The Letters of Paul, Part 3

1 and 2 Thessalonians

Suggested Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 13-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 

         The First Letter to the Thessalonians holds a distinct honor in Church history. Written in AD 50 or 51, a decade or more before the first Gospel, it is the oldest of Paul’s known letters and the oldest surviving document in the history of the Christian Church.

         The Christians in the Greek city of Thessalonica are suffering persecution. We are not sure who was doing the persecuting, but we do know that their efforts were largely in vain, for the Thessalonians remained faithful to the gospel of Jesus as preached to them by Paul. Paul writes both to congratulate them and to encourage them to remain faithful in the face of persecution.

         In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul continues to encourage them to remains faithful. He then addresses the question of when Jesus will return. Apparently, some have become convinced that Jesus will return soon. Some are even refusing work, choosing instead to lay about waiting for Jesus. Paul rebukes them for being lazy, insisting that their focus should not be on when Jesus will return, but on making sure they hold fast to the gospel until He does.

1 and 2 Timothy

Suggested Readings: 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, 1 Timothy 4, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 2 Timothy 2:1-13, 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8

         Timothy was a young companion of Paul’s. He is mentioned often in the Acts of the Apostles and in some of Paul’s letters. Paul sent him on a number of trips to the churches he had founded, both to pass on Paul’s messages to his spiritual children and to bring back to Paul news from his churches.

         The First Letter to Timothy includes warnings similar to those of Paul to the Christians in Galatia about rejecting the teaching about Jesus that Paul preached in favor of a false teaching. Paul urges Timothy to “guard what has been entrusted to you” (6:20), that is, the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and to pass on the instructions and teachings of Paul about Jesus. Timothy is young, and Paul exhorts him, “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (4:12). Even young Christians can model the holiness and love of the Savior.

         The Second Letter to Timothy is written during one of Paul’s imprisonments. Even from prison, Paul writes to encourage his young disciple to remain true to the faith and to preach the gospel. “So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2:1-2).

Titus 

Suggested Readings: Titus 2:11-14, Titus 3:3-7 

         Titus was a leader in the early Church and this Letter to Titus was written to advise him on how to be a good pastor. It includes advice much along the lines Paul gave Timothy and to the Christians in the churches he founded throughout the Mediterranean: hold fast to the true gospel and to Christian conduct. “You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine …” (2:1).

         1 and 2 Timothy and Titus have been called the “Pastoral Letters” of Paul. Each was written to an individual who was responsible for the pastoral leadership of a Christian church. Each letter offers advice on how best to exercise his pastoral duties.

Philemon 

         The Letter to Philemon provides a wonderful window into Paul’s personality. It is a very personal letter, written from one friend to another, in the effort to persuade the friend to submit to something he would rather not. Onesimus was a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon. We do not know how, but Onesimus comes to find himself in prison with Paul. During their imprisonment together, Paul teaches Onesimus about Jesus, and the runaway slave becomes a Christian. Now, Paul is sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ, expecting Philemon not to punish Onesimus, but to accept him into his home as he would his good friend, Paul. “So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay. May I not tell you that you owe me your very self. Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ” (17-20). How could Philemon refuse?

WHAT DO THESE LETTERS OF PAUL TEACH US ABOUT JESUS? 

  • It is not for us to be concerned about when Jesus will return, but only in being ready for His return by living the gospel faithfully in every age.
  • Even young Christians, but especially leaders and pastors in the Church, must set an example of good behavior and Christian conduct.
  • Our relationship with each other in Christ transcends and transforms our political and/or social relationships.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

 

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