Attacking Brothers with Blessing

Paul usually included a benediction of grace and peace in his letters. “The God of peace be with all of you. Amen” (Romans 15:33). “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Corinthians 16:23-24). “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen” (Galatians 6:18). Here our greetings convey both human love and divine favor. Paul was not merely talking about a blessing; he was imparting it. In doing so, Paul was drawing on a rich Old Testament tradition. The “blessing” was standard practice among the people of God from the very beginning. Fathers pronounced a blessing on their children, a leader on the people. The blessing was given through prophetic utterance or the change of a name. Such a blessing communicated God’s favor. The loss of blessing was considered a terrible curse, as we learn from Esau, who wept bitterly when his father decided to let the blessing on Jacob remain, even though he had received it under false pretense.

Esau’s cry-“O Father, bless me!”-has echoed through the centuries in the hearts of those who have never received a greeting that carries the blessing of God. Children, parents, spouses, lovers, colleagues and friends want to know that our love for them reflects the love of God, that our love for them channels the love of God. People want to know that God’s favor rests on them. They depend on us, at least in part, to receive that blessing.

Our Christian enemies need that blessing too. I am not proposing that we ignore or dismiss tensions in the church today, but I am suggesting that we mitigate them by praying the favor of God on our Christian opponents whenever we meet them, whether in cordial or adversarial situations. They belong to God, as we do; they believe in God, as we do; they stand in need of God, as we do. The substance of our disagreements might not change, but the spirit of the relationship often will if in our greetings we bestow God’s blessing. We need to remind our opponents that though we differ with them in theology or practice, we still regard them as Christian brethren.

Gerald L. Sittser. Love One Another: Becoming the Church Jesus Longs For (Kindle Locations 316-328). Kindle Edition.

The God who calls

Therefore the strongest argument that can be opposed to the previous one is to be found in the fact that God made a distinction between Isaac and Ishmael and between Jacob and Esau, who were born in the same way of Abraham and Isaac. Nevertheless, Ishmael, no matter how much he desires it, cannot be the heir. No, the seed of the promise, which has the call and, over and above the first birth, has the second and regeneration, is given the preference. But this is the source of perpetual war from the beginning of the world to the end, not about trivialities but about that glorious title “church,” the people of God, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life. Thus today we are at variance with the church of the pope, which wants to be the people of God and to have possession of the kingdom and the priesthood. They boast that they alone are the church of God which acknowledges God as the Father and worships Him properly. They condemn and persecute us as heretics and the church of the devil. This is what it means that the infants are at variance before they were born; for from the beginning there is a twofold church in the world, just as the seed is twofold: the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, which contend and are at variance with each other because of the title “church.” Paul certainly handed down an exceedingly clear and powerful dialectic when he pointed out the difference between the birth and the call. Where there is the birth alone, there is condemnation; for, as John says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6) and “not of blood, etc.” (John 1:13). Paul says something else. “Because of His call she was told,” he writes (Rom. 9:11-12); that is, the Word of God and the promise are necessary. Over and above the creature, he who wants to rule and be a son of God must hear Him, not as the God who creates but as the God who calls.

Luther, Martin (1966-01-01). Luther’s Works, Vol. 4: Genesis Chapters 21–25 (Kindle Locations 6816-6830). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.