Epistles Part 2
Thessalonians - Jude
Paul directs the persecuted Thessalonian Christians to hope in the future of king Jesus' return who will make all things right. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians celebrates a flourishing Church. Despite persecution and suffering, believers stand strong in their commitment to Jesus. Love is stronger than persecution From the very beginning, following Jesus as King has produced a truly counter-cultural holy way of life that will sometimes generate suspicion and conflict among our neighbors. The way Jesus' followers respond to such hostility should always be with love, and they should meet opposition with grace and generosity. This way of life is motivated by hope in the coming kingdom of Jesus that has already begun in His resurrection from the dead. Throughout 1 Thessalonians, we see how the Thessalonian Church embodies holiness, love and a future hope as they remain firm in their faith and commitment to Jesus their King.
Paul clarified his earlier teachings about Jesus' future return and rebukes the Christians who were disrupting the community. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul addresses ongoing problems in the Church. Despite intense persecution, Paul encourages them to show victory over the world by imitating Jesus' non-violent and patient endurance. Maintain hope: While they also worried they had missed Jesus' return, Paul clarifies that they should not fuel apocalyptic speculation but recall Jesus' words in Mark 13 about the public and obvious events leading up to His return. They should also remain faithful, hopeful, and confident and not fearful while waiting for Jesus' return and deliverance from the evil ruler. Finally, Paul addresses idleness and challenges believers to imitate Jesus' self-giving love. Their hard work provides for themselves and benefits others. Throughout the book, we see that what we hope for shapes what we live for.
Paul shows Timothy how to restore order and purpose to the church in Ephesus which has been disrupted by false teachers. In 1 Timothy, we read a holistic vision of the nature and mission of the church. Many bad teachers shared false theology that confused believers. The church models Jesus: Paul instructs Timothy on how to address these teachers and lead the church effectively. Throughout the book, we see that what a church believes will directly shape how its members live and behave. The church's theology and beliefs must constantly be critiqued and formed by scriptures and the good news about Jesus. How the church is perceived in public is also very important. It should be known for its devotion to the risen King Jesus as it models integrity, good works and serving the poor and most vulnerable.
Paul is near execution and offers a personal challenge to Timothy to keep following Jesus no matter the sacrifice and risk. Paul's final and most personal letter, 2 Timothy encourages church planter Timothy to accept his calling and deal with corrupt teachers. The letter also reminds Timothy to maintain faith and hope in Jesus' resurrection and to raise faithful leaders who will teach the good news about Jesus. They must focus on the Scriptures' unified story line that leads to salvation in Jesus and helps believers achieve their purpose of spreading the good news. While following Jesus, believers will experience challenges, suffering, risk, tension, discomforts and struggles. In those dark and difficult moments, Jesus' presence, love and faithfulness can become tangible and real, which imprisoned and abandoned Paul and generations of Christians after him, know firsthand.
Paul commissions Titus to show how the good news of Jesus and the power of the Spirit can transform Cretan culture from within. Paul wrote the book of Titus for his companion. Titus was to visit Crete, infamous for its sin, and restore order to house churches there. Part of his job was to replace corrupt teachers in the churches with godly leaders. Paul also reminded Cretan believers that while they lived in a sinful culture, they could be transformed into a new humanity by the same grace that Jesus demonstrated when He died to redeem them. As new humanity, they could say no to a lifestyle that was inconsistent with God's generous love. They could also show God's salvation message and transform their communities by participating in Cretan culture, rejecting anything corrupt, embracing good, living and devoting themselves to Jesus and promoting the common good.
Paul helps his friend Philemon to reconcile with his escaped former slave Onesimus, and shows that they are equals because of Jesus. One of Paul's shortest and the most explosive letters, the book of Philemon demonstrates the gospel through action. It's written to Philemon whose slave Onesimus ran away and became a believer under Paul's teaching. Paul urges Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back as an equal. Because they are both believers, God's grace and healing mercy have made them partners under the new humanity Jesus' established. While Paul doesn't mention Jesus' death and resurrection directly in this book, he offers to take on any punishment Onesimus deserves, a demonstration of what Jesus did on the cross. He encourages Philemon to do the same as he reconciles to Onesimus before God.
The author shows how Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's love and mercy and is worthy of our devotion. The book of Hebrews compares and contrasts Jesus to key historical people and events from the Old Testament. Through these comparisons, we see His superiority. He is greater than angels, the Torah, Moses, the Promised Land, priests, Melchizedek, sacrifices, and the covenant. He is God's Word, the hope for a new creation, our eternal priest, and the perfect sacrifice. Throughout the book, we are also challenged to remain faithful to Jesus and follow great models of faith from the Old Testament despite hardships and persecution. These challenges will make us uncomfortable but instead of fearing them, remember that rejecting Jesus is foolish. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's love and mercy and is worthy of all our trust and devotion.
James combines the wisdom of his brother Jesus with the book of Proverbs in his own challenging call to live a life wholly devoted to God. Written by Jesus' half brother Jacob, the book of James shares sage wisdom for all the churches and followers of Jesus. It's influenced by Proverbs and frequently quotes Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The introduction summarizes the words and themes found throughout the book, which is filled with short, challenging wisdom speeches that are full of metaphors and easily memorized one-liners. While James doesn't teach new theology, it does challenge believers on how they should live. Topics covered include words, favoritism, love, wealth and hardship. When believers listen to and obey God's word, they love Him and others. Their actions match their words, and their lives are made whole, complete and perfect.
Peter offers hope to persecuted Christians and guides them with practical instruction on living life consistent with following Jesus. 1 Peter gives persecuted Christians a powerful reminder that they have hope in the midst of their suffering. From the time of Abraham, God's people were a misunderstood minority and should expect to face hostility because they live under King Jesus' rule. Apostles are chosen by God, and their persecution is actually a gift because it offers them a chance to show others the surprising generosity and love of Jesus, which is fueled by hope in His return and victory over evil. Peter is hopeful that their imitation of Jesus and demonstration of His upside-down kingdom, which includes baptism and service, will give power to their words as they bear witness to God's mercy and show people the beautiful truth about Jesus.
Peter calls for faithfulness and confronts corrupt teachers who distorted the message about Jesus and lead others astray. 2 Peter is an intense, passionate farewell speech addressed to the same Messianic church communities as 1 Peter. In the book, Peter challenges Jesus' followers to continue growing in their faith, love and service to God. He issues two warnings against corrupt teachers who are leading the Christian communities astray with their way of life and distorted theology. Peter addresses their objections to the reality of Jesus' resurrection and the final judgment. He reminds Christians that their hope is in God. In His time on the Day of the Lord, He will expose evil and injustice and remove it to make way for a new heaven and earth that's permeated with righteousness, God's love and people who know and love God and their neighbors.
John: Letters 1-3
John calls followers of Jesus to share in God's own life and love by devoting themselves to loving one another. Written by John the Elder to house church believers, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John echo the gospel of John. They emphasize that God is light and love and every true believer will demonstrate God's light and love. Each book also addresses deceivers, teachers who no longer acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah or Son of God but spread fear and division among believers. All legitimate teachers will share the truth about Jesus and the cross, love others sacrificially and spread love and light rather than fear. He also reminds believers to welcome true missionaries who teach the message of the cross and love others. They should not welcome deceivers or make idols of anything that exalts itself in God's place.
Jude confronts corrupt teachers who distort the message about his brother Jesus and lead others astray. Judah, one of Jesus' half brothers, wrote the book of Jude to Messianic believers who were familiar with Old Testament scriptures and Jewish literature. He uses these texts to refute corrupt teachers who lived immoral lives. Judah illustrate God's judgment on rebellion, but he warns against rebels corrupting other people. He then challenges the church to contend for the faith and stay faithful to God. As God's new temple, believers must build their lives on the core message of Jesus and then pray, love and obey. Their lives must reflect their faith because God's grace through Jesus demands a whole-life response that includes moral living. The way they live is the most reliable indicator of what they actually believe.