Editorial, Sunday, Aug. 30, 1998

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials


Editorial, Sunday, Aug. 30, 1998

People in the late 20th century communicate easily and quickly with e-mails and voice mails and answer phones. The notion of writing letters long, informative, and illuminating letters seems to be slipping away from the personal practice of most people.

Our contemporary lapse in letter writing may make it harder to understand why the “letters” that make up so much of the New Testament are such masterpieces of both insight and inspiration 19 centuries or more after their spread across the world of the Roman Empire.

The Apostle Paul stands head-and-shoulders above all others identified with letters in the New Testament’s formative years as a writer and sender of letters. They overflow with words and phrases that convey to readers the fullness of Paul’s own experiences of faith and his expectations for those to whom he wrote.

The letters to Timothy, along with the brief letter to Philemon, are the only ones of Paul’s epistles written to individuals. The others are written to churches in specific cities and with specific situations that needed pastoral and authoritative attention.

An early document listing the New Testament books describes the letters to Timothy as having been written with “feeling and affection.”

The opening sentences of the first letter to Timothy reveal the depth of affection and concern he held for his friend:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the royal command of God, our Savior, and of Jesus Christ, our Hope, writes this letter to Timothy, his true child in the faith. Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The three key words in the last sentence of that warm greeting are grace, mercy and peace. They conveyed to Timothy, and now to us at the approach of a third millennium, powerful messages about the goodness of God.

The commentator and biblical scholar William Barclay, steeped in both classical and New Testamment Greek, explained their importance:

– Grace, he wrote, conveys in its New Testament sense the “sheer generosity” and “sheer universality” of God toward people. We are accepted and loved, not because we merit it, but because God desires it.

– Peace conveys the completeness and well-being of people within the love of God.

– Mercy, a “new” word with special significance in this particular letter, is rooted deeply in Hebrew scriptures and the new Christian faith. Barclay describes it as knowing that the ‘Most High” is on our side when our backs are against the wall in every kind of human situation.

Short sentence. Great meaning.

Little words. Powerful hope.

“Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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