The First Word of God to His Church
Have you ever noticed that almost every letter in the New Testament–James, Hebrews, and 3 John excepted–opens with the words “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or a close approximate? Its' easy, isn't it, to just pass by those words. After all, sometimes we view them as being a mere formality, equivalent to our own modern, "I hope you are well." Who cares about mere pleasantries when the body of the letter is what contains the "good stuff."
Well, it's true that the Apostles borrowed from the common practice of their own day when they wrote letters. After all, letter writing isn't a unique Christian endeavor. But it's far from the truth to think of these greeting only as a matter of custom. Rather, as a part of God's Word, they're transformed and given significance. Here's two ways to think about these greetings—“grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
First, we need to remember that this is an inspired greeting. Though the Apostles wrote the letters, they did so as those who were inspired. Their letters, to be sure, bear their trademarks—their personality and characteristics. The letters of Paul don't sound a lot like Jude or use his vivid imagery and rhetoric, which don't sound at all like John's letters. The Apostles weren't robots when they wrote the Bible. But they also weren't free-lance writers. Like the Prophets of old they were “carried along by the Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). That is to say, in all the words they wrote they were revealing and conveying the very mind of the Holy Ghost to the church of Jesus Christ. Thus, in a very real sense, these greetings are the greetings of God, by his Holy Spirit, to his people. To them, and even to us today, the Spirit through the text of the Word, speaks “Grace and peace.”
The second thing to remember is that these are, if I can say it this way, the first words from God to his church. It doesn't matter what church is being addressed, the letters open with a word of grace and peace. If Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus which had, from our best understanding, no inward trouble or conflict, he says, “Grace and peace.” And when he wrote to the church in Galatia who had been bewitched by the Judiazers and were adding works to faith, still his first words are “Grace and peace to you.” Even when he wrote to the church in Corinth—that church that was deeply divided, had a man sleeping with his father's wife, who were boasting about spiritual gifts, and had some who were getting drunk at the Lord's Supper—still the first word is “Grace and peace to you.” It's also true of the seven churches in Asia. Some of whom had forgotten their first love, others who had learned the deep things of Satan, and those who were lukewarm. Even then the first words are “Grace to you and peace.”
Does that surprise you? It does me! God's first words to his people are not “Woe to you!” or “Hypocrite!” or even “Repent!” But it's “grace and peace.” In their letters the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit through them, don't hesitate to rebuke, correct, or exhort. They don't tremble to call sin out, admonish severely, or even name names. But the end for which these things are written is that the church might have the Spirit's grace and peace communicated to them from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And how thankful we can be that even today God greets us in the same way.