Paul's words to the church
Week 89 - Read 1 and 2 Thessalonians
Key Concepts: The key concept in these two letters is that the church can thrive even in the face of turmoil and persecution.
Central Concepts: 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul’s letters probably written sometime around 50 CE. It was quickly followed by 2 Thessalonians. In these letters Paul deals with practical matters (defending his ministry) and theological matters (such as personal holiness and the return of Jesus). One can also sense Paul’s genuine affection for the believers in Thessalonica.
Brief Summary: Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 1:1-1:10) Paul and the church at Thessalonica had a very special and wonderful relationship. He had established the church and the people felt a great fondness for him and he for them. Paul gives thanks for them and then lifts them up as examples for other churches to imitate. They are a shining demonstration of a community that welcomes outsiders and remains faithful in the face of difficulties.
Paul’s Defense of His Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16) Following Paul’s thanksgiving he defends his ministry in Thessalonica. Paul’s opponents had accused him of everything from being a flatterer to a greedy heretical scoundrel. Paul recounts his ministry as one of sacrifice and sincerity.
Paul’s Concerns Alleviated (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13) Paul was concerned for his friends in Thessalonica because of their temptation to believe his critics and forget what he taught them. So he sent Timothy to Thessalonica, and through Timothy’s report learned that everything was fine. He was thus relieved.
Paul’s Call for Purity (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12) Paul focuses on a call to marital fidelity as well as a call to serve the needs of others; something which the Thessalonians were already doing.
Jesus’ Return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11) Within the early church there was an expectation that Jesus would very shortly return to complete his kingdom work. Paul addresses this issue by reminding the church that those who have died before the coming of Christ are not lost but will be raised at Jesus’ return. He also commends the Thessalonians to be watchful and remain faithful in the interim.
Concluding admonitions (1 Thessalonians 5:12-5:28) Paul concludes his letter with a series of commands intended to enhance the peace of the community.
Opening Thanksgiving (2 Thessalonians 1:1-1:4) As with his first letter Paul begins by expressing his thanks for the loving manner in which the church is living out its life together.
Condemnation of Opponents (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12) This is one of Paul’s angriest outbursts against his opponents. Using prophetic language he implies that those who oppose him and the church will spend eternity in the outer darkness. He also reminds the church of his prayers for them.
Jesus’ Return (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17) Paul again addresses the topic of Jesus’ return. Evidently there were letters, purportedly from Paul, implying that Jesus had already returned. He reminds the church that before Jesus comes “the lawless one” will be revealed and then be slain by Jesus. As a word of encouragement he also reminds the believers that they had been chosen by God for salvation.
Closing Remarks (2 Thessalonians 3:1-18) The Apostle concludes with some encouragement as well as a warning not to associate with believers who have ceased working because they believe that Jesus has already returned.
1. Why would it be important for Paul to defend his ministry?
2. What do you make of the discussion about the return of Jesus?
3. What do you make of Paul’s lashing out at his enemies in 2 Thessalonians?
Week 90- Read 1 Corinthians
Key Concepts: The key concept in this letter is that the church is called to both doctrinal and ethical standards which reflect the love of God in Jesus Christ..
Background: The city of Corinth was one of the most important and wealthiest cities in the Roman Empire. Paul arrived there on his second missionary journey and stayed for 18 months. The church he founded there, as we will discover, was plagued by a number of divisive issues. It is believed that Paul wrote at least three and possibly four letters to the church, though we have only two of them.
Brief Summary: Traditional Beginning (1:1-1:9) Paul begins his letter as he usually does, with a self-definition (he is an Apostle), a description of the recipients (the church in Corinth) and a word of thanks which is centered around the themes he will address later in the letter.
The Major Issues (1:10-6:20) Paul does not beat around the bush but gets right to the issues, the first of which is that the church is divided into competing parties. Each party believes that they are wiser than the others. The Apostle reminds them that the only wisdom that ought to matter is the cross of Christ. Therefore none of them are to boast about anything other than Christ. He continues with a discussion about the superiority of the person guided by spiritual wisdom rather than the person steeped in Greco-Roman wisdom/philosophy. He also warns the church’s teachers that they too ought to be willing to be seen as “fools” in the eyes of the world, because the teachers are servants of Christ. This is Paul at his sarcastic best.
Paul next turns to a discussion of sexual immorality (a man sleeping with his mother-in-law). He commands them to rid themselves of these people because their actions imply that this is acceptable behavior. At the same time he makes it clear that Christians are not to remove themselves from the world, even though the world is filled with sinful practices. Paul concludes this section with two other concerns; lawsuits between Christian that are adjudicated in civil courts and Christian men visiting prostitutes (possibly at local Temples). He declares that both of these are unacceptable practices.
Responses to Questions (7:1-16:4) This section contains Paul’s replies to questions upon which the church had sought his advice. The first has to do with marriage, (chapter 7) which Paul allows but does not encourage. In fact he discourages people from marrying because it takes their focus off of Christ. The second has to do with food sacrifices to idols (chapter 8). Paul admits that since idols are man-made objects that people can eat the meat that has been sacrificed to them. That is, as long as their eating that meat does not cause a fellow believer to go astray (perhaps believing that idols are real). He spends some time (chapters 9-10) defending his authority to make such pronouncements and warns against overconfidence.
Next, the Apostle turns to matters of worship (chapter 11) including having proper respect for the Lord’s Supper. Spiritual gifts are the next issue (chapter 12) and Paul reminds the Corinthians that all gifts are necessary and no single gift is better than any other. The one gift everyone ought to seek is love (chapter 13) which Paul says is a gift that will never pass away. Speaking in tongues receives its own discussion (chapter 14) including a reminder that this gift is not to be abused. The resurrection is addressed (chapter 15) as the heart of the Christian faith. Finally Paul speaks to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (chapter 16).
Conclusion (16:5-16:24) He then concludes with some personal greetings and reminders.
1. Where have you seen a church divided into factions? What was the result for the church?
2. What might be some life-style choices today that should alarm the church?
3. How does Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper impact how you understand this sacrament?
Week 91 - Read Acts 15:36-21:14
Key Concepts: The key concept in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is that the Holy Spirit works through the Apostles to create a renewed community of faith based on the reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the long awaited savior of Israel and the world.
Background: In this portion of Acts we walk with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys.
Brief Summary: Paul and Barnabas part ways (15:36-15:41) Paul and Barnabas planned to visit the churches they had planted, but disagreed over whether or not to take John Mark with them. John Mark had lost the confidence of Paul when John Mark had not been willing to engage in some difficult work. At this point Paul chose Silas and headed out on his next journey.
Timothy joins the team (16:1-16:10) Paul and Silas travel to Derbe and Lystra where they meet Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Greek. Timothy, who was part of the church in Lystra, is circumcised by Paul and joins them on their journey to Troas. There Paul is given a vision of Christ calling them to go and preach in Macedonia.
The team sails for Philippi (16:11-40) On their arrival they meet a woman named Lydia, who is a seller of purple goods. She is converted and invites Paul, Silas and Timothy to stay with her. While in the city, a slave girl who had a spirit of divination, follows them, crying out that they were servants of God most high. Paul, tiring of this, commands the spirit to come out of her. When it does, her owners drag Paul to the magistrate who has him flogged and thrown into jail. In jail the men sing hymns and ultimately convert the jailer. The men are freed when the magistrate learns that they are Roman citizens.
Paul travels to Athens (17:1-34) Paul travels to Thessalonica where he preaches in a synagogue and both Jews and Gentiles are converted. This creates such a stir in the city that Paul is forced to leave for Beroea, where the same thing happens.
Paul then travels to Athens. There he debates the philosophers in the Areopagus. Paul explains the story of Christ, complete with the resurrection. Though many people dismiss him several people believe and a church is formed.
Paul travels to Corinth (18:1-22) Paul argues for Christ in the synagogue and some Jews are converted. However,Jewish opposition is so intense that Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles and many are converted. From there he travels with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus, and then on alone to his home base in Caesarea.
The third missionary journey begins (18:23-19:41) Paul travels back to Ephesus where he spends two years preaching and teaching while the church grows rapidly. In this section we also meet Apollos, a Jewish convert and great preacher, and we also learn of some of Paul’s miracles. Paul’s time in Ephesus ends with a confrontation with an idol maker named Demetrius who organizes his fellow idol makers who try to run Paul out of town because his preaching endangers their businesses.
Paul’s return to Palestine (20:1-21:14) Paul travels through parts of Greece and finally by land and boat to Miletus. There he meets with the elders of the church, recounts his mission, then encourages and prays with them. Paul and his friends then travel toward Jerusalem, meeting believers all along the way. This section ends with a prediction that Paul will be imprisoned if he goes to Jerusalem. Regardless Paul chooses to go, even if it means his death.
1. What do you make of the fact that there were churches the Apostles did not plant?
2. How do these stories affect your impression of Paul?
3. With which of Paul’s companions do you most associate?
Week 92 - Read 2 Corinthians
Key Concepts: The key concept 2 Corinthians is that even though Paul and the church were previously at odds, reconciliation is always possible.
Background: Evidently there was a period of time following Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth when his relationship with the church deteriorated. He then wrote what he calls the “painful letter” which we do not have. He was so concerned about the relationship however that he sent Titus to check in with them. When he had not heard from Titus he begins to journey to Corinth. Before he could reach the city, Titus finds him and relates that the church had changed its perception of Paul. Paul then writes this letter as a response to the improved relationship.
Brief Summary: Opening (1:1-1:11) Paul opens this letter with the usual from whom/to whom and then moves to a thanksgiving for the deliverance and comfort which God has given to Paul and his companions as well as to the church in Corinth.
A defense of Paul’s changing plans (1:12-2:13) Paul moves quickly into a short recap of why he did not make it back to Corinth, as he had earlier promised. His reason for not coming at that time was that he didn’t want to cause the Corinthians more pain than he had already caused with his “painful letter.” He also urged forgiveness for the one who had spoken against him.
Paul discusses his ministry (2:14-6:13) Paul declares that he and his friends are not “peddlers of God’s word” (in other words doing it for the money) but are instead “commissioned by God” for the task of presenting Christ. The proof of this commissioning is the existence of the Corinthian church. Even so Paul takes no credit for the work, giving all credit to the Spirit. He states that he is no more than an earthen vessel in which the treasure of God’s story of Christ dwells.
In fact Paul and his friends carry around within them “the body of the death of Jesus” (meaning they are weak) in order that the power of Jesus may shine through them. Finally he reminds the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation”, that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self” and that Paul and his friends are ambassadors of that message.
Relationships with pagans (6:14-7:1) – Paul quotes some Old Testament passages about being separate from outsiders. This section is thought to be an insertion from another letter.
Paul’s call to share (7:2-9:15) Paul, filled with joy that the Corinthians changed their attitude toward him encourages them to complete the offering they had begun collecting for the saints in Jerusalem. He reminds them that the Macedonians had given beyond their means and so the Corinthians should give liberally and not sparingly for “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Paul defends himself and his ministry (10:1-12:13) Paul agrees that his physical appearance and oratorical abilities are not as good as those he calls “super Apostle’s” who had preached a different gospel from his, and demeaned him in front of the Corinthians. Nonetheless Paul writes, he is content with weakness, hardships and persecutions even though his religious/spiritual pedigree is greater than those who criticize him. His only boast is in Christ and not in himself.
Paul’s coming visit (12:14-13:14) Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is coming for a visit and so they need to have their spiritual house in order or he will be forced to deal with them in a harsh manner. Even so, he hopes that they will prove to be doing well and doing what is right.
1. What do you make of Paul’s willingness to be weak so the church can be strong?
2. How do you see yourself as a new creation in Christ?
3. What do you make of Paul’s call for separation in 6:14-7:1?
Week 93 - Read Galatians
Key Concepts: The key concept in Galatians is that a person does not have to become a Jew (through circumcision) in order to become a follower of Jesus.
Background: The early church, being at first a Jewish sect, struggled with how to integrate Gentiles into the community. Though at the Jerusalem Council it had been agreed that Gentiles did not have to become Jewish before becoming part of the church there were still Jewish Christians (Judaizers) who believed otherwise. Some of those people traveled to area called Galatia (modern day Turkey) and tried to convince Gentiles that they needed circumcision.
Brief Summary: Greetings (1:1-1:5) In this opening piece Paul lays out his central themes, that he, Paul, is a messenger of God (not of human beings) and that in Jesus Christ God has delivered humanity from its sins.
Paul defends his Ministry (1:6-2:21) Paul will make two defenses of his position. The first has to do with his position as Apostle. Paul begins with harsh words, accusing the Galatians of having deserted the true gospel. The issue at hand is that the churches in Galatia are allowing the Judaizers to turn them away from a gospel of shear grace and toward a faith focused on the law. Paul claims that the gospel he preaches was not given to him by any person, but was a revelation from Jesus Christ himself. He then sets out a bit of his history, that he was a persecutor of the church until Christ called him and made him a preacher to the Gentiles. When he was called he did not go up to Jerusalem to be taught by the nascent church, but instead went into Arabia to work out his theology.
Fourteen years later Paul, along with Barnabas and Titus, went up to Jerusalem and defended his call to preach to the Gentiles. He was attacked, yet in the end, the other Apostles (Peter, James and John) approved his mission. Their only stipulation was that Paul remember the poor. Soon thereafter Peter came to Antioch where Paul was staying, and because of the pressure of the Judaizers, refused to eat with the Gentiles. Paul confronted him, and reminded Peter that all persons, Jews and Gentiles, are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and not through the law.
Paul defends his Message (3:1-4:31) Paul opens this section with a reminder that the Galatians had experience the indwelling of the Spirit when they believed in Jesus. This, he argues, should be proof enough of the saving power of faith. Paul then launches into a theological defense of his message. He begins with Abraham, who was justified because he believed God; not because he followed laws. Therefore all who have faith are children of Abraham. Paul continues by stating that the law cannot be fully obeyed by anyone, so there is a need for Christ to redeem us. He writes that the law was given not to make people perfect but to keep them in check; it pointed out where sin lay. It was a temporary custodian. Faith in Christ nullifies the need for the law and therefore all persons, Jews and Gentiles, male and female, free and slave are all one together through faith. Paul next uses the image of slavery and freedom; people are slaves under the law but are free in Christ.
Practical Application (5:1-6:18) The practical application of this is that the people are now guided by the Spirit and so are to love one another, avoid the works of the “flesh” (sexual immorality, anger, etc.), enjoy the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.), help one other, share goods with one another and do good to all people. He concludes by reminding them that they are to glory in the cross of Christ alone.
1. What do you make of Paul’s focus on grace rather than law?
2. What does this story tell us about Peter?
3. How might you apply Paul’s practical applications to your own life?
Week 94 - Read Romans 1-8
Key Concepts: The key concept in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is that Jesus the messiah has completed the work of God, begun in Abraham and continued in the people of Israel; that is bringing about the restoration of humanity and blessing the whole world, by defeating the powers of sin and death.
Background: Paul’s letter addresses a particularly difficult time in Jewish-Christian/Gentile Christian relationships. In the late 40s CE Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. It is likely that the Gentile Christians saw this as a repudiation of Judaism and God’s covenant with them. Paul’s letter however aims to show that this is not so and that the Good News of Jesus is intended first for the Jews and then the Gentiles.
Brief Summary: Greetings (1:1-1:17) Paul introduces himself (an apostle), Jesus (Son of God), Paul’s calling (to help people follow Jesus), his love for and desire to see the saints in Rome and a clear statement that the gospel is for both Jews and Gentiles.
T he Problem (1:18-3:20) Paul opens the main body of the letter by stating that the problem in the world is that human beings are sinful, meaning that they are not living after the manner in which God created them to live. Even though people ought to be able to look at creation (which is God’s handiwork) and see clearly how God would have them to live, they do not. They choose to be blind. And even those who know God, Jews and Gentiles, fall short of God’s expectations. Gentiles fall short even when God is in their hearts and Jews fall short even though they know the law. Therefore no one has a right to judge anyone else. Within this section is the famous line, “None is righteous, no not one.”
The Solution (3:21-4:25) The solution to the problem of sin is God’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with Abraham to bless all of creation. This faithfulness (righteousness in Romans) has been demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All who have faith in Jesus are made members of God’s family, just as did Abraham, through faith and not Law.
Peace and Hope (5:1-5:21) The result of the work of Jesus is that people have access to grace, peace, endurance and a hope that never fades. This is so because we have been reconciled to God. Paul makes it clear that Jesus reversed the effects of the fall in Adam and thus offered life to “all people.”
Baptism and New Life (6:1-6:23) Because believers have been baptized into Christ they have died to sin and been raised to a new life. They are no longer slaves to sin but have been freed to become slaves to righteousness (meaning their lives are guided by God in Christ). We read that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is life eternal.
Law and Spirit (7:1-39) Paul begins an extended discourse on the Law. The Law was good, given by God, but it could not give life. All it could do was point out our failings because even when we desired to be completely faithful, we could not be. Deliverance from this difficulty comes through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has done what the Law could not; allowing us to be guided by the life-giving Spirit rather than being condemned by the Law. Through the Spirit we are set free to be God’s children complete with an inheritance of glory. Because this is our future we can have hope. Finally Paul reminds us that because we have been called and chosen by God, to be part of God’s family, then nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
1. How does Paul’s Greeting help set the table for the rest of the book?
2. What do you think about Paul’s contention that people ought to be able to see God in nature?
3. How has your faith in Jesus helped you in making better life choices?
Week 95 - Read Romans 9-16
Key Concepts: The key concept in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is that Jesus the messiah has completed the work of God, begun in Abraham and continued in the people of Israel; that is bringing about the restoration of humanity and blessing the world, by defeating the powers of sin and death.
Background: Paul’s letter addresses a particularly difficult time in Jewish-Christian/Gentile Christian relationships. In the late 40s CE the Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. It is likely that the Gentile Christians saw this as a repudiation of Judaism and God’s covenant with them. Paul’s letter however aims to show that this is not so and that the Good News of Jesus is intended first for the Jews and then the Gentiles.
Brief Summary: God’s Plan and God’s Promises (9:1-11:36) Paul opens this next section of his letter by describing his sorrow over Israel not accepting Jesus as messiah. At the same time he makes it clear that to Israel still belongs the “…sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises.” Nonetheless, Paul reminds us that being genetically Jewish was never a guarantee of being part of the renewed people of God (this is the OT concept of a Remnant). Being part of the people of God is contingent on two things. First a person has to be called and chosen by God; this is God’s doing whenever and wherever God so chooses. Second a person must accept their place through faith. Simply following rules is not adequate. Paul emphasizes that what is required is a willingness to confess that Jesus is Lord and to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. God, Paul claims will make both steps available (calling and profession) for both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul then asks the central question about God’s relationship with Jews who have rejected the call to believe; has God rejected God’s people. The very direct answer is, “By no means.” Paul makes reference to Elijah, when the prophet thought he was the only faithful Israelite left, but God showed Elijah that there was still a faithful remnant.
The inference is that through God’s grace, God has chosen a remnant of Jews who will be brought into the new people of God. Paul then warns the Gentile Christians that they have been grafted into the people of God (the people of Israel) and should therefore live with great humility. Finally Paul adds that God plans to have mercy on all.
Practical Application (12:1-16:27) Paul now moves to applying to the Roman church the great story of God’s faithfulness. He begins by calling on the Roman Christians to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” in order that they not be “conformed to this world” but be transformed by the Spirit’s renewing of their minds. This means living humbly, sharing one’s gifts with the church, letting love be genuine, hating evil, holding fast to the good, living peacefully with all and caring for one’s enemies. Christians are to be subject to the government (which is instituted by God) and follow the Ten Commandments. In essence, believers are to conduct themselves as did Jesus.
The Apostle continues by reminding people that though they are free in many ways, they are to be conscious of the impact of their actions on other believers. They are also not to pass judgment on other believers who see the world differently. Instead they are to help bear the burdens of their fellow believers. The letter is completed with some personal notes; why Paul has not made it to Rome, where he is headed next and greetings to a considerable number of people; both men and women.
1. What do you think of Paul’s statement that God has not forgotten Israel?
2. How do Paul’s words about humility impact your understanding of how you are to live?
3. Which of Paul’s ethical commands seems most difficult for you to adhere to?
Week 96 - Read Acts 21:15-28; 31; Titus, Philemon
Key Concepts: The key concept in this section of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is that it is appropriate to avail one’s self as a Christian of legal protections. In Titus, it is that there are moral boundaries for Christians. In Philemon it is that a relationship with Christ affects all areas of life, including that of master and slave..
Background: In Acts we engage the story of Paul’s arrest, trial, and journey to Rome. In Titus we have a letter from Paul to Titus, an aide of Paul’s, concerning various roles within the early Christian community. In Philemon Paul addresses the issue of a Christian slave who ran away from his Christian master.
Brief Summary: Paul’s pledge (Acts 21:15-29)) When Paul arrives in Jerusalem he is made aware of accusations against him and he attempts to deflect those criticisms by taking a Nazarite vow.
Paul Arrested (Acts 21:27-22:29) Paul’s vow does no good and the religious leaders attempt to rally a crowd in order to kill him. The Roman garrison, fearing a riot, intervenes by arresting Paul and then allowing him to address the crowd. Paul explains his conversion and his call to preach to the Gentiles. At the mention of the Gentiles the crowd erupts and the Romans bring Paul to the barracks in order to whip him into some kind of a confession. Paul then mentions that he is a Roman citizen and the guards almost panic.
Paul and the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30-23:25) Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling body) for trial. He manages to divide them so they cannot render a verdict. Because of this his opponents plot to kill him. Paul gets wind of this and is secreted away by the Romans.
Paul and his trials (Acts 24:1-26:32) Paul is brought before Felix the governor and then requests that his trial occur in Rome (which all citizens could do). Paul’s case is then set before King Agrippa, before whom Paul defends his call and his faith. Even though both Felix and Agrippa believe Paul to be innocent they still have to send him to Rome.
Paul’s Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:31) The book concludes with Paul’s adventures on his journey to Rome. It concludes with his ministry to the church in that city.
Instructions to the Church (Titus 1:1-3:15) Titus is composed of three sections. The first describes the character of church leaders, which are called both elders and bishops (the terms are interchangeable). The second section focuses on personal traits which ought to be exhibited by believers. There are instructions for older and younger men and women. In addition instructions are given to slaves. The bottom line is to be zealous for good deeds. The third section focuses on the theological rationale for these behaviors; that Christians have been saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit so that they may be heirs of eternal life.
A slave and a Master (Philemon 1:1-1:25) Onesimus is a runaway slave of a Christian master, Philemon, whom Paul knows. Onesimus has come to serve Paul in Rome. In the process he has become a Christian. The question becomes what to do with Onesimus. Paul’s efforts focus on reconciliation. He wants Onesimus to return to Philemon and Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a “beloved brother” in Jesus Christ. While this response may appear to be less than what we would want, it is a remarkable request in the first century. Under normal circumstances Onesimus would be severely punished.
1. What is your favorite part of Paul’s journey?
2. What do you think of Paul’s instructions as to the requirements for being a church leader?
3. How do you think of Paul’s sending Onesimus home rather than trying to set him free?
Week 97 - Read Ephesians and Colossians
Key Concepts: In Ephesians the key concept is that the church is God’s creation and is intended to be a new kind of community in Christ and the Spirit. In Colossians the focus is on the sufficiency of Jesus for salvation and the living of a new Godly life.
Background: Many scholars have argued that the letter to the Ephesians is not a Pauline letter; even so it contains some of the great Pauline themes. Colossians is Paul’s defense of his preaching versus that of some false teachers who were adding various elements to the basics of the Christian faith.
Brief Summary: Salutation and Thanksgiving (Ephesians 1:1-23) The writer begins with a generic greeting followed by thanksgiving to God for Christ and all that Christ offers (redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, insight, and the Holy Spirit). Thanks are then given for the church, along with a prayer that the church might know the hope that is found in Christ’s death and resurrection.
Christ’s Gifts to the Church (Ephesians 2:1-2:22) In some of the most beautiful writing in the New Testament, the writer then speaks of us being made alive by Christ, being saved by grace through faith, and being the workmanship of God. He also uses the image of us being turned from outsiders to insiders; and in so doing we have become fellow citizens with the saints of God.
A Prayer for the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-20) The writer, speaking as Paul, reminds his Gentile readers that they are now part of Israel, God’s chosen people, through his (Paul’s) preaching. Then he prays that God would grant that the Gentiles might be given strength, be rooted and grounded in love and be able to discern the reality of God’s love in Christ that surpasses all knowledge.
Implications for Living (Ephesians 4:1-6:24) Jesus’ followers are to live lives worthy of the calling of Christ. He offers a long list of appropriate actions including using one’s spiritual gifts. not being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, speaking the truth in love, being built up into being Christ-like, putting off our old nature, renewing our minds in the Spirit, and being subject to one another.
Salutation and Thanksgiving (1:1-14) Paul makes it clear that he has a particularly loving place in his heart for the Colossians. He daily prays that they would be strengthened in their faith because of the inheritance that God has given them in Jesus Christ.
Christ is all that is Needed (1:15-23) The message here is that all things have been created through Christ and in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. By his death the church has been reconciled to God.
Paul justifies his Intervention (1:24-2:7) Paul believes that he is justified in writing to a church he did not establish because he has been called by God to make known God’s riches among the Gentiles and so that the church may not be deluded by beguiling speech.
Warning against False Teachers (2:8-23) The Apostle warns the church to be wary of teachers who want to convince them that salvation comes through religious rules, rather than Christ alone.
How Christians ought to Live (3:1-4:6) Believers are to do away with anger, malice and slander, put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, and above all love. He offers advice to husbands, wives, slaves and masters and encourages them to be steadfast in prayer.
Closing Greetings (4:7-18) Paul sends personal greetings from himself and other church leaders, including Luke, the beloved physician.
1. How have you experienced the all surpassing love of God?
2. What does it mean to you to lead a life worthy of our calling as Jesus’ followers?
3. What do you think of Paul’s advice to husbands and wives?
Week 98 - Read Philippians
Key Concepts: The key concept is that our lives are to reflect that of Jesus; lives of humility and service.
Background: This is Paul’s most cordial letter. It is written to a church that he had established and with which he had maintained a very good relationship. Paul is in prison when he writes this letter so many people suspect this may be the letter he writes from Rome, which is referred to in Acts.
Brief Summary: Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-1-11) Paul opens with the usual letter writing style; a statement of who is writing (Paul and Timothy), to whom it is written (the church at Philippi, and its bishops and deacons), and a blessing. This is followed by an outpouring of Paul’s love for the people in the church at Philippi. “I thank God in all my remembrances of you…making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” He continues that he yearns for them with great affection. He prays that they will continue to be filled with the fruits of their relationship with Christ.
Paul’s Current Situation (1:12-1:26) The Apostle makes it clear that he is in prison because of Jesus and that this is known even to the Praetorian Guard. In addition his imprisonment has encouraged, rather than discouraged, other Christians. Some of those who preach do it out of love for Christ and Paul while others do so intending to afflict Paul. Nonetheless Paul will rejoice. He will do so because he knows that he is being prayed for by the Philippians. Paul does not know if he will be freed or executed, but either is fine with him. To live is to serve. To die is to be with God.
How should the Philippians Live? (1:27-2:18) Paul challenges the Philippians to let the manner of their lives be worthy of the message they have received. They are to stand firm, working side by side for the Gospel. At this juncture (2:1) Paul launches into one of the most studied and meaning-filled passages in all of his letters. This is where he again challenges the church not only to be united in the same mind, but that they are to have the same mind as did Jesus when he willingly left heaven and became a human being, a servant, and became obedient unto death on a cross. This humility led to Jesus being raised from the dead and given a place of honor. The Philippians are then to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling “(meaning they are to do their best to imitate Jesus).
More Travel Plans (2:19-2:30) Paul tells the Philippians that he is sending Timothy to them in order that Timothy gather good news and report back to Paul. At the same time Paul is sending Epaphroditus back to the church because Epaphroditus misses his friends at Philippi.
Warning and Encouragement (3:1-4:7) Paul first warns the Philippians to watch out for those who try to draw them back to the Law as a means of salvation. He reminds them that even though he is a very good Jew, only his faith in Jesus saves him. He then invites them to join in imitating him and his fellow Apostles. Paul finishes this section with a call to always rejoice in the Lord because the Lord is near.
Closing Challenge (4:8-4:23) In this closing section Paul tells the Philippians what ought to be in the front of their minds. They are to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, filled with excellence, or worthy of praise. Finally Paul states that he can do (bear up through) all things because Christ strengthens him. He closes with thanks for the gifts that the church has shared with him.
1. How would you describe your relationship with your church?
2. What does it mean to you to have the same mind as Christ?
3. How does your faith in Christ strengthen you?
Week 99 - Read 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy
Key Concepts: The key concepts are that the church needs to have an orderly leadership, leading to an orderly life, that the church ought to remain faithful to its founding vision and that its leaders, Timothy in particular, need to continually rekindle their passion for teaching and leading.
Background: Timothy was a Christian before Paul met him and Paul invited him to accompany him on his journeys. These letters offer us a look at the structure and theological struggles of the early church as well as the personal struggles of its leaders.
Brief Summary: Salutation, Love and Christ (1 Timothy 1:1-1:20) The letter opens with the usual address (from Paul, to Timothy, grace from God and Christ), then reminds Timothy that the aim of faith is love and not “vain discussions.” It continues with the comment that the law is for sinners to redirect them. Then Paul admits to being chief among sinners, yet a sinner who has been saved by Jesus Christ (which is why Christ came, to save sinners) for the purpose of being an Apostle.
A Peaceful and Ordered Life (1 Timothy 2:1-2:15) Believers are not only to pray for themselves but for all in authority that all persons might come to believe the truth; which is that Jesus came and offered himself as a ransom for all of humanity. In worship people are to lift their hands, women should dress modestly (no braided hair or jewelry) and be silent (which contradicts other Pauline teaching).
Rules for Leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-16) Paul offers rules for Bishops and Deacons, which implies that the church has some organized leadership structure. The rules essentially say that they are to live lives which reflect the “proper” life as recognized by Roman society. This means not divorced, dignified, temperate, gentle and no lover of money. This section also makes it clear there are women deacons, who must abide by the same rules.
Warning against false teachers (1 Timothy 4:1-4:16) One of the core issues in the early church was false teachers who were offering all sorts of teaching including forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods. Timothy is not to be led astray by them, but instead stick to the truth as one who has been called to teach and lead.
Rules for the church (1 Timothy 5:1-6:20) Paul offers a series of instructions for widows (young and old), elders and teachers (be honorable), slaves (obey your masters), teachers (do not be greedy and be above reproach), and the rich (they are to generously share what they have).
Salutation and Exhortation (2 Timothy 1:1-1:8) Paul opens with the usual salutation then encourages Timothy to “rekindle” the gifts of leadership that he had been given.
Take Courage (2 Timothy 1:9-2:13) Timothy is challenged to continue to lead even in the face of the kind of opposition that had been faced by Paul, even to the point of going to prison. The image used is that of an athlete who must complete the race in order to be crowned. Paul also reminds Timothy that if Timothy denies Jesus, Jesus will deny him.
Good Advice and conclusion (2 Timothy 2:14-4:5) Timothy is now given advice about avoiding Godless chatter, shunning youthful passions, aiming for faith, love and peace, and avoiding controversies, quarreling, ungodly people, continuing in the faithful life, trusting scripture, and preaching the Word “in season and out of season.” Paul closes with the fact that he has “fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.” He then asks Timothy to come quickly to visit.
1. How does this letter differ theologically from some of Paul’s other letters?
2. What do you make of the command for women to be silent?
3. What do you make of the rules for church leaders?