God’s shalom is one of the main themes of the Old Testament. The Israelites were redeemed as God’s people through God’s covenant, receiving God’s hesed (covenantal love), so that they could be a holy nation and worship God, all so that there might experience and share God’s shalom—an everything-as-it-should-be peace.
The apostle Paul begins each of his letters with some variation of the greeting “grace and peace.” Many of us have read this many times that we haven’t considered why he might be doing this. Even theologians and biblical commentators often brush it off as not too important, saying it is his “greeting” which was similar to a common greeting of the day, then moving on.
But Paul was a brilliant man, as his letters show. So I personally can’t think these are throw away terms, nor that they’re just two semi-random Christian words he chose to always begin letters with. I think there’s much more.
In fact, I think “grace and peace” are two brilliant terms to summarize Christianity as a whole. And I lean towards believing the apostle Paul knew this.
All About Grace
First, grace. We know Paul was all about grace. Grace is the word which best summarizes the Christian gospel as a whole. We are saved by grace, meaning, we don’t deserve it, nor earn it. We rather deserve the opposite. But the gospel is that God in mercy sent Christ so that sinners can be justified, so that those who deserve to be separated from God can be brought near to him, so that those who are enemies may become God’s friends, so that those are should face eternal punishment receive eternal life. All of that is ours not because of anything we’ve done, but all by God’s grace.
Even more, Paul in Ephesians 1:6 tells us that the whole forming of the world and work of salvation is ultimately to “the praise of the glory of his grace.” This means that all of history and salvation exists so that we may praise God, so that we may glorify God, but even more specifically so that we may glorify God for his grace. That is the ultimate goal of the universe. And it makes sense to us, doesn’t it? What’s the most beautiful, appealing reality in the world? Not just a powerful, praise-deserving God. Not even just a “loving” God. Rather, the most beautiful, appealing reality in the universe is a powerful, praise-worthy loving God who treats rebels better than they could’ve ever imagined. Grace is what God designed us to love as human beings. Why? Because all of creation exists so that he could wonderfully display his grace.
Paul begins his letters with grace, then, because it is the essence of Christianity: “Grace to you God the Father [who planned salvation for us] and from the Lord Jesus Christ [who accomplished salvation for us].”