"Cynthia's a lemming" is a phrase I heard for the first time at a faculty prayer meeting in a Taiwan seminary. Throughout the year that followed, I detected the same phrase over and over again in the prayers of the seminary's president. That I could possibly hear such a thing can only be explained as the combination of his accent and my unaccustomed ear as I was struggling to learn Chinese. I was told that good language learners were to take note of peculiar phrases, and this one seemed to qualify. It was voiced so frequently and with so much feeling that I was convinced of its deep significance. In this at least I was correct. I eventually learned that what sounded like "Cynthia's a lemming" had nothing to do with anyone named Cynthia or that puzzling suicidal rodent. The phrase was an appeal to God, meaning "Give us grace and mercy." Its frequency in the president's prayers revealed his conviction that the foundation of Christian life and service is God's grace and mercy.
Paul's opening lines to Timothy reflect that same deep conviction. As in his other epistles, the greeting takes the form typical of that day: he identifies himself as the sender (v. 1) and Timothy as the recipient (v. 2), and then includes a word of greeting and blessing (v. 2). But this is no form letter.
What I didn't mention above is that when I asked my Chinese colleagues what the phrase meant, they hadn't even noticed it! It was too familiar to attract their attention. This often happens with Paul's greetings in our study of his letters. The language seems familiar or perfunctory, so we tend to pass quickly over it. But actually the greeting is an integral part of the whole message. In his opening words Paul (1) establishes his (and his letter's) authority, (2) introduces the letter's dominant theme and (3) identifies himself closely with Timothy.
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