To modern ears, benedictions may sound like archaic and rigid conclusions to worship services. Why not just say, “You’re dismissed”?
But what if benedictions reach down into our deepest hopes? What if they train us to have God-sized expectations for the future? And what if they aren’t just for pastors in worship services, but for all of us in everyday life?
Benedictions are gospel blessings that teach us to expect what only God can give, and the Bible is filled with them. God’s first word to humanity was to bless them (Gen. 1:28). He commanded Israel’s priests to place his blessing over his people (Num. 6:22–27). As Jesus’s final act before ascending to heaven, he lifted his hands and blessed his disciples (Luke 24:51). Most of the New Testament letters include at least one benediction, and God’s last words to us in the Bible are a benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21).
Why do benedictions matter for us today? Here are five reasons we should recover the use of them in our worship services.
1. They Give Us God-Sized Expectations
Benedictions express anticipation for the blessings only God can give. We often confuse them with prayers or doxologies, but they are unique.
- With a prayer, we ask for what only God can do: “Father in heaven, may your kingdom come.”
- With a doxology, we give the glory only God is due: “Now to him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
- With a benediction, we expect what only God can give: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5).
Benedictions give us God-sized expectations for our future. When you look out on your life’s horizon, what do you expect that God might do for you? What do you expect he can do for you? What do you think he wants to do for you? When we hear a biblically rooted benediction, we hear the gracious future that God alone can open up for us.
They teach us to anticipate God’s promises of a transformed heart and life (Heb. 13:20–21). They teach us to seek for our hearts to be comforted and established in every good word and work (2 Thess. 2:16–17). They teach us to live, every step, under the grace of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:21). Benedictions remind us that what we need most can only come from God.
2. They’re Gospel Blessings
Benedictions are God-given, gospel-shaped words of blessing. “Benediction” comes from the Latin “good” and “speak.” They are “good words.” They are gospel words. They take God’s promises and recast them as expected blessings.
Biblical benedictions do not primarily focus on health and wealth; they set our minds on God and his grace. They direct our hearts to God’s love and Christ’s steadfastness (2 Thess. 3:5). They offer the love, grace, and fellowship of the triune God (2 Cor. 13:5). They lead us to long for church cultures of joyful unity (Rom. 15:5–6, 13). They express the heart of Christian theology and experience.
3. They Matter for Everyday Life
Benedictions do not mainly conclude, but transition. When a New Testament author gives a benediction at the end of a letter, he gathers up the ideas that came before and reframes them as an expected blessing from God. They’re like bridges, carrying the hopeful content of the letter into our everyday lives.
Benedictions are bridges. They do not mainly conclude, but transition.
This is why Christian worship services traditionally include them. It is not just a sacred way of saying, “You’re dismissed.” The benediction bridges the end of a worship service and the beginning of the week of worship to come. It takes the grace God gave during the service and lets it cross over into our lives as we go. It launches us into our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces with God’s blessing.
4. They’re Costly
We’ll value benedictions when we know what it cost for us to be able to have them. Jesus gave a benediction to his disciples immediately after his resurrection. He said, “Peace to you” three times (John 20:19, 21, 26). Why peace, and why after the resurrection and not before? Because Jesus had to receive our curse for us to receive his blessing. He is our peace with God.
On the cross, Jesus essentially heard, “May the Lord curse you,” so that we can now hear, “May the Lord bless you.” Jesus took the malediction we deserve so we could receive the benediction we don’t.
5. They’re for Everyone
How, then, do we recover benedictions today? First, if you’re a church leader, give them at the end of your gatherings. Recite a biblical benediction. Or follow the pattern of the New Testament authors: translate the heart of your sermon into a blessing for your church family. Let it be a bridge that carries the grace of the service into everyday life. If your congregation isn’t used to this, consider preaching on several New Testament benedictions to show their significance.
Second, if your Sunday gathering concludes with a benediction, receive it. Hold out your hands as an expression of your empty hands of faith. Let it enlarge your expectations as you move out into your week. Receive the blessing of God and take it with you as you go.
Jesus took the malediction we deserve so we could receive the benediction we don’t.
Third, incorporate benedictions into everyday life. Include them in letters and emails. Write them in birthday, graduation, or sympathy cards. Speak them over your children before bed. Use them to express what you hope God will do for your friend or family member.
Fourth, familiarize yourself with the Bible’s benedictions. Read them, study them, enjoy them, use them. Here is a representative list: Numbers 6:24–26; Psalm 67:1–2; Romans 15:5–6; 15:13; 1 Corinthians 16:22–23; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 6:23-24; 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13; 5:23–24, 28; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17; 3:5, 16, 18; Philemon 25; Hebrews 13:20–21.
May the triune God of love lead us to give and receive benedictions in everyday life, that we might live under his blessing and expect what only he can give.