How Does Being a Christian Influence the Way You Speak?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:

Ephesians 1:2 is one of those verses we tend to race by in order to get to the good stuff. It sounds like a typical rhetorical opening to a letter, the sort of thing you write, whether you mean it or not. For example, I usually begin my letters with "Dear So-and-So," whether or not So-and-So is actually dear to me.

Paul did indeed begin his letters by mentioning grace and peace. Six times he used exactly the same sentence as in Ephesians. Was this simply epistolary boilerplate, a first-century version of "Dear Ephesians"? Did everyone in Paul's world begin their letters with "grace and peace"?

No, not exactly. In fact, Hellenistic letters usually included the greeting chairein, the infinitive of the verb "to rejoice," which meant "greetings" (for example, Acts 23:26; James 1:1). Paul chose instead to use the word charis, which meant grace and sounded like chairein. To this he added the word eirnene, which meant "peace" in Greek and echoed the Hebrew greeting shalom. So, "grace and peace" was a Christianized greeting that combined both Greek and Jewish elements. As far as we know, Paul himself coined this particular greeting, which shows up similarly in other New Testament letters (1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 John, Rev. 1:4). It would have been rather like a situation in which we might end a letter with "Yours in Christ" rather than the common secular version, "Sincerely yours" or "Yours truly."

I find Paul's creativity to be intriguing. He took that which was culturally common and tweaked it to carry a new message. Though we who know the collection of Paul's letters are not surprised by "grace and peace," his original readers (indeed, listeners, since his letters were read in churches) might have been surprised by what they heard. It sounded familiar, yet curiously different. They might have wondered why Paul made this unusual rhetorical move. What was so special about grace and peace?

In fact, the letter to Ephesians will explain in depth the extraordinary importance of grace and peace. These are both major themes of the letter. They are both absolutely central to the good news Paul will explain in great depth. At this point in our study of Ephesians, however, I want to focus on Paul's creative use of language and how it might influence our own speaking and writing. The last thing I want to do is to become "cute," one of those Christians whose trite Christianese grates on one's nerves. I don't want to say "Praise the Lord" when I really mean "Hooray!" because it sounds more spiritual. At the same time, however, I want my language to reflect the truth of the gospel, not just when I'm doing Christian things or hanging out with Christians, but in every moment and setting of life.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of ways that your speech reflects your Christian faith? Are there things you say–or don't say–because you are a Christian? How can we speak in ways that reflect the gospel without using Christianese that turns us into a little club of insiders?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the example of Paul as he begins his letters by mention "grace and peace." I am challenged to think about how I speak and how this reflects the gospel (or not).

Help me, I pray, to communicate in ways that honor you and your good news. Keep me from using language in a way that is off-putting to others. Rather, may my speech draw people to your grace and peace. Amen.

Images sourced via Creative Commons.