Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12—NKJV)

To the casual observer, invocations and benedictions appear to be add-ons to a worship service, acting as bookends to the real reason the believers have assembled together. How else should people be called to attention in a formal service and what better way to notify people they are dismissed?

From the days of my youth I remember one pastor would close every Sunday morning service the same way. He would have the congregation standing before him as he stood in the pulpit. He would raise both arms with outstretched hands as if they were figuratively placed upon every head assembled before him and he would intone a memorized prayer of blessing beginning with “And now may the Lord….” The words were a collection of pleasant phrases designed to convey the sense of God’s blessing pursuing every member as they exited the church to face the work-a-day world for the rest of the week.

When I became a pastor I thought about the purpose of these forms for worship. Reverence for God requires, indeed demands, thoughtful precision in the sacred responsibility of invoking the Name of God and in pronouncing blessings from Him to His people. In Numbers 6:22ff God informs Aaron of the High Priestly function in this regard: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.—So shall they put [invoke] My Name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” This is the linking of God’s Name with His people, both His reputation and their task.

The term benediction means essentially “good word.” Those who focus on form will formally identify the place of the benediction by the words “pronounce the benediction.” They often go so far as to intimate that a proper benediction is a word addressed to the hearer rather than to God. I think that such a restrictive formula relegates the pastor to sayings of his own choosing and creativity rather than the broad breadth of great congregational blessings found throughout the pages of the Scriptures. Practically any prayer by the Apostle Paul in his many letters to the churches may serve as extremely fitting and fine benedictions. I believe the inspired words of Scripture far outstrip the benefit of any favorite sentiment that I may produce and pronounce upon God’s people. One such prayer is the one found in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12.

Paul has several prayers in this one epistle that are “benediction” worthy. Take note of his prayers in 2:16f, 3:5, and 3:16, 18. What can convey a more effectual “good word” to close a service than reciting a Scripture invoking God’s gracious love upon people characterized by faith-filled obedience? Such words are not “throw away” words but truly words of blessing in the form of a united and reverential prayer invoking the Name of the Lord upon His people.

There are three sides to the blessing (like three sides to a triangle), all related to the same object found in Paul’s benedictive prayer in 2:11f. He begins his prayer requesting God’s Sovereign accounting—“that He would count them worthy of this calling.” The previous verses speak of how God had already been at work transforming their pagan hearts into trophies of grace. Now Paul requests that God reckon them worthy and deem them deserving of this calling, the calling of Saints with the Name of God resting upon them. Someone once said, “Whom God counts worthy He first makes worthy.” By grace, you are chosen, you are called, and you are commissioned!

The second side of the triangular request is God’s Sovereign action for their benefit—“fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power.” Power, taken adverbially, is connected to “fulfill.” Paul’s prayer is that God would mightily fulfill His grace (v. 12) in them so that His work placing faith in them eventuates in their fruitfulness in righteousness. In other words, His holy interests exerted upon His church fosters the working reality of their faith seen as everyday obedience where belief engages the issues of life.

The final side of the triangular request is God’s Sovereign affiliation—“that the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him.” The blessing of mutual partnership as God’s sovereignly shares His glory and receives glory from His faithful children is in view. His glory is to be both the standard and the aim of our every work of faith. God’s Glory is my glory!

What a “good word” to end a corporate season of worship in the body of Christ! Never view a benediction from Scripture as words to dismiss; see them as divine empowerment to serve! Trust and obey.