Today if you need to send a message to a friend, neighbor or business, you have a wide range of tools at your disposal. From social media to a simple telephone call your thoughts can be received within moments. But that’s not always been the case – in fact it hasn’t been that way for very long at all.
Do you remember when long distance phone calls were expensive and letter writing was downright common? I know y’uns won’t remember when letter writing also costly but it’s not too hard to document that postage, and even paper and ink were often hard to come by. In those cases, passing the word along seems like a really logical plan, doesn’t it?
Now I’m not necessarily a fan of it – mainly because I always seem to miss the message somehow – but on the mountain we’ve been passing the word for generations and there’s still a fair amount of it. Whenever there’s a meetin’ or event we’re always asked to let everyone know. In fact, more formal notifications are rare.
This concept reaches far beyond our mountain plateau. In the Bible, Paul’s letters (now what we call the book of Romans, etc…) were probably passed around and read several times. He wrote knowing that lots of people would read his letters and others who were around him sent their greetings in the same note rather than write their own. Some of this is probably courtesy but there’s a very practical aspect as well since Rome’s postal service was limited to military or governmental use so any messages had to be delivered by merchants or servants. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was probably sent via Tychicus as he mentions in Ephesians 6;21-22 that he’s sent Tychicus to them to let them know all the details of his affairs. While Paul directs the letter in Ephesians 1:1 “to the saints which are at Ephesus”, many scholars believe it was written in such a way as to be beneficial to all the churches in Asia – as though Paul fully expected them to pass it around. In fact, in Colossians 4:16, Paul actually directs the letter he’s written to the church in Colosse to be passed on to the folks in Laodicea and tells the Colossians to be sure and read the Laodicean letter as well.
Peter does the same thing, even addressing the letter we now call First Peter, which was delivered by Sylvanus, to “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).
Wasn’t this a tradition that continued really until we got personal email and phones and we stopped writing letters. Whenever a letter arrived from far off family, in my family we all read it. It was like a mini-visit with a friend. In fact, people who could write a letter and make you feel like you’d seen them were greatly admired for the skill.
I hope you won’t find it heretical, but I first began thinking about this tradition of passing the word around when I shared the letter from Lottie Todd here a few weeks ago. Wasn’t Lottie’s ministry a little like the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned and continued to minister to the various churches via letter-writing? Lottie too lived in a type of prison as she was confined to her bed. Instead of allowing the illness that restricted her to constrain her influence, she wrote her thoughts and when her letters were received they were passed from one to another just like the churches had passed around those early epistles.
Not all of the messages were ever written down, often we send word by mouth alone. And while those messages might get a little warped from time to time, it’s an age-old practice that still works in our modern era.