Text:1 Corinthians 1:1–3: “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Pauline Epistles, Part 1, Overview
There are 13
They were quickly assembled never any doubt that they would be included in the New Testament.
Not all the books of the New Testament made it into the canon immediately. Not so with the Pauline Epistles. These 13 letters from the Apostle Paul were recognized as divinely inspired and authoritative from the earliest days of the church.
This post is the first of a three-part series on the Pauline Epistles. The first post will take a brief look at each of the Pauline Epistles but first a few preliminaries.
Paul’s epistles were written for specific reasons and follow a common format. They start with a greeting in which Paul identifies himself and those to whom he is writing. The body of each epistle starts by focusing on Christian doctrine which is followed by instructions on how to apply the doctrine to everyday life. At the end of each letter Paul says farewell and gives updates on his work.
So here is a quick look at each of the Pauline Epistles:
First up is the epistle to the Romans. In this epistle Paul is introducing himself to a group of believers that he hopes someday to meet in person. He also is hoping they will help him to accomplish his goal of visiting Spain with the Gospel.
This raises the question, “What would you write to someone to introduce yourself and tell them about your faith?”
Luther thought everyone should memorize the entire book of Romans. It is truly a tour de force of both doctrine and practice.
I Corinthians was written to a very gifted but conflicted congregation. The congregation struggled with divisions based on leadership, marriage and sexuality, the role of women, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts and finally the resurrection. Paul addresses each issue with love and clarity.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians must have gone a long way in straightening out the problems that the Corinthian church was having because 2 Corinthians there is no mention of any of the issues that are mentioned in the first letter. Instead, Paul has to defend himself because some people were accusing him of wrongdoing. In the process of defending himself once again Paul writes beautifully about the Gospel.
Next come four short epistles: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.
In some ways, Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written in a situation similar to what Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 49:4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.’”
Paul had come to the region of Galatia and established churches there. The people had really embraced both Paul and the Gospel. But then Paul had gone on to work in other areas and people had come in after him who changed the message. They were corrupting the pure Gospel by teaching that we must continue to follow the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament in order to be saved.
So Paul focuses intensely in on the Gospel in his letter to the Galatians. This is another one of Paul’s letters that Luther loved.
Ephesians is the first of four “Captivity Letters” of Paul because he wrote them while he was in prison. It contains beautiful prayers for his fellow believers, some of the most detailed instructions on marriage in all of the Bible and a wonderful focus on God’s grace and forgiveness for all people in Christ.
Philippians is the second Captivity Letter. Although written while he was in prison it is a joyous letter. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul writes, “again I say rejoice.” He thanks the Philippians for their partnership in the Gospel. This is a very important point in the church because it is not just Paul or the pastors who do the work in the church. Pastor and people work together as partners in the Gospel.
Colossians is the third Captivity Letter. This letter denounces religion that is just about the show. There is nothing wrong with outward ceremonies, but the reality of the Christian faith is hidden in Christ. In Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. The fullness of God dwells in Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God.
Throughout his career Paul faced a lot of persecution. So did the believers in Thessalonica. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians encouraged them to remain steadfast in the face of persecution. Any time there is persecution for the sake of our faith we remind ourselves that in the end we will be victorious and be called to our eternal home where there will be no persecution.
In 2 Thessalonian Paul points out that, yes, the Lord is returning soon. But it does not follow that we can just sit around doing nothing until he comes. We are to keep doing the Lord’s work until he returns.
I Timothy is the first of three letters known as the pastoral epistles because they are written to pastors. Paul kept moving from place to place to preach the Gospel so he needed to leave behind faithful pastors who would continue the work of the Gospel.
Timothy was a young pastor who worked with Paul. Paul’s instructions to Timothy are not much different from instructions to today’s pastors; Preach the Word. Refute false doctrine. Live an upstanding life. Work with all kinds of people. Since Timothy was young, Paul urged Timothy to stand firm even among those who thought he was too young to be their pastor.
2 Timothy is believed to be Paul’s last letter. Like Jesus, many of the people who had worked with Paul had deserted him. But Paul still remains faithful and reaches out to help Timothy and asks Timothy to help him.
Titus is the third of the pastoral epistles. Titus was another pastor who worked with Paul. Paul urges him to remain faithful to his duties, oppose those who bring in false doctrine, and to live an upright life.
Philemon is Paul’s shortest letter. In dealing with the delicate situation of a runaway slave named Onesimus, Paul does not make use of his authority as an apostle in dealing with the situation. He lovingly urges Philemon to do the right thing.
So those are brief summaries of the Pauline Epistles. In the next post I will look at some of the highlights from these remarkable books.