The Glory of the Benediction
When I was younger and growing up in a Lutheran congregation, I knew the worship service was almost over when the congregation sang a scripture song (canticle) that began: “Thank the Lord and sing His praise…” following the communion.
On one occasion of singing this song, I remember leaning over to my dad and saying, “Yep, thank the Lord this is almost over!” He was less than pleased by my comment.
As a young child, I was excited about the end of the worship service because it meant an end to sitting still and the beginning of running around, being silly, and — of course — lunch!
But now as an adult and a minister in a Reformed Church, I still look forward to the end of the worship service and particularly the final element: the Benediction.
The Structure of Reformed Worship
There is a logic to a Reformed worship service. It begins with God calling the people to worship Him. We don’t come into God’s presence except by His command and invitation.
Following the “Call to Worship” are various elements that exalt God before us as we renew our covenant with Him and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us.
The worship service ends with the “Benediction.”
The Blessing of God
The word benediction simply means good word; it is a blessing. Benedictions appear in most of the letters of the New Testament (the Epistle of James, notably, concludes without one).
Typically the benediction in a worship service is taken directly from a passage of Scripture.
Sometimes the object of blessing is God:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)
But more often the object of blessing is the people of God:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)
Sometimes a benediction is a compilation of Biblical texts as in the case of this onecommonly used by Ligon Duncan:
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the day breathes and the shadows flee away. Amen. (cf. Eph 6:23, Cant. 2:17)
And occasionally benedictions might be a summary of biblical truths, ideas, and words as in the case of this one from Ralph Davis:
Now may the God for whom you wait, lift you up out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire and set your feet upon a rock, and may He place you in the shadow of His wings until the storms of destruction pass by. Amen.
Benedictions can be confusing. Are we blessing God? Is God blessing us? Is it a prayer? Is it a pronouncement?
The First Benediction
The answer to the questions above is yes. But also that it is more of some of those things than others.
We can understand the way the benediction functions in a worship service when we consider the first one in the Scripture; not necessarily the first benediction, but the first benediction instituted for public worship.
Following instructions for the Nazirite vow, God declares His intention to bless the whole of His people:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
From this first benediction we get a sense for how the benediction is chiefly to function in the corporate worship service: it is God’s word to His people, God’s good word to His people of blessing.
A benediction chiefly functions not as a prayer, but as a pronouncement of God’s minister about God’s disposition toward His people.
The Assurance of the Benediction
This is why I love getting to the benediction in the worship service. Because it is a reminder to God’s people at the very start of the week - before they have accomplished a single thing that week - that in Christ, God’s disposition toward them is one of blessing, grace, peace, and love.
God’s benediction (blessing) is not something we earn by performing satisfactorily or being good enough over the past week. God’s blessing is - like everything else in the gospel - a gift of His free grace to fill His empty people.
Just before the saints depart worship and get ready to clean up the Cheerios their kids have spilled all over the pew, race to the bathroom, and then enter a week of work, or even face what Dr Davis called the “slimy pit…mud and mire” of life in the world, God’s final, closing word to His people is a reminder, a pronouncement of His intent to bless His people no matter what:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes. 5:23–24)
And that is the glory of the benediction: He will surely do it.
Ryan Biese is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Oglethorpe, GA.
Pleasing God in Our Worship by Robert Godfrey
"Clarkson on the Profitability of Public Worship" by Jacob Tanner
"The Forgotten Gift of Evening Worship" by Jim McCarthy
What Happens When We Worship? by Jonathan Landry Cruse
40 Favorite Hymns of the Christian Faith by Leland Ryken
Note: This article was originally published on the author's blog.
P/C "The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk" by John Henry Lorimer (1891)