Grace be "to" you and Grace go "with" you!3
It’s one thing to learn who we are in Christ. It’s another thing entirely to live a life that is morally and biblically and spiritually consistent with who we are in Christ. In three previous posts on the opening verses of Philippians 1, I focused on our identity as slaves, saints, and sojourners in Christ. So, how are we supposed to display these truths about who we are? What hope do we have that we who are weak and selfish and ungrateful and sinful in so many ways can actually live in a way that is befitting a saint? The answer is found in Philippians 1:2!
There is a great truth and glorious encouragement in the fact that Paul begins and ends his letters the way he does. Consider the following examples:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:3). “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23).
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 1:2). “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:3). “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen” (Gal. 6:18).
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2). “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:4).
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Col. 1:2). “Grace be with you” (Col. 4:18b).
See also 1 Thessalonians 1:1b and 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:2 and 3:18; 1 Timothy 1:2b and 6:21b; 2 Timothy 1:2 and 4:22; Titus 1:4b and 3:15b; Philemon 3 and 25.
This reference to "grace" is more than a standard literary device by which letters were begun. It is a sincere prayer for the release of divine favor and power into the lives of those to whom he writes.
First, this will all make sense only if we expand our understanding of what “grace” is. Divine grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature according to which he treats us without regard for what we deserve. It is surely that, but an examination of the usage of this word in Scripture reveals that grace, if thought of only as an abstract and static principle, is deprived of its deeper implications.
Grace is also something far more dynamic and active and powerful. Grace is divine energy released into the lives of God’s people to work and to change and to transform them. Thus this spoken blessing is no mere literary formality but a literal unleashing or release or impartation of power that changes and transforms.
The grace of God, for example, is the power of God's Spirit converting the soul. It is the activity or movement of God whereby he saves and justifies the individual through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.
Grace, however, is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished, and proceed through that life. The energizing and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God.
After Paul had prayed three times for God to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh, he received this answer: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Although Paul undoubtedly derived encouragement and strength to face his daily trials by reflecting on the magnificence of God's unmerited favor, in this text he appears to speak rather of an experiential reality of a more dynamic nature. It is the operative power of the indwelling Spirit to which Paul refers. That is the grace of God.
Do you see now why it is so significant that Paul opens his letter by saying “grace to you” and closes his letter by saying “grace be with you”? The change of prepositions from “to” to “with” is massively important for you today. Here is how John Piper explains it:
"[A]t the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God's grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow 'from God' through Paul's writing to the Christians. So he says, 'Grace to you.' That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read – 'grace [be] to you.' But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, 'What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?' He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: 'Grace [be] with you.' With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living" (Future Grace, 66-67).
If Piper is right and the “grace” of God comes “to” us and abides “with” us via the instrumentality of Holy Scripture and its inspired truths, then we see here yet another example of what theologians have called “the means of grace.” Among the latter have often been mentioned the sacraments or ordinances of the church: the Eucharist and Baptism. But the sanctifying, sin-killing, Christ-exalting, soul-satisfying presence of the Holy Spirit also comes to us by means of the written Word! There can be little if any expectation of triumphant Christian living apart from the grace that is mediated to us and diffused throughout our hearts and minds pre-eminently through the Scriptures. When the Word, by the power of the Spirit, is heard, embraced, and enjoyed, we are strengthened to resist the flesh and to savor the Son.
And it isn’t just grace but also “peace” that comes to us through the Word of God. The word “peace” is used 54x by Paul alone. It refers both to the “harmony” among God’s people as well as the content of the gospel that we preach and have believed (Eph. 6:15), as well as a sense of wholeness and well-being, a tranquility of soul, spirit, heart, mind, and affections that flows out of a saving relationship with Jesus. This is a quality of life that is present even when the believer is suffering or is surrounded by enemies or is afflicted on every side or is inundated by war and conflict and opposition.
All this, both the power of God’s grace and the calming presence of his peace, come to you through the Word of God preached and proclaimed, prayed and taught, explained and applied.