Content and Context (part 10) – General Letters and Revelation

This is it! The end of the series. For me, it has been a labor of love. Just the other day, I realized that I was applying something from this series in a conversation with my husband. What is more, I read and/or skimmed the entire Bible in the last five months! That’s invaluable.

Sometimes I think about Athanasius, when he compiled that list of God-inspired books which eventually became our New Testament. It seems like he got through Paul’s letters, and he knew Revelation should be last, but he had some leftover letters that didn’t fit into any other category. So we have this ‘Miscellaneous’ group of books—all epistles (a.k.a. letters)—by various authors to various groups before we conclude with the Revelation of John, which is also a letter, by the way (Revelation 1:4).

GENERAL LETTERS

Hebrews

  • About: supremacy of Christ, encouraging Christians
  • Everything that God established before Jesus points to Jesus as the Final Answer.
  • Big stories: Jesus as High Priest, Hall of Fame of Faith, cloud of witnesses
  • Author: unknown (a man, not Paul and not anyone who knew Jesus directly)
  • Time: before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD
  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3

James

  • About: practical applications of faith in Christ
  • God designed our faith to be lived out in community and in the world.
  • Big stories: perseverance in trials, taming the tongue, faith v/s deeds
  • Author: James (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: before 50AD or in the early 60s
  • “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24

1 Peter

  • About: perseverance under persecution from outside the church
  • God calls us to continue in holy living regardless of our circumstances.
  • Big stories: royal priesthood, Jesus as cornerstone, women’s beauty, suffering for faith, devil is a lion
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 60-64AD
  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

2 Peter

  • About: standing up to false teachers and other problems within the church
  • God purifies his church, making it ready for Jesus’ return.
  • Big stories: destruction of false teachers, God’s patience with humanity
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 65-68AD, toward the end of Peter’s life
  • “Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:17-18a

1 John

  • About: identifying false teachers, assuring salvation, God’s love
  • God’s love is active and distinguishes believers from the world.
  • Big stories: light & dark, sinfulness in the believer’s life, God is love
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6

2 John

  • About: loving others, rejecting false teachers
  • God shows us how to love and how to discern truth from deception.
  • Big stories: “walk in love,” don’t assist false teachers
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 6

3 John

  • About: hospitality for God’s messengers
  • God’s children must take care of each other.
  • Big stories: John’s condemnation of a harsh church leader and commendation of another leader
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11

Jude

  • About: counteracting false teachers
  • God always knows the true believers from the false.
  • Big stories: ungodly people punished (lots of nice imagery)
  • Author: Jude/Judas (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: 65-80AD
  • “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20-21

Revelation

  • About: faithfulness through persecution, Christ’s ultimate victory
  • God’s victory is sure, and all believers will join Him in it.
  • Big stories: letters to 7 churches, visions of Heaven, fall of Babylon & rise of New Jerusalem, final judgment
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 95AD
  • “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:5b-6
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Content and Context (part 9) – Paul’s Letters cont.

With these last two letters to churches and then his letters to individuals, I feel like we’ve taken a peek into Paul’s personal journal. Here’s Paul the mentor, the father-figure, the wizened patriarch of the Church universal. Here’s Paul the very human man, near the beginning of his ministry and then looking at the end of his earthly life. For our children, we find so much wisdom about what church is supposed to be and how we are supposed to live in this world. Take your time through these books, and let it all sink in.

As usual, I welcome your comments and observations. What do you think the theme verse for each of these books should be? How would you summarize any of them in one sentence (that starts with ‘God’)?

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 2)

1 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, encouragement through persecution
  • God has expectations for our lives on earth and a plan for the end times.
  • Big stories: Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica & desire to return, a life that pleases God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51, possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters (see Galatians)
  • “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

2 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, Godly living (same as 1 Thes.)
  • God calls us to fully live in the present even as we anticipate the end times.
  • Big stories: end times prophecies, don’t be idle
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51-52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

1 Timothy

  • About: encouraging and advising Timothy regarding church leadership
  • God has ordained a proper way for the Church to act and interact.
  • Big stories: false teachers, behavior in worship, leader qualifications
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad63-65
  • “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5

2 Timothy

Map of coastal ports of Smyrna, Ephesus and Cnidus plus Loadicia and Colosse inland. – Slide 17

Courtesy freeBibleimages.com

  • About: Paul’s relationship with Timothy, guidance on leadership (like 1 Tim.)
  • God calls church leaders to faithfulness, perseverance, and discernment.
  • Big stories: guidance for church leaders, false teachers, relevance of Scripture
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad67-68
  • “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:12-14

Titus

  • About: leading well despite opposition, doing good inside and outside the church
  • God intends for us to live so that our actions set us apart from the culture.
  • Big stories: qualifications for elders, directions for age groups (older/younger)
  • Author: Paul (Titus is on Crete)
  • Time: ad63-65 (same as 1 Timothy)
  • “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in his present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13

Philemon

  • About: the slave Onesimus’ return to Philemon, his master
  • God receives us as family and servants when Jesus advocates for us.
  • Big stories: Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding Onesimus
  • Author: Paul (Philemon is in Colossae)
  • Time: ad60 (see Ephesians and Colossians)
  • “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Philemon 15-16a

 

Content and Context (part 8) – Paul’s letters

This week we tackle the thickest, most chocked-full book of the Bible: Romans. There is no way to adequately present the content and context of this book with six bullet points (although I gave it a try). In it, we find the foundations of our theology, an understanding of Israel’s place in the New Covenant, and connections to much of the Old Testament. I don’t necessarily like reading Romans because there are very few stories, but when I study it, I find so much to “chew” on and so many areas in which to grow spiritually.

After Romans, the Corinthians and that set of four small books (You know, the ones we learned using acronyms such as ‘Go Eat PopCorn’ or ‘General Electric Power Company’) feel comforting and simple. If you want to dig into Paul’s writings with your children, I suggest you start with Ephesians or Philippians. They are straightforward, and Paul employs some word pictures that help us all understand our faith. What is more, it’s not too hard to memorize big chunks of verses here such as The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) or the Christ hymn (Philippians 2:5-11).

Did I leave out something important? What changes or additions would you suggest? Let me know in the comments section below.

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 1)

Romans

  • About: system of salvation, God’s big plan
  • God is knowable and He has a clear plan for our salvation.
  • Big stories: God judges everyone, Romans Road, victory for believers
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: about mid-way through Paul’s ministry; prob. ad57
  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

1 Corinthians

  • About: cultural influences in church, Christian/church behavior
  • God intends for his church to represent His purity, mercy, and love.
  • Big stories: church practices, spiritual gifts, “Love is…”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans; prob. ad55
  • “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

2 Corinthians

  • About: the challenges and joys of Christian ministry, God’s high standards
  • God’s calling involves both blessings and difficulties.
  • Big stories: jars of clay, ministry of reconciliation, Paul’s “pedigree”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans but after 1 Corinthians; prob. ad55
  • “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Galatians

  • About: justification by faith, freedom in Christ
  • God provides salvation to all people, separate from the law.
  • Big stories: Paul’s calling and apostleship, faith v/s works, fruit of the Spirit
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: possibly the earliest Pauline letter we have; ad48/49 or 53
  • “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

Ephesians

  • About: the purpose and goals for the church
  • God wants His followers to know and follow through with His plans.
  • Big stories: unity of all believers, husbands & wives, armor of God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60
  • “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19

Philippians

  • About: perseverance, joy, humility
  • God’s presence and blessing are unaffected by human circumstances.
  • Big stories: suffering for the Gospel, Christ’s humility, everything a loss in comparison to Jesus
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad61
  • “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

Colossians

  • About: refuting false teaching
  • God’s provision of Christ is completely sufficient for our salvation.
  • Big stories: supremacy of Christ, freedom in Christ, life in Christ
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60 (same as Ephesians)
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10