There are some parts of Scripture that most of us consider to be “throw away.” I don’t mean we think they’re unimportant; it’s just that we tend to skip passed these sections of the Bible, you know, to get to the good stuff.
Take the Old Testament genealogies for example. Though we might give our approval to the statement that all the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we tend to look at these listings of fathers and sons and fathers and sons as skim-worthy.
Or take the dividing of the land among the Israelite tribe. Surely more than one of us has stumbled over these sections of the Bible in our attempt to read the whole thing in one year.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find mostly a collection of letters written to churches. Many of these were written by Paul. And because these are letters, there is a certain formula to them. They begin with an identification of the author, an acknowledgement of who the letter is to, and then some kind of salutation. This opening stuff in the letters fits, for most of us, in the same category as the genealogies and land divisions—just a few lines to get through quickly until we get to the real meat of what’s there.
But there’s more here. So much more.
Consider then how Paul begins most of his letters to these churches of Christians:
“Grace and peace.” That two-word salutation is how Paul began much of the correspondence that’s recorded in the New Testament.
Much in the same way that we might write “Dear . . .” or “To Whom It May Concern,” “grace and peace” is Paul’s greeting to his audience. Why is that? Were they just convenient and poetic words, a way to say “Hey there!” with a little more class? Or is there something more?
I would suggest that these two words—grace and peace—are a two-word summation of the gospel. If that’s true, with his very first sentence Paul is conjuring up a vivid reminder for his audience of what it is that they all, as hopelessly lost sinners and subsequently found children of God, have in common. Grace and peace.
The Greek word for grace is charis, and if you wondered about its importance in biblical theology, it’s pretty revelatory to see it appearing 116 times in the New Testament. Lots about grace in there because the message of Jesus is about grace.
Grace is favor. It’s acceptance. It’s giving. Grace is free in the sense that something done or given in grace is done so truly without expecting to receive anything in return.
That means the origin of grace isn’t the object receiving it; the origin is entirely found in the giver’s goodness, love, and care. And this is our experience in Christ.