The apostle Paul starts all of his letters with the prayer that “grace and peace” will come to the reader. But he never uses a verb. He never says, “Grace and peace be to you,” or, “Grace and peace come to you.” He assumes the verb.
Peter makes it explicit. He begins both his letters, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Paul would be very happy with this verb. It’s what he means when he says thirteen times, “Grace to you and peace.” The verb behind be multiplied is used twelve times in the New Testament and always means increase — move from lesser to greater.
There are at least seven important implications in these words for our lives.
1. Grace and peace are experienced.
Grace and peace are not only the objective status we enjoy before God. They are also the experiential enjoyment of that status. It is gloriously true that God made an objective peace between him and us by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:14–15). And he did it by a historical act of divine grace that was firm and unchangeable (Ephesians 2:8).
But Peter says that grace and peace are “multiplied” to us. They are not static. They are not only a status. Peter is offering to us, and praying for us, that we experience an increase of grace and peace.
“Every day, we need new measures of grace and peace for new moments.”
He does not mean that God is variable, as if he were a gracious God some days and not others. Nor does he mean that the objective status of peace between us and God comes and goes. If we stand in the unshakable grace of God (Romans 5:2), and if we are reconciled to God in unchangeable peace (Romans 5:1), then what is multiplied to us is an increased and deepened experience of grace and peace. This reality is not simply status. It is the overflow of status in serenity, strength, and sweetness.
2. Grace and peace vary in measure in our lives.
That is what the word “multiply” means. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” May there be an increase of grace and peace in your experience. Grace and peace are not static. They go up and down in our lives.
Hour by hour, and day by day, our enjoyment of grace and peace changes. It ebbs and flows. One moment we are carried by a wave of grace into a harbor of peace. An hour later, after a painful phone call, we are storm-tossed out of sight of land again. That is reality. We need to own it and seek continually to receive the gift of these words: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” New measures for new moments.
3. There is always more grace and peace to be enjoyed.
Paul and Peter never assume your present experience of grace and peace cannot or should not be increased. They assume the opposite. They do not say, or imply, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you, unless you have all there is to have.” You never have all there is to have. That’s why this prayer is at the beginning of every letter. You always need more grace, more peace.
Since Paul doesn’t use a verb (“grace to you and peace”), you might try to water down his meaning to something like: “I pray you are now enjoying grace and peace.” No increase implied. You would try in vain. The word “to you” implies movement. Grace and peace are on the way. More is coming.
With Peter, there is no doubt what he means. He assumes we need more grace and peace. And we do. In this life we will never be able to say, “I have arrived. I have all the grace and peace I can use.” No you don’t. If there is more coming, you can have more. And you need more.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The Christian life is not static. It is movement. We are growing in grace and peace, or we are going backward.
Real life in a fallen world is a river. You go upstream with growth, or you go downstream. There’s no standing still. Your anchor is not straight down. It’s in heaven (Hebrews 6:19) — the headwaters. And it is pulling you in.
4. Grace and peace are multiplied by God.
Peter uses the passive voice, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” The implied actor is God. We are stewards of “God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace does not just happen, it comes from God. “God gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Peter’s prayer is that God act. “May God multiply grace to you and peace!”
5. Grace and peace are multiplied by God through human means.
If God did this multiplication without respect to human means, Peter would not say these words. They would be pointless. He says them because he believes his words are God’s means of multiplying grace and peace.
“The Christian life is not static. We are growing in grace and peace, or we are going backward.”
We need to see this truth because of how common it is today to think of grace only as unconditional. There is unconditional grace and there is conditional grace. Paul speaks of those who are “chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). That grace is unconditional. God’s election is not a response to conditions we can meet.
But there is grace that is a response to conditions we meet: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). God responds to humility with more grace. Humility is a condition of receiving this grace.
Of course, humility itself is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). But the fact that “God is at work in you to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) does not lessen your responsibility to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, to say that receiving some grace has conditions does not mean we are left to fulfill the conditions by ourselves. “Command what you will, and grant what you command” (St. Augustine).
But it is a serious mistake to bring in the doctrine of justification at this point in a way that says, “Christ fulfilled the conditions of God’s blessing, so we don’t have to.” Christ performed some conditions in our place — namely, the ones necessary for God to be 100 percent for us in spite of our sin. But when he died, he also obtained for us the gift of the Spirit by which we fulfill other conditions for multiplied grace and peace. That is what Peter and Paul are praying for.
6. One means of multiplied grace and peace is prayer.
The unique thing about a spoken blessing is that it is bi-directional. It is addressed both to man and God. When we say, “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), we are asking the Lord (vertically) to bless you (horizontally). So it is with Peter’s words, “May grace and peace be multiplied (by God) to you.” God is being addressed. And the church is being addressed.
And these words are not spoken in vain. Peter speaks them because he believes they matter. They are a means of bringing about what they aim at. They aim at more grace and more peace. So Peter believes that asking God to do this work will in fact be an instrument in bringing it about. God answers prayer. We should believe that too when we say these words over ourselves or others.
7. Another means of multiplied grace and peace is the epistle these words introduce.
It is astonishing that Paul begins every letter with some form of “grace be to you,” and ends every letter with some form of “grace be with you.” To you at the beginning. With you at the end. This pattern is unvarying. Why?
“In this life we will never be able to say, ‘I have arrived. I have all the grace and peace I can use.’”
My suggestion is that at the beginning the letter is about to be read. And in being read, grace and peace will come to us. The letter itself — the word of God — will be the means of multiplying grace and peace to us. Then, at the end of the letter, Paul sees us leaving our encounter with the word and going out into the world, and he prays that grace go with us.
Peter confirms this understanding. In 2 Peter 1:2, he says explicitly that grace and peace are going to come “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). In other words, not only am I praying for grace and peace to increase, I am writing a letter to give knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as kindling for the fire of this increase.
God always has more grace and more peace for you to experience. He has appointed that you experience it “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” He has inspired Scripture to bring you this multiplied grace and peace. Therefore, to experience these overflowing increases of grace and peace in your life, give yourself to this book. And as you listen to him, pray.