A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:21-24. Conclusion.
Paul’s first prayer-wish is this: *Peace to the brethren, and love with faith* (verse 23). Peace has been a characteristic word of this letter. In the doctrinal section at the beginning he has explained how Jesus Christ ‘is our peace’ since he has broken down the dividing wall and created a single new humanity, ‘so making peace’, and how he then ‘came and preached peace’(2:14-17). Consequently, in the ethical section which follows Paul has begged them both to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ and to ‘forbear one another in love’ (4:2-3), indeed to ‘walk in love as Christ loved us’ (5:2). Peace and love belong together, for peace is reconciliation and love is its source and outflow. Paul paints a beautiful picture of the church fellowship and the Christian home pervaded with love and peace, even though no peace treaty can ever be negotiated with the principalities and powers of evil. When he adds to ‘love’ the words ‘with faith’, he is probably thinking of faith as a characteristic they already have, rather than as another he wants them to be given. For ‘faith they had; Paul’s prayer was that love might be connected with it’.
Paul’s second prayer wish is this: *Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying*. By this expression he characterizes his Christian readers in terms of their love for Christ. The letter’s final words in the Greek sentence mean simply ‘in incorruption’ (*en aphtharsia*). Most commentators understand them as a qualification of people’s love for Christ and so as a restriction on the grace of God. In this case, the prayer is that God’s grace may accompany those who love Christ *with love undying* or ‘with unfailing love’ (NEB). Other commentators have not felt such a limitation to be congruous with Paul’s conclusion. They therefore suggest attaching the phrase rather to God’s grace than to Christians’ love. In this case, the prayer is that all who love our Lord Jesus Christ may experience God’s grace ‘in immortality’ or ‘for ever’. If this is the correct, then ‘the epistle which opened with a bold glance into the eternal past closes with the outlook of an immortal hope’.
Of the four words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘faith’ and ‘grace’ which are included in the apostle’s final greeting, the two which stand out as particularly appropriate are ‘grace’ and peace’. The apostle began his letter by wishing his readers ‘grace…and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:2); he now ends it with a similar reference to grace and peace. No two words could summarize the message of the letter more succinctly. For ‘peace’ in the sense of reconciliation with God and one another is the great achievement of Jesus Christ, and ‘grace’ is the reason why and the means by which he did it. Moreover, both are indispensable to all members of God’s new society. Hence Paul’s wishing of peace to ‘the brethren’ (verse 23), who belong to each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God, and of grace to ‘all’ those who love Christ, without discrimination, whatever their race, rank, age or sex. It is a wish, a prayer, that the members of God’s new society may live in harmony as brothers and sisters in his family, at peace and in love with him and with each other, together with a recognition that only by his grace can this dream come true.
I venture, then, as we conclude our study of this letter to the Ephesians, to make Paul’s words my own and address them to you my readers: ‘Peace be to the ‘brothers and sisters’ and ‘grace be with you all’.
Tomorrow: This finishes the commentary on Ephesians. Tomorrow we start on The Message of 1 Thessalonians.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|