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Do You Like Reading Other People’s Letters?
It is quite a title and a most rewarding activity. Try it as you read.
In our sweep through the Bible, so that we can have an overview of the Bible, we come to the Epistles – or Epistles. Someone once thought that the epistles were the apostles’ wives.
The epistles are essentially preaching notes of the apostles – they deal with issues arising in the early church – problems – and problems – and divisions.
They tell us about God – and about Jesus – but also about the Church, and what is important – and they also tell us a lot about the writers.
We must immediately mention Paul – almost a third of the New Testament is either about him or by him. This man has such an influence on the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jesus allows it – and we can even call it intentional.
Paul was initially a fanatical Pharisee – called Saul after Israel’s first king. Then, he was so graciously willing to be called Paul – a Gentile name.
Paul was born in Tarsus – a university city – after Athens and Alexandria. His parents were Jewish, so he was raised on the scriptures and taught about God. He came from the tribe of Benjamin – and was a student of Professor Gamaliel.
He persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ before becoming an apostle, preacher and writer.
Although a Hebrew, he spoke Greek – and so could preach and teach and write to all of the Greek world. He was a Roman citizen and he knew Roman law and used it when necessary – but this did not give him a pain free life.
Here is a disciple of Jesus Christ whose background is Jewish, Greek and Roman. He could go anywhere – and he was ready to serve in God’s kingdom before he believed in Jesus Christ.
Now, letter writing was not easy during this time. Roman letters may be the longest letters we have from this period!
All his letters have the same format – and all letters begin with mercy and peace. I first saw it on New Year’s Day 1993.
Paul would have an amanuensis – a secretary – to whom he would write his letters – Romans 16 verse 22 – and the secretary would insert a personal greeting – it would be like a lawyer buying a house and inserting – “I hope you find the house” ! But God didn’t mind. This is the word of God in the human aspect.
The other human aspect is – Paul was probably dictating some of these letters to a Roman soldier while in chains.
There are letters to the church – and letters to individuals. The tone also changes – I Thessalonians is very warm – and II Thessalonians reads quite differently – it is much colder.
But we learn this from the letters – the New Testament churches were not perfect. They had problems and without the problems, we would not have the teachings in these letters.
No other faith has letters in their scriptures! God speaks through letters.
I remember asking for a cartoon in ‘Christian Today’ in 1980 showing a demonstration against Paul’s preaching in Corinth – with ‘Male Chauvinist Pigs’ on placards – and at the bottom it read – “I see my letter has arrived”!
In 2 Thessalonians there is a wave of persecution – and Paul talks about those who persecute believers or give them a hard time – eternal destruction – chapter 1 verse 9 and 2 verse 8 – judgment – 1 verse 5 – being shut out or excluded 1 Verse 9 – Tribulation 1 Verse 4 – Vengeance 1 Verse 6 – And Eternal Destruction 1 Verse 9.
In a day of growing persecution, this letter is deeply relevant, personal and practical – as well as encouraging and comforting.
Hebrews – we don’t know who wrote it – but it pretty much refers to Leviticus – and it was written by a Jew and addressed to the Hebrew disciples of Jesus Christ.
James – The writings of Jesus’ half-brother. His name is really Jacob.
Peter – A Fisherman Writing Scripture – Surely not? Peter lived in a time of great persecution – and wrote about it – and how to cope.
The more we read God’s Word the more we learn that there has never been a time when serving God has been easy. It’s a lesson we need to come to terms with—soon and fast.
Peter is writing to those who have fled for their faith in Jesus Christ – who have been scattered – and who are considered misfits or aliens.
JUDE AND JOHN – WROTE THE LETTERS – Then we come to the seven letters of Jesus in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
We know more about Paul than any other apostle – a third of the New Testament is either about him or by him. He wrote 13 letters.
He was an anti-Christian evangelist – to begin with.
He spoke Greek as well as Hebrew and Latin.
He met Jesus in Quneitra, Syria, outside Damascus – just a few miles from where Jesus was transfigured – on Mount Hermon.
He went to Arabia – for about three years – to find out what happened to him in the light of the Old Testament.
His birth process took three days – with the help of Ananias. Chapter 9 of the Act.
He always insisted that what happened to him, happened to others.
He became a leader of the church in Antioch, Syria. Act 13.
Paul made three long missionary journeys – AD 45 to 60 – and faced imprisonment – ending in Rome – but wrote to continue his ministry when he could not return to visit.
He appointed leaders – and then left – Timothy and Titus.
He emphasizes – the gospel – the good news of God through Jesus Christ – being ‘in Christ’ – he was a servant of Christ – Jesus bought me – he emphasizes the grace of God – and the kingdom of God, where Jesus is king.
He is perhaps the most famous letter writer in history. If you enjoy reading other people’s letters, the New Testament will excite you.
The format of these letters is quite similar – it begins with name and address – a greeting – prayer – spoken rather than written – a conversational style rather than a literary style – Jesus followed the same pattern.
The letters are either personal – to individuals – or deal with something happening in the church – or a general or circular letter such as Ephesians. They are personal and practical.
As we read the letters, we learn how we have an imperfect church – and – divine revelation!
“Loving God – we thank you for the literature you have given us in the Scriptures – and we thank you for these letters – written in a day when letters were not easy to write and send and distribute. Encourage us the Church of Jesus Christ from the beginning We read these letters to understand the problems that were faced. Thank you for including these letters in the Bible and for the authority and truth of each one in Jesus name. Amen”
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