How do you view benedictions? I started thinking more about them as I read Paul’s benediction in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (NIV)
A benediction is an interesting form of prayer. I think that we often look at them from the wrong viewpoint because of traditions. The priest, pastor, or reverend at the end of a religious service raises his hand toward the congregation and invokes a benediction. It is often a rote formulation copied out of a prayer book or some verses from the Bible. Also called a blessing, it appears as though the person offering the benediction is somehow greater than the ones receiving it, which in some cases is appropriate (Heb 7:7). This viewpoint places a greater emphasis on the one doing the blessing, for he is somehow capable of making this special kind of prayer because he has a special in with God that the recipient do not have. Therefore, he pronounces this pray speaking as if God is a bystander. I don’t think this is the way benedictions should be used nor are they the way the Bible intends them to be seen.
The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace. (Num 6:24-26 NASU)
This is a common blessing that is recited at the end of services. It is the way the Lord commanded Aaron to bless Israel. However, Aaron’s and Paul’s benedictions are in contrast with most benedictions spoken at the end of a service. While there is nothing wrong in quoting Aaron’s benediction, the context leading up to the benediction is missing. Aaron’s was at the end of a long list of rules and regulations. The meaning is clear because the Lord also said, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Lev 18:5 NKJV). The application is the blessing of that the Lord supplies when the people are obedient to the Law. The result is peace. Paul’s benediction relates back to the concerns he had for the Thessalonians. Viewed in context, the benediction then becomes a reinforcement of the message. It is telling the recipients that God would accomplish in the heart of the believers the application of the message just preached.
As an example, if the message has been on the Ten Commandments and the minister ends the message with Aaron’s blessing. There is no connection with the message. Shouldn’t the blessing be something like, “May the Lord convict you of idolatry and using His name wrongly in your swearing and cursing.” Or, “May the Lord strengthen you to honor Him before all other things and glorify His name in all you say and then may the Lord bless and keep you …”
One other thing, why is the benediction only at the end of the service? Paul still had two more chapters to write when he gave this benediction. Maybe there should be a benediction after each point of a sermon.
So now, let’s look at the way Paul’s benediction applied to his previous message.
Clear the Way
What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15 NLT)
Seldom do we see benedictions that include the person who is praying. Paul included himself in his benediction. He is acknowledging, as James instructed, to make sure that the Lord’s will is in mind. He asked that the Lord clear the way not just for his sake, but also so that the Thessalonians would be blessed when they were able to see each other again. A significant portion of the previous passages starting in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, was devoted to the eagerness in which he wanted to see them and after learning that they had the same desire, it was appropriate to pray in the benediction for the Lord to make that possible.
Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12 NASB)
Paul’s second point in his benediction was for an increase in love toward everyone. Who wouldn’t want this to happen? Jesus said the greatest commandments is to love God and the second is to love others (Matt 22:37-40). In His Sermon on the Mount, He explained that this is demonstrated in treating other the way we want to be treated (Matt 7:12). Of course, this is predicated on the concept that you are a person that wants to love God in the first place. John wrote much about love in 1 John and that it is first predicated on knowing God (1 John 4:8). The person who claims to love God but is not showing love to others is a liar (1 John 4:20). What better benediction would there be for those whom Paul loved and who loved him? His longing to see them and their desire to see him was rooted in love.
Strength to Be Holy and Blameless
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24 ESV)
Paul’s benediction also was calling upon God to give the Thessalonians the strength to be holy and blameless. Much of his concern for them was that they had fallen away because of persecution. I’ve written about our need to be solid in our faith before persecution comes, but we still need the Lord to strength us for persecution. However, surviving persecution, the testing of the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:7), like loving others, assumes that we have faith. If we have faith we also have the promises of Jesus that we won’t fall away (John 10:27-30). Jude’s benediction is worded differently than Paul’s, but take another look at it. God, through Jesus Christ receives glory because He is the one who gives the strength not to stumble and sin. We are blameless because, through Jesus, all our sins, past present and future have been wiped out, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14 NIV).
Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.” (Ruth 2:4 NASU)
Benedictions should fit the message preached. However, there are other benedictions that are appropriate. In the book of Ruth, Boaz the landowner blessed his hired hands. But look at the response. They turned around and asked for a blessing on their boss. This establishes the fact that we don’t need to be the one in authority, as patriarchs blessed their families before dying (Gen 27:26-29, 49:1-27), or as priests (Num 6:22-27), apostles, or pastors. We can and should bless around those us (1 Peter 3:9).
With this in mind, how do we apply it? One way is to establish a tradition to bless our families when we pray. We can send our family members off to work (at home or outside of home) or school.
May the Lord renew the use of benedictions in your home, in your church, and even in your work. May the traditions be full of meaning and not rote renditions of formula prayers.