Category Archives: Growth

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Growing Like a Baby

I remember holding him as he slept in my arms. Carrying him around the house, taking countless pictures of him doing the same thing, changing his clothes—all as he kept sleeping.

When my little brother was an infant, I loved giving him a bottle, trying to get him to smile, and taking him on walks in his stroller. He was just a couple of days old when my grandma reminded me that, quick as a flash, he would soon be a one-month-old. That’s forever away, I thought, and couldn’t imagine it coming so fast.

Now he is speeding around on his bike (sans training wheels) and using words like “stoked” and “insane” and “nevertheless.” It happened. Quicker than she said it would. How did that sleepy little baby turn into a funny and sarcastic eight-year-old?

It Seems to Happen By Accident

At what point does a baby become a toddler, or a toddler join the ranks of preschoolers? We say they are “growing right before our eyes,” but we don’t really mean it. Our vision can’t pick up the imperceptible growth that happens every second.

My two-day-old baby brother did not decide to grow. He didn’t choose to grow, or pursue growth as some kind of major life goal or something to check off his baby bucket list. He just grew.

Not Really By Accident

We feed the children and water the plants, clothe the children and fertilize the garden. But all of the things we do only encourage what is already there—we don’t give them life. They already have that.

The life bestowed on every boy, girl, man, woman, dog, cat, elephant, flower, tree, starfish, and sea anemone comes from God – the “Author of Life” (Acts 3:15). Not from anything we do. Not from anything we invent or create or try to come up with alone.

With all the care we give, we help to keep that child or flower healthy, but its growth ultimately comes from the life God infused within it. We are freely given the life, and we are freely given the growth.

Like a Baby

Our spiritual growth—like our physical growth—can be tough to measure, but God has provided an example for us in Scripture and in life.

“Like newborn infants,” Peter wrote, “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

All my baby brother did was sleep and eat and repeat ad nauseam. Somehow he grew. When Paul wrote to first-century Christians, he didn’t tell them to grow. He told them to eat, knowing that spiritual food and nourishment would supply the growth they needed through the life God gives.

Like plants and children, our spiritual lives need nurturing. And like physical life, we can’t create spiritual life—God does that. We are given the life and we are given the growth. Freely.

Just like a baby.

Never an Accident

Ultimately, the favor of the Father shines on us like the blazing star that warms our gardens from light-years away. We can feed and clothe and water, but “God…gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We don’t have to “make” our children grow. We can’t even keep them from growing.

Similarly, the spiritual life breathed by God courses through us, growing us from the inside out in ways we don’t realize until much farther down the road. With healthy conditions—food, water, love, the favor of God—it just happens, like a miraculous accident. Which, of course, is no accident at all.