Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:22-25 NIV
1 Thessalonians 5:11
“1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Have you ever had to write a letter of recommendation for someone or had one written for you?
In this passage the Corinthians are requesting a letter of recommendation from higher up disciples to prove that Paul is doing the work of the Lord. Paul explains to the Corinthians that their life should be his recommendation letter, a confirmation of his teaching.
Imagine if your life was a letter, open to anyone to read, and when they read it they would know exactly who you are, what you stand for, your convictions, your beliefs, your faith or the lack of. Paul is saying our life is a letter written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit. How we live confirms the message of the gospel. It’s a way for others to see and understand why we dedicate our time, money, and energy into church, ministry, mission work, church camps and much more. When we face the king on judgment day we will not be getting a letter of recommendation from our pastors or parents saying why we should be in the kingdom. Instead Jesus will read the letter of our hearts and our life.
If our life is a letter open to the world to read what do you want people to read? What kind of letter are you going to allow the spirit to write upon your hearts? And will you choose to follow it?
It brings me so much joy to see youth and young adults pursuing ministry. It is wonderful to see the next generation serving other members of the church and the community in the name of Christ. Young people that “get it”. They want to make a positive difference and make an eternal impact on the world around them.
I am so thankful for the people who were there for our generation. The adults that worked, studied, served, and prayed with us. Our Youth Workers’ commitments to our church and faith were evident in their church involvement. I was so blessed because I got to serve alongside so many solid servants of Christ. We did the little, insignificant things along with the big stuff. It didn’t matter if it was unclogging a toilet, doing a food collection, visiting a nursing home, rolling coins after a fundraiser, working on a broken down church bus, speaking or singing in a worship service-whatever the task, our Youth Workers were working it out beside us. They spoke with encouraging words of wisdom and instilled confidence as we overcame difficulties that stood in the way to completing our mission. After all, a true follower of Christ is willing to present the gospel, help others, even wash some dirty feet…
The Apostle Paul had the opportunity to bring countless generations of people to Christ. We are still learning from his writings today. Timothy had the chance to learn from him first hand. Paul refers to Timothy as “my true son in the faith”. He had worked alongside Paul for years and had served the churches. Paul made sure that Timothy understood and practiced the essentials of the Christian faith. He also prepared him for leadership.
Paul informed him in 1 Timothy 3:15, “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Paul wanted Timothy to know how to serve the Church, how to deal with problems and encourage the people to grow in Christ. He warned him about terrible times in the last days because of how evil many people would become (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He also passed along a charge, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
What great advice for all generations!
God’s Word has so much wisdom, teaching and blessing for us today. We are not so different from the early church and the words that God gave the writers of the New Testament letters still very much apply to us today. If God were to send a letter to you today – which of His New Testament letters would he send to you? Don’t forget to read God’s Mail to you today!
Today we will be looking at the 8 books called the General Epistles (or Letters) which make up the 4th division of New Testament books. There is a lot of wisdom in these books.
Hebrews – Jesus is Better than…Anything!
It is unknown who wrote the book of Hebrews, though some suggest it may have been Paul. It was written to remind and convince the Jewish Christians that Jesus is the Messiah. It appears the Jewish Christians had already endured much persecution for their faith in Jesus – perhaps rejection by their Jewish family and friends who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. Some were rethinking their commitment to Jesus and were thinking of returning to their Jewish roots and Old Testament law. The author of Hebrews was writing to show that Jesus is superior to the prophets, angels, Moses, the priests and the whole Old Testament law. Jesus is the NEW high priest who made the ultimate, perfect sacrifice so we could enter a new and living covenant with God. The book was written to encourage the Jewish Christians to not give up, to persevere in their new faith and to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.” (10:23).
James – Faith in Action
This book was written by James, the brother of Jesus and a leader of the early church in Jerusalem. The five short chapters that make up the book of James are sometimes compared to the Old Testament book of Proverbs because it contains so much wisdom. In this letter, James teaches several short sermons on how to live a Christian life on a daily basis. Over half of the verses contain a command or instruction for Christian brothers and sisters – such as “If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God,” and, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James stresses the importance of LIVING out your faith – with actions consistent with your Christian faith. It is not enough to say you are a Christian and you love God and your neighbor. You must DO it daily. If Hebrews tells us WHY to become a Christian (because Jesus is better than…), then James is where we learn HOW to be a Christian.
1st & 2nd Peter – Stand Against Trouble
Written by Simon Peter, one of the disciple who, with his brother Andrew, left his nets to follow Jesus. Peter was far from perfect (denied Jesus 3 times), but he would be the ROCK on which the church would be built – and we see that taking place in the book of Acts. In 1st Peter he is writing to encourage the church that is being persecuted by the Roman Empire. He writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:7,8). We would be wise to remember and live by these words as well.
1st, 2nd & 3rd John – This is Love
Written by John, the disciple and close friend to Jesus who also wrote the gospel of John. In the 5 chapters of 1st John, the word ‘love’ is used 35 times and it also reoccurs in the next two letters several times as well. The “beloved disciple” John, writes of God’s love, and our love for God – as well as our love for our brothers and sisters. John emphasizes that in order to love God we must obey his commands – which means loving others.
Jude – Beware of False Teachers
Written by Jude who identifies himself as James’ brother (perhaps making him also Jesus’ half-brother). It would just about be quicker , and no doubt much better, to read Jude’s book of 24 verses than to read my overview. He says he would have liked to write about salvation available to all believers, but instead he felt the need to warn the church of the importance of testing those in the church to see if they are saying or doing anything contrary to God’s Word. He writes of immoral men using God’s grace as a license for follow their own evil desires. He likens them to the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, and says a similar fate awaits them. He urges the church to remain true to their faith and to “snatch others from the fire” (verse 23).
God’s got a lot to say to you because He loves you and wants to see you in His Kingdom – more on that tomorrow!
Don’t Let it Sit Unread in Your Mailbox!
The third division of the New Testament includes the 13 books called the Pauline Epistles – which are letters that Paul wrote. Many of the letters are written to churches which Paul had visited or heard about during his 3 missionary journeys. As it turns out, the issues that troubled churches 2,000 years ago, are so similar to the issues of our churches today: immorality, false teachers, disunity, the need for wise and godly leaders, and more. The final four letters are written to individuals – pastors and friends of Paul.
Here is a general overview of each of Paul’s letters…
Romans – Righteousness – The Romans Road
Written to the church in Rome (which Paul had not yet visited) to explain God’s plan of salvation. Some have called a selection of verses the Romans Road as they lay out how to be right (righteous) before God: Romans 3:10, 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 8:1&2, 10:9 & Acts 2:38
1st & 2nd Corinthians – Warnings & Replying to False Teachers
Written to the church in Corinth (a large, immoral city in Greece). 1st letter warns against factions, immorality, jealousy, lawsuits, marital issues, misuse of spiritual gifts and public worship, etc. Chapter 13, the Love Chapter, teaches us how to love supremely. Chapter 15, the Resurrection Chapter speaks of the hope we have for a future resurrection. In 2nd Corinthians Paul defends himself against false teachers attacking his integrity and credibility.
Galatians – Faith & Freedom in Christ
Written to the churches in the region of Galatia (Turkey) to correct the teaching that the new Gentile Christians had to follow the whole Old Testament law to be saved. Instead, with God’s grace and our faith in Christ we can be free from the Law and the power of sin. We are not free to disobey Christ or practice immorality. We are to use our freedom to serve God and others. See Galatians 5 – Fruit of the Spirit
Ephesians – One Body of Christ – The Church
Written to the church in Ephesus which Paul had visited several times, and even stayed for 3 years during one of his trips. Paul encouraged the church to remember they were the body of Christ, to keep Christ as the head and work together as a body does, also to stand strong against evil forces with the full armor of God (chapter 6).
Philippians – Rejoice!
Written to the church in Philippi when Paul was in jail. He was thanking the church for a gift they had sent while also encouraging them to remain strong when persecuted and to be joyful in all circumstances. The 4 chapters include ‘joy’ (or a version of the word) 16 times.
Colossians – In Christ Alone
Written to the church in Colosse to stress again that the church must not mix worldly and pagan beliefs with the good news of Jesus Christ. He wrote about Jesus, the Son of God – the head of the church and the only way to God’s salvation.
1st & 2nd Thessalonians – Jesus is Coming Again
Written to the church in Thessalonica (Greece) which Paul had only visited for 3 weeks before being forced out by a violent mob. Timothy had reported to Paul that the church was doing well despite the persecution – but needed a few clarifying points. One of which was they must control their bodies in holy and honorable ways. Also, false teachers were teaching that Jesus had already returned to Earth so Paul gave more details on what Jesus’ return would be like (which everyone would see and know) and said to keep working until then.
1st & 2nd Timothy – Paul’s Words to Young Pastor Timothy
Perhaps some of Paul’s last letters – one more opportunity to pass along godly council to one who would continue the work of making disciples. Timothy had been a helpful companion on some of Paul’s missionary journeys, and Paul had sent Timothy to pastor the church in Ephesus. Now Paul was writing to help solve some of the church’s problems, including legalism and false teaching. He also listed qualifications for church leaders.
Titus – Paul’s Words to Church Leader: Titus
Titus had travelled with Paul and Timothy. Then Paul left Titus in Crete (an island in the Mediterranean Sea) so that he could, “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” (1:5). And, since the people of Crete were known for being liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons (1:12), that was a big job to do. Paul described again the qualities to look for in a church elder. He told what to preach to various people and to teach God’s people to do good (a lesson we still need today for sure).
Philemon – Paul Urges Philemon to Forgive Onesimus
Philemon was a wealthy landowner and the church in Colosse met in his house . His slave Onesimus had run away – and met Paul while he was in house arrest in Rome. Paul shared the good news with the run away and Onesimus accepted Jesus – and knew he had to return to Philemon. Paul wrote to Philemon interceding on Onesimus’ part – asking him to forgive Onesimus and to welcome him back as a helpful brother in Christ. We are reminded of our need for forgiveness and our need to forgive, and that all are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
There are so many timeless truths, warnings and nuggets of encouragement in Paul’s letters. And they are even more meaningful when we remember they were written by the man Paul of the book of Acts, as he was teaching and preaching about the Son of God as found throughout the 4 books of Gospels and prophesied of during the Old Testament. God’s Word has a beautiful, orderly progression to prepare God’s people for salvation and to love and serve Him and others. And Paul’s Letters are a wonderful piece of the puzzle.
Keep Reading His Word!