting is included in each of these letters penned by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Philippians was most likely written prior to the other three Prison Epistles, and is unique in that it contains the characteristics of a thank-you note with an overarching theme of joy. Paul prepared his Philippian letter to go back to Philippi in the hands of Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippian church who had come from Philippi to Rome to visit Paul in prison, bring him a financial gift from the church, and discuss church concerns. During his visit, Epaphroditus almost died of an illness himself!

Grief and loss could have been the theme of Philippians, but the letter is known to be Paul’s most positive letter. How can he be so joyful and hopeful despite his grievous circumstances? Philippians 2:4 gives us a glimpse of Paul’s grief support and recovery model, stating, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV). Paul then goes on to tell us of the divine example of grace and peace: that of Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a servant for others.

In fact, in Philippians 2:6-11, Paul’s words “sing” what is known as the “Christ Hymn.”

Paul is known for singing in difficult circumstances. You may recall the Acts 16:16-40 passage and how Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God while they were prisoners in jail at Philippi, shortly after the church was first planted. While they sang, an earthquake broke them free from their chains, the jailer and his family accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized, and Paul and Silas continued in ministry as led by the Lord.

Paul’s greeting in his letters seems to be original with him, drawing from both the Greek and Hebrew traditions. Grace, the Greek word charis, is God’s unmerited favor in Christ Jesus. Peace, the Hebrew word shalom, means wholeness, and is derived from traditional Hebrew greetings. Paul sent these words to each of the churches and his pastors, all of which were struggling under persecution and loss as he wrote his thirteen letters. When Paul sent the words graceand peace, they were words from God Himself, which in turn inspire us to receive and extend the same greeting to others who are in difficult circumstances.

In Paul’s writing of Philippians 2:4, a key word is others. With Christ and His Apostle Paul as examples of this divine principle, we will find joy and personal meaning when serving others. We may even find healing for our own sorrows as a result of looking outside of ourselves.

Grief and loss come in many forms. Some which may be familiar include: death, loss of physical or mental capacity, and loss of a job. But grief can be caused by the loss of anything that is important to a person. So, while it can be something as devastating as loss of life, grief can also result from the loss of a dream, a friendship, or a pet. As varied as people’s losses are, we also know that grace and peace can come through people in various times and places. As Christians, we understand that these gifts have been freely given to us by Jesus Christ, and therefore, we can purpose in our hearts to consistently and positively be others-focused as we live in this world of grief and loss. God most often uses the comfort and encouragement of people to help those who are suffering. When we take the time to be with the bereaved, we extend the Lord’s grace and peace to others.

5 Ways to Bring Grace and Peace to the Bereaved:

  • Acknowledge and speak to them about the loss immediately.
  • Listen to them. Let them talk about their loss (and continue to give them many opportunities to speak about it).
  • Hug or touch them gently (if appropriate).
  • Be aware that tears and emotional responses are common.
  • Look for practical ways to be helpful and supportive.

In my work as a professional healthcare chaplain, I have found that a greeting and blessing of benediction often frames the content of the visit. Interestingly, it is noted that Paul’s letters not only begin but also end by sounding the note of grace. In the weeks to come, you may want to read through Paul’s letters noting the beginning and ending of each one. As the Lord uses you to minister to others in their grief, you might speak these beautiful words: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

 

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