“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2)1
When something gets repeated over and over again it often begins to lose its meaning. Nowhere is this more true than with greetings. How many times have we said the words, “How are you?” I had an English teacher in high school who commented on this particular greeting: “It’s a rhetorical question. We don’t really care. We don’t really want to know.” And sadly she was right! Or consider the way that one says hello in Korean: anyang-ha-sae-yo. This literally means, “Are you at peace?” But if you look it up in a Korean grammar, the translators will just give the meaning as “hello.” The meaning of this beautiful greetings has become watered down. Through frequent use many greetings have become watered down or, worse yet, even come off as insincere.
We are going to look at a greeting today that is anything but insincere or watered down. Though these words follow a formula, they are not a formality. Paul means this greeting from the bottom of his heart. It represents his sincere desire for his readers.2 So it is appropriate that we devote an entire post to it.
Greetings in the Ancient World3
In the ancient world letters often opened with some sort of greeting. In Graeco-Roman culture they would often times greet someone with the term “Rejoice!”4 We see this used the apostolic letter of Acts 15:23 which begins: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.” And when the centurion Lysias was going to send Paul to the governor Felix he began his letter in this way: “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings” (Acts 23:26).5 These are good examples of the original meaning of a greeting getting watered down! Rather than render the Greek word chairein as “rejoice” the translators rightly render it simply as “greetings.”
In Jewish culture they would wish someone “mercy and peace.”6 The pseudepigraphal work 2 Apocalypse of Baruch contains the following greeting: “These are the words of that epistle which Baruch the son of Neriah sent to the nine and a half tribes, which were across the river Euphrates, in which these things were written. Thus says Baruch the son of Neriah to the brethren carried into captivity: ‘Mercy and peace’” (2 Apoc of Bar 78:1-2).7
Greetings among Early Christians
As we turn to our sermon text today we will notice something interesting about the way the early Christians would open their letters. Paul is writing to Gentiles—but he doesn’t just tell them to rejoice. He himself is writing as a Jew—but he doesn’t just wish them peace.8 Rather he begins with a word that sounds very similar to the Greek greeting “rejoice” but then also adds the Jewish greeting of “peace” as well.9 We read the result in Ephesians 1:2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let’s unpack both these ideas. What is grace?10 What is peace? And most importantly, where can we get these blessings? To anticipate our conclusion, we will find that our only true source of grace and peace is God. So let’s begin with grace.
The basic idea behind grace is favor.11 We can capture many of the different nuances of the Greek word charis with the word favor in English.12 We might say that someone favors you (grace as the kindness of a person towards you). We could say that someone does you a favor (grace as the blessing, the benefit itself). We could talk about your favorite thing (when some blessing causes you delight or grace as the qualities that cause you to delight in a person, like when we say, “She is very graceful”). Or we could speak of your favor towards the person who has blessed you (grace as thankfulness).
Sometimes the word is even translated as favor in English. Luke 2:52 states: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” As Jesus grew up his Father was more and more pleased with his Son. In Acts 2:46-47 we read: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” The people had a favorable disposition towards the early Christians.
Now favor is usually based on performance.13 If you do well on a test you get an A. If you work hard at your job you may be Employee of the Month. In the moral sphere, if you are a good person then you win the favor and approval or other people. So in the religious realm this is how many people and most religions believe that one gains favor with God. They reason something like, “If I’m a good enough person, God will receive me. He will like me. I will have his favor.” But the shocking biblical truth is that God’s favor is not based on merit! The theologian’s typical definition of grace, therefore, is unmerited favor.14
The unearned aspect of grace is very important to Paul. For example in Romans 11:5-6 he says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” For Paul if grace could be earned it would lose its very quality of grace. The free-ness of it is part of his very definition of the word. If it could be earned, it would not be grace.15
If we are ever going to enjoy favor with God it has to be unearned. Why? Because we deserve anything but God’s favor! We had rebelled against him. Yet he sought us out. Thus biblical commentator Harold Hoehner can rightly say: “It [the word grace] is no mere introductory cliché. It is the gospel is one word.”16 That is profoundly true. So this is not a greeting that has lost its meaning.17 This is Paul’s sincere desire for the recipients of his letter (notice “grace to you”).18 And this is God’s sincere desire for us as well.
Let’s make this memorable. Imagine you have a little girl. She is a beautiful little girl who is the light of your life. She likes to play with the little boy across the street and one day he decides that it would be a good idea to murder her. Just the thought of it raises our sense of indignation. And rightly so. Now in a world where there was only justice and nothing else, that little boy would be doomed. If that little boy is ever going to enjoy favor with you again it must be a favor that is unmerited, a favor that is undeserved.19 But let’s say that you are a particularly magnanimous type of person. Instead of calling for the little boy’s punishment—you make the inconceivable, incredible offer to adopt him instead!
You and I are that little boy. Our affront to God in our sin was far greater than we could ever image. But rather than insisting on our punishment, which was every bit within God’s right to do, he looked on us with favor—favor we didn’t deserve—instead.
Now if that little boy accepts your offer, there is a fundamental change in the relationship. Previously he was your sworn enemy. But now he is reconciled to you.20 There is peace between the two of you. Grace—when it takes effect in our lives—ends up producing peace.21 Which is of course what Paul mentions next.
We tend to think of peace in negative terms—the absence of war. Peace is like a donut—you have it when there is something missing! But the biblical concept of peace is not just a negative. During the Cold War there was technically peace. But there was not peace in the biblical sense of this word. Peace in the biblical sense is the presence of a complete well-being.22 It’s holistic. It touches and effects every area of your life. (So when Dave Ramsey talks about “financial peace” he is quite right to use the word in this way.)
Upward: Peace with God. Mankind needs peace upward. We are alienated from God because of sin.25 There is no such thing as a pacifistic in mankind’s rebellion against God. There are no noncombatants in this war! Colossians 1:21-22 tells us: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death...” Our hostility towards God is expressed in evil deeds. And those evil deeds are not just directed towards God; they are also directed towards others. So we need not only peace with God, but peace with others.26
Outward: Peace with Others. Mankind has made an art out of being cruel to one another. The death toll in the first World War was somewhere around 40 million.27 We may have doubled that in the second World War with 70-85 million killed.28 It’s no wonder that we think of peace primarily in these terms Because we see the need for it so badly in this area. But there is yet one more dimension of peace.
Inward: Peace with Ourselves. We wrestle with our own conscience.29 We wrestle with confusion and lack of clarity—we don’t understand why we’re here and what life is all about. Lacking peace internally causes all kinds of psychological problems. We feel it acutely—but we don’t know what to do about it. Scientific American reported that in 2013, one out of every six Americans was on some kind of psychiatric drug.30 According to Market Research Store over $14.5 billion was spent on antidepressants in 2014 worldwide.31 That number is estimated to increase to $16 billion by the end of next year.32 But that’s pocket change compared to what Americans alone spend on issues related to mental health. Health Affairs estimated that in 2013 spending associated with mental health broke $200 billion.33 Jordan Davidson at The Mighty—a website devoted to mental health concerns—summarized the report from Health Affairs saying, “The report looked at several different databases and found Americans are spending more on mental illnesses than heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”34
Now please hear me rightly—I’m not saying that medication is evil or that there is never a place for it. I simply want these statistics to highlight how deeply and profoundly people today sense their own lack of peace, their own lack of psychological well-being. But they don’t know what to do about it.
We so badly need peace...upwardly, outwardly, and inwardly. So where can we get peace? And where can we get grace? Out text tells us... “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Source of Grace and Peace35
These twin blessings of grace and peace come to us firstly from God our Father. This is important. These blessings come to us from God as our Father.36 It’s not enough to simply know God as Creator.37 Even the devil stands in that relationship to God! There must be a personal relationship with him as Father.38 If we don’t know God as Father in the salvific sense that Paul intends here, we will never know grace and peace.
So how do we come to know God as Father?39 That brings us to the second half of this equation as it were. God the Father is not the only source of grace and peace listed here.40 This is significant. These blessings are also said to come from the Lord Jesus Christ.41 They come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.42 This puts Jesus on the same level as God the Father to be sure.43 But it also says something important about how we come into a state of knowing grace and peace.
Belief in God in the abstract is not enough. If you try to come to God for grace and peace without Jesus you only have half of the equation as it were. In fact, in reality it would be more accurate to say that you have none of the equation since Jesus said that whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father either (John 5:23).
God the Father can receive us into favor undeservedly only because of what God the Son has done on the cross. God the Father can reconcile us to himself—producing peace—only because of the work of God the Son on our behalf. God is the only true place that grace and peace come from—God the Father and God the Son.44
The application for us is clear. If you are believer relish the grace and peace you have been given by God the Father through God the Son. And if you are an unbeliever God invites you to seek and receive grace and peace from him. You will find it nowhere else.
1 Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 149; Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 42 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 6 (similar); D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1 to 23 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 35.
3 See Lincoln, Ephesians, 6; Hoehner, Ephesians, 148-149.
4 Cf. independently Hoehner, Ephesians, 148.
5 I owe both of these references to Hoehner, Ephesians, 148.
6 Lloyd-Jones, 35.
7 I owe the reference to Lincoln, Ephesians, 6. The text follows “2 Baruch: The Book of the Apocalypse of Baruch the Son of Neriah,” available at http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/2Baruch.html (accessed May 11, 2019).
8 Cf. independently Hoehner, Ephesians, 149.
9 Lincoln, Ephesians, 6; Hoehner, Ephesians, 148 n. 6.
10 Cf. independently Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 37.
11 Cf. Hoehner, Ephesians, 149;
12 The following is based on Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and Larry Pierce, “Outline of Biblical Usage” both at Blue Letter Bible available at https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5485&t=ESV (accessed 7 May, 2019).
13 Mark Harris, a previous pastor at First Alliance Church of Erie, may have expressed this as well as perhaps some of the following.
14 Hoehner, Ephesians, 149; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 37, 41; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 200-201, 729.
15 Cf. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 200.
16 Hoehner, Ephesians, 149; cf. Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 40: “The whole message of the gospel is introduced by this word, ‘grace.’”
17 Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 35.
18 Hoehner, Ephesians, 149 (similar); Lincoln, Ephesians, 6; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 35.
19 Cf. incidentally Hoehner, Ephesians, 149; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 41; and the similarity (before review) to Grudem, Systematic Theology, 200-201, 729.
20 Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 37, 41, 45, draws out and focuses on the reconciliation aspect of peace.
21 John MacAurther, Ephesians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), 2-3; Hoehner, Ephesians, 150; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 36, 38, 41.
22 Cf. MacArthur, Ephesians, 3; independently Hoehner, Ephesians, 149.
23 Cf. Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 38.
24 This point has been made commonly. I may owe some of this to a pastor at Parkside Church; cf. Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 41-42.
25 Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 38, 41.
26 Cf. Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 42.
27 Wikipedia, “World War I Causalities,” available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties (accessed May 11, 2019).
28 Wikipedia, “World War II Causalities,” available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties (accessed May 11, 2019).
29 Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 38-39.
30 Sara G. Miller, “1 in 6 Americans Takes a Psychiatric Drug,” available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/1-in-6-americans-takes-a-psychiatric-drug/ (accessed May 9, 2019).
31 Market Research Store, “Global Depression Drug Market Poised to Surge from USD 14.51 Billion in 2014 to USD 16.80 Billion by 2020” available at https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/05/10/838292/0/en/Global-Depression-Drug-Market-Poised-to-Surge-from-USD-14-51-Billion-in-2014-to-USD-16-80-Billion-by-2020-MarketResearchStore-Com.html (accessed May 9, 2019).
32 Drake Baer, “The Number of Americans on Antidepressants Has Skyrocketed,” available at https://thriveglobal.com/stories/the-number-of-americans-on-antidepressants-has-skyrocketed/ (accessed May 9, 2019) and following the Market Research Store report cited above.
33 Charles Roehrig, “Mental Disorders Top the List of the Most Costly Conditions in the United States: $201 Billion,” abstract available at https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.1659 (accessed May 9, 2019); Jordan Davidson, “Americans Spend Over $200 Billion Treating Mental Health Conditions,” available at https://themighty.com/2016/05/mental-health-conditions-are-costing-the-u-s-a-ton-of-money/ (accessed May 9, 2019).
34 Davidson, “Americans Spend Over $200 Billion Treating Mental Health Conditions.”
35 Cf. incidentally Hoehner, Ephesians, 150.
36 Hoehner, Ephesians, 150; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 42-43.
37 Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 43.
38 Hoehner, Ephesians, 150.
39 Cf. Lincoln, Ephesians, 6; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 45.
40 Hoehner, Ephesians, 150.
41 Hoehner, Ephesians, 150, 152.
42 Cf. incidentally Hoehner, Ephesians, 150, 152; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 43.
43 Cf. MacArthur, Ephesians, 3; Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 44.
44 Cf. Hoehner, Ephesians, 150, 152.