Saying ‘Be blessed’ – more than a nice gesture?

  • Question 192, from Mark, United Kingdom

    In church we hear many people say, “be blessed”, “I pray God will bless you” or “you’re a real blessing”.

    While I totally believe that many people use this as a genuine statement or encouragement, I’m sure for some it could be viewed as a bit of a cliché. But what does to be ‘blessed’, or to pray blessing over someone actually mean in biblical terms? How can we avoid it becoming a cliché and something that just rolls of the tongue without much thought?

    The Christian view of blessing is of spiritual and material benefits given by God. There are many precedents for this in the Old Testament, and in Numbers chapter 6, Moses is told to tell Aaron and the priests to bless the people of Israel on behalf of God, so that God wold look favourably upon them (see verses 22-27).

    Such a blessing was the preserve of the priesthood under the covenant of Moses, and this continues in churches who regard priests as acting as a mediator between humans and God. However, in protestant churches, an emphasis on the idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ (based on 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 9) means that any Christian can pronounce God’s blessing on another Christian.

    There is a danger of any well-known words or phrases becoming a meaningless cliché. Jesus is very clear when instructing his followers that they should speak carefully and mean what they say. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus tells the crowds to avoid swearing oaths, and concludes “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” (verse 37)

    It is easy to get into meaningless patterns of speech, and the book of James contains a very clear warning against saying things without really meaning them:

    “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James chapter 2, verses 15-16)

    Reinterpreting that verse from James in the light of this question, telling someone to ‘be blessed’ and doing nothing to actually help or support them may be equally useless. The challenge is always that a person who says ‘Be blessed’ may have to follow that up with action.

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