This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May God give you grace and peace. 1 Thessalonians 1:1
That’s how we open letters. That’s the way in our current culture we start speaking to someone in written form. And that’s if we are being formal. Or, if we are really being formal and writing to someone we don’t know we might throw out the old standby: “To whom it may concern…” But we don’t start letters like they did in the days of the early church. Maybe that’s partly because we aren’t writing the very words of God by the inspiration of the Spirit. That’s definitely some of it, but I think there is also just something to the time and culture that had a different idea of how to start a letter to another person. The way Paul starts his letters to the churches always seems to carry such weight and insight. His letter to the Thessalonians is no exception.
May God give you grace and peace.
We don’t talk like this to each other. We don’t proclaim or “bless” one another with this type of language today; at least not most of us. Probably due to the rise of formalized, institutional church and the fact that we live in Christian cultures that have lost some of the belief in the power of words.
The power of blessing someone with words—or cursing them—is found throughout the Scriptures. From Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing (which had simply been spoken words) to King Nebuchadnezzar’s speaking of curse upon himself when he took the credit from God, words hold powerful sway in the lives of people throughout the Bible. I don’t know that we see it quite that way today.
It seems the only way we see the church giving preference to words these days is within the movements that have turned this idea into little more than an almost magical way of getting what we want. Say the right things, use the right words, and God will give you what you want. But that’s not what it shows us in the Bible. When it comes to getting what we want from God we can certainly twist the idea of words being powerful and influential. Most of the time in the Bible when we see words being most powerfully, it has to do with how they are spoken over others. The whole idea of blessing others gives a great deal of weight to words and speaking.
God himself leads us in this when he brings out a priestly blessing for the priests to speak over the people:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing:
`May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’
God is giving power and value to the words we speak over one another. And Paul is following suit in his letters to the churches.
May God give you grace and peace.
It’s really like a spoken prayer for others. Paul is calling for grace and peace to be experienced by his readers. What would it look like for us to pray this way for one another? To pray with the belief that our words of blessing spoken over one another are powerful?
I have to admit, there is a skeptical side of me. A side that cringes at the idea of making this sound magical or that gives us the power or recognition. Make no mistake, this is not a call for us to embrace the power of our own voice, or to distract from the fact that anything we say or do only finds value in as much as God himself steps in and makes it happen. I just have to acknowledge that the God-followers of Scripture recognized that speaking words of intent and blessing over one another was something to cherish and practice. Perhaps it’s time to reclaim this way of speaking—this way or praying for one another.