Lesson 7 – NEW TESTAMENT THE EPISTLES
SECTION 1 – PAUL’S LETTERS
Many of Paul’s letters to churches, especially his teaching letters, have two sections, firstly a presentation of what God has done and secondly our response to Him on the basis of what He has done.
Although Paul was the author of his letters, he used a scribe to write for him. Scholars suggest that the reason why he didn’t write his own letter was that he had poor eyesight. See Galatians 6:11
Letters to churches
Romans, Corinthians, Galatians Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians.
Letters to individuals
Timothy, Titus, Philemon.
Purpose of the letters
ROMANS – teaching.
Paul wrote this letter, probably at some time during his third missionary journey and possibly when he was in Corinth. He wrote it to the church in Rome, the majority of which was made up of Gentiles although there were also Jews in the congregation.
Paul’s theme in Romans is the basic gospel, God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. Although he deals thoroughly with the theme of “righteousness from God, it includes justification by faith, guilt, sanctification and security.
The theological section, chapters 1-8 and the practical section, chapters 12-16, are bridged by his explanation of God’s past, present and future dealings with Israel.
1 CORINTHIANS – correction
Paul received information that there were problems in the church in Corinth; divisions, immorality, and misunderstandings.
The Corinthian church was gifted (1:4-7) but immature (3:1-4). Paul wrote
- To instruct and restore the church in its areas of weakness,
- To correct erroneous practices such as divisions (1:10-4:21), immorality (5; 6:12-20), sorting out issues with each other in pagan courts (6:1-8) and abuse of the Lord’s supper (11:17-43)
- To correct false teaching concerning the resurrection (ch15) and
- To give instruction about the offering for poor believers in Jerusalem (16:1-4).
Although this letter deals with practical issues in the church, the theme has to do with the development of holiness in the Christian life.
2 CORINTHIANS – defence and correction
“The Corinthian church had been infiltrated by false teachers who were challenging both Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle. Because he had announced a change in his itinerary, with the result that he would now pay the Corinthians one (long) visit instead of two (short) visits, these adversaries were asserting that his word was not to be trusted. They were also saying that he was not a genuine apostle and that he was putting in his own pocket the money they had collected for the poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem.
“Paul asks the Corinthians to consider that his personal life in their midst was always honourable and that his life-transforming message of salvation was true. He urges them to prepare for his impending visit by completing the collection they had started a year previously and by dealing with the troublemakers in their midst. He warns them that he means what he writes.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1761).
GALATIANS – defence
Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed and taught that some of the ceremonial practices of the Jewish religion were still binding on Gentile believers, especially circumcision. After Paul’s successful preaching in the province of Galatia, they were undermining his gospel by insisting the Gentiles be circumcised before they could become Christians, They also argued that Paul was not a true apostle because he was removing certain legal requirements to make the gospel more appealing to Gentiles.
Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches is a fiery defence of the true gospel of God’s grace pus nothing and that sanctification comes through obedience that comes from faith in the finished work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because of the similarity between the letters to the Romans and Galatians, scholars believe that Paul’s letter to the Galatians with his defence of gospel of God’s grace forms the basis of his fuller and more sober treatment of the same subject to the Romans.
It was the rediscovery of the basic message of this book that sparked the Reformation under Martin Luther and John Calvin.
EPHESIANS — teaching
Ephesus was the most important city in western Asia Minor. It had a harbour and was a commercial centre at the intersection of Major trade routes. It was also the centre of the worship of the goddess Artemis or Diana. Paul made Ephesus the centre of evangelism for three years and the church flourished there for a while.
This letter does not deal with error, heresy or problems. Paul wrote it to explain the marvels of God’s grace and the greatness of the goals He has for the church.
In true Pauline style, the first three chapters are explanations of what God has done and the last three the believer’s response to God’s grace. God has blessed us, chosen us, forgiven and redeemed us, reconciled us and brought us into His fellowship with His covenant people by grace. It is for us now to walk worthy of our calling, living out what He has done in us and standing firm against the devil’s wiles in His power.
PHILIPPIANS – thanksgiving
Philippi was the first city in Europe that Paul reached when he left Asia Minor. It was in the prosperous Roman colony of Macedonia, which means that the citizens of Philippi were also Roman citizens. They were proud of their citizenship, dressed like Romans and spoke Latin. Many were retired military men who were given land in the colony and served as a military presence in this frontier colony.
It is evident, from the content that Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter. The Philippian church had been generous to Paul, sending him financial aid when they heard he was in prison. Paul made us of this occasion to write to them:
- To tell them what was going on with him. (1:12-26; 410-19),
- To encourage the Philippian church to stand firm in the face of persecution and to rejoice in all circumstances (1:27-30; 4:4),
- To exhort them to unity and humility (2:1-11; 4:2-5),
- To commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to them (2:19-30), and
- To warn them against the Judaizers (the legalists) and the antinomians (the liberals) among them (chapter 3),
as well as to thank them for their generosity and care for him.