What’s in a Greeting?

Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash

Last year, I had to exchange some correspondence with a certain government agency. Writing the letter made me feel uncomfortable. “Dear IRS….” They didn’t feel dear to me. In fact, I felt just the opposite, but English convention dictates we open our letters with the greeting dear.

Every culture has a unique greeting reserved for correspondence. In Latin, we would wish them “Health!” In Hebrew, it is “Shalom” (“Peace.”). In Greek, they use the word “Chiro” (“Rejoice”).

James, the brother of Jesus, writing on behalf of the church in Jerusalem, begins that letter with the typical Greek greeting “Rejoice” in Acts 15:23. He also opens his epistle in the same way (James 1:1). A little later, Christians changed the spelling of the Greek salutation, “Chiro,” into the more appropriate prayer: “Charis,” Grace.

The Apostle Paul combines this greeting, “Grace,” with the Hebrew greeting “Peace” in most of his letters, as does John in the Revelation. John multiplies his greetings, adding mercy as Paul does in his letters to Timothy.

Jude, James’ younger brother, does something entirely different: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2). Perhaps he isn’t as Greek as James, and I believe Jude is writing at a very early date, perhaps before “Rejoice” was modified to “Grace.” Instead, he chooses to share three grand attributes: mercy, peace, and love.

Mercy is supremely a quality of God, our merciful Father. Mercy differs from sympathy and compassion. We might feel for someone – even a fictitious character from a movie or a book – but mercy goes beyond feelings. It has been defined as “sympathy that is moved into action.” God not only feels for us but He is also moved to act on our behalf! That is a beautiful prayer for those we love: “May you receive God’s mercy.”

The Hebrew concept of “peace” is more than the absence of conflict. Two gun-toting Israeli soldiers may wish one another “shalom – peace.” Instead, the peace we are praying for means “God is in control.” Whatever is happening will turn out for the best because God is in control.

Finally, Jude understood the great blessing of Christ and Christianity is love. After looking at the Christian Triad – faith, hope, and love – Paul concluded: “the greatest of these is love.”

That is my prayer for you today: mercy, peace, and love!

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