Letter-writing has been a large window into which we have come to understand a rather personal side of human history. There was, of course, a time when letters were not circulated. Engravings in stone tablets were slow and difficult. But with pen and paper, time and candlelight, men and women could pour out their heartfelt thoughts in compelling ways.
If there was a time before letters were widely written, I fear there will also be a time (perhaps soon) when they are written no more. Facebook posts do not count as letters and can hardly be regarded as the outpouring of hearts. Tweets and Snapchats are worse. The medium definitely affects the message.
There are things that we learn about a person through their letters that we do not grasp through their other communications. Former president Obama has just released letters written during his presidency. It is much more difficult to vilify a person when seen through such a personal lens. Martin Luther is known through his books, in which he is formidable, and through his essays, which contain verbal daggers. But when you read his letters, it is a man burdened to communicate with another, and the heart is revealed.
We are glad, then, to find so many letters in the Bible. Especially revealing are Paul’s letters written to individuals, to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. He writes about himself, and he writes about the recipient. He works to integrate faith with the challenges of life, and he puts his finger on the sore spots, the dangers and deficiencies, as though it is his heart wrestling with theirs. In Scripture, then, we find that we not only come close to the heart of Paul, but also to the heart of God, as God Himself strives to warm and woo our hearts.
And then Paul (and God) helps us take one more step. Paul tells us, in a letter, that we ourselves, whether individually or communally, are a letter of Christ himself, addressed, as it were, to the community around us, that they might know something of the heart of Christ through us. And I wonder, how are we doing at this? Can the heart of Christ, like tear drops on a page, be discerned in our lives? Is his grace and love made clear? Or are we more like a tweet, a post, or a bite. May those rightly related to God through Christ be so moved and motivated by His Spirit that we are actually able to communicate something of His heart and purpose, so that others are drawn, not to the letter, but to the Author.