Day 20

The New Testament Epistles - cont.

Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians

This is one of Paul’s earliest letters to the churches. If Galatians was the first (which is much debated), then this would have been his second. Paul was at Thessalonica for only a short time before having to leave because of persecution orchestrated by some Jews. Even so, there had been many converts. From Thessalonica Paul went on to Berea, then Athens and then to Corinth. Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica from Athens, then later rejoined Paul in Corinth, bringing news of the Thessalonian church, which prompted this first letter to them, written around 51 or 52 A.D. Although the content is various, the subject of eschatology (doctrine of last things or end times) seems to be uppermost in Paul’s mind, with each of the first three chapters ending with a reference to Christ’s second coming, and chapter four giving it specific consideration. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians also deals with this subject, with the consequence that these letters to the Thessalonians are often referred to as the eschatological letters.

Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians

[1] Paul’s greeting comes from himself, Silas and Timothy, his companions at the time. He gives thanks and commends them for their faith, love and hope, which, despite the persecution around them, continue to grow and have become known throughout Macedonia and Greece. They are an example to all believers in the region in how they turned away from idols to God and now wait for His Son from heaven.

The manner of Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians

[2] Seemingly in defence of his ministry to them, Paul tells of how they came to Thessalonica despite experiencing previous persecutions in Macedonia, bringing the gospel boldly, but with plain speaking and without seeking glory from anyone. They delivered the gospel with love and without being a burden to them, being blameless in their behaviour, and teaching them as a father to his children that they might come to know the ways of God. All the believers at Thessalonica can testify to this. Paul and his companions are now able to give thanks for their acceptance of the gospel as the true word of God, having become like the churches in Judea, suffering persecution for their faith. But their time at Thessalonica had been cut short and Paul now longs to come to see them again, having already been hindered twice. His hope and joy would be for them to be in the presence of Christ in His coming.

Further thanksgiving and prayer

[3] Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica because Paul was concerned their faith might have suffered as a result of the persecution there. However, he returned with good news and the message that they longed to see Paul and his companions again. Paul gives thanks to God and prays they will increase and abound in love, establishing hearts prepared for the Lord’s second coming.

Living for God; Concerning the departed and Christ’s second coming

[4-5:11] Paul now exhorts them to continue to walk in faith and to aim to please God. He particularly mentions abstinence from fornication (which dishonours the body), both personally and in relation to another man’s wife, for the Lord is the avenger concerning all these. Their brotherly love should increase more and more, they should work to support themselves and they should conduct themselves in a manner that witnesses to their faith. Probably in response to concerns for loved ones who died before Christ’s second coming (for which the expectation at the time was that it would be soon), Paul makes it clear that believers, living or departed, will all be gathered to be with the Lord forever. In this they can take comfort, but they will not know when that day will come, for it will be as a thief in the night. In the meantime, they are to continue in their Christian walk, in faith, love and hope of salvation, comforting and edifying one another.

Closing exhortations, prayer and greetings

[5:12-28] Paul’s closing remarks provide a summary list of Christian attributes they should display, including respect for masters, concern for one another, to do good to all men, rejoice and pray continuously, and to always give thanks to God. They are to be receptive to inspired teaching, but with discernment. Paul closes with a request for prayer and a charge to ensure this epistle is read to all the brethren.

Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians

Judging by the content of this letter, there doesn’t seem to have been much change to the situation at Thessalonica. However, it does appear there was a fraudulent letter circulating (2:2) that caused a misunderstanding concerning Christ’s second coming. Consequently, about one third of this letter is devoted to this subject. It is generally considered to have followed Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians some months later, around 51 or 52 A.D.

Greetings and thanksgiving

[1] Paul sends greetings from himself, Silas and Timothy, and gives thanks to God for their growing faith and love in the face of continuing persecutions and tribulations they are having to endure. Those around them who have not accepted the gospel will not share in the glory of the Lord’s second coming. Paul’s prayer for the church is that God will count them worthy, and that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified in them and they in Him.

The man of lawlessness

[2] Paul tells them not to be troubled by things they are told or by a counterfeit letter they had received, and reminds them of his teaching whilst he was with them. There would be an apostasy before the man of lawlessness (the son of perdition, the antichrist) is revealed who will exalt himself as God, occupying the temple and deceiving many with all power, signs and wonders. Then, when the Lord comes again, He will cause him to be destroyed and all those who believed him will be punished. Paul calls on them to stand firm in their faith and hold to the truth that they will be partakers in the glory, which is their hope through grace.

Not to keep company with sinners

[3] After requesting the Thessalonians’ support in prayer, Paul instructs them not to keep company with any among them who are disorderly or do not keep God’s word, with the intent they will then be ashamed. Yet they are not to be treated as enemies, but admonished as brothers. Paul concludes his letter in his usual manner, but makes a point of saying it is in his own hand, presumably to counter the fraudulent letter referred to earlier.

Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy

It is apparent from Paul’s pastoral letters, the two to Timothy and his letter to Titus, that Paul was released from his imprisonment in Rome, apparently acquitted of the charges against him. During this time of freedom he commissioned Titus to remain at Crete (see Paul’s letter to Titus) and Timothy to remain at Ephesus. Paul then moved on to Philippi and was later arrested, imprisoned and tried again, this time to be convicted and executed. This first letter to Timothy was written while Paul still had his freedom.

The problem at Ephesus

[1] Paul greets Timothy as his ‘child in faith’ who was left in charge of the church at Ephesus while Paul went to Macedonia. Timothy’s purpose for remaining there was to correct the false teaching of some, particularly with regard to the law of which they had insufficient understanding. The law was not made for righteous man but for sinners, those whose acts are contrary to the teaching of the gospel. This gospel Paul received by grace from Christ, despite his earlier persecution of Christians. Timothy is charged with this role at Ephesus for which he will need to be strong and true to the faith.

Public worship: Prayer and advice to women

[2] Paul now gives some general advice concerning administration of the church. Emphasis is placed on the need for prayer at all times and for all people, for God wants everyone to be saved. His guidance concerning women is that they should dress modestly and should not interrupt during teaching, nor usurp authority over man, referring to creation and the fall for scriptural support.

Church leaders

[3] There are two categories given for church leaders: overseers (bishops) and deacons. Paul gives the qualities required for those aspiring to be leaders in the church: bishops must be blameless in all aspects of Christian teaching, including at home, be mature in faith and have the respect of others; deacons must similarly be blameless, showing they are ready for service in the church by holding in all conscience to the truth in the gospel.

Dealing with asceticism

[4] There is a heresy growing that is gnosticism, of which asceticism is an essential part, claiming all things physical to be evil. Paul mentions two aspects of this heresy, forbidding to marry and abstaining from meats, both of which are sanctified by the word of God and by prayer. Timothy is to counter these heresies, which are ungodly and foolish, by reminding the brethren of the truth in God’s word and by being an example to all believers in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity. Until Paul returns, Timothy is to focus his life on reading and teaching, which is central to his own salvation as well as to those he pastors.

Dealing with different groups in the church

[5] A brief mention is made of the approach Timothy should take when having to rebuke older and younger men and women: older men as a father; younger men as a brother; older women as a mother; and younger women as a sister and with all purity. Paul then gives detailed instructions on the proper treatment of widows in the church. They are to be treated with honour and respect, due to them if they had shown all the good characteristics of Christian motherhood. But they have to be over sixty, as younger widows might stray from a goodly character. In any event, it is the duty of family to care for widows before they become the responsibility of the church. Next Paul turns to elders, beginning with the need to support those who have served well in the church. However, if an accusation is received against an elder, it must be supported by two or three witnesses. If guilty, he must be rebuked as an example before the whole church. Timothy is charged to follow these instructions given him, to deal impartially with people and not to ordain anyone rashly. It is also suggested he should take a little wine for his own health’s sake.

Slaves, the rich, and a final appeal

[6] Paul now speaks of the correct attitude a slave should have towards his master, witnessing to the gospel. This Timothy should teach and exhort, as any opposing teaching is not of Christ and will only create problems. A warning is given against the desire to be rich, for that desire will become a snare leading men away from a righteous path. Paul charges Timothy to rise above these things and live a godly life to which he has been called. Those who are rich should not trust in their riches, but in God, doing the good their riches allow them to do. Paul ends with a final plea from the heart to his adopted son he loves: O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called… Grace be with thee.

Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy

Paul is now back in prison, not under house arrest as during his first detention in Rome, but in a cold dungeon where even his friends took a time to find him. This is the last letter Paul wrote. His mixed emotions of confidence in his salvation, his desperation to see Timothy again, and his concern for the welfare of the church can all be found in his words.

Greetings and encouragement

[1] Paul demonstrates his great affection for Timothy in his greeting by referring to him as his ‘dearly beloved child’. He gives thanks to God for Timothy’s continued faith and expresses his great desire to see him again. He encourages him to be strong in the Spirit of power and love, and not to be ashamed of the gospel, given by grace, which is the way to eternal life. Paul reminds Timothy that many of his own followers in Asia had turned away from him, then offers a prayer for the house of Onesiphorus who had supported him and shown kindness to him.

Advice for the pastor

[2] Timothy is encouraged to continue to be strong in his faith and to teach others so they too will be able to teach. As Christ suffered and died, all his servants must suffer and (their old selves) die for him, for if we suffer, we will also reign with him. Paul exhorts Timothy to study to show himself approved of God, and to shun false teachings that will lead to more ungodliness, citing the examples of Hymenaeus and Philetus. He is urged to purge himself of anything less than pure, in order that he might be a vessel worthy for the use of his Master. To accomplish this he must flee youthful lusts, follow the path of faith, love and peace, and avoid being sidetracked by foolish and unlearned questions designed to produce strife. An atmosphere of gentility and meekness, not strife, is the way to bring people to God.

Troubles ahead

[3] Paul warns Timothy there will be troubles to come from a growing number of people who will appear to be godly, but will love the pleasures of this life more than God. Numerous sinful faults are listed, but the deceit is that they will influence people who will learn from them, and who will never come to the knowledge of the truth in God’s word. These deceivers, as well as afflictions and persecutions, will continue and grow. Hence the importance of scripture is emphasised as the rock on which the Christian life is built, for All Scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.

Preach and evangelise; final requests and greetings

[4] Timothy is exhorted to continue to preach and evangelise, for false teachers will grow in numbers with people hearing what they want to hear, rather than what they should hear. Paul knows the end is not far away for him. Many have deserted him, but Luke is still with him at the prison. A plea is made for Timothy to come to see him, to bring Paul’s cloak, some books and parchments and to bring Mark with him. People Timothy should be aware of are mentioned. Those who send their greetings and those whom Paul asks Timothy to greet are named. Paul’s letter then ends with the words, May the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.

Paul’s Epistle to Titus

Following Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, he took Titus to Crete to establish churches there. He later left Titus to continue with the work they had both started. It seems that Paul became aware that Zenos and Apollos were going on a journey that took them through Crete, and took the opportunity to write this letter to Titus.

Elders and false teachers

[1] Following his greeting, Paul reminds Titus of why he left him in Crete: to set in order things that are lacking and to ordain elders in every city. An elder must be blameless in his Christian walk and knowledgeable in scripture, in order to teach and to oppose those who argue doctrine. For there are many who argue and teach false things, particularly Jews, who must be prevented from corrupting the truth to be found in scripture.

Christian witnessing: seniors and servants

[2] In his preaching, Titus is to exhort the senior generation to be an example to the younger, so that the young married women are encouraged to run their homes with love, and both husbands and wives to live their lives according to the faith. Titus too must be exemplary so that none can criticise him. He is to exhort servants to be obedient to their masters, for they are in a unique position to be an example of good Christian living, and a witness that salvation through Christ is available to all in preparation for His second coming.

Christian witnessing for all: Closing requests and salutations

[3] Christians should be law-abiding citizens, speaking evil of no one, being meek and gentle towards all people, remembering that we were all once sinners and have now been saved, not by our own deeds but by grace, and are the beneficiaries of the gift of the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers. Titus is urged to avoid foolish and unprofitable debate from those who believe but do not recognise the truth in scripture, and who choose to be contentious. If such people do not accept the truth after two attempts to correct them, then they are to be rejected. In his closing words, Paul asks Titus to come to him at Nicopolis when either Artemas or Tychicus arrive at Crete, and to bring two brothers, Zenas and Apollos, with him. Paul’s letter ends with his usual salutations and blessing of grace.

Paul’s Epistle to Philemon

This short letter to Philemon was written at the same time as Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse and delivered by the same hands, Onesimus and Tychicus. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, but had stolen from him and run away, a crime punishable by death under Roman law. He had met Paul while Paul was under house arrest and became a Christian. Now willing to return to his master, Paul writes this personal appeal for Philemon to accept Onesimus as a Christian brother. Following his opening greeting in verses 1 to 3, Paul makes a tactful appeal for Onesimus, constructed in a way prescribed by ancient Greek and Roman teachers: to build a rapport, persuade the mind, then move the emotions.

Verses 4 to 10

Paul builds a rapport by offering thanksgiving and prayer, specifically for Philemon, before introducing his appeal as one Christian to another, based on Christian love.

Verses 11 to 19

Writing to persuade the mind, Paul suggests that Onesimus’ conversion to a Christian now makes him more profitable to both of them, saying that he would even like to keep Onesimus to help him in his ministry. He then suggests that the whole episode may have been through divine providence so that he might have Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a dear brother in the Lord. Paul makes it very personal by saying that if Philemon considers Paul a partner in faith, he should also consider Onesimus in the same way. An offer is made to pay any money owed by Onesimus, reminding Philemon he owes Paul his (spiritual) life.

Verses 20 and 21

Writing to move the emotions, Paul is effectively saying that what is being requested is the least Philemon should do if God’s grace towards him is not to be in vain. Paul finishes his letter requesting preparation be made in the hope that he might come to visit, and then with greetings from the same persons mentioned in his letter to the Colossians.
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
New Testament History Books -
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Old Testament History Books -
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18 19 20 21
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New Testament Epistles -
The Prophets -
The Poetry Books -