Today we’re sharing an excerpt from Jackie Hill Perry’s new study, Jude. Order your copy or see a free sample today at Lifeway.com/Jude.
Once upon a time, people wrote letters. There weren’t any phones to text or emails to send. There was no FaceTime® or Facebook®; there were no tweets, or even planes, trains, or automobiles to make for a quick way to relay a message. When one person wanted to communicate to another person when they were apart, they’d write to them.
Of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, twenty-one of them are Letters or Epistles. As the early church was being established, the apostles and other disciples of Jesus had some things they needed to communicate—things dealing with faith, the gospel, false teaching, and judgment. At times, churches needed to be encouraged, at other times particular churches needed to be rebuked. But the early leaders of the church were not always in close proximity to the particular churches or individuals they wanted to communicate with. So they communicated, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, via writing a letter. These letters would then be received by the recipients, read, and prayerfully put into practice. In Greco-Roman times, most letters followed a particular format or structure. Letters almost always began with a greeting. And the greeting typically had the same elements: Name of sender, description of recipient, and a prayer, blessing, or thanksgiving.
Greco-Roman letters, written by Christians and non-Christians alike, followed this format, showing us that the style of these greetings wasn’t a particularly Christian thing but a cultural norm.
Here’s the greetings portion of a letter written by a Roman Soldier named Apion around two thousand years ago.
His greeting reads:
Apion to Epimachos, his respected father, very many greetings. Most of all I pray that you are in good health and doing well in every way along with my sister and her daughter and my brother. I give thanks to the Lord Sarapis [an Egyptian god] because, when I was in danger at sea, he saved me straight away.”
Now, though the style of the New Testament writers’ letters are similar to Apion’s, there is a huge difference between them: the content.
In Apion’s letter, he includes Sarapis, an Egyptian god which we know to be no god at all, in his greeting. In New Testament greetings, the true and living God is always put on display. New Testament greetings are rich theologically, and they are able to teach us a lot about the personhood of God in just a few sentences.
Let’s read one of Paul’s densest greetings in Romans 1:1-7. As you read, consider everything Paul says about God.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here’s everything I learned about God from this greeting:
- God has a gospel.
- God’s gospel was promised beforehand through His prophets.
- God’s gospel concerns His Son.
- God’s Son was descended from David, according to the flesh.
- Christ was declared as the Son of God, according to the Spirit.
- The Spirit is holy.
- Christ resurrected from the dead.
- Jesus Christ is Lord.
- Jesus Christ is gracious.
- Jesus gives apostleship.
- He does it for the sake of His name.
- There are people called to belong to Christ.
- God loves.
- God calls saints.
- God is a Father.
- God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord have grace and peace to give.
Who would think you could find out so much about God in a simple greeting! This is why we shouldn’t skip them in our reading and study of the Bible. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). That all means every single greeting has something in it that God will use to teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us in righteousness. These greetings are not arbitrary; they too are God’s words to us.
Read Jude 1-2.
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”
This word servant is doulos in the Greek, which is translated as “slave” or “servant.” The definition of doulos, or slave, is: “a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.”
The word slave carries a lot of baggage in our culture. It brings to mind pictures of human beings, made in the image of God, being taken captive to do the will of evil men and women. The word is used differently here. Jude was not a slave to men, but God—meaning Jude listened to, followed, obeyed, and honored God. Jude had no intention of living for anything other than the will of God. Jude followed in the footsteps of others who identified themselves as a doulos or slave of God.
Jude calling himself servant was not only a marker of his humility and sense of purpose, but it would have also been understood by his listeners as a title of honor. Jude was among the likes of men and women God used to do great things. Being a slave of Christ had honor, not because of Jude but, because of who Jude served.
Look at how Jude described his relationship to Jesus in Jude 1 and compare it to how Matthew 13:55 describes Jude’s relationship with Jesus.
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” (Jude 1a)
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55)
What does this tell you about Jude’s character?
Jude’s greeting was his introduction to this particular group of Christians. Before he jumped straight into his message (like the writer of Hebrews), he introduced himself. And because greetings are profitable for us, surely there was something we learned about God or even ourselves as we read.
Want to learn more about this new study? Watch the short video below or view a free sample and teaching video clips at Lifeway.com/Jude.
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