The apostle Paul is the self-identified author of thirteen New Testament books. In all thirteen, he begins and ends his letters with a form of the expression “grace to you.” Grace—charis—that most precious of Christian terms, was for Paul both the first and last word on the matter—whatever the matter.
But Paul also frequently used another term of greeting when writing to beloved Christians. It was the Greek word aspazomai. This is translated by the English word “greet” or “greeting.” In his letters, Paul would sometimes send “greetings,” either his own or on behalf of others. You find Paul’s use of “greet” or “greetings” in ten of his thirteen epistles. It was important to him. Ministering grace should always be.
This particular word, in the original language, means “to enfold in the arms,” and therefore “to welcome.” For Paul, the use of this word was not a mere formality. No, Paul was writing to Christians and churches made up of believers whom he loved in the bonds of Christ. Therefore, for Paul, there was grace in the greeting. And there should be grace in ours as well.
Many of us recently discussed in our Grace Groups the customary “how are you?” and noted that often this is merely a traditional greeting. But for the Christian there really should be a concern for the welfare of those whom we are providentially encountering. We should be concerned to be a channel of grace to whoever we are speaking. We should learn to view each encounter as an opportunity for grace in the greeting.
Recently, a brother asked me, “How are you?” I replied, “I am fine.” He thoughtfully looked me in the eye and, with real concern, said, “No, you’re not.” He was right—but I would not give in so quickly! Trying to be coy, I said, “Why do you say that?” He then noted some evidences he had detected, which suggested that all was not well with me. This led to a protracted conversation and some transparency on my part—an open sharing that I really needed. When I left his presence, I left encouraged in the Lord. My situation, by the way, had not changed at all. But my perspective had—enormously. This brother’s genuine greeting was meaningful. There was a lot of grace in his greeting.
That experience has stimulated my thinking in this regard and motivated me to be more thoughtful in my greeting of others. I want there to be grace in my greetings. Let me flesh this out.
Making the effort to simply greet someone can be a wonderful channel of grace. We have probably all had the experience of visiting a church where barely anyone at all greeted us, let alone even acknowledged our presence. How did this register with you? Now, I am well aware that the “spiritual” answer is, “Well, it’s not about you anyway.” I agree. But neither is it all about the seemingly careless congregant. If we all realised that it is in fact all about Him, then the love of God will drive us to express His grace by greeting those He loves as well. Such awareness will move us to express grace in our greeting by greeting.
Many, many people live with the sense of social anonymity and relational invisibility. Many people struggle with what is popularly called “low self-esteem.” They lack confidence that anyone really cares about them. Some even conclude that, in the big scheme of things, they simply do not matter. But the informed Christian is to know better. We realise that every person is made in the image of God and to greet another human being is to greet a divine image bearer. And this is doubly so for the person who has been born again and justified by faith in Christ. We are “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) who are being conformed to the image of God’s dear Son (Romans 8:28–30). How dare we not greet one another!
Christian, greet one another! Not merely as the congregation gathers, but greet strangers as you walk about your community. I try to greet people as I run. In the majority of cases, I receive a surprised response as though the person assumed that I would simply ignore them (as they me!). But also, in the majority of cases, their face opens up with a smile. I suppose that, in some small, way they experience grace in the greeting.
Finally, when we greet one another let’s be prepared to be a channel of God’s grace by a willingness to move beyond the superficial to the meaningful. Like my brother who would not let me off the hook, let us be willing to (appropriately) probe that we might be of help to those who are hurting or bewildered or discouraged or whatever. And as we do so, they will sense the wonder of Christian love enfolding them in arms of concern. They will experience grace in the greeting.