“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
– Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)
Do you ever stop and think about what your daily conversations with others consist of ? I’ve been thinking about that lately and reflecting on what these interactions typically are like. If the person we’re interacting with is someone we don’t know all that well, I’ve noticed that there is one topic that by far is most discussed: the weather. “Hey how are you ? What a beautiful day, huh ?” … “Boy I hope this rain lets up before the weekend !” For these acquaintances, co-workers, and others we don’t know all that well, this usually is the extent of our conversation, and then we each go on our way. I’m not sure if it’s just a society norm that talk about the weather is something that seems to unite all of us. In one of his sermons on Ephesians, John MacArthur discussed some of our other tried-and-true greetings:
“I mean, we go to somebody and we say ‘Hello’. What does ‘hello‘ mean? That’s really not very fulfilling or meaningful. Or else we say ‑ ‘How are you?’ How are I? I was because my mother and father were and then I was, that’s how I are, you know. Or else we say – ‘How do you feel?’ With my hands, what do you think?“
I got a chuckle out of this when I heard this sermon, probably because it’s so true. And I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve never been one to enjoy big gatherings, where you’re greeting a bunch of people and the conversation never extends past the weather or highway construction or something else that we are all complaining about. I’d much rather connect with someone and have a meaningful conversation, although sometimes I realize that’s just not possible. I’m not advocating that we should greet others (Christians specifically) with a brief hello and then launch into a rundown of our sins for the week. But there does seem to be a distance that we keep others at, and it seems to flow from how superficial our greetings are with others.
The apostle Paul was not someone who was known for his superficial greetings. I’ve been reading Ephesians over and over again this month and have thought a bit about his greeting here, which is similar to many of his other letters. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Isn’t it strange how rarely we greet other Christians in this manner ? A few weeks ago at church, there was the usual greetings of others after the announcements and a woman said to me “May God bless you”. I thought for a second how odd that was among all the other “hellos” and “how’s it goings”. Paul is attempting to convey something significant here, above that superficiality. Albert Barnes, a 19th century theologian, explains that by mentioning grace in the first part of the greeting, “It is to be understood as connected with a word implying invocation. I pray, or I desire, that grace, etc. may be conferred on you.” By mentioning peace, Paul is wishing for “…not just the absence of conflict but echoes the OT concept of shalom, where a person’s life with God and with everything else is in ordered harmony, both physically and spiritually, and ‘all is well’.” (ESV Study Bible)
Think about those two terms – grace and peace. Don’t we wish for these to be extended to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ ? Aren’t these part of our prayers for them ? Then why don’t we greet others in this manner more often ? Wouldn’t that be more meaningful, and perhaps open the way for deeper conversation ?