Don’t miss the benediction!
First, don’t miss the benediction included in Ministry & Leadership. Editor-in-Chief Phillip Holmes and his team had the idea to close our magazine with a benediction, which is why I am writing this column on the subject of 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. These verses also serve as the benediction for this edition.
Second, don’t miss the benediction at your local church. It comes at the end of the service and it is God’s blessing from God’s Word to you. Pay attention to it and receive it. You need it!
To appreciate benedictions better, it helps to understand them. The benediction is the prayer of God’s blessing. Take for instance 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
There are four things to notice about this prayer of blessing. It tells you something about Jesus, something about God the Father, something God has already given you, and something you need (which Paul is praying for God to give you).
First, notice that this benediction reminds you that it is the divine Christ (“our Lord Jesus Christ himself”), who is the bestower of blessing on you. He is the one from whom and by whom you have received eternal comfort and good hope through grace. John Stott says:
Paul opens his prayer with these words: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father. We notice how once again Paul couples the Father and the Son . . . But this time he startles us by even putting the Son before the Father . . . He also goes on, in spite of the plurality of the subject (Father and Son), to use the singular reflexive who and the singular verbs loved and gave. Paul is evidently quite clear, at least in the practice of prayer if not yet in theological formulation, about the equality and the unity of the Father and the Son.1
Hence, the prayer of blessing indicates both the full divinity of Jesus and an important aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity: the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father. The Jesus we love and worship is not merely a good man or great teacher, but the very Son of God, and God of God, of one substance with the Father. Christianity can be summarized with the truth of the Trinity: we come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, by the help of the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God. God’s blessings come to us through Jesus.
Second, Paul’s blessing reminds us of the loving and gracious character of our God. He is “God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.” Paul tells you three things here in particular that he wants you to remember about God: God is your Father, God loves you, and God gives to you by grace alone.
Because you trust in Jesus Christ, his Father is your Father. You have received the gift of adoption and all its benefits. God’s name is given to you, you’ve received the spirit of adoption, and you have access to the throne of grace. You are never cast off but sealed until the day of redemption. You inherit the promises and are heirs of everlasting salvation.2
Notice that Paul also mentions that God loved us. I find that many believers can accept that Jesus loves them but struggle with the idea of the Father’s love. In this passage, Paul explicitly indicates both: “our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us.” God, our Father, loves us. Take that in. It’s true. Paul tells us God the Father already has loved us. What we need to do is realize and receive it.
Further, Paul points to the gift of God by grace. He “loved us and gave . . . through grace.” John 3:16 comes to mind: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John and Paul’s theology of the heavenly Father are exactly the same. God — sovereign as he is, mighty as he is, awesome as he is — is loving and giving. He is a gracious God. All his gifts come to us by grace.
Third, note in particular what it is that God the Father and Son gave: “eternal comfort and good hope.” He strengthened and encouraged you with a comfort that never goes away. It is eternal.
The Heidelberg Catechism tells us that our only comfort in life and in death is that we “belong to (our) faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” It goes on to say that “he has fully paid for all (our) sins with his precious blood, and has set (us) free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves (us) so that without the will of (our) heavenly Father not a hair can fall from (our) heads, and by his Holy Spirit assures (us) of eternal life.” With that kind of hope as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19), we can face anything in life, even death.
Fourth and finally, we come to the blessing proper. Having told you about Jesus, about God your heavenly Father, and what you’ve already received by grace, Paul now gives you the blessing. There are two things he wants you to have. He wants God to “comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” He wants you to be encouraged and he wants you to be equipped.
Paul prays God’s blessing of heart encouragement on you. We need that encouragement for the living of the Christian life because we face hard things daily. Then he adds “establish and equip you for every good work and word.” The Christian life is lived out of the blessings that God has given us, and it is living out the blessings God has given us. Paul wants us to do and be what God made us to do and be.
What a benediction!
1 John Stott, the Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Bible Speaks Today
2 See The Westminster Confession of Faith, 12.1.