The Apostle Paul signs off every one of his thirteen letters in the New Testament with words of grace such as in Romans: the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you or more simply in Colossians and Titus: grace be with you. At its most basic meaning, grace means kindness or goodwill towards someone. Even to his “problem children” at Corinth, Paul was careful to wish upon them the goodwill of Jesus, although he had much to say about their immature behaviour. To the church in Galatia he can write a harsh rebuke: “you foolish Galatians! – Who has bewitched you?” and yet close his stern letter with words of grace.
What a lesson to remember. Grace is an appropriate gesture even in times of stress, anger, or disappointment. We can confront one another’s foolishness or rebellion, and still leave room for grace. It’s the difference between a statesman and a tyrant, between a manager and a taskmaster, between an encourager and a critic. It’s the way God deals with us, and it should characterise the way we deal with those around us.
Grace gives us the capacity to overlook trivial mistakes, not getting all worked up about things of no real consequence. Grace enables us to show patience and wisdom in dealing with bigger problems, and not fanning them into a firestorm of resentment. Grace is the ability to forgive with dignity – not by pretending it never happened, but by letting go of the drive to hurt back. Grace is stronger than any grudge, and it easily outranks spite as a way to live.
C. S. Lewis summed up the difference between Christianity and all the other religions of the world in this one word. Grace makes all the ways of somehow working your way into God’s good books seem ludicrous. It’s by grace we are saved, through faith . . . not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), and as a result we conduct ourselves graciously towards others, the “good works which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them.” (Eph 2:10). No other religion starts out with grace – kindness shown to those who deserve no kindness, goodwill extended to those still mired in their sins. It is in light of God’s grace that we can find the resolve to be gracious. In Matthew 18:21-35 we see Jesus teach an extraordinary lesson on this point: a man owes his master more money than he could repay in ten lifetimes, and is forgiven. That same man then tries to violently collect on a trivial sum owed to him!
Leave some room for grace and you reserve a place where repentance and restoration can take place. When hard words must be said, grace will help you keep a friend. Grace makes you easier to live with, easier to listen to, and easier to like. So to quote Paul again: “let your speech be seasoned with grace as if with salt, so that you might know how you should respond to each and every person.”