In our Wednesday evening study, I was reminded of something I discovered years ago about the way the Apostle Paul writes his letters. In some respects, Paul followed the typical letter-writing style of his day, but inserted some characteristics that were unique to him. One was his distinctive salutation.
The typical Greek greeting is "chairein," derived from chara, which literally means "joy." This is the word the angel used when she told Mary she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:28). This is the word Judas used when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:49). It is the word Jesus used when he greeted the two Marys at the tomb (Matt. 28:9). It is what James used as a greeting when he wrote his epistle (James 1:1).
A typical Hebrew greeting was shalom, which means "peace." The Greek translation for shalom was "eirene."
Paul modified his greeting when he wrote to the brethren. He wrote, "charis" (grace) to you and "eirene" (peace) from God our Father…" So, instead of "Greetings/joy to you," Paul says, "Grace to you…"
There is a significant lesson we can learn from Paul's greeting. His style of greeting honors both Jew and Gentile believers. It begins with grace which is a hallmark of the Christian faith. Grace so re-characterized Paul, that no longer would he greet someone else with "joy" (chairein), but with "grace" (charis). It was this grace that broke down the dividing wall between Jewish and Gentile believers and brought "peace” (Eph. 2:14-15). For Paul, part of the peace of God involved peace between Jewish and Gentile Christians. We are no longer aliens, but are all equally "fellow citizens" with the holy ones (Eph. 2:19).
As a result, Paul urges us to work hard to preserve unity and peace in love (Eph 4:2ff). There is one Lord, body, and faith, among other things. We may have differing backgrounds (Eph. 2:17-18) or gifts (Eph. 4:7), but we all are connected as a body and are to be committed to working together toward maturity, growth, and love (Eph. 4:11-16).
So, even though it may seem on the surface that some of us have little in common, that should not matter. It does not matter whether one of us is a Southerner, New Englander, Midwesterner, rich, not so rich, young, old, educated, not educated, black, white, red, or yellow. If one likes to hunt, another likes to cook and still another is into building things, those differing interests should never set us apart either. In fact, not even differing convictions concerning the limits of our Christian freedom should be a cause for division (Rom. 14:1-15:7). What ties us together is that over-arching, transcendent bond through the blood of Christ which has reconciled us all to God.
Today, a Pauline greeting might be a gracious, "Hello and Wuz up!" or "Yo dude! and Howdy!" Regardless of our background, we are God's family, and our unity demonstrates something of the character of God to the world around us (Eph. 3:10; John 13:34), and enables us to carry out his mission more effectively.