Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ours to Give

The Apostle Paul opened every letter with the words “grace and peace.” Some people might think it a formality, but these words--even if they were formalities--were breathed out by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that Paul gave each congregation grace and peace because they were his to give. Jesus had instructed the original twelve: “Whatever house you enter, let your first words be, ‘peace to this house.’” (Luke 10:5) Jesus had in mind something more than words, because he observed that the greeting of peace could rest upon the people in that house, or return to the one that gave the greeting. This peace Jesus instructed the disciples to give was something real, something tangible, no less tangible than handing someone a loaf of bread. Decades later, Paul, a follower of Jesus, wrote to the churches of God scattered across the Roman world, and his first words are “grace and peace.”

Paul himself possessed grace and peace. He apparently had a surplus: he could give it away. In many cases Paul was the founder of the church to which he wrote. He wrote to encourage what was good in these churches and to offer correction for whatever needed help. I wonder how often look upon correction and teaching as sources of the peace and grace of God. For those who have given it any thought at all, God’s grace and peace should be prized above almost anything else in our lives. Many of Paul’s churches faced persecution from the outside, some experienced disagreements on the inside. All of them needed these eternal gifts. They were so important that Paul presented these gifts up front, just as a guest would before entering a house.

Part of the lesson for me is that Paul wanted his friends to experience God's grace and peace, and when necessary he brought powerful words of reproof. From our perspective twenty centuries later we understand that each letter was the word of God--then and now. Those people who first heard the words of Paul read aloud in the congregation had a choice: they could listen beyond the mere words of the letter and in so doing receive the grace and peace offered them, or, like the householder in Luke 10 refuse to receive the grace of God and the peace of God has it appeared to them.

How often does God’s grace or peace appear to us in some form we may not recognize? Do we receive the words of loved ones as God’s grace in our lives? Do we consider that the instruction we receive from those in authority has the potential to bring God’s peace?

Finally, I think we also need to consider: what is ours to give? Have we received some measure of grace? Of peace? Jesus had straightforward instructions to his followers: “freely you’ve received, therefore freely give.” If we have received any grace from God (and I hope we have!) then we have it to give. Don’t worry, you won’t run out! Paul’s famous words from Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” were not words he claimed exclusively for himself. He was speaking them over those who were listening to his letter. Many believers have quoted this verse on their own behalf in order to fight off guilt and condemnation. Have we ever quoted them on behalf of others?

And if God has given us peace in any area of our lives, well then, we have that to give as well. One disciple may have learned the secret of contentment with respect to financial matters. Another may have learned how to place everyday fears at the feet of Jesus, and so on--do we ever consider that what peace we have received in our walk with God might be the very thing we can teach others? He blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Our everyday lives are just like the times in which Paul wrote his letters. The words, “grace and peace” are not mere formalities, they are ours to give.

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