Lesson 23: The Epistles

Many religions have been devoid of any high standard of morality. Such was paganism in the first century. Set in bold contrast to the idolatry of the Greeks and Romans was the religion of Jesus Christ which presented to the world the highest moral principles it ever has known.

Although we often overlook the fact, the greater portion of the New Testament was written to churches and individuals to instruct them in the art of Christian living. It is these twenty-one books which we will study in this lesson. These epistles or letters are divided into two groups: the Epistles (or Letters) of Paul and the General Epistles (or Letters). Thirteen letters bear the name of Paul as the writer. These books are named after the church or individual to whom they were written.

The General Epistles were written by apostles or authors associated with apostles. Except for Hebrews, these bear the name of the author. The principles set forth in these books apply to us as well as they did to the early Christians.

THE EPISTLES (OR LETTERS) OF PAUL

Four of Paul's letters were written to individuals and nine to congregations. These epistles vary widely in their nature. While Philemon is extremely personal, Romans is a detailed treatise on justification by faith.

Some letters deal with internal church problems; some are highly complimentary, some very critical. Always Paul sought to write those things most needed by his fellow Christians, many of whom had been converted through his preaching.

Romans was written before Paul ever visited Rome. How the church there began we do not know, except that nothing in the Bible indicates that either Peter or Paul established it. The first eleven chapters of Romans are designed to show that we are justified by faith, not by works of merit. They are a masterpiece of logic. The last five chapters, on the other hand, are largely given to exhortation on Christian living.

1 and 2 Corinthians were addressed to the church in Corinth which had been established by Paul. After he left the congregation numerous problems arose - division, incest, Christians suing other Christians, marriage problems, spiritual gifts, the nature of the resurrection, etc. In his first letter Paul deals with all of these in a firm yet kindly manner. The second letter indicates that the previous letter had corrected some of these difficulties. It also discusses at length the contribution Paul was asking the Corinthians to make to the poverty-stricken Judean Christians. The New Testament lays great stress on the importance of caring for the poor and needy.

Galatians - This letter is written to congregations in the province of Galatia rather than to one specific church. The churches of Galatia were beset by Judaizing teachers who told them that Christ's teachings were merely an addition to the Law of Moses. This letter was written to correct that idea and to show that while the Law of Moses was a law of bondage, the teachings of Christ are those of liberty. Paul sums it up, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). This shows that it is possible for a Christian to fall from grace and be lost.

Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were all written during Paul's Roman imprisonment to the churches in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. Ephesians emphasizes the unity of the church, showing that Christ has broken down the wall between Jews and Gentiles. The grace of God and family relationships are also discussed at length. Philippians is almost devoid of adverse criticism. It is a letter of encouragement for those who face suffering, especially the final chapter.

Colossians stresses the pre-eminence of Christ and what it means to be in Him.

1 and 2 Thessalonians, written to the church at Thessalonica, deal with the second coming of Christ which had troubled this congregation. Some of the Christians had thought Christ's coming so near that they had stopped working and Paul found it necessary to reprove them.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were written to two young preachers who had been sent by Paul to assist churches he had established. He advised them how to handle problems, how to select elders, and gave them advice as to their personal lives.

Philemon is a letter of one chapter to a Christian of that name on behalf of his runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul had converted. Paul sent him back to Philemon requesting that he be received as a brother in Christ.

THE GENERAL EPISTLES (OR LETTERS)

Hebrews was likely written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of giving up their Christian faith and returning to Judaism. The supremacy of Christ and His covenant is extolled throughout the letter. No other book more clearly shows how the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

James is believed to have been written by the half-brother of Jesus instead of by  James the apostle. The apostle by that name was killed by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2). It is addressed to Jewish Christians, "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1). For discussing down-to-earth problems of Christian living it is unexcelled. Among subjects of special note are the teachings that faith without works is dead and that the Christian must control his tongue.

1 Peter was designed to steady Christians experiencing harassment from their pagan neighbors. The letter encouraged them to do good deeds to silence the criticism. It also shows that it is a glory to suffer for Christ. In 2 Peter the apostle warns against false teachers and shows that the judgment of God is certain.

The third chapter contains a vivid description of Christ's second coming. Peter tells us that on that day, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:10-12). This shows the error of those who contend that the earth will not be destroyed when Christ returns.

1, 2, and 3 John were written by the Apostle John, also author of the gospel of John which should not be confused with these books. The word "love" is the key to the wonderful epistle of 1 John. It is used 44 times in five short chapters. John tells us that we should love one another as God first loved us. 2 John, the shortest book in the Bible, is addressed to "the chosen lady". We cannot be sure who she was. The epistle warns, "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9). 3 John is addressed to Gaius and commends him for his faithfulness, but warns against a Diotrephes who loved "to be first".

Jude - The writer of this book was the brother of James, probably the James who wrote the epistle by that name.

Jude is similar to 2 Peter. It warns of the judgment of God against false teachers and cites numerous examples to show how God has dealt with the unrighteous.


"Seek And You Will Find"

(Note: The scriptural references and the answers for the questions are from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible.)

Enter the name of the epistle or epistles of Paul which answer each question:

1. : What book is an appeal on behalf of a runaway slave?

2. : What book asks for help for the poverty-stricken Judean Christians?

3. : What book discusses justification by faith at length?

4. : What book shows that the new covenant has replaced the old?

5. , and :
What three books were written to young preachers?

6. : What book tells Christians that they have fallen from grace if they try to be justified by the law?

7. : What book discusses numerous problems in the church to which it is addressed?

8. and :
What two books deal with the second coming of Christ?

 

Fill in the blanks in these Scriptures pertaining to love:

9. "Owe no one anything except to one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law."
(Romans 13:8)

10. "...with all lowliness and , with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love"
(Ephesians 4:2)

11. "For all the is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your as yourself.'"
(Galatians 5:14 )

12. "And walk in love, as also has loved us and given Himself for us, an and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma."
(Ephesians 5:2)

13. "In this is love, not that we loved , but that He loved us and sent His to be the propitiation for our sins."
(1 John 4:10)

14. "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his also."
(1 John 4:21)

15. "Beloved, let us love one for love is of God; and everyone who loves is of God and knows God."
(1 John 4:7)

 

Select a letter (a, b, or c) representing the correct answer.

16. The book addressed to Gaius is:
   (a) 1 John;
   (b) Jude;
   (c) 3 John.
  
17. The word "love" is often used in:
   (a) James;
   (b) 1 John;
   (c) 2 Peter.
  
18. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat." This statement is found in:
   (a) 2 Peter;
   (b) 2 John;
   (c) 1 Peter.
  
19. The book written by the brother of James is:
   (a) 1 Peter;
   (b) Jude;
   (c) 2 Peter.
  
20. "The chosen lady" is addressed in:
   (a) 1 Peter;
   (b) 2 John;
   (c) Jude.
  
21. The book designed to help Christians face harassment from their pagan neighbors is:
   (a) James;
   (b) 3 John;
   (c) 1 Peter.
  
22. The letter written to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" is:
   (a) James;
   (b) 3 John;
   (c) Jude.
  
23. The shortest hook in the Bible is:
   (a) 2 John;
   (b) 3 John;
   (c) Jude.
  
 

Read Romans 12. Select True or False for each statement:

24. We (Christians) who are many are many bodies in Christ.
True    False
 
25. Love should be without hypocrisy.
True    False
 
26. Christians should never lack diligence.
True    False
 
27. They should lack hospitality.
True    False
 
28. They should repay evil for evil.
True    False
 
29. If your enemy is hunger you shouldn't feed him.
True    False
 
30. We should overcome evil with good.
True    False
 

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