In 1994 Pastor John began explaining a theme he noticed in the introductions and conclusions to all 13 of Paul’s epistles. Paul begins each epistle with grace, and he closes each epistle with grace. The pattern is “a bracing trumpet call to the centrality of grace in Christianity.”
It is. But there was more to be discovered in the pattern.
As he studied these bookends closer, Pastor John discovered that each grace-centered greeting included some form of the phrase “grace be to you.” Each grace-filled benediction included some form of the phrase “grace be with you.”
Here are the passages:
“grace be to you” / “grace be with you”
Romans 1:7 / Romans 16:20
1 Corinthians 1:3 / 1 Corinthians 16:23
2 Corinthians 1:2 / 2 Corinthians 13:14
Galatians 1:3 / Galatians 6:18
Ephesians 1:2 / Ephesians 6:24
Philippians 1:2 / Philippians 4:23
Colossians 1:2 / Colossians 4:18
1 Thessalonians 1:1 / 1 Thessalonians 5:28
2 Thessalonians 1:2 / 2 Thessalonians 3:18
1 Timothy 1:2 / 1 Timothy 6:21
2 Timothy 1:2 / 2 Timothy 4:22
Titus 1:4 / Titus 3:15
Philemon 1:3 / Philemon 1:25
Pastor John explained the significance of this discovery in his book Future Grace (pages 66–67):
...at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow “from God” through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, “Grace to you.” That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read—“grace [be] to you.”
But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, “What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?” He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: “Grace [be] with you.” With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch.
What then do we learn from Paul’s unbroken pattern of beginning and ending his letters in this way (“Grace be to you.” “Grace be with you.”)? We learn that grace is an unmistakable priority in the Christian life. We learn that it is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that it can come through people. We learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living.
In other words, we learn that grace is not merely a past reality but a future one. Every time I reach for the Bible, God’s grace is a reality that will flow to me. Every time I put the Bible down and go about my business, God’s grace will go with me.