The Prayers of Paul: Grace, Peace, and Hope

 

May God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ grant peace, love, and faith to all the brothers. May grace and eternal life be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:23–24)

Paul addresses this fledgling church with two words, grace and peace, that should strike a significant chord with the people. The blessing of peace recalls a fundamental theme for Paul in several of his letters—peace between the Jewish and Gentile elements of the church. He’s praying for them to love with faith and add peace that will lead to the unity they have in Christ Jesus.

The concept of peace would not be new to the Jewish members of the Ephesian church. The Hebrew word, shalom, means “completeness, welfare, and is indicative of a prosperous relationship between two parties [W. E. Vine, Vine’s Compete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 173].” Shalom meant physical and spiritual harmony and a manifestation of God’s grace.

To the Gentile Christian, the word eirene meant harmonious relationships, friendliness, and, consequently, a sense of rest and contentment. Paul was direct in his prayer for peace because he knew that peace in the church would lead to unity. Peace and unity would help the church hold up to the persecution coming from the culture, the Roman government, friends, and family. William McDonald wrote, “Peace would garrison their hearts in every circumstance of life [William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1954].”

Paul also uses the word grace in this prayer. The Greek word is charis. It means a favor done without expectation of return. It is the free expression of God’s lovingkindness to people. It is an unearned, unmerited favor.

Grace is a critical concept in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. It begins the letter, is mentioned again in chapter two, then, in this prayer, grace ends the letter. He fervently prays that their knowledge and awareness of God’s grace for them will translate to grace between them and spread to the community.

As my co-teacher, Julie Sumner, said, “We should sit up and take notice that whenever Paul mentions grace and peace, as he also attributes them to God the Father and Jesus the Lord. Grace and peace are the two things we need most in the world, and only the three persons of the Trinity are capable of giving them to us. No other thing, job, person, government, self-identification, or group-identification can come close to giving us those two necessities: grace and peace. They are also two things that we can’t obtain ourselves—they must be given to us.

As D. A. Carson writes, We Christians must constantly be reminded that, just as we were saved by grace, so also are we sanctified and glorified by grace…We become fruitful by grace; we persevere by grace; we mature by grace; by grace we grow to love one another the more, and by grace we cherish holiness and a deepening knowledge of God…The Savior himself cannot be glorified in our lives, nor can we finally be glorified, apart from the grace that he provides [D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic, 1992) 60].”

Hope is also a critical word for Paul’s prayers and ours. We see the Apostle’s heart in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope bring you such joy and peace in your faith that the power of the Holy Spirit will remove all bounds to hope.”  Julie adds, “It is fascinating that this prayer for hope comes at a point in Paul’s epistle that it follows his entreaties of the church at Rome to practice unity to God’s glory. It seems the Jews and the Gentiles in the church were having a difficult time agreeing on that most basic issue: what to eat. After many paragraphs of practical advice like “Of course all food is clean, but it becomes evil if by eating it you make somebody else fall away” (14:20) and “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you” (15:7). He sounds like a father reasoning with two of his quarreling children. Then, after a brief treatise on the role Gentiles have played in God’s plan since the beginning, Paul goes for the joy, peace, and hope.

Of course, joy, peace, and hope are great in any situation, but Paul always seems to take a long view of the life of his churches, and I think that there are important reasons to consider about the absolute necessity of hope in the lives of believers.”

Hope is the confident expectation that something good is about to happen. We worship and praise the God of hope. He is not the God of hopelessness. A hopeful attitude can release God’s power through the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us for His Glory. Pastor John MacArthur wrote, “He petitions the God of hope to graciously fill His people with His divine joy and peace and hope. It expresses the apostle’s deep desire for all believers to have total spiritual satisfaction in their beloved Savior and Lord [[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., Romans, vol. 2, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 324].”

Peace, grace, and hope are necessary parts of our Christian life. Paul prayed for the churches go take hold of them to gain blessing, unity, and deep satisfaction with life despite the circumstances they were facing. Charles. H. Spurgeon stated, “We may be filled with joy and peace believing and may abound in hope. There is no reason why we should hang our heads and live in perpetual doubt. We may not only be somewhat comforted, but we may be full of joy; we may not only have occasional quiet, but we may dwell in peace, and delight ourselves in the abundance of it. These great privileges are attainable, or the apostle would not have made them the subject of prayer … The sweetest delights are still grown in Zion’s gardens, and are to be enjoyed by us; and shall they be within our reach and not be grasped? Shall a life of joy and peace be attainable, and shall we miss it through unbelief? God forbid. Let us as believers resolve that whatsoever of privilege is to be enjoyed, we will enjoy it [Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings from Paul Studies in the Prayers of the Apostle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 38].”

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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