Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: God’s plan

The Epistles of the Apostle Paul

There is no serious doubt that Paul was the author of these epistles. It appears from the comment of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:16) that they were considered Scripture from a very early period and collections of these letters would have been distributed to all the churches.

From time to time we should read each of these letters at one sitting, ignoring the chapter and verse divisions. These were added much later to help us find a particular portion more easily, but they also break up the letters in an artificial way. If we allow ourselves to be too much governed by these division we may not catch the full message the Apostle intended for us to hear.

He dictated each letter to a scribe, who is sometimes named in the letter, but added a portion in his own handwriting at the end of each. Galatians 6:11 “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand” should probably be taken to refer to the size of the letters he wrote as compared to the uniform and tidy writing of his scribe. Many reasons have been proposed for this: he was not as skilled in writing as a professional scribe; he wanted to emphasize that this was his own writing; or perhaps he had a vision problem that hindered his writing ability.

Several themes appear frequently in these letters:
– the united status of the church of God, depicted either as a temple with Christ as the foundation, or a body, with Christ as the head.
– it was God’s purpose from the beginning that salvation would be offered to all mankind on the same basis, but is only now fully revealed as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
– the reality of spiritual warfare; Christians are in enemy territory, we can only be victorious through the power of Jesus.

Romans: probably written while Paul was at Corinth. The believers at Rome were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds and Paul emphasized that in the gospel era these differences no longer had any meaning. This had been God’s plan from the beginning and was now fully revealed and all believers were to live by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians: Corinth was a large and wealthy city where what we would call sexual immorality was commonplace and considered normal. There was also a hereditary class structure. These social divisions did not immediately disappear when they became Christians. One can readily imagine that the wealthier and better educated members would have preferred a gifted orator such as Apollos whereas the poorer would have identified more with Paul the tent maker.

2 Corinthians: This letter was probably written a year after the first. The first part gives commendation for the corrections made and instructions on the way to help one who has repented. There are hints that Paul is still looked down upon by the upper class church leaders. The fact that he has never taken money from them for himself is an affront to them as they feel it their duty to pay their teachers.

Galatians: The Galatians were Celts living in Asia Minor, now Turkey. Paul had introduced these people to the gospel, but now Christian Jewish missionaries had been teaching them that they needed to be circumcised to become Christians. Paul tells them we are all one in Christ and to go back to trusting in Jewish observances will separate them from Christ.

Ephesians: Written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Most people of that day believed their lives were ruled by Fate, as revealed in the stars, and they had no hope of escaping from that Fate. Paul tells them that God has a better plan for them, that He had planned from the beginning of time to offer salvation to all people through Jesus Christ.

Philippians: Written from prison, probably a year after the letter to the Ephesians. This was the first church established in Europe by Paul and they were devoted to him. There appears to have been some rivalry or difference of o-pinion between leaders of two house churches and Paul exhorts them to unity.

Colossians: Colossae is a city in Asia Minor, or Turkey. There appears to have been some drift into mysticism which Paul addresses in the second chapter.

1 Thessalonians: Thessalonika is in Macedonia, the letter may date from as early as AD 50. It is largely a letter of thanksgiving and praise.

2 Thessalonians: probably written shortly after the first to correct a mistaken belief that the resurrection had already come.

1 Timothy: Probable date is AD 62-64, towards the end of Paul’s life. He instructs Timothy to see to ordaining ministers and deacons in every place to provide leadership and stability in the face of false teachings.

2 Timothy: Written during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome. It is generally assumed that his martyrdom took place AD 64-66, this was probably written not long before that and constitutes a fond farewell and final instructions to Timothy.

Titus: Titus was a Christian of Gentile origin. Paul had left him in Crete, the largest island in the Mediterranean, to establish leadership in the churches there. This epistle is thus very similar to 1 Timothy and was probably written at much the same time.

Philemon: Philemon was a prominent citizen of Colossae who was converted by Paul. Onesimus, a slave, had run away and then sought out Paul in Rome where he became a Christian. Paul sends him back to Philemon with this tender exhortation. No doubt Philemon received the exhortation willingly, as history records that Onesimus was later bishop of Ephesus. If Philemon had not received the letter graciously, it is highly unlikely that he would have kept it and then allowed it to be circulated among the churches.

Okay, God has a plan for me. Now what?

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse comes in the middle of the words that God gave Jeremiah for the Jews who had been captured and led away to Babylon. He told them to marry, build houses and plant gardens, for they were going to be there for a long time — seventy years to be exact. They should “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Other prophets were telling them that God would soon break the Babylonian yoke and they could return to their own country. Jeremiah was delivering the cold, hard, unpopular facts — yes, that is coming, but you will have to wait the whole seventy years for it to happen. Meanwhile, get a life where you are.

The lesson of the book of Job is that God does not give an account of what He does. Job’s three friends thought they had the answer: Job had committed some horrible hidden sin and if he would only confess, God would restore him. They were wrong, Job was merely a pawn in Satan’s warfare against God. Job himself thought that God owed him an explanation for all that had happened. At the end, he grasped that God’s ways were far beyond his understanding. In accepting that truth, he found peace and restoration.

Bringing this down to a personal level, I often find myself wishing I knew what God’s plan is for me. Two days ago, I went to see my eye doctor for a routine checkup. It turned out to be not so routine.

To set the scene, it was seven and a half years ago that I was first diagnosed with the wet form of macular degeneration. There followed a little more than three years of periodic injections into one eye or the other in an attempt to stop the degeneration. And it did work, my vision is less than it used to be, but it has been stable for four years. On Tuesday, the doctor detected a slight swelling of the retina of my right eye, caused by bleeding from tiny capillaries. I signed the consent forms and was given an injection of Lucentis in that eye right then and there, with two more scheduled, a month apart.

The doctor thinks he caught it early enough that that will be all that is needed. I hope so. I wish I could know. But why? What good would it do me to know, either way?

God knows what the future holds for me. I don’t, and it’s probably better that I don’t. That would distract me from doing what He wants me to do today. Today is the only day that I have any control over; the future will come as it will. So today I will direct my thoughts and my actions toward the things that matter for today, and trust the future into God’s hands.

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