“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:23
One of the things that pastors often say at the end of a worship service is a benediction — literally “well-speaking,” or good words spoken.
The scripture above is from Paul’s conclusion of his first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. The letter is thought to have been written in 50 A.D. His benediction was a way of conferring a blessing upon that congregation while he was away on his continuing missionary journeys.
Giving a blessing to another was no lighthearted thing in the ancient world. In those days, your word had weight and meaning, plus, it could invoke a legal or promissory obligation — “your word is your bond” may be a phrase you have heard before.
It means that whatever you say can be trusted and will take place as you have stated.
People could rely on your words to have a future, if not immediate, consequence for the person hearing what you said. Now, Paul gave strict instructions that his letter to the Thessalonian church be read to all the members of that congregation. So his intent was that they all would be blessed though his benediction by his invoking God’s good works in and through them.
Blessing a person was taken seriously to such an extent that a person’s future could hinge upon it.
Take, for instance, the blessing Isaac gave to his son Jacob, thinking he was Esau the first-born twin. Once the blessing was given, it was a done deal, not to be taken back or amended in any way. That was a crushing blow to Esau when he came in after the blessing had been spoken upon his brother. He begged his father and asked if he had only one blessing to give — wasn’t there another blessing he might receive?
Then, what Isaac said to Esau was not so much a blessing but a prediction for his future. Isaac said that Esau and his descendants would serve Jacob throughout his lifetime and beyond. You see, Esau allowed Jacob to cheat him twice. This was a judgment upon his gullible rashness and it became his downfall. Even though Jacob was a scheming liar, his cunning got him his brother’s birthright and their father’s blessing.
Yet, the intent of a benediction is not for it to be a commodity that can be bartered or sold.
It is the intent to bestow well-being on someone else. In our church’s liturgy, we often sing what is called the Kyrie (pronounced “Kear-ee-ay”), which is a Greek word meaning “Lord.” It is part of a phrase: “Kyrie eleison” (“Kear-ee-ay, ee-lay-ee-sohn,” meaning “Lord, have mercy”). It is a worshipful way to ask for the Lord’s benediction or blessing.
One of the petitions we sing is: “For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the Church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.” We are asking for God’s words of blessing upon we who are his Church, upon his world, and for unity in performing his purposes to bring God the glory he is due.
The benediction is a tool for turning our mindset into being like that of God’s. To have the mind of Christ in our words and deeds is certainly a mighty blessing, indeed!
Our world today is in need of a mighty benediction.
The well-being of the world God created and of his Church is at stake.
When I say Church, I use the term in the most universal way that is possible. In the Lord’s Kingdom, there are no denominations or non-denominations. There are no proper liturgical or non-liturgical practices. There are no points of theology or of worship practices to be debated. The Church of Christ Jesus, who is Lord of the Church in Heaven and on Earth, transcends those human distinctions.
The Church Triumphant will be the myriad who will appear before him at the end of this age (Revelation 7:9). When Jesus appears on the day of his return, we will confirm that God has and will continue to bestow a mighty benediction on us forever.
That is the confidence of being a Jesus follower. It is the confirmation of our faith. It is the hope of salvation and eternal life that we have been promised, where every fear and every tear will be wiped away.
That is a glorious promise and one that I know the Lord will keep, because God has always kept his promises!
So, not only do we receive blessings from God, but we are commanded to be a blessing to others. That includes giving our blessings for the sake of others.
Our world is in the throws of a critical time. The virus that has brought our world to a halt has stopped us long enough that we have an opportunity to hear what blessings God has for us in the midst of this pandemic. We must be still long enough to hear and receive his blessing. Then use it as fuel to pass the blessing along to everyone who will receive it.
Now, I will leave with you who read this my benediction, a paraphrase of the blessing that began this article: “May the God of peace make you completely his, and keep your whole being, spirit, soul and body, free from all fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The Rev. Randall (Randy) Conley is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Hubbard Lake. He is married to his wife of 21 years, Robbie. He has written articles on faith and theology for several publications in his denomination. He enjoys preaching, teaching and gardening at home.