By Sarah Morrison
Staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.
Greetings, salutations, concluding remarks— these are all things so easy to look over and ignore. They aren’t the “meat” of the content given. They are simply humble annotations; in our minds they’re explanatory at best and frivolous at worst.
I’m a believer that words matter. That the brevity and conciseness of our speech should convey with ease the depth and weight of what we are meaning to communicate. Yet I find it so tempting to skip over introductions and conclusions. They’re just introductory and conclusive, right? Summations of what has already been read? Yet I’ve been hit with conviction that this is simply not so. Especially and particularly when I’m reading the very Word of God.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Let us be trained in righteousness by the easily overlooked first and final greetings in our Bibles, and through this may our hearts pursue relationships that reflect the very character of the God that we serve. These introductions and conclusions are important namely because the very words penned have been ordained by God to meet our eyes millennia after having been written and having traveled thousands of miles to make it to us. Every word we read in Scripture is saturated with meaning and purpose, and we should treat it as such. Greetings and salutations are contained in every New Testament epistle. By the very nature of a letter there is a section of first and final greeting, but there is a specific occurrence in 11 of these 21 letters. In these aforementioned 11 epistles, there are specific believers mentioned by the author who is sending their greetings to the recipient of the letter.
This might seem minor, but I find it compellingly important. Not necessarily because of what the greeting itself says, but what it says about the believers who are mentioned in these letters. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John all contain a final salutation that includes addresses to the given recipient(s) of the letter from additional believers who were with the author. While Paul, Peter, and John were writing their letters to other churches and fellow believers in Christ, those that were near them found enough energetic affection within themselves to ensure that the author of the letter penned their very names as an exhortation of encouragement to whom it would concern. Similar to a modern day, “How’s your sister doing? Tell her I say hello! She is in my prayers.” Is your heart not uplifted upon hearing that someone has thought of you? Does your soul remain unrefreshed when you receive an unsolicited note?
As a domestic missionary, this catapults me from complacency toward my brothers and sisters in Christ—whether they be in my state, in my country, or across the world. I feel the weight of this on two fronts. On one side, I’ve felt the weight of distance, feeling forgotten and forsaken by those back “home.” I’ve spent many hours praying to God for relief from the feeling of being overlooked, pleading that someone would remember me by a text or by a phone call. Likewise, I’ve ignored that urging of the Spirit to check in with the other domestic and foreign missionaries that I know. I’ve neglected those near and far from me by becoming disobedient when the Spirit urges me to speak with love and edify His church. My experience as a church planter does not negate that I should care for other believers; I am not nullified in this command simply because I myself have experienced hardship in this arena. No—instead I ought to be pressed to ensure with certainty that those who are in Christ remain in the hope that He has for us. I must heed the call to herald to my brothers and sisters that they are not forgotten and that their work for the gospel is not in vain.
This leads me to two particular questions: Are we caring for and showing affection to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? And if we are, are we faithfully serving them by ensuring they know they are thought of and cherished? When Peter wrote his first letter to believers who had been exiled because of their faith, the church of Babylon as a whole greets them, as does Mark. When Paul writes to the church in Colossae, a myriad of people greet them, including Mark and adding Aristarchus, Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas. When Paul writes to Philemon, these same individuals sent their greetings to him as well. They were concerned for other believers, and that concern compelled them to make certain that the recipients of the letter knew that they were near to them in spirit, their burdens were shared, and they would remain unforgotten.
We are not encouragement-optional creatures in Christ. Out of the overflow of Christ’s care for us, so we should also care for those near and far from us. As an appeal to you, I draw from Philemon 8:
“For this reason, though I have boldness to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you instead on the basis of love.”
Though Scripture commands of us numerous times to care for others, yield our preferences to the preferences of those around us, and to count others as more significant than ourselves, (Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3-4, Galatians 6:2), I appeal to you on the basis of love that you would cultivate energetic affection for encouraging other believers, shared by the likes of Mark, Aristarchus, and Epaphras. God is constantly and unceasingly at work in each of our lives. Let us not be used by the devil in our passivity toward edifying the believers that are an email, text, or phone call away.