When I started reading the book of Romans this morning I paused at the very first word.
It seems like such an odd way to start a letter. Generally we start our letters with "Dear Soandso." We might even be familiar and intimate with someone and therefore start the letter "To Whom It May Concern." Or if we are sending an email we might not even include a salutation. But how often do we start a letter with our own name?
More often than you might initially think. Take it from someone that has recently written a few cover letters. Every good business letter starts with your own name and address. The first thing someone needs to know when reading a letter is who sent it. Unsurprisingly we read letters from different people differently. The relative power of the letter is held in the name. So it is understandable that every letter from Paul that we have in the Bible all start with the same word.
But what is in a name? What is the importance of a name?
Our name is our name and it contains our identity. A lot can be communicated by our use of names. We can either convey respect and dignity or distain and derision. Think about when you go into a business. There is a great difference between hearing: "Mr. Manning it is good to see you again. How can I help you?" and: "Next!" But there is even more than that.
I know that I am not the only Michael Manning to have ever existed. My father has the same name. And so did his father. But beyond that there are other people named Michael Manning as well. This became clear to me just out of high school. My parents had just moved to a new town. Some kids from our church youth group were trying to call my brother but they did not have our new phone number. So they called the operator and asked for the phone number for Michael Manning (my dad) in the new town we lived in. When they called the number it was a completely different Michael Manning. It was the first time that I ever considered that there might be someone named Michael Manning that was not related to me.
Today if you search "Michael Manning" on the web you will find a fair number of relatively famous people with that name and none of them are me. In fact there are a fair number of them that I really would not want to be confused with. But that name contains my identity whenever someone uses it in reference to me. None of those people are this "Michael Manning."
The same is true for Paul. When Paul started those letters and wrote his name he was referring to a particular Paul with a particular identity.
This Paul started out his life with what would have been considered the perfect pedigree. He was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." This Paul also had a life changing experience with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. After that he considered his only true identity as being found in Christ Jesus. Paul decided that all of those things that he could have used to find his identity as being worthless compared to the identity that he found in being a servant of Christ.
Far too often when I look for my own identity I look within myself. I look at the things that I have done. I look at the things I hope to accomplish. What I need to do is to do a better job of find my identity the same way that Paul did.
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God."
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.