The “letter-frame” is a jargon-laden way of referring to the opening and closing of the New Testament epistles. I’d like to ponder these sections for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because they are fully inspired text. The words are worth just as much as the more familiar content of the epistles. Secondly, because they are so often ignored.
Inspired and ignored. Two words that should not be introduced!
“Standard” Openings – it is wise to be slightly wary of “standards” in biblical literature, as if the author was consulting a writer’s guide whenever he wrote. A lot of research has been done on the nature of letters and epistles, and I don’t want to review that here. But let me offer the normal view of the “standard” opening:
Sender, to the recipients, greetings, I thank God . . .
This probably sounds familiar: Paul, to the saints at…, grace and peace, I thank God every time I think of you . . . here are a few introductory preaching thoughts on preaching the introductory thoughts, or at least an introduction to the subject:
1. Notice what is added. Paul could just write “Paul” at the start of each epistle, but typically he adds more. In Galatians he dives in, third word, to address the critique against him. He is an apostle! And he gives details on how that is the case and that he is not alone in what he writes! However, in Philippians, Paul sounds a different note – he and Timothy are servants. To the Corinthians he adds a very generous saintly description of a profoundly unholy group of believers, and then drives straight into another theme by associating them with all believers (something they weren’t clear on!)
2. Notice when the pattern is changed. On all but two occasions Paul is careful to use his opening prayer graciously and significantly. But in Titus he presses into the heart of the matter, perhaps because the epistle is a brief reminder to close friend Titus, rather than a fully developed epistle to less connected friends? And then there is Galatians. Hold on tight! Instead of thanking God on every remembrance of them, Paul is astonished that they are deserting the gospel. They aren’t going to another religion, or giving up on being Christians, or going all worldly. No, they are taking onboard a law-heavy entrance and development plan that is totally against the gospel he preached to them. Result? They are turning from God by their “greater” commitment to godliness (in the flesh).
It is one thing to recognize what is there, but what difference does it make to our preaching? More ideas next time…