Epistles

Section 7

21 Letters

Authors: Paul wrote fourteen epistles, and there are three by John, two by Peter, and one each by James and Jude.

The Epistles are letters that were written by the apostles to churches that they had founded in the earliest days of Christianity. Their purpose is to explain the significance of Christ in terms of both our faith and practice.
Paul started new faith communities, set aside leaders in these churches, and then would leave to go preach in another town. When those leaders had questions or concerns, they sent messages to Paul, who wrote letters in response. His letters taught, encouraged, and sought to offer practical advice and help to these new Christians.

1. Romans
Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Rome to give them a foundation on which to construct their faith and to live for and serve God.
Paul wants the reader to understand that salvation cannot be attained through man’s good deeds but through faith in God.
In chapters 1-8, Paul explains the foundations of the Christian faith.
Chapters 9-11, Paul explains salvation. He also spells out how an individual may come into a right relationship with God: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”
In chapters 12-16, Paul gives instructions for all Christians about how to live a holy lifestyle.
He writes, “Do not be conformed to this world.” Much of the teaching that Paul dealt with in his letters, were because the believers had conformed their lives to the world and not to God.

2. First Corinthians
Paul’s purpose in writing this letter to the church in Corinth was to address and correct the immorality and divisions that had arisen among them.
Chapters 1-4, Paul received reports of problems in the church in Corinth and therefore addresses their problems and disorders, “there are quarrels among you.”
In chapters 5-11, Paul exposes all of the immorality that was occurring in the church at Corinth.
In chapters 12-14, he clears up some of the confusion about practices of worship. He corrects difficult doctrines that had caused divisions. Some of these differences were the role of women in worship, the use of spiritual gifts, and observing the Lord’s Supper. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
Chapters 15-16 consist of Paul dealing with the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the topic that is, “of first importance” to Paul.

3. Second Corinthians
Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth to defend and protect his Apostleship, and to teach and warn against false teachers who were spreading heresy.
In chapters 1-7, Paul describes the characteristics of an Apostle. He explained that his ministry was to preach Jesus alone and not himself, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5).
Paul then explains that Christians will suffer. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”. It is promised to followers of Christ that they will suffer. Paul states that compared to eternity with Christ the sufferings of this world are temporary and have a purpose for us.
In chapters 8-9, He urges the Corinthians to give the offering to the believers in Judea, as they had promised. He taught that if they gave generously they would also “reap generously”.
Chapters 10-13, Paul defends his ministry and responds to attacks about his Apostleship. They had been questioning his authority and opposing him. Paul declares that if anyone preaches a different Gospel or a different Jesus, other than what Paul and the Apostles were preaching, they are false teachers and deceitful workers and should not be accepted.
In chapter 12, Paul explains his own suffering. He asked God to remove a suffering from His life but God refused. God responded to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. Paul understood that God is sovereign and in control over even his sufferings. Therefore, Paul embraces his suffering because God allows them into his life for a purpose regardless of how difficult they may be. In times of calamity, he understood that these were times when he depended on God’s strength and mercy the most. Paul responds, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”. Paul knew he was the strongest when he felt the weakest because he depended on God, the one who has infinite strength.

4. Galatians
Galatians explains the concept of salvation by faith, not works.
Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul prior to the Jerusalem Council which had taken place in 50 A.D. Paul writes this book to deal with the problem of circumcision and Jewish legalism toward Gentile believers.
In chapters 1-2, Paul’s gives his testimony about how he had received the Gospel message. He warns that if anyone presents another Gospel message other than the one he was preaching, that person is “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (1:9).
Chapters 3-5, Paul begins by declaring that salvation is through faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, and cannot be obtained through the keeping of the Law.
No one can obey the 10 Commandments. It is impossible. Every person has broken them; therefore, we can only attain salvation through trusting in our Savior Christ Jesus.
Chapters 5, He teaches the Fruits of the Spirit and tells us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh”. A Christian must have the desire to produce good fruit, obey God’s Law, and live a righteous life.

5. Ephesians
All barriers between Jews and Gentiles have been broken down.
The book of Ephesians was written to encourage believers to walk as followers of Christ and to serve in unity and love in the midst of persecution.
In chapters 1-3, Paul begins with the truth that every believer has been chosen by God before the foundation of the world, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (1:4-5).
Paul then teaches about the unity of believers. These are the truths and blessings that all believers have in common. He wrote that all Christians are “adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (1:5). All believers are, “redeemed through His blood” (1:7), and “sealed by the Holy Spirit” (1:13).
In chapters 4-5, Paul encourages the believer to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling”. Every believer has a responsibility to live as servants of Jesus Christ. In these chapters, Paul teaches that it takes hard work to be in unity with others.
In chapter 6, Paul instructs believers how to prepare for spiritual battle. Prayer is the key weapon of the Christian soldier.

6. Philippians

It reveals Paul’s devotion to Christ, his experience in prison, and his deep concern that the Church should be steadfast in sound doctrine.
The book of Philippians was written to show Paul’s appreciation and love to the Philippians in a thank-you letter for their continued help and support, and also to encourage their growth.
Chapter 1, Paul writes about his sufferings and that through his imprisonment the Kingdom was increased. “Now I want you to know, brethren that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (1:12).
Christians are to surrender their lives in service to Christ Jesus. Paul explains that there are two things granted by God for a believer. The first is to believe in Him and the other is to suffer, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (1:29-30). Jesus said, “Count the cost”… (Luke 14:25-33).
Chapter 2, Paul teaches a theological lesson about the humanity of Jesus Christ as He laid down His glory and became a perfect human man in order to rescue and restore mankind back to a relationship with God.
Chapter 3, Paul expounds on the joys of a Christian and encourages the church to press forward with the Gospel. He displays his testimony when he said, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (3:8).
Chapter 4, Paul again mentions joy in Christ as he encourages believers to rejoice in the Lord.

7. Colossians
Counsel to abandon worldly philosophy and sin.
The book of Colossians was written to counter and respond to heretical teachings and encourage believers to serve with fervor and passion.
In chapters 1-2, Paul sends words of thanks to the faithful believers “who are at Colosse”. Paul did not establish the Colossian Church and had never visited there.
It is apparent that false teachers were spreading heresy by rejecting the deity of Jesus Christ. Paul warns not to allow anyone to lead them astray with philosophy, trickery, or by traditions of men.
In chapters 3-4, Paul encourages the church to focus on God, and keep their eyes on the goal, “set your mind on the things above” (3:2). He teaches believers how to live at home, how to manage family matters, and how to get along with other believers in Christ. His approach is for believers to put aside the petty situations that become obstacles in our lives, slow us down, and prevent the spread of the Gospel.
Paul then explains what it means to forgive, “just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (3:13).

8. First Thessalonians

Paul wrote this letter to strengthen and encourage the church in Thessalonica. To encourage and hearten the believers, Paul chose to emphasize the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In chapters 1-3, the first principle is seen as Paul accentuates and commends them for their faithfulness to the Lord. He wrote, “thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs it work in you who believe” (2:13).
In chapters 4-6, Paul highlights love and hope. He encourages the church to walk in love.

He then expounds on the return of Jesus and “the day of the Lord”. Paul teaches the church about the resurrection on the last day and that Christ will return in the clouds, this was the encouragement that the church in Thessalonica needed.

Before Paul finishes his letter he does not forget to add that they must pray and “examine everything carefully’.

9. Second Thessalonians
Paul wrote this letter to reemphasize the coming return of Jesus Christ. Some of the people in Thessalonica had thought that Jesus had already returned, this letter was written to correct any misunderstandings.
In chapter 1, Paul highlights the great hope of Jesus’ future return although the exact time is unable to be known by anyone.
He commends the church in Thessalonica for their perseverance in the midst of persecution, “we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (1:4).
Paul teaches that God will punish those who are persecuting on the last day. “Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (1:8-9).
In chapters 2-3, speaking of the return of Jesus Christ, Paul was sure to include the signs and setting that “the man of lawlessness” (the antichrist) had to arrive. For that to occur the Holy Spirit must be removed from restraining him. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers and when He is removed, all believers will be “caught up” in the clouds with the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Paul pushes them to pray and serve until this all transpires. “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ” (3:5).

10. First Timothy
The book of 1 Timothy was written to give encouragement and leadership guidelines to a young pastor named Timothy at the church in Ephesus.
Chapter 1 begins with a greeting to Timothy, then turns to a warning against false teachings, and an emphasis on correct beliefs. Paul encourages him to “fight the good fight” (vs. 18).
In chapters 2-4, Paul declares that God desires salvation for everyone.
Next, Paul lays some important guidelines and principles for church leadership. He taught the controversial subject of women in the church and what the two offices of leadership in the church were to be, the Overseer and the Deacon. He even taught some of the practices that should be carried out in the church such as, “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (4:13).
Chapter 5-6, Paul gives guidelines for relationships within the church as he explains how to deal with discipline and care for widows. He gives advice of how to minister and lays more guidelines for the wealthy instructing them to be generous. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (6:17).

11. 2 Timothy
Paul’s last letter, written before his death, giving counsel to his beloved “son in the Gospel.”
The book of 2 Timothy is a letter from Paul to a church leader. Its purpose was to give direction to Timothy and urge him to visit one final time. From the somber nature of this letter, it is apparent that Paul knew that his work was done and that his life was nearly at an end (4:6-8).
In chapters 1-2, Paul begins with thanksgivings and an announcement to remain faithful, strong, and to “Join with me in suffering for the Gospel” (1:8). In contrast to his first imprisonment (where he lived in a rented house), he now languished in a cold dungeon (4:13) chained like a common criminal (1:16; 2:9). He also reiterates the important work of “entrusting the faithful men who will be able to teach others” (2:2).
Paul’s desire was to equip the saints with the knowledge of how to teach others.
In chapters 3-4, Paul tells Timothy to remain faithful and “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction”, because difficult times would be in the future. He challenges him to endure reminding him that endurance is one of the main quality essentials for a successful preacher of the Gospel. Men would become just as they were in the time of Moses. He writes that, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).
Soon after this letter, it is likely that Paul was beheaded as a Roman citizen.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (4:7).

12. Titus
The book of Titus is a letter from Paul to guide Titus, a Greek believer, in his leadership of the churches on the island of Crete. Paul writes to encourage and guide the young pastor in dealing with opposition from both false teachers and sinful men.
In chapter 1, Paul gives qualifications about how to choose leaders in the church, “the overseer must be above reproach”. He also warned to be aware of the rebellious men and deceivers.
In chapters 2-3, Paul teaches how believers may live healthy inside and outside of the church. He told them to live Godly lives and to be prepared for the coming Savior Jesus Christ.

13. Philemon
A private letter written to Philemon, asking him to receive and forgive Onesimus, a runaway slave.
The book of Philemon was written to Philemon as a plea to request forgiveness for his runaway servant Onesimus, who was a new believer in Jesus Christ.
The book of Philemon consists of one chapter.
Verses 8-25, consist of Paul’s appeal for Onesimus, “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me”.
Onesimus had run away and traveled to Rome where he met Paul. While there, Onesimus surrendered his life to Christ. Philemon, under Roman law, could execute his slave for fleeing however, Paul pleas with Philemon to accept his servant. Paul goes one-step further and asks Philemon not only to accept his slave, but also to accept him as a brother in Christ and to overlook his faults and errors. “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (15-16).
Onesimus would carry this letter back and give it to Philemon. Onesimus is later mentioned at the end of the book of Colossians as a faithful and beloved brother.

14. Hebrews
Written to Jewish Christians, this explains the doctrine of salvation.
The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrew believers. Its purpose was to present the Lord Jesus Christ as superior in comparison to anything Judaism and the old covenant had to offer. The author was writing to a group of Christians who were under intense persecution and some were contemplating a return to Judaism. He admonished them not to turn away from their hope of salvation.
In chapters 1-10, the author demonstrates Jesus Christ as preeminent over the angels, “let all the angels of God worship Him” (1:6); over Moses, “He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3:3); over the Old Testament priesthood, “being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:10).
The writer explains that the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant because Jesus was the perfect, permanent sacrifice, rather than the Old Testament sacrifices.
The author also presents the power and authority of the Word of God, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12).
The writer explains that Faith is superior to the work of the Old Covenant. He writes, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
Faith in Jesus Christ is our source of salvation.

15. James
Written by James, the brother of Jesus, it was sent to Jewish converts who had dispersed from Israel. The main theme is practical religion, manifesting itself in good works, as contrasted with only a profession of faith.
James wrote this book to Jewish believers to encourage them to endure and live bold Christian lives. James is a book about practical Christian living that reflects a genuine faith that transforms lives. In many ways, it is similar to the OT book of Proverbs.
In chapter 1, James teaches believers to test their faith and “prove yourselves doers of the word” (1:22).
James encourages believers to put their faith into action, and to be servants of Jesus Christ.
Chapters 2-3, James describes the relationship between faith and works. He teaches that a person of faith without works demonstrates useless faith. What good is a person’s faith if they don’t present it to the world? A believer’s good works are evidence of their faith in Jesus Christ.
In Chapters 4-5, James gives wise instruction to believers. He said, “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). A faithful believer will desire to follow hard after God in service, obedience, and prayer.
In the last chapter James stresses the weight and magnitude of prayer for every believer. He uses the word “Prayer” 7 times, signifying its importance.
In the final verse of his book James expresses the magnitude of living faith in action saying:
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (5:19-20).

16. First Peter
A letter of encouragement written by the Apostle Peter to the believers scattered throughout Asia Minor.
Peter’s central focus is persecution.
Chapters 1-2, Peter addresses the issue that believers are to live a life of personal holiness as God’s people, even during times of suffering and persecution. He teaches that all Christians are to expect suffering; it is normal and Scriptural for Christians to suffer persecution and even imprisonment and death.
In chapters 3-5, Peter explains that in living holy lives the believer is to, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (3:15).

17. Second Peter
The book of 2 Peter warns against the increasing number of false teachers attacking the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In chapters 1-2, Peter gives guidance and reassurance to the growing church and claims that the Gospel they are preaching is of Jesus Christ. Peter went on to teach that in the end God would judge all of the false prophets.
Chapter 3, Peter encourages believes with the coming Day of the Lord. The Earth will receive its punishment and the righteous will dwell in the “New Heavens and the New Earth”. His final warning is critical which he claims, “Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men”.

18. First John
John discusses the duty of fellowship and brotherly love.
Its purpose was to warn about the increasing threat of false teachings and to reassure Christians of their faith and love in Jesus Christ.
It was written to combat false teachings that had to do with the denial that Jesus had a genuine human body.
Chapters 1-2, Because John was aware of the continuing attack of false teachings, he then urged believers not to love and follow after the world because it was not of the Father, and would pass away.
In chapters 3-4, He teaches about love. Believers should love each other not only with words but also, “in deed and truth”, as Jesus commanded.
Chapter 5, John writes “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
John wanted all believers to know 100%, that because of their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they would spend all of eternity with Him.

19. Second John
The book of 2 John was written to encourage all Christians not to lose focus of Jesus Christ and to warn against persistent heresy.
Verses 4-11, John supports the commandment to “love one another”. He cautions them to watch for the deceivers and the antichrists that are abundant and active in the world spreading false teachings.
Those who do not follow the teachings of Jesus Christ are false teachers.
He also reminds his readers of their responsibility as Christians to love other Christians.

20. Third John
This book is the shortest book in the New Testament and was written to praise Gaius and Demetrius for their faithful service.
In verses 1-12, John praises two teachers for “walking in truth”. He wrote that nothing gave him more joy than to see Christians walking in truth and acting faithfully, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God”.

21. Jude
The author is Jude the brother of James, both of who are half-brothers of Jesus Christ.
The purpose of this book is to address false teachings and to illustrate a contrast between the error of heresy and the truth of Jesus Christ.
Jude consists of one chapter.
In verses 1- 16, Jude delves into the dilemma of false teachings. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed”, heresy was seeping into the region, disturbing the churches, and deceiving believers.
Verses 17-25, Jude urges Christians to “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ”. He was referring to all of the apostles and disciples in the past, which had warned about false teachers and prophets that were coming to deceive. His advice is to focus on Jesus Christ and to watch out for each other so that no one is misled into error.
Those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are secure in salvation, not by their own good deeds, because no one is good enough to do that, but believers are secure by the vicarious work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

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