Day 19

The New Testament Epistles - cont.

Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians

There is some debate over how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, with some considering that this second letter as we have it is, in fact, a composite of three, a fraction of the first plus the third and fourth. As one would expect, many scholars will insist that Second Corinthians is complete in its own right. This summary will treat this letter as one since it ‘forms a coherent whole… Tradition has been unanimous in affirming its unity (the early church fathers, for example, knew the letter only in its present form)… none of the Greek manuscripts break up the book’ (Quoted from the New International Version introduction to 2 Corinthians). First Corinthians dealt with problems in the church in Corinth. After this letter was written, misunderstandings arose between Paul and the Corinthian church, which caused great distress to Paul, leading him to make what he described as a painful visit to Corinth. After this painful visit, he wrote a letter ‘with many tears’, then sent Titus to them to try to appease the situation there. When Titus returned with good news from Corinth, the relieved Paul wrote this second Epistle.

Paul excuses his not coming to them

[1] Following his initial greeting, Paul offers thanksgiving to God for bringing him and his companions through all their tribulations, particularly mentioning their troubles in Asia and the prayerful support of the Corinthian church. He appeals to their recognition of his integrity and that of his fellow labourers, mentions his intent to visit them and excuses his not doing so.

Preparing the way for his next visit

[2] Paul’s earlier letter was written with much anguish and in tears. He now exhorts them to forgive the repentant sinner and confirm their love for him. Paul then gives thanks to God, reflecting on his recent ministry centred on Macedonia.

The ministry of the New Testament

[3] Paul explains how he doesn’t need letters of confirmation of his ministry as an apostle, since the converts at Corinth were more than sufficient commendation. He then draws a comparison between the ministry of the law (the Old Testament), the truth of which remains veiled to the Jews, and that of the Spirit (the New Testament) and its superiority in that it is able to lead Christians to salvation.

Afflictions in ministry

[4] Paul explains the integrity of their ministry and that any failure is because unbelievers were being blinded by the god of this world (Satan). His preaching is of Christ and he, being merely an earthen vessel, gives glory to God. Troubles and afflictions are suffered but do not deter, since their faith in Him who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise them. Consequently, their afflictions are considered light when compared to the prospect of eternal blessings.

Paul’s ministry of reconciliation

[5] Paul expresses his desire to be with the Lord, but there is also the need to be about his ministry, a need driven by the Spirit and the knowledge he will be judged, for all will appear before the judgement seat of God. It is for the love of Christ that he labours to persuade all to be prepared for that day, by becoming new creatures in Christ, who died that we might be reconciled to God. This, Paul says, is his ministry, that of reconciliation.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians

[6] Expressing the many trials he has suffered to bring his message to them, Paul appeals to them not to have received the gospel in vain. They are not to fellowship with unbelievers, for their ways have nothing in common with Christ’s ways. His appeal is that of a spiritual father to his children.

Paul’s joy with the Corinthians

[7] Paul reflects on the concern he had for them whilst in Macedonia, and how the news that Titus brought of their reformation turned that concern to great joy. Their reformation had been brought about because of his earlier letter, and he is able to rejoice that his boasting to Titus concerning them, and his confidence in them, is now validated.

The collection for the Christians at Jerusalem

[8-9] Paul praises the Macedonian churches for their generosity in giving, and encourages the church at Corinth to emulate them. Nevertheless, he advises them that their giving should be with a willing heart and not such that it would prove a burden to them. Paul commends the integrity of Titus and  others who are being sent to them for the purpose of collecting the church’s offerings. However, Paul recognises his writing to them concerning giving is hardly necessary, but he desires that their collection should be made before he arrives so as not to appear to be by coercion, should some Macedonians come with him. They are reminded that being generous in their giving results in generosity from God, particularly when giving is from the heart and not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver and His grace will abound towards them.

Paul’s defence of his apostolic authority and the area of his mission

[10] There are those who oppose Paul (vs 2, 10, 12), so here he seeks to vindicate himself. He asserts his spiritual authority in preaching and in his punishment  of offenders, emphasising his relationship with Christ and authority through Him. He refuses to behave like the false teachers amongst them who judge themselves by comparison with one another, but measures himself according to his own rules that focus on glorifying God.

Paul forced into foolish boasting

[11-12] Paul apologises for what he is about to write, for he has a great love for them and is fearful they may be drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel by false teachers. He then boasts of his own ministry, comparing himself to other apostles, and emphasises how he was supported by the church in Macedonia whilst bringing the gospel to them at Corinth. Paul mentions the deceitful nature of false teachers, then boasts of all his troubles and afflictions in support of himself as a true apostle. Paul relates his own glorious conversion and how he suffers an infliction, his ‘thorn in the flesh’, which in answer to pleas in prayer was told by Christ, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ In this he even takes pleasure in his sufferings, as they bring glory to God and vindicate his position as an apostle. He now tells of his intention to visit them again, expresses his love for them, and tells them of his apprehension that he might still find unrepentant sinners in their midst.

Final warnings

[13] Reminding them that his next visit will be his third, Paul warns them he will not be weak in dealing with sinners, and pleads with them to examine themselves so that they might be true to their faith. He concludes with a final exhortation of Christian love and his prayer of grace.

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

There is, not surprisingly, some disagreement over the dating and circumstance of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. One very plausible suggestion is circa 50 A.D., when Paul had returned from his first missionary journey to find a growing problem concerning the preaching of the gospel by people from Judea. They taught that Gentile converts had to accept Jewish law and submit to the covenant sign of circumcision if they were to be saved. This opposed the true gospel that justification is by faith and not works; the problem had to be resolved. Consequently, Paul went to Jerusalem, taking Barnabas and Titus with him, to confront the Christian leaders there [Acts 15]. This was a successful meeting in that there was an acceptance of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, and that they should not be required to follow Jewish law. Paul then wrote this letter to the churches in Antioch Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

The gospel received by special revelation

[1] Following a brief introduction, Paul expresses surprise that the Galatians were already paying heed to the teaching of another gospel. As confirmation that he preaches the only true gospel, Paul reminds them of how he was converted by Christ himself from persecutor to missionary, and how he subsequently received no teaching from man concerning the gospel.

Paul’s teaching sanctioned by the apostles at Jerusalem

[2] Paul adds weight to his statement of receiving the gospel only by divine revelation by telling of his recent visit to Jerusalem. It had been fourteen years since his first visit following his conversion, this time taking Barnabas and Titus with him. He received no opposition to his teaching and Titus, a Greek, was not pressed to be circumcised. The elders at Jerusalem accepted that Paul’s mission is to the Gentiles, and offered him and his companions the right hand of friendship, requesting they always remember the poor saints in Jerusalem. (We know from Acts 15:20 they also asked that Gentiles should abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.) Paul further substantiates his gospel of freedom and faith by recalling his public rebuke of Peter at Antioch. Peter had stopped communing with Gentiles in fear of criticism from visiting Jews. He then concludes this portion of his letter by stating that justification is by faith, for if it was by the law, then Christ’s death by crucifixion would have been in vain.

Slavery under the law

[3-4] Paul now expands on his doctrine of justification by faith by first speaking against justification by the law. He begins by questioning the foolishness of having first received the Spirit of God through faith; they should then think their continuing salvation should be by obedience to the law. He refers to Abraham as their example, as he had been declared righteous through faith before the law was given some four hundred and thirty years later. There can be no hope of salvation through the law since none can keep it, hence all are condemned by it. Hope, then, is in Christ Jesus who bore our sin. The purpose of the law was to prepare the way for Christ, as through His sacrifice we are no longer slaves to the law and all become adopted children of God, both Jews and Gentiles, through faith alone. Paul implores the Galatians not to forsake the freedom of the gospel by reverting to obedience to the law. He uses the situation of Ishmael and Isaac as an illustration, in that it was Isaac who was born of the promise to Abraham and Sarah (the free woman), and it was he who inherited God’s promises to Abraham.

Freedom in Christ

[5-6] Stand fast in the liberty in Christ is Paul’s plea to the Galatians. There is a choice to be made between the law and grace. Choosing the way of the law is to deny the gospel in that Christ becomes of no effect to them. The gospel brings liberty, but not liberty to do as one wishes. True liberty manifests itself in love by walking in the Spirit. However, the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to one another, demonstrated by the listed works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. Those ‘crucified’ in Christ have crucified the flesh and live and walk in the Spirit. In this we must watch over one another, not considering ourselves to be better than another, and to do good to all men as the opportunity presents itself, especially to fellow Christians. Paul makes a final appeal to the Galatians to choose the cross over circumcision, that is, faith over the law, which is the heart of the gospel. Peace and mercy will come to all who walk according to the true gospel.

Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians

This letter to the Ephesians did not address any particular problem in the church, but was written to give Paul’s readers a deeper understanding of God’s eternal purpose and grace by means of a revealed mystery, and of the high standards God has for the church. Considered to be intended as a circular letter, it was written from his house arrest in Rome around 60 A.D.

God’s purpose in Christ

[1-3]

Spiritual blessings in Christ; A prayer

[1] Following a brief greeting, Paul speaks of God’s blessings in Christ: that he chose us, adopted us as children, brought us redemption and the forgiveness of sins, and has made known the mystery of his will, that in the fullness of time we will receive our inheritance, having the gift of his Spirit in our lives. All this is given unto the praise of his glory. Paul tells of how he always gives thanks for them, mentioning them in his prayers that they may know the hope of God’s calling, understand the riches of their inheritance, know the power of God in their lives, and the power that resurrected Christ and made him Lord over all things.

Salvation of individuals by grace; One in Christ

[2] God’s purpose is fulfilled by first reconciling individuals to himself. We were dead in sin and lived according to the ways of the evil one, but God’s love and grace give us a new life in Christ. We are saved through faith to do the good works God called us to do. Secondly, individuals are reconciled to one another, the barriers between Jews and Gentiles having been broken down through Christ’s death. We have peace in Christ and with one another now we are all one in Christ, having access to God through one Spirit.

The ‘mystery’ revealed; A second prayer

[3] The mystery Paul spoke briefly of earlier, given to him by Christ and not previously known by man, is that the Gentiles will be fellow heirs, along with the Jews, all of the same body and partakers of God’s promise in Christ. Paul’s second prayer is that his readers be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in them and, being rooted and grounded in love, be able to comprehend the depth of Christ’s love and be filled with all the fullness of God.

God’s purpose manifest in the Christian’s daily life

[4-6]

Towards maturity in the Spirit

[4] Paul calls the church to maintain the unity that the Spirit brings to the church. The differing gifts of the Spirit are to develop maturity in the saints, preparing them for ministry and for building up the whole body of the church in love. The old way of life, when they were alienated from God, is put aside for a new life in Christ. The evil things of the Devil, such as all manner of lasciviousness, greed, dishonesty and anger, are replaced by a new nature that is the renewal of the mind by the Spirit, manifest in holiness, love and forgiveness.

Renewal of personal life; Relationships; The armour of God

[5-6] Do not be deceived by false teaching, for those who live in any of the ways of the old self will not have inheritance in the kingdom of God. Walk as children of light in all goodness, righteousness and truth, having no fellowship with the disobedient, but rather reprove them by the example of your own lives. Constantly give praise to God, thanking him for all things, and submitting yourselves to one another in fear of him. The relationship between husbands and wives is to reflect that of Christ and his church. Children must honour their parents and parents must nurture their children in the ways of the Lord. Servants should serve knowing that Christ came to serve, and masters should remember they have a Master in heaven that is no respecter of persons. Finally, we are to be strong in the Lord as our real enemy is not flesh and blood but the influence of the evil one. It is a spiritual conflict in which we must use all the armour that God provides, which includes truth, righteousness, faith and the word of God, all of which is underpinned with prayer. Paul concludes his letter with words of peace, love and grace.

Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians

Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was under house arrest in Rome, probably around 61 A.D. The Philippians were a constant support to Paul since his planting of the church in Philippi during his second missionary journey. Since learning of his imprisonment, they had sent Epaphroditus to him with aid and to provide any help he could. However, Epaphroditus had become very ill and so Paul felt it best he should return to Philippi. This gave him the opportunity to write to his beloved saints there.

Thanksgiving and prayer for the Philippians; Paul’s personal circumstances

[1] Paul expresses his joy in their steadfast fellowship in the gospel, how they are constantly in his thoughts, and how he prays that their love, faith and the fruits of their work will continue to grow. He explains how his circumstance – his house arrest – has led to furtherance of the gospel amongst the Romans, with the consequence that there is a greater boldness in Christians preaching the word. Nevertheless, there are some who preach with less than honourable motives, but Paul’s joy is that, for whatever reason, the gospel is being preached by many. At this time he doesn’t know whether he will be released or martyred, but he is able to say, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain! Paul longs to be with Christ, but knows in life he can further the gospel and would love to be able to visit them again. In any event, he calls for them to be of one spirit in faith and not to fear their adversaries.

Imitating Christ’s humility; Timothy and Epaphroditus

[2] In his call for unity, Paul encourages them to be humble, expressing Christ’s humility as their ultimate example. In this they are to be a light amongst the crooked and perverse nation around them. Paul tells them he will be sending Timothy when there is further news,and highly commends him. He also tells of the need to send Epaphroditus back to them following a serious illness he had while he was with him.

Warning against Judaisers

[3] Paul reminds them to beware of Judaisers who preach the need for circumcision, telling how he was once zealous as a Jew and, in the consideration of righteousness by the law, thought blameless. He tells of his transformation in which righteousness is not of his own achievements but by faith in Christ and of his ambitions as a Christian. He calls them to be like-minded, looking forward to the glorious resurrection at Christ’s second coming.

Final exhortations, thanks and salutations

[4] Paul appeals to his readers to rejoice in the Lord, be prayerful in all things, and for their thoughts to be always on all things virtuous and praiseworthy. The Philippians’ generosity and support of Paul have followed him since they first knew him and surpassed that of any other church. Paul rejoices in their support, yet reminds them of his attitude to material things, having dependency on God who will also supply all their needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Paul ends his letter with the usual salutations, and here is able to include the new converts of Caesar’s household.

Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians

During Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, Epaphras had been converted and took the gospel to Colosse. However, this new church came under attack from heretical teaching, which seemed to emanate mainly from Judaism and gnosticism. Paul’s purpose of writing this letter was to refute these heresies by emphasising the complete adequacy of Christ in contrast to the inadequacy of human philosophy. It was written while under house arrest in Rome in 60 A.D., perhaps a little after his letter to the Ephesians.

Greetings, thanksgiving and prayer; The supremacy of Christ

[1] Paul greets the church and gives thanks to God for their faith, love and hope that are the result of Epaphras having taken the gospel to them. He prays constantly that they might continue to grow in their faith, bearing fruit and increasing in knowledge, exhorting them to give thanks to the Father for His redemptive work in them through the blood of Christ. Paul expresses the supremacy of Christ as the firstborn before all creation, the head of the body, the church, through whom all things are reconciled to the Father, now including the saints at Colosse. Having been reconciled, they need to continue in the faith, grounded and settled, not moving away from the hope of the gospel of which Paul became a minister, empowered to reveal the ‘mystery’ hidden until the present times, that all nations can share in the riches and glory of redemption through Christ Jesus.

Warnings against heresies

[2] Knowing the adverse influences around them, Paul expresses his concern for their spiritual welfare, telling them he is with them in spirit and urging them to be steadfast in their faith. They are told to beware of the philosophies and deceit that are of this world and not of Christ, in whom is the fullness of God. Paul reminds them that their old selves have been buried with Christ through baptism and raised again, all their sins having been forgiven, to be as one with Christ whose death and resurrection defeated the hold of sin over them. Paul now warns them against some specific heresies to which they are exposed that relate to Judaism and gnosticism, questioning how, if they have become as one with Christ, they could now be subject to the doctrines of men.

The way of life in Christ

[3-4:1] Paul teaches them the way they ought to live, setting their minds on things above and not on things of this world. They must no longer have anything to do with corrupt passions, covetousness, anger, shameful speech and dishonesty. Rather, they are to have hearts of compassion, kindness, humility and, above all, love. All that they do should be done in peace, being steeped in God’s word and always giving thanks and praise to Him. Paul specifically mentions here the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, and servants and masters.

Encouragement and final greetings

[4:2-18] In these closing words, Paul encourages them to continue in prayer and witnessing, and sends greetings from numerous brothers, including Onesimus, who is the subject of his letter to Philemon, and Luke. He also requests this letter be exchanged with one sent to Laodicea, then ends with a personal greeting.
30-Day Reading Plan This is a 30-day reading plan based on an average of 15 minutes per session - a total read time of 7½ hours. The actual read times vary from 12 to 20 minutes to accommodate for practical read session end points. If the reading times don’t suit you, then simply go at your own pace and note where you finished. Please select your reading day below
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