Grace and peace

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Al Hsu writes about his collection of autographed books and the many differing inscriptions the authors use. His favourite was inscribed by Michael Card, who used the apostle Paul’s expression: “Grace and peace.”, found in some form in all Paul’s epistles.

What many don’t realize is that Paul coined a new phrase. “Grace” or “Grace to you” sounded like the standard Greek greeting, but was infused with theological meaning. On the other hand, “Peace” was a Jewish blessing that sounds weightier in the Hebrew: “Shalom.”

Paul knew that many of his congregations were torn by factional strife. But he didn’t say, “Grace to you Gentiles, and shalom to you Jews.” Grace is not just for Greeks, and peace is not just for Jews. God’s desire was for the whole community to receive his grace and experience his shalom—not merely the absence of conflict, but the fullness of well being, harmony, wholeness, and life.

So Paul said, “Grace and peace to you.” Paul addressed Gentile and Jewish believers together, as members of one body. He wrote in continuity with their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, yet pointed to a new, countercultural reality. He combined a Greek greeting and a Hebrew greeting to create a distinctively Christian greeting.

Paul did not neuter the cultural particulars of the church’s constituents. Nor did he emphasize identity politics or pit categories against each other. Instead, he affirmed the communities’ distinct identities, then transcended them to forge a new identity in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. He modeled unity amid cultural diversity, as experienced in the church’s birth at Pentecost. …

The church embodies a radically peculiar social order that incorporates vastly dissimilar people. In Paul’s day, the world was divided between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. But he dared to imagine a Christian community that not only included all of these, but also enjoyed interdependent relationships. The power of the church’s witness was due, at least in part, to the compelling alternative this new society offered to the world around it. &hellip

Paul would argue that our common identity transcends our differences. He would plead with us to treat one another charitably, to extend grace, and to make peace with one another. …

When signing books, letters, and e-mails, “Grace and peace” has become my customary benediction. It has also become my prayer for the church, that we would truly bestow grace and peace on one another and, in so doing, offer a prophetic witness to our world. May it be so.

Seems like an excellent suggestion. But I wonder whether I would seem pompous or condescending if I bestowed ‘grace’? Isn’t that, perhaps, something for God to do? I’m not an apostle. Yet, if Paul could offer grace, surely I can too?