The Pauline Epistles – Part Two

This post is the second of a three-part series on the Pauline Epistles, the 13 books of the Bible that were written as letters by the Apostle Paul. Today’s focus will be on some of the highlights of the Pauline Epistles.

As someone once said, “You can’t begin and end a sermon without a quote from the Pauline Epistles.” That’s what my dad did. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what many other preachers have done.

Many sermons start with the greeting which is found in several of the Pauline epistles: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.” As Paul starts his epistles, so we start our sermons which, hopefully, reflect the same teachings that are found in the Pauline Epistles. And what a greeting it is. Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ!

And at the end of the sermon, more words from Paul, from the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philippians: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

My favorite passage from the book of Romans, a book that has lots of great passages, is in the eighth chapter:

Romans 8:31–39
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage has it all. God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How then will he fail to give us all things?

No one can condemn us because God is for us. It does not matter who is on the other side if God is on our side.

Even if we get to the point of being killed all day long, and are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Nothing is more powerful than God’s love for us in Christ Jesus because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians has another great passage:

1 Corinthians 1:22–23
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Even though the world is looking for other things like signs and wisdom, we preach Christ crucified. To many people this is a foolish stumbling block but to those who are called, Christ is the power and wisdom of God.

This passage also reminds us that the Gospel is meant to be preached.

Staying in I Corinthians, we are reminded that Christ crucified is not the whole story. Christ also rose from the dead. In chapter 15 of I Corinthians Paul responds to those who were denying the resurrection with the following words:

1 Corinthians 15:16–22
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. [17] And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Simply put, we would not preach Christ crucified if Christ had not been raised from the dead. And even though Christ has been raised from the dead we still preach Christ crucified. It’s all one act of redemption. In order for Jesus to be the source of the resurrection he had to enter into death and conquer it which he did.

Many consider Philippians 2:5–11 to be an early Christian creed:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This passage is the primary proof text for Jesus’ humiliation and his exaltation. During his humiliation Jesus did not always use his divine powers. He willingly set them aside his divine powers so he could suffer and die for us. Then, by the power of his resurrection he was exalted to the highest place never to be humiliated again. As with Jesus, so with us. Following our time of humble service here on earth we too will be exalted.

As we see from this passage from Ephesians 5, even when he is talking about marriage, Paul brings in the atoning work of Jesus:

Ephesians 5:25-27
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

The book of 2 Corinthians, especially chapter five, is full of great one-liners, all of them focused on what Christ has done for us:

2 Corinthians 5:15 “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:19 “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Everyone needs one or more favorite Bible verses. My favorite Bible is from the Pauline Epistles, Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In the third and final post we are going to finish up the series on the Pauline Epistles by looking at the life of Paul. In I Timothy Paul gives us a glimpse of his life:

1 Timothy 1:12–16 “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, [13] though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, [14] and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. [15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

Sometimes you open the Bible and put your finger down on whatever you open to and see what you come up with. If you do that with the Pauline Epistles, you are almost sure to come upon a remarkable passage no matter where you land.

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