Elder Neil Phelan, Jr.
THE APOSTOLICAL BENEDICTION
"Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" -Ephesians 1:2
If you shaped a prayer for the church, placed it on the bowstring of your heart and launched it to heaven, what would it say? What blessings would be at the top of your list? Couched within the salutation of each of his epistles to the churches, we find Paul's heartfelt petition for each church. Therein we discover the blessings he felt were most needed. Of the many graces that might be requested by an apostle, of the countless blessings that may be obtained from the Father of all graces, Paul places two at the top of his prayer list: "grace and peace".
You will find this request in Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:1:3; II Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 1:1; and II Thessalonians 1:2. It is referred to by many as the "Apostolic Benediction." You will also find it in his letters to Timothy and Titus, as well as in Peter's epistles. Such a request should be noted and imitated by every lover of Jesus Christ and His Church.
But why grace and peace? Why are these two blessings at the top of the list? Because grace and peace are to the Church of Jesus Christ as the soil and temperature are to the tender young plant. These two graces provide an atmosphere conducive for growth and prosperity.
Some might say, "Just give me a congregation who are faithful to attend every service, a host of visitors and the church will prosper." Without grace and peace I can assure you it will not. Or, "give me a preacher who will preach with power and the cause will prosper." Without grace and peace it will not, it can not. Grace is soil to the seed and peace is rain upon the soil. Try to have a church without these two elements and you will have a desert. Today, let us emulate the apostle and pray for "grace and peace".
When we approach our Father, we approach not the throne of an earthly monarch, we approach the throne of the ruler of the universe; the creator of all worlds; we approach a throne of grace. His scepter is not a scepter granted to Him by princes and tributaries, but rather one of "righteousness." Too many times we might take this throne for granted. What would it be to approach a throne of works, a throne where we must merit every blessing we would seek? In this regard, Ephesus was no different from any New Testament Church: they could not merit the blessings they stood in need of to face the temptations and persecutions of their day. They stood in need of grace! Oh, how we need to pray for this blessing upon our churches today. Have you requested this blessing for the church you attend?
We can be sure that God's throne has plenty of grace! I read of a little boy in England, centuries ago, who was taken into the hospital for malnutrition. When offered a glass of milk his question was, "How deep may I drink". Coming from an impoverished home, his draughts had always been limited and shallow. There was never enough to go around. But now, in the care of the physician, his desires were not hindered. He could drink to his hearts content. Christian, how deep are you drinking from the cup of God's grace? His cup is not shallow. It is like the cruse of oil and the barrel of meal in the widow's house. It will never waste nor fail. There is plenty for every saint;for every church. Then let us go:
O'erwhelmed with restless griefs and fears
Lord, I approach Thy mercy-seat,
With aching heart and flowing tears,
To pour my sorrows at Thy feet.
Thy promises are large and free,
To humble souls, who seek Thy face;
O where for refuge can I flee,
My God, but to the throne of grace!
-Good Old Songs #41
The Church of Jesus Christ stands in need of His grace in every endeavor; in every activity; in every worship service. The minister needs the grace of God to study the word, to comprehend the word and to stand before God's people and preach the word. Many hours could be spent in meditation and study, but without God's grace, the effort will be but dry morsels from and empty vessel.
And what about hearing? Do we not stand in need of the very same grace to hear and comprehend the preached message? Could we approach the house of God expecting a blessing before first approaching the throne of grace and pleading for this grace as well? And when the message is delivered and comprehended, is it not by His grace that the message is applied to the heart? Grace is indeed a precious commodity.
We stand in need of the Lord's grace every day. We need grace to sleep, to eat, to breath. Our Lord is so gracious that He will from time to time withhold one or more of these graces to remind us from whence all of these blessing flow. We even need the grace of God to show us that we need the grace of God! This may sound ridiculous to some, but apart from the grace of God, we really know not what we stand in need of. A prayer recorded in an old book I found reflects the same sentiments. This prayer was written by one Duchess of Gordon:
"GIVE ME GRACE TO FEEL THE NEED OF THY GRACE; GIVE ME GRACE TO ASK FOR THY GRACE; AND WHEN IN THY GRACE THOU HAST GIVEN ME GRACE GIVE ME GRACE TO USE THY GRACE."
How appropriate! Can we not remember the times we lost our feeling for Christ; we forgot that we needed Him. We would not have admitted it, we were not aware of our complacent spirit. We were growing cold and numb. We needed to feel something: the need of thy grace. But then, after we, by His grace, were shown our need, we were ashamed to ask for His grace. We knew we were not worthy to be ushered back into His presence: we needed His grace to ask. And once back in His presence, how difficult it is to use that grace for His honor and glory. It is so much easier to drift back into that complacent spirit. We need His grace to use His grace! So it is true. We need the grace of God to show us that we need the grace of God. Lord, "Quicken me according to thy word." Make me alive unto thee that I might labor more abundantly.
"Let us gather in His house
Let us labor in His fields
Let us sing the songs of Zion
Let us worship with a zeal
I've been given a new life
In this world of sin and shame
I will call on my dear Saviour
I will bless His Holy name"
Grace must come before peace can be expected, for without God's grace there will be no peace. Grace, then peace. The Church needs both. What would it be to have grace without peace, or peace without the blessings of God's grace? Would it not be a futile effort?
Peace has a host of wonderful applications that we may explore. One man said that peace is "a sense of divine favor". Another said that peace means "forgiveness experienced". To a sinner, these are both wonderful applications, to find favor and peace with God in the person of Jesus Christ. And what about with our fellow man? Paul encourages us to strive for this peace as well, "as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men"- Romans 12:18.
Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" -Matthew 5:9 David said, "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it" - Psalm 34:14. Peter said, "Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it" - 1 Peter 3:11. This theme must be important for it runs through the entire fabric of the Bible. There must be more to obtaining these graces than just asking for them for in these verses we find words of labor: "peacemaker"; pursue"; and "ensue".
While grace and peace should be requested from the Lord, these blessings should be carefully sought after by every brother and sister in Christ. In other words, we must strive for the very same blessings we ask for. I read of one little girl who arrived home from school one day and told her mother that she had been a peacemaker. Her mother asked her how this was so. Her reply was, "I knew something and I didn't tell it."
Another definition for peace is to join. Where peace is found, there is a bond, a joining together, a laboring hand in hand. Christ is the cement that holds the hands and hearts of God's people together. In his autobiography, Elder Wilson Thompson reflects upon a precious moment he observed when a group of brethren were walking to a meeting. Picture the scene in your mind, if you will, as Elder Thompson gives his impression of the moment: "When the company started they walked up a gradual ascent, hand in hand, and they began singing, in low, soft voices, that beautiful song-
The glorious day is drawing nigh,
When Zion's light shall come;
She shall arise and shine on high,
Bright as the morning sun.
I really thought they were on their way to heaven. God was their Father and their friend, and Christians were their brethren and sisters. They were at peace in their minds, and in holy love with each other." Is it so with you today my brethren? Is peace found within your sacred walls? Are you in "holy love with each other"?
According to Strong, Peace also means prosperity. Peace is conducive to prosperity. It provides the proper atmosphere for tender young plants to develop and mature; an atmosphere proper for teaching and learning.
There are many areas of prosperity. John wrote to the "wellbeloved Gaius" desiring that he might prosper in health. Even though Gaius was suffering in health there was another area in which he was prospering. His soul was prospering: "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." The Christian can do something that the infidel can not: they can prosper spiritually while suffering physically. How strong his faith in the Lord must have been!! How did John know that Gaius was prospering spiritually? By the testimony the brethren bore of him. Gaius was physically unable to do many things but he was financially able to aid those who were. His carnal aid to the brethren allowed them go forth with the message of the gospel, "taking nothing of the Gentiles"-v7. In this endeavor, John referred to Gaius as one of the "Fellowhelpers to the truth"-v8.
Growth is another area in which a church may prosper. Peter encourages us to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ"-2 Peter 3:18. Spiritual growth is an indicator of prosperity. Growth in attendance and membership is another sign of prosperity. If a church has not adopted worldly means to attract the masses, if they are contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints and their membership is growing, we can be sure they are prospering.
Finally, peace also means quietness and rest. This is certainly a contrast to the busy world in which we live today. Such a contrast should be found in the house of God.
HOW TO MULTIPLY THESE FAVORS
Even though grace means unmerited favor and peace is an outflowing of God's grace, we have learned from the prayers of Paul that we should ask for these blessings. When we have been blessed with any measure of these graces, Peter tells us how to multiply them, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord" -2 Peter 1:2. When something multiplies, it increases and abounds. It is through the knowledge of God, and Jesus our Lord, that grace and peace are maintained and multiplied. The whole counsel of God must be preached. And where a people is found who want to learn more, grace and peace will be multiplied.
Beloved, your diligence to study the word of God and your faithful attendance will not be in vain. Grace and peace will be multiplied by such faithfulness. Let us be diligent to read the word, talk about the word, share the blessing of our Lord with one another and be found in the house of God when the word is preached. All of these endeavors will increase our knowledge while multiplying our grace and peace. Every Christian should have a special time each day that they spend with their Lord in study and prayer. Perhaps you remember a time in which you were more devoted to prayer and study. Were not your days more pleasant then? Charles Spurgeon wrote of a time when one could walk down the streets of London before daylight and observe the lamps lit in the homes as people rose to meet the new day with prayer and scripture. It would make a difference in your life. It would make a difference in your church. Let us be diligent to pray for grace and peace and remember the importance of the "Apostolical Benediction".