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Friday, March 7, 2014

Greetings and Closings

Salutations and Greetings, Farewells and Closing Remarks - all parts of a letter, binding the thoughts in the middle all together.  Salutations and Greetings make up the beginning of the letter - almost giving a little synopsis of who the letter is written to, an introduction into why the letter is being written, and the time frame it is written.  The Farewells and Closing Remarks act as both a summary of the letter and a chance to let the individual know who has been writing.  In the middle comes the "meat" of the letter - the elaboration of the purpose for writing - giving details one will need in order to accomplish something or learn about the "goings on" of another.  Most of us gravitate toward the main portion of the letter because it contains the heart of the information.  The greeting is nice, the closing remarks sweet, but the "meat" is in the middle, so are we all wrong in giving this our main attention? No, but we cannot overlook the salutations and closings - they carry much meaning and give us insight into how to apply the "meat" in the middle.  For example, when Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, he opened with a salutation:  I, Paul, am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. (vs. 1-2 MSG)  He is setting forth the authority he has to write to them - he is under God's plan as a special agent of Jesus - writing to the faithful believers in Ephesus.  The letter is written to believers - those who had already thrown in their lot with Jesus.  So, this letter is not meant to be very practical for the unbeliever (the audience is addressed in the salutation).  He is writing in the "grace and peace" which is now in the lives of the believers because of the gift of God's salvation.  As important as it is to know who the letter is directed to, it is also important to know the "temperature" of the letter.  It is one filled with grace and peace.  It isn't a letter of chastisement, but of encouragement and instruction.  

Good-bye, friends. Love mixed with faith be yours from God the Father and from the Master, Jesus Christ. Pure grace and nothing but grace be with all who love our Master, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24 MSG)

At the end of the letter, Paul summarizes a couple of things - love mixed with faith; pure grace and nothing but grace.  This may not seem like much at first, but he is summarizing the important lessons of the letter.  First, love is required in the church - and it is made evident in the faith which is revealed in actions, not just words.  The wall being removed which separated not only man from God, but fellow man from fellow man through religious differences, there is but one outcome Paul desired to see in the church - love mixed with faith.  A way being made, a way being taken, and a way being lived out daily. This was his purpose in writing to the Ephesians - to all believers.  Yet, he doesn't stop there - he reiterates the importance of grace - pure grace.  In other words, grace not MIXED with anything else.  Love is mixed with faith - love requires action on our part - extending itself to those around us.  Grace, on the other hand, is pure and is to be unmixed with the things of personal opinion, belief, or supposition.  We sometimes try to add to grace - making grace something other than what it is.  Paul wants us to remember to keep grace pure - it was God's gift, based on his love for mankind, given through his one and only Son, Jesus, to a lost and dying world.  Nothing else is needed - no works on our part get us any closer to the heart of Jesus than the grace he provides.

As we learn to love with our faith - rather than using our faith to turn people away - we begin to see evidence of love mixed with faith.  For example, I may not condone a particular lifestyle of another, but I am put into that individual's world to be light.  I don't have to acknowledge their sinfulness as "okay", but I do have to honor their life as one for which Christ died.  As such, they deserve my love and the revelation of my faith in the actions of that love. 

Grace is to be unmixed - nothing religious about it.  It isn't understood or obtained in the sacrificial offerings, or the plethora of church activities we engage in.  It is understood best when it is received and then extended again to another who stands so desperately in need of what we have received without measure.  Love allows for the creativity of our actions.  Grace allows for the actions of God to be shared through us.

To add to grace is to do a disservice to grace.  Grace is not a byproduct of any action on our behalf.  It is purely given by the hand of God - because of his intense love for us.  It is received in its purest form - forgiveness and reconciliation.  It is reproduced in its purest form - forgiveness extended and reconciliation afforded.  Just sayin!