06 April 2010

Colossians studies 12: Greetings 3 (1:2b) — Paul's prayer-wish

by Dan Phillips

We note with great sadness the passing of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Our prayers are with his family and many friends who are grieving and sorrowful—yet not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11).
        —Dan, Frank, and Phil

Next Paul offers what I call, perhaps not originally, a prayer-wish: "grace to you, and peace, from God our Father" (Colossians 1:2b). Paul's letters glitter with a number of such prayer-wishes, which are not straight-up addresses to God (prayers), but are perhaps a species of benediction. Paul implicitly calls on God to grant spiritual graces to the Colossian believers.

The gifts
First, Paul pray-wishes them grace. Christians have struggled for centuries to capture the meaning of grace. I find it helpful to identify some of the distinct facets of this sparkling jewel.

One facet is common grace. God shows this to all people without exception (cf. Luke 6:35). Common grace is free and unmerited; in fact (as is all grace, by definition) it is actually counter-merited. Since Adam everybody's life is forfeit, and there is no such thing as "deserved grace." Every breath is a literal gift; every bite of food, gulp of air, and swallow of water comes from God's common grace.

Another facet is saving grace. We see this in many passages, chief among them being Romans 3:24 and Ephesians 2:8-9.
...being declared righteous as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24)

For by grace do you stand saved through faith — and this does not originate from you, the gift is God's; not originating from works, that one might not boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In a way, however, saving grace is not strictly "free." Oh, it is free to us. We contribute absolutely nothing to it except the sin from which we need to be saved, plus suicidal attitudes ranging from total disinterest to violent hostility — until this grace begins to work in our hearts to transform us and give us life. Free to us... but not free. Every last bit of it was paid for in full. The one who paid for it was the Lord Jesus Christ, living a perfectly righteous and holy life, and dying as a penal, substitutionary sacrifice for sinners.

Finally, there is what you might call serving grace, or living grace. This is God's free and continual self-giving into our lives, which in turn motivates and enables us to give to Him and others. A clear and dynamic statement is found in 1 Corinthians 15:10 — "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me did not turn out empty, but more abundantly than all of them I labored; well, not I, but the grace of God which was with me."

Maybe the best imperfect analogy to this is the way a father might give his kids money with which to buy Mom a Mother's Day or birthday present.

Paul accepted their professions of faith as genuine, so he is not wishing saving grace to them. Rather, he is prayer-wishing them grace from God to endure, stand fast, serve and grow.

(For an instructive/corrective post dealing with misrepresentations of grace, see Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials.)

Second, Paul pray-wishes them peace. Note Isaiah 48:22; 57:21
"There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked." (48:22 ESV)

"There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." (57:21 ESV)
We must remind ourselves that "wicked" describes all mankind — us! — by nature. We must recall that we are not born either loving God, or neutral to God. We are born God-averse; we are born His enemies. So "peace" is not the legacy of all men without exception; it is in fact the legacy of no natural son of Adam, without exception.

According, something drastic must be done to make peaceful relations possible, to call off the war in a way that satisfies God's holiness as well as His mercy.

There are multiple aspects to the peace that God accomplishes and gives. First, there is peace with God. This is fundamental. Without it, nothing but warfare and wrath follows. We find this peace referenced, for instance, in Romans 5:1 and Colossians 1:20. Men are reconciled to God through Christ due to His work on the Cross. For believers, hostilities have ceased, and we are entitled to good relations with Him.

Second, there is the peace of God (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 6-7). We enjoy the full benefit of good relations with God, with the peace of mind and confidence that accompany being in good with God. This is the peace that Paul pray-wishes the Colossians.

The Giver
The one who will bestow these gifts is "God our Father." This is an important point. The value of a gift is determined in large measure by the worth of its giver. How much a gift means to me depends on how much the giver means to me. If it is a non-material gift, the whole value depends on the giver's worth and power.

With God, the Giver's worth and power are literally infinite. There simply is no being of greater worth than God. All creation centers about Him, and owes Him thanks and praise. Further, what God gives has punch, for His grace saves and equips, and His peace keeps and satisfies

Note Paul's specificity. God is not the Father of all men without exception (unless all you mean by that is that He is their Creator and Judge). Here is how God becomes men's Father:
  1. By conversion (John 1:12)
  2. By regeneration (John 1:13)
  3. By legal adoption (Ephesians 1:5)
Once again, note that (as in all the NT), the wonderful spiritual benefits of which Paul speaks are God's bequest specifically for converts to Christ. If you have trusted in Christ, God is your Father. Your human father may have mistreated you, or deserted you, or have died and left you. Your heavenly Father is literally incapable of mistreating you, He has unswervingly promised always to love and accept you, and death will only come to bring you into His immediate presence.

The issue, then, is this: is God our heavenly Father, on His terms?

[Note: except as noted, all translations in this article are mine]

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8 comments:

donsands said...

Good study. The Gospel ia always good to hear.

I prayed this morning for our Father to give me the Holy Spirit, and fill me for His glory and so that i might live a set apart day for Him, for His Son told us to do so. And then I will be able to bear fruit, and be salt, and shine my light fro our Father.

Kirby L. Wallace said...

Wow! I'm gonna have to read that several times through to get all of the great stuff in there. THANKS!

David said...

At this rate, Dan, you might finish by the time Christ returns.

Postmil. :)

Seriously, I really appreciate this. When scripture talks about meditating on God's word, this is exactly the kind of thing it's talking about. What a blessing.

DJP said...

Ouch.

Pooka said...

I really appreciate the part about the value of a gift. It is awesome and marvelous that I have been given the gift. Better than Christmas or birthday presents by far.

David said...

Well, one of my pastors is preaching through Romans in 96 weeks, and the other just spent 9 weeks on Thyatira from Rev.2.

So I'm accustomed to this pace.

Rachael Starke said...

That last paragraph is gold. Thanks for the needed reminder.

misty said...

Dan, I usually just brush through Paul's greetings in his epistles. I had no idea there was so much meat there! Thank you!

Thanks also for the link to your "Grace: 18 Affirmations & Denials" article. I was stunned to find out how much the doctrine of grace has been twisted and misinterpreted. I was shocked to learned how much grace does for us! It's not only the source of our justification, but our ongoing sanctification as well (quite the opposite of a "license to sin").