THE LETTERS OF PAUL, Part 2
Suggested Readings: Galatians 1:6-12, Galatians 2:15-21, Galatians 3:1-14, Galatians 5:13-26, Galatians 6:11-15
Paul visited and preached the gospel in Galatia, a region of Asia Minor, during both his second and third missionary journeys. From Galatia, Paul went to Ephesus, where he would live for the next three years, and from which he wrote his Letter to the Galatians around the year 55.
Paul enjoyed great success in converting many in Galatia to Christ. Shortly after he left, however, some Jewish Christians arrived in Galatia and taught that commitment to Christ was not enough for salvation. In order to be saved, they taught, one must first be obedient to the Law of Moses, which meant being circumcised. In effect, these men were teaching that, in order to be Christian, one must first become a Jew. These Jewish Christians managed to convince many of the Galatians to accept their teaching. When Paul received word of this, he wrote the Galatians a letter rebuking them for being so foolish to reject Paul’s teaching in favor of that of the Jewish Christians. We are no longer bound to the Law of Moses, Paul insists, but find our freedom in Jesus Christ alone. The Law of Moses was temporary, Paul says. It served to teach us about sin and give us a moral code by which to live until God fully revealed His plan of salvation. That plan is now made known to us by Jesus Christ. It is by faith in Christ that we are saved, so the Law is no longer needed. Paul begs the Galatians to accept the freedom of Christ and not return to slavery under the Law.
“For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation” (6:15): that is, becoming a child of God by faith in Jesus. If the Galatians want a law to follow, fine: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).
Suggested Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 5:21-33, Ephesians 4:1-6, Ephesians 6:10-17
Ephesus was a city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, and the capital city of the Asian province of the Roman Empire. A populous and wealthy city, Ephesus was the center of devotion to the god Artemis. Paul stayed in Ephesus briefly on his return to Jerusalem from his second missionary journey, and stayed there more than two years during his third journey. Paul preached the gospel first in the synagogue, then moved to the hall of Tyrannus when opposition grew among the Jews of the city. Controversy also flared when demand for miniatures of Artemis fashioned by local craftsmen diminished as a result of Paul’s preaching. Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus and possibly his Letter to the Galatians. He wrote his Letter to the Ephesians from prison in the early 60s. In the Book of Revelation, Ephesus is the first of the seven churches whose angel is addressed by Christ (Revelation 2-3). The Christians in Ephesus are praised for their fidelity to true teaching, but rebuked for failing to keep up the good works of love.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians includes many of the themes of his other letters:
- Jesus Christ is over all things;
- The unity of all things in Christ will be the result of God’s plan for His Creation;
- God is generous in saving us through Christ and including the Gentiles in His plan of salvation;
- God called Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles;
- A call to unity among Christians and advice on proper Christian living;
- Advice on family life;
- A call to constant prayer and a request for prayers for himself and his mission.
Paul writes about the Church in Ephesus, calling the Church the “household of God” (2:19). In the Church, God has formed, through Christ, one people where there used to be two. “For he is our peace, he who made both [ie: Jews and Gentiles] one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off [the Gentiles] and peace to those who are near [the Jews], for through him we both have access in the one Spirit to the Father” (2:14-18). In the Temple in Jerusalem, there stood a wall that separated Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and the uncircumcised. The Jews could draw near to the center of the Temple, closer to God. The Gentiles were left out, at threat of death should they cross over to the other side of the wall. Paul teaches that God has broken down this wall by the death of Christ. Now all are one people, and God’s salvation is for everyone.
Suggested Readings: Philippians 1:12-26, Philippians 2:5-11, Philippians 4:4-9
Philippi is a city in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece. Paul founded a church there, along with his disciples Silas, Timothy and Luke, on his second missionary journey. It was his first church in Europe. Paul was very fond of the church in Philippi. He wrote the Letter to the Philippians while in prison in Ephesus, one of the many times Paul was “a prisoner of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1). Philippians, along with Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, are called Paul’s “Captivity Letters” because they were written while Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.
Paul writes that he is not discouraged, though he is imprisoned. He faces death, but neither does this concern him. “My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (1:20). Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to be united in their faith and to live lives of Christian humility. As an example of humble service to others, he offers the model of Christ:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
It was because of this obedience to God’s will, Paul says, that God raised Christ up to glory.
Paul warns the Philippians against those who would demand that they be circumcised. Our hope is not in the Law, but in the righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ” (3:9). Finally, Paul offers more encouragement for unity among the faithful and thanks the Philippians for their generous support.
Suggested Readings: Colossians 1:15-20, Colossians 3:1-17
Colossae is a city that lies in the heart of Asia Minor. The Christians there, like those in Galatia and Philippi, are threatened by a false gospel. This false gospel includes demands to be circumcised and to follow the Law of Moses in order to be a good Christian. Even more, it is a mixture of various philosophical and astrological teachings asserting that people are controlled and governed by the physical elements of the world (earth, air, fire, water) and by the stars.
Paul insists in his Letter to the Colossians that Christ is first among all the created order:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians 1:15
In fact, it was through Christ that God created all things.
“… all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16b-17
Far from ruling over the lives of people, the things of this world are ruled by Christ. We, rather than being ruled by stars or earthly powers, have been made friends of God and brought into His presence by means of the death of the Son.
Do not allow anyone to make you a slave of mere human wisdom, Paul warns. “If you died with Christ to the elemental things of the world, why do you submit to regulations as if you were still living in the world? … If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (2:20; 3:1-2). The things of this world have no power to rule us or to save us. Christ is the king of Creation, the ruler of all things.
The second half of Colossians is dedicated to advice on Christian living, condemnation of vices and encouragement in adopting Christian virtues and being persistent in prayer.
WHAT DO THESE LETTERS OF PAUL TEACH US ABOUT JESUS?
- Jesus is our salvation. Jesus accomplished our salvation by the gift of His life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, even unto death.
- We are saved, not by our faithfulness to the Law of Moses, but by our faith in Jesus Christ.
- In Christ, all are one. The wall that once separated Jews and Gentiles has been torn down by Christ.
- Jesus Christ is over all things, and the unity of all things in Christ will be the result of God’s plan for His Creation.
- We must be courageous and stand firm in our faith in Jesus when others want to tempt us away with false gospels that tell us to put our hopes in our own goodness or knowledge, or in earthly powers, or in the stars.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.