5 Important Features of Paul’s Greetings
A typical letter begins with a greeting. The writer says, “hi, it’s me; I’ve been thinking about you,” or “Here’s the news from our part of the world.”
Paul’s greetings give us a bit of insight into who Christ is, too — the head of a family, a servant, a leader offering grace and peace. And Paul’s letters are also aimed at an audience identified by his terminology.
They aren’t just Colossians, Romans, Galatians, et. al. They are “the saints in Christ” (Colossians 1:2; Philippians 1:1). They are “the faithful saints” (Ephesians 1:1), those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
These various ways of addressing his brothers and sisters help to define “saint.” This is one who has placed his or her faith in Jesus for salvation and for sanctification.
The Greek word “hagiasmos” means “the process of advancing in holiness” or “being progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness.”
Paul identifies his readers as those who belong to God, which is critical because they might have been tempted to feel shame when faced with their sin.
Shame is a lie that undercuts reality: we were made in God’s image, and those who believe John 3:16 are the children of God.
They can expect to see themselves change over time, to look, act, and sound more and more like Jesus, but not perfectly, not without some false starts and recurring sins. Paul began with an important encouragement.
Later, as he expressed disappointment in certain behaviors, these Christians could look back at the greeting and remember who they were in Christ. They had committed sins, but these sins did not change their identities. They were not the sum of their trespasses.
Even if Paul was merely a person of habit, he offers every reader the same grace and peace. Otherwise, recipients might have been tempted to turn away from God for fear of condemnation. Without recognizing the humility of a servant in their teacher, they might have been tempted to boast.
Instead, Paul offered what he had also been given by the Lord himself. If he was displeased with the behavior he had heard about, Paul knew he needed what he had to offer as much as they did.
Even when he was about to come down on those sinful people and their disunity or false preachers, he started out by saying, essentially, there is a better plan for you; you are worth more than this; He is worth more than this; we can do this together.
He is saying, “I’m one of you.” As a servant, he identified with his Savior; as a mere mortal, a brother, he identified with the people of the newly formed church.
Many things in this life will change. We will be buffeted by the reality we face. Paul was, too, but he remained faithful, honest, and gracious, even when he was conveying painful truth designed to convict and foster spiritual refinement to the glory of God.
These letters have had an impact on Christians since they were first disseminated, probably even on the one who wrote them.
As he continued to build on the same themes of spiritual maturity, salvation, the immeasurable love of God for his people, etc., one can only hope that Paul was, himself, encouraged and comforted by the truths he taught.
Not only did he reaffirm what he knew about Jesus, but with every letter, he was reminded how far the gospel had spread and its immense power to change the hearts and lives of people who, in spite of diverse socio-economic, racial, and religious backgrounds, were united by the same truth that buoyed Christ’s suffering servant.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.