God's amazing grace and his robust peace go hand-in-hand. The peace of God is really not totally understood, or experienced, until one has an encounter with the amazing grace of God.
1I, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. God's amazing grace be with you! God's robust peace! (I Thessalonians 1:1)
Paul opens his writings to the church at Thessalonica with these two awesome reminders - God's amazing grace WITH us and his robust peace IN us. He writes this letter to both encourage the believers there and to expound upon some doctrine in order for them to grow strong in their beliefs.
The make-up of the church was mainly Gentiles - those who were worshiping other gods prior to their turning to the one true God. Paul had only spent a short time with them on his way to Athens. He basically gave the church a start, but did not have much time to really get the church established - so he writes to them now to cover some of the doctrinal truths which would present difficulty for some leaving the worship of other gods. His hope is for them to live pure lives.
His salutation - God's amazing grace be with you! The opening words of this book do not come as a surprise to me - salvation begins with grace, so he reminds them of the starting point! God's amazing grace - it is capable of doing within man what nothing else can do - setting straight what sin corrupts. For this reason, it "amazes" those who receive it - inspiring awe, surprising us with the thoroughness of its touch, and overwhelming us with its drawing power.
His proclamation of assurance - God's robust peace in us! As I have already indicated, peace is an outcome of grace. Try to experience peace when you stand in need of grace and you will find it impossible to truly know peace. Sin sets us at odds with a holy God - grace brings us close to him again. Sin produces chaos - grace restores peace. Peace is the outcome of being free - grace gives us our freedom.
Sometimes we try to get peace in a circumstance. Look at the verse again - peace is something which comes "IN" us as a result of what has been done FOR us in the work of grace. We'd do much better asking for grace - being set free from the binding effects of the circumstance. When we ask for grace first, we are asking God's guidance to see the circumstance for exactly what it is. He will either help us walk through it with peace which passes all understanding, or he will deliver us totally from it! Either way, we have peace because of his grace!
We often skip the opening words of a letter such as this, thinking they really don't say much. If we ponder each of Paul's greetings to the various churches he writes to on his missionary journeys, we find some interesting things:
- To the Corinthians he writes: I send this letter to you in God's church at Corinth, believers cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life. I include in my greeting all who call out to Jesus, wherever they live. He's their Master as well as ours! He celebrates their salvation (being cleaned up by Jesus) and reminds them of their calling (set apart to live a God-filled life). He points them toward living full lives - absent of the vacancy sin produces.
- To the Galations he writes: So I greet you with the great words, grace and peace! We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we're in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God's plan is that we all experience that rescue. A reminder of grace and peace again - but also the emphasis being on the tremendous "rescuing" power of grace and the invitation of grace being experienced by all.
- To the Ephesians he writes: I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. His purpose is to remind them of the bountifulness of God's grace - it is poured into our lives. Grace is not something we experience in dribbles - it is a gushing, overflowing infilling!
The openings are similar, yet they each have a different revelation of God's grace and peace. We'd do well to never discount these words - they are seed thoughts which contain great hope!