You have probably heard these words spoken to you by the minister many times at the end of a Christian service of public worship:“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14).
This benediction — a scriptural prayer and pronouncement of blessing — is traditionally used to close the meeting of a Presbyterian General Assembly. Presbyterians know it as “The Apostolic Benediction,” though the Apostle Paul, in fact, gave us a number of benedictions, such as, “May the God of peace be with you all” (Rom 15:33); “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom 16:20, 1 Thes 5:28); “Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph 6:23-24); and many more. These blessings are meant to be listened to closely and received and taken into our hearts. They are important for the Christian life.
This particular benediction is a Trinitarian blessing that emphasizes God’s love, the grace we enjoy because of the person and work of Christ, and the communion we experience because of the person and work of the Spirit: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
This Trinitarian blessing ascribes specific blessings to the operation of each person of the blessed Trinity. As Charles Hodge noted: “The distinct personality and the divinity of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, to each of whom prayer is addressed, is here taken for granted. And therefore this passage is a clear recognition of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity.”1
Christianity is a Trinitarian religion; that is, we believe in one, and only one, true and living God. We are monotheists, but we also believe that the one and only living and true God exists in three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are one.
We can sum up Christianity with it: we come to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.This is a mind-blowing truth, but it is also practical to the core. In fact, we can sum up Christianity with it: we come to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Paul’s blessing reminds us of the fullness of God in his activity of redeeming and blessing his people with grace, love, and communion. Our God is love. He is full of grace. And he created and redeemed us for communion with him and with his people.
This truth has many applications, but one of the most important is in our public worship. When we gather with our fellow believers on the Lord’s Day, we come as those who were once beggars, rebels, and enemies, now made heirs, friends, and children of God, through the Father’s love, the Son’s obedience, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s new birth. We come, by his grace, to give something to God that he alone deserves and that we can only give him through Jesus Christ, in order that we might be what he made us to be (worshipers) and enjoy what he made us to enjoy: the greatest, deepest, best treasure in all the world — the triune God himself, and communion with him.2 Only through the triune God’s love and grace can we enjoy true communion with him. This benediction reminds us of that.
We also notice the emphasis Paul places on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something he had already done in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” In Romans 3:24, Paul tells us that we are justified by grace as a gift through Christ Jesus. In Romans 5:17, he explains that we receive an abundance of grace through Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:4, he tells us that the grace of God is given to us in Christ Jesus. So, when Paul blesses us in saying “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ… be with you all,” he is picking up on a familiar and important theme in his writing. Indeed, Paul is entirely at one with John in this, who also proclaims, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Next, Paul draws our attention to the love of God (another thing that both he and John love to do!). In Romans 5:8 he says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” which is almost the Pauline John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” No wonder Paul can say that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).
Never alone again. Never apart from him. Always recipients of his grace and love.Finally, Paul blesses us by invoking the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Charles Hodge beautifully describes the significance of this part of Paul’s benediction. “It is the gift of the Holy Spirit secured in the covenant of redemption by the death of Christ that applies to us the benefits of his mediation. As the gift of the Spirit is secured to all the people of God, they are joint partakers of the Holy Spirit and thereby made one body. This is the ground of the communion of saints in which the church universal professes her faith.” In other words, Paul’s benediction is reminding us that we only enjoy the fellowship or communion of the saints by the work of the Spirit.
In sum, this blessing stresses that “grace, love, and fellowship with one another come from God in Christ through the Spirit.”3 I’m struck again at how God blesses us with precisely what we need most. He gives us himself in grace and love and enfolds us into the fellowship of his own family. Never alone again. Never apart from him. Always recipients of his grace and love.
1 An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
2Adapted from Dr. Duncan’s foreword to Matt Merker’s book, Corporate Worship (Crossway, 2021).
3 ESV Study Bible.