Grace Be With You

“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28).

Throughout this letter Paul has offered prayers for the Christians at Thessalonica (1:1-3; 1:13-14; 3:9-10; 3:11-13; and 5:23-24). Now Paul asks his church family at Thessalonica to pray for him. This was not an isolated or unusual request. Paul repeatedly asked for and acknowledged prayers on his behalf (Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3-4; and Philemon 22).

The fellowship of prayer is a two-way street. Paul was not above needing or asking for prayers. He did not consider it a sign of weakness to express the need for prayers offered on his behalf. I believe Paul would be puzzled if not appalled at the attitude of my Christian sister who said, “I don’t want to ask people to pray for me, they will think something is wrong.” Her underlying assumption is there are some folks who have nothing wrong with them, some who are above needing prayer. She’s wrong. We all stand in need of prayer.

The church needs to be a people of mutual prayer. I pray for you. You pray for me. We all pray for each other. Our assemblies need to be a time of mutual prayer where we pray for one another. We thank God for one another. We plead in intercessory prayer for one another. We pray for forgiveness, healing, and holiness. Living in community in the church means we have a dependence on God and one another. We need to take off our masks, stop pretending we are above asking for prayer, and fervently pray for one another. That means becoming vulnerable enough to open up our hearts to others, allowing them to see our weaknesses and asking them to pray for us.

Paul teaches the congregation at Thessalonica to be warm and affirming. They are to greet one another with a holy kiss. This might possibly be Paul’s way of asking them to greet one another on his behalf, a first century, “Tell everybody ‘Hi’ for me!” Paul writes elsewhere about “the holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; and 2 Corinthians 13:12). The church is to be a warm fellowship with a family feel. While it is often mentioned that the greeting is a “holy” kiss as opposed to something erotic, there is another important word in this statement that is rarely noticed – “all.” Nobody is to be left out. Greetings are not reserved for the beautiful and likable, for those who are “just like us” or those from whom we can benefit. Holy kisses are for all.

This letter is to be read to “all the brothers.” What lies behind this charge? Was it the illiteracy of many of the members? Was it division in the church between Jews and Gentiles or even other groups? Was it meant as a deterrent to those opposing the ministry and apostolicity of Paul? Whatever the reason, Paul makes it clear that everyone is to hear the message. No one needs to be left in ignorance.

Grace be with you. Paul’s final words were similar to his first words. Words of grace. Can you think of a better first word or last word to share with a church than “grace?” what happens when we forget that we are saved by and live by grace? How does a “graceless Christianity” (as if there were such a thing) affect the way we view ourselves and others? Grace makes us all equals — equally sinners, equally saved. Where grace is rightly understood you can’t feel superior to others. That message of grace destroys pride. And so in our pride we tend to conveniently forget grace. Maybe that’s why grace was here for Paul and always should be for us the first word, and the last.

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