As I recently began preaching Philemon, Paul’s words in verse 3 struck me with a great gospel blow! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Certainly Philemon 3 is not the only verse in the Pauline epistles that contain a variation of that statement. Most all of the letters written by Paul open up with “grace and peace to you” in the greeting. Since this is a familiar greeting, one can easily over look the profound significance of what Paul is saying. Whether a person has been a believer for one year or for 25 years, the blessing of divine grace and peace should never get old to them. Far too often in my own life, I must confess that I can read a verse like Philemon 3 and move on to what I might think is more exciting, challenging, or profound. This truth is deep enough, profound enough, and exciting enough to meditate upon!
Later in this epistle, Paul asks Philemon to show grace to Onesimus; to forgive this runaway slave who stole from his master. Onesimus, by God’s providential hand, connects with Paul and is converted to the faith. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter urging Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon of the grace and peace that Philemon knows because of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is Paul stressing this? In the fast-paced life that most of us are engaged in, we must intentionally stop and consider what God has shown us in salvation. The thrice holy God shows us grace by forgiving our sins, making peace with sinful rebels (which is what we are), and all of this is due to the Son of God bearing the wrath of God on behalf of His people.
Ephesians 2:1-3 paints a bleak picture of our natural condition. Spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, in bondage to the corrupt world system of evil run by Satan, walking spiritual zombies with a passion to only satisfy our wicked desires: this is the condition of all of humanity before God. Eph. 2:4 says “But God who is rich in mercy” and 2:8 says “By grace you have been saved”. This holy God shows grace and mercy to wretched sinners. This wonderful grace manifests itself at the cross. The only way in which any sinner knows forgiveness is by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 2 Cor. 5:21 declares that the perfect One (Christ) became sin (took on His shoulders our sin curse, sin debt, and sin judgment) so that the sinner’s status changes from condemned to justified due to the righteousness of Christ. Do you see why Paul stresses on the grace that God shows to sinners? How can we say there is something more profound than that my sins have been forgiven, judged on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ clothes me? Just as Philemon needed to remember to show grace to another due to the grace shown to him, we stand in need of such exhortations. How often are we tempted to not show grace to another because of the way we feel slighted or mistreated? Beloved, if you and I know grace from Almighty God, there is no room for us to ever withhold grace. If we confess the doctrines of grace expounded upon in documents such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faithand the Westminster Confession of Faith, then let us not be intellectual Calvinists but practical Calvinists as well.
Paul speaks to the peace that Philemon knows along with grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is the peace that Philemon now enjoys with God. Romans 5:1-11 describes justification by faith alone in Christ alone producing peace with God. Jesus Christ died for enemies of God. Fallen sinners are at enmity with God. The unconverted hate God for His holiness and sovereignty, hate Christ since He perfectly kept the Law of God as the God-man being the standard of righteousness by which all are judged, and hate the Spirit for convicting the world of sin. Christ dies for the ungodly! Those who were standing under the wrath of God are completely transformed! Peace with God comes from God seeing not my sin and wretchedness but the righteousness of Christ. I have been radically changed going from a warring sinner in a futile, vain quest against the King to now being adopted by the King, clothed by the King, and seated at the table of the King! Grace to you and peace! What marvelous tidings of great joy these are! Is it any wonder Paul puts this in the greetings of his letters?
Finally, notice that Paul says this grace and peace come from both the Father and the Son. Paul declares the divine equality and unity within the Trinity. Our salvation is rooted in the covenant of redemption whereby the Father, Son, and Spirit in complete harmony accomplish the salvation of a people for the glory of God. If you are struggling in a dark night of the soul, brother or sister, remember that the Trinity showed you and continues to show you grace and peace. There is a covenant surety attached to your salvation that nothing of hell can null and void. If you are reading this and do not know this grace and peace, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. You cannot earn or merit this grace and peace. It is wrought by the Spirit, accomplished by the Son, and given by the Father! Renounce yourself and rest in Christ who beckons to you to come and know Him!