Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A One-Sentence Prayer

“The Lord be with your spirit.”

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

This first quote is the last line of 2 Timothy. The second is the last line of both Galatians and Philemon. Paul liked to close with it when writing people he cared about passionately, meaning that it wasn’t a throwaway sentiment or a meaningless spiritual cliché. It’s more than a fond wish; it’s a one-sentence prayer, or a blessing.

So what is he saying exactly?

The Meaning of Spirit

The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma, meaning literally “wind” or “breath”. It appears nearly 400 times in the New Testament, the vast majority of these being references to the Holy Spirit or to evil or unclean spirits. References to the human spirit, as we have here, number less than fifty.

A quick survey of these reveals the word is used of the human life energy generally (“he yielded up his spirit”). We can probably eliminate that possibility. Paul is surely saying more here than just “I sure hope you stay alive.” But the word pneuma is also associated with: (1) self-knowledge (“for who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person?”); (2) commitment (“being fervent in spirit”); (3) insight (“perceiving in his spirit”); (4) thought life (“God, whom I serve with my spirit”); (5) attitude and outlook (“be renewed in the spirit of your minds”); (6) determination (“Paul resolved in the spirit”); (7) impulses (“his spirit was provoked within him”); and (8) emotions, both desirable (“my spirit rejoices”) and less so (“he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”).

That covers a lot of territory!


To Timothy, the apostle writes “The Lord be with your spirit.” Timothy was a young man with a difficult job in front of him, one that might have easily tested his resolve. He was to share in suffering as a good soldier, to compete like an athlete and to work hard like a farmer. He was going to deal with irreverent babblers, and to find ways to avoid the trap of youthful passions. There would be times of difficulty, men in opposition and a compromised flock. With all this in front of him, he would need the Lord’s help in every aspect of his inner man; strengthening his convictions, refreshing his spirit, directing his impulses, giving him insight into his own motives, and managing his emotions.


To Philemon, Paul writes specifically of the Lord’s grace. Philemon had been wronged. For whatever reason, Onesimus owed him a duty of service, which he had failed to deliver. Almost surely there had been a financial cost to Philemon in replacing his labor, not to mention an inconvenience and perhaps even a minor embarrassment. Paul’s plea is that Philemon forget about his legal rights and accept Onesimus back as a beloved brother in Christ. This in a culture that hired professional slave catchers to recover debtors who had reneged on their obligations. When returned, these runaways were whipped, burned, branded or even killed. Philemon was being asked to break with a pattern of behavior that was considered totally acceptable in his society; to rethink his natural response to Onesimus and to be renewed in the spirit of his mind with respect to the situation. That might take more of the Lord’s grace than we would imagine today.


As for the Galatians, grace is practically a theme of that short letter. Paul opens and closes with it, and uses the word eight times in between. The Galatians had been “called in grace”, but were turning to a different gospel — that of law-keeping, which wasn’t “good news” at all, but rather the same-old same-old. For these Galatians to seek righteousness through the law would be to “nullify the grace of God” and to “fall away from grace”. These too needed their thought lives transformed and to commit themselves to refusing to go back under the bondage of the law no matter how much pressure the Judaizers exerted on them. The “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” with their spirits was both appropriate and necessary.

Sometimes you can pack a fair bit into a single sentence.

No comments :

Post a Comment