Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The New Testament Review (1)

This is part 1 of chapter 7 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

Chronologically, we have already looked at much of the New Testament of the Bible, as the Book of Acts took us from about 30–62 A.D. We examined how the Church got started in Jerusalem, how, with the stoning of Stephen, the apostles spread out led by the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel throughout present day Israel, how Paul, among others, took the Gospel message to Asia Minor and Europe, and how Christian churches were founded throughout the region. We also looked at what is means to be a Christian. In this chapter, we will examine the letters of the New Testament to determine what they can teach us about our lifestyles and our own relationships with Jesus Christ.

What problems did the young Church have?

Of the twenty-seven New Testament books, the final twenty-two are epistles or letters. These timeless letters were directed to a specific Christian church or person and usually solved a problem or addressed a concern within the Church; but they can convey invaluable truths regarding doctrine and the Christian lifestyle even today. In this section, we will observe the problems and concerns that invaded the young Church.

I have listed below the letters of the New Testament, along with their approximate written dates, authors, and intended audience. This information comes from the New International Version of the Life Application Study Bible. Below each listing is a brief description of each letter’s content; however, please note that a complete reading of each letter is critical to understand the author’s desired message. Volumes have been written by expert theologians and Bible scholars on each of the individual letters; I would be doing an injustice to attempt to adequately summarize each letter in only a few paragraphs.

Letter to the Romans, written: 57 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Rome
Paul had long desired to visit the believers in Rome, including his friends and church founders, Aquila and Priscilla, but the Holy Spirit had not yet given him the opportunity. This young church likely did not yet have a full teaching of the Christian faith, so Paul offered a sample in his letter. A summary of his overall message, Paul’s letter to the Romans is a strong statement of true Christianity, an expression of what a Christian should believe and how a Christian should behave.

Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Paul discussed in detail issues such as: Faith, God’s wrath against man for sin, God’s righteous judgment based on truth, the relationship between man and the law, man’s ongoing struggle with the sin nature, election, justification, propitiation, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. Paul also wrote about the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s sovereignty in all things, Jesus as a stumbling block to the Jews, unity among believers, the importance of supporting missionaries, and the general behavior of the believer. Paul said:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by
His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. … For the wages of
sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
(Romans 3:23-24, 6:23).
First Letter to the Corinthians, written: 54–57 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Corinth

In what was actually the second of four letters to the Corinthian church (the first and third letters are not included in the Bible and presumed lost), Paul identified significant problems causing division and disorder in the church. He offered solutions to help unify the members of the Corinthian church as the Body of Christ by teaching them how to live righteously as Christians in a corrupt society; “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Some of the issues with which the believers at Corinth struggled included: Following different preachers instead of Christ Himself, not knowing how to treat a so-called fellow believer who was continuing in blatant sinful behavior, how to handle legal disputes between believers, sexual immorality, marriage concerns, eating certain foods that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, and worship regulations. In addition, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to experience true freedom in Christ, worship God in an orderly fashion, commune together by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, work together using the unique spiritual gifts given to each individual by the Holy Spirit, celebrate the resurrection while looking forward to Christ’s second coming, and above all, show brotherly love to everyone.
In the passage below, try replacing your name where Paul mentions love; you will find it does not always work. Then try replacing love with the precious name of Jesus Christ; it always works, because God is love! Paul said:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not
proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it
keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the
truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love
never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Second Letter to the Corinthians, written: 54–57 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Corinth

In what was actually his fourth letter to the Corinthian church, Paul had to refute false teachers who had not only invaded the church, but also persuaded many of its members to consider that Paul lacked authority to teach them about Christ. So Paul, in sort of an autobiography, wrote this painful letter giving his testimony and explaining that his authority to teach did indeed come from Christ Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Since many Corinthians continued to be led astray by false teachers, Paul said, “[Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul was honest about the Gospel; his motives were twofold: To obey God’s will for his life and to win as many people to faith in Christ as possible. False teachers were dishonest with the Gospel; their motives were generally selfish, using any means to gain financially. The false teachers compared themselves with other men, by worldly standards. Paul and other teachers of truth only compared themselves to God’s standards. We can know if teachers are deceptive by comparing their motives to those of Christ and their words to God’s Word.

Paul explained that the Gospel message, the revelation of God to man, is preached by the people God has chosen. Those people are not infallible; they are jars of clay. In fact, all men have bodies like jars of clay. They are breakable, for the earthly body is temporary; but the spirit is eternal. God will provide new, eternal bodies for our spirits in heaven. Eternity, however, begins here on earth, as we are new creations in Christ when we place our trust in Him. When Jesus said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9), Paul rejoiced, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Paul included in this letter additional guidelines for our lives. We should be pure out of reverence for God. We must not be unequally yoked; in other words, a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. We should be generous. The Old Testament discussed a tithe, a tenth of one’s gross income, as an appropriate amount to give for God’s work on earth. The New Testament takes this idea of a tithe even further, saying we should give as God has given to us. Well, God gave His only Son to die for us. God has given us everything. We should be stewards with what God has blessed us. Everything belongs to God anyway, and we surely cannot take it with us to the grave!

Even the prophet Malachi wrote that God said: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this … and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10). When we give, we are not only providing for someone else’s needs on earth, but also storing up treasures in heaven for all eternity. The more we give, the more we are blessed. Paul said:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows
generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided
in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a
cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all
things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good
work (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Letter to the Galatians, written: 49 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian churches throughout Galatia

In Paul’s earliest written letter, he refuted those so-called Christians who claimed that keeping the Jewish law was a requirement for salvation. Paul instead declared that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; nothing could be done to earn the gift of salvation.

Paul let the churches in Galatia know that the law was given to show people their sins, so they would turn to God. J.I. Packer said: “God’s law expresses His character. It reflects His own behavior; it alerts us to what He will love and hate to see in us. It is a recipe for holiness, consecrated conformity to God, which is His true image in man.”
Jesus kept the law, because He is God. His character fit the law, which is a direct result of His character.
Therefore, we must place our trust in the only One Who was able to keep God’s law.

When we are in Christ, we have the privilege of being free from sin. Freedom in Christ does not mean that we no longer sin, but it does mean we no longer desire to sin. We strive to conquer sin in our lives by turning over control of our lives to the power of the Holy Spirit. Relinquishing control is not easy; Jesus said in Matthew 26:41: “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” This is one reason that the true Christian longs to be made perfect in heaven, to receive a new body that cannot be tainted by the sin nature. Paul said, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Paul described the vices that keep us from experiencing freedom in Christ and the virtues that are fruits of the Holy Spirit, signs we are allowing the Holy Spirit to live and work inside us. The vices include: Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, hatred, discord, jealousy, uninhibited anger, selfish ambition, dissension, arrogance, envy, murder, idolatry, witchcraft, drunkenness, wild living, homosexuality, adultery, cheating, stealing, lying, and greed. These vices, even today, penetrate the lives of strong Christians, and they continue to wreak havoc in the lives of unbelievers and even young Christians. The virtues include: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These virtues, also seen in our lives today, are pleasantly welcomed in every situation and help turn a bad circumstance into a bearable or even pleasant condition.

I have often found myself detesting certain sins, such as adultery or homosexuality, worse than others, such as hatred or envy. I must remember that the standard set by God is perfection, and every sin of every variety is detestable to God! We cannot pick and choose which sins are really bad and which sins are okay to commit every once in awhile. Paul said, “Now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again” (Galatians 4:9)?

Letter to the Ephesians, written: 60 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Ephesus
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was an encouragement to remain strong in faith, avoiding false teachers. Paul proclaimed that Christ’s love surpasses all knowledge and understanding. We cannot comprehend the love of God for His creation, but we know that His chosen people are saved “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

Personal knowledge of Christ involves a growing, intimate relationship with Him. It will transform our lives, beginning immediately when the Holy Spirit convinces us to accept Christ as Savior and continuing through this life into the next, where we will see Christ face to face. This progression offers a taste of eternity, and speaking from experience, it is exciting! Christ becomes the foundation of all that is built in the Christian life. Paul said, “We were by nature objects of [God’s] wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:3-5).

Paul desired, as God does, for the Church to be unified as the Body of Christ, with each part of the Body working together to meet the needs of the Body. Paul explained that followers of Christ must put on the full armor of God to stand firm against the temptations of evil in this world. The full armor of God includes: The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes to spread the Gospel in peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Interestingly, the only offensive equipment listed in God’s armor is the sword, the Bible itself, the Word of God. For a detailed discussion of the armor of God, I encourage you to read The Covering, by Hank Hanegraaff.

Letter to the Philippians, written: 60–61 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Philippi
Paul wrote to the generous church at Philippi to express gratitude for their gifts, which would be presented to the church at Jerusalem as it struggled through a famine. The Philippian church was not wealthy, yet its members humbly gave more than they could afford out of gratitude for what God had given to them in His Son. They were glad to give as Christ had given—sacrificially. Paul told the Philippians, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8).

What price are you willing to pay to know Christ? Are you willing to read the Bible with an open mind to find out if it is true? Are you willing to forgive others as Christ offers to forgive you? Are you willing to give of your time, heart, and money in a sacrificial way? What is your most prized possession? Is it worth the price of eternal life?
Paul went on to explain how we find true joy—not just happiness, but joy—in Christ alone. As we walk in the footsteps of Christ, we experience joy in believing, serving, giving, and even suffering for the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Paul said:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be
in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of
being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether
living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him Who gives me
strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
Letter to the Colossians, written: 60 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Colosse
The church at Colosse was struggling with Gnosticism. False teachers had infiltrated the fellowship of believers saying that salvation came through a certain secret knowledge. Gnosticism taught that Jesus was not God in the flesh, so it denied the truth of the Gospel. Paul countered Gnosticism by, in effect, saying, “It’s not what you know, but Who you know!”

Paul proclaimed Christ’s sufficiency and showed Christ as God, “the fullness of the Deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Understanding Christ’s sufficiency as God Incarnate allows us to live for Him out of gratitude. Paul encouraged a Biblical worldview; “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Paul taught that God’s grace is tough and tender, just and merciful, costly and free. Since the sin nature died with Christ, evil desires no longer need to be satisfied. Instead, “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2); “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

Finally, Paul listed several sins that suppress the Holy Spirit living within the Christian. They include: Coveting, sexual immorality, lust, impurity, greed, uninhibited anger, malice, slander, bad language, and lying. To counter these sins, the Holy Spirit provides signs of His life within the Christian. These signs include: Love, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, and gratitude. Again, some of the sins seem really bad, and others seem to lack such a sting. Nevertheless, we must use God’s standard of perfection as the true measuring stick, not our own feelings or society’s norms.

First Letter to the Thessalonians, written: 51–52 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Thessalonica
Paul wrote to Thessalonica, because the members of this church were beginning to question their faith. They expected Christ to return almost immediately and certainly before any of their members died. When Christ did not appear, and some of their membership died under fierce persecution, they began to panic and doubt the message of the Gospel. Paul assured them of God’s faithfulness—Christ would certainly return; but no one knows the date and specific time except the Father.

Paul gave the Thessalonians many signs of the end times, which will be discussed in chapter ten, and he encouraged them to be ready, having their house in order when Christ does return. Paul supported their efforts to please God rather than men, and he further encouraged them to lead a quiet life, pray continuously, be joyful always, give thanks in all circumstances, test everything against the authority of God’s Word, and avoid every kind of evil (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22). Paul said, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. … God did not call you to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7).

Second Letter to the Thessalonians, written: 51–52 A.D.
Author: Paul, to the Christian church at Thessalonica
Paul’s first letter was accepted in Thessalonica, but there were still some believers there who did not understand. Many of them had quit their jobs, expecting Christ’s return to be imminent. Paul suggested instead that they continue to work and prepare for the troubles certain to beset all Christians as the end times approach. Paul warned against idleness; he encouraged the Thessalonians to always be in preparation for Christ’s second coming through caring for the needy, self-discipline, and endurance in faith, hope, and love.

Paul provided additional end times details, especially on the antichrist, which we will also examine in chapter ten. Paul stressed that those who are not saved “perish because they refused to love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10), but “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through [the] Gospel, that you might share in the glory of … Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

First Letter to Timothy, written: 64–65 A.D.
Author: Paul, to Timothy
In this handbook for church leadership, Paul encouraged his understudy, Timothy, to remain strong in faith under certain persecution. Paul told Timothy there would be false teachers among the true believers leading them astray. It is critical for church leaders to keep the Bible as their source of truth, comparing anything proclaimed by man with what the Holy Scriptures say. Church leaders must also remain humble and gracious, because they are sinners just like everyone else.

Timothy, like all Christians, could overcome objections and defend the faith by knowing the truth. By living above reproach and developing a strong Christian character, we may earn the right to teach others, who respect our lifestyle, to be wholly committed to Christ. In every circumstance, love others; hate and condemn their sins, but love them as imperfect people, just as God loves you. Paul encouraged believers to train themselves through spiritual exercise to be godly; the benefits of godliness are eternal, even better than the benefits of physical exercise.

Finally, Paul discussed the family relationship, the role of women, which we will examine in chapter nine, and problems with money. He said, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul also said, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:10). Are you more eager for money or for Christ?

Second Letter to Timothy, written: 66–68 A.D.
Author: Paul, to Timothy
In Paul’s final letter, he again encouraged Timothy to remain strong, standing firm in the faith. Four things concerned Paul the most. They were that Timothy, and all believers, would keep sound doctrine, would remain strong in faith, would maintain confident endurance, and would show enduring love.

Because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), Christians should strive to know God’s Word as their sure defense against false teachers, idle so-called believers, heretics, and scoffers. Although the Christian life is difficult and getting increasingly harder as Christ’s return nears, the Holy Spirit sustains the believer and can help him or her teach others about Christ, despite persecution.

Since half the people who have ever lived are alive today, we should be excited about the opportunity to spread the Gospel to the entire world. Paul commands us, “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8).
Letter to Titus, written: 64–65 A.D.
Author: Paul, to Titus
Titus was the administrator of the Christian churches on the island of Crete, a place notorious for its liars and thieves and laziness. Paul encouraged Titus to overcome these vices with right living among pagans, so they would see his good deeds and praise God in heaven. Paul recommended that Titus teach the believers to teach others. Paul, comparing himself and Titus, along with all believers, to unbelievers, said:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all
kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and
hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His
mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy
Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so
that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope
of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).
Letter to Philemon, written: 60–61 A.D.
Author: Paul, to Philemon
Philemon was a wealthy, yet humble and gracious Christian in Colosse. (The Colossian church may have met at Philemon’s house.) Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had stolen from him and run away years earlier. Onesimus met Paul in Rome and became a Christian. With a desire to live for God, the slave knew it was right to return to his master. Philemon was urged by Paul to forgive Onesimus and take him back as an equal, a brother in Christ, not just a slave. “Onesimus would no longer be a slave, but a beloved brother; Philemon would no longer be a master, but a beloved brother. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ had set them both free.”

Letter to the Hebrews, written: 68–70 A.D.
Author: Unknown, to second generation Jewish Christians
This letter was beautifully written to an audience under heavy persecution at the hands of both the Roman Empire and non-Messianic Jews. These Christian Hebrews were considering a return to Judaism, because it seemed safer than Christianity. They were uncertain about the return of Christ.

The author of Hebrews, who may have been Barnabas, Silas, or Luke, among others, proclaimed the sufficiency and superiority of Christ, in comparison to angels, priests, and even Moses. The Jews had long admired their high priests, who atoned for their sins once per year (Yom Kippur) by entering the Most Holy Place and offering animal sacrifices to God. The Bible says: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

But this letter to the Hebrews shows that Old Testament sacrifices were never adequate to atone for sin; they merely pointed the way, by faithful obedience, to the one, true sacrifice Jesus Christ would become. It took the blood of man to atone for man’s sin. Jesus Christ is our High Priest, offering one sacrifice, His own blood, to atone for our sins. “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrew 7:25).

We can come directly to God only through our High Priest and sole Mediator, Jesus Christ. The author showed how grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is sufficient as God’s chosen method of salvation, as opposed to any kind of works salvation. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. The author discussed how the Old Testament heroes were justified by their faith, not by their deeds.

Christians are strangers in this world; while looking forward to our heavenly home, we are encouraged to first learn the basics of the faith, like infants drinking only milk, and then move on to maturity in faith, like adults eating meat and other solid food. We must not remain baby Christians! By praising God with our lives, we allow Him to change us for His glory in preparation for eternity. We should be thankful for His faithfulness, despite the fact that we are unfaithful. “See to it that you do not refuse Him Who speaks. … Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 12:25, 3:15, 4:7; Psalm 95:7-8). We must let God transform us with discipline.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not
disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes
discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we
have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How
much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers
disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us
for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at
the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness
and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).
Letter of James, written: 49 A.D.
Author: James, the brother of Jesus, to Jewish Christians living in predominantly Gentile areas
James wrote to expose hypocrites and encourage right Christian living. His audience primarily included Jews who became Christians through the church at Jerusalem then moved into Gentile-dominated cities. These Jewish Christians were tempted by society to merely maintain intellectual assent to the truth of the Gospel, not to live out their faith. They were wrongly encouraged to simply acknowledge the truth they had learned without letting it transform their lives. It is not enough to accept God as God. James said, “You believe that there is One God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).

These Christians needed to remember that true faith, saving faith, brings good works. Right living is the evidence and result of faith in action. If our lives remain unchanged, then we must question whether or not the Holy Spirit lives within us; we may not truly believe the things we claim to believe. As we examined earlier, belief brings about action. “Faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). Now, we do good deeds only because of God’s grace through faith in Christ, not before it, along side it, or without it. Good deeds are a result of saving faith, a result of God’s grace. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth … and humbly accept the Word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:21-22).

In this handbook on Christian living, James encouraged Christians to commit to the values of Christ, not to the values of the world. We must guard our tongues, which can praise God on Sunday and curse men throughout the rest of the week. This should not be! “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no, or you will be condemned” (James 5:12). James said: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

First Letter of Peter, written: 64–65 A.D.
Author: Peter, to Christians everywhere
Peter’s first letter addressed external issues within the body of believers and supported Christians’ efforts to remain strong in faith and right living under persecution. Writing “to God’s elect, strangers in the world … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1-2), Peter reminds all believers to “set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

God chose us out of love before we chose Him; Christ died for us to pay the penalty for our sin while we were still in our sin; the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, purifying and cleansing us from sin. It is easy to give up on God when things in our lives are not going well, but Peter encouraged all believers to count their blessings from God and maintain Christian conduct, especially in tough times. Peter suggested that suffering is due to at least one of three things: Our own sin, the sin of people around us, or the fallen world subject to sin ever since the first man, Adam, sinned.

Peter said, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He Who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:14-15). Strive to imitate Christ in all you think, say, and do. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing. … For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry” (1 Peter 3:9, 4:3).

Peter compared the Body of Christ to the Church, made up of believers as living stones and built on Jesus Christ as the solid rock, our foundation and cornerstone.

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
‘the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and, ‘a stone that
causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because
they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are
a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His
wonderful light (1 Peter 2:7-9).
Second Letter of Peter, written: 66–68 A.D.
Author: Peter, to Christians everywhere
Three years later, Peter again wrote to the Church as a whole, addressing internal issues. This letter of warning combated the heresy of false teachers by promoting “the authority of Scripture, the primacy of faith, and the certainty of Christ’s return” and encouraged believers to remain strong and grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, despite the many false teachers looking “to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24).

Peter was an eyewitness to Christ; he maintained Scripture’s divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit. He also recognized Paul’s writings as part of Scripture. Peter offered guidance, explaining that grace and peace come from growing in knowledge of God through His Word; he presented the dangers and hopes that come from knowing Christ as Savior and Lord. He insisted that we must not hear and deny the Gospel message, for that would be worse than having never heard the Gospel in the first place.

Because God has given us salvation and called us to be holy, we should “make every effort to add to [our] faith” (2 Peter 1:5) good works, knowledge, and the fruits of the Spirit. Peter concluded this letter with end times details, which we will look at in chapter ten.

First Letter of John, written: 85–90 A.D.
Author: John, to Christians everywhere

John wrote his letters, as well as his Gospel account, much later than the other writings of the New Testament. Writing from Ephesus to encourage all believers to remain strong, John emphasized the basics of Christianity, so that when nothing else in the world is certain, Christians can rest assured in the truth of the Gospel. John clarified how to tell the difference between truth and falsehood: “[Non-Christians] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. [Christians] are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us” (1 John 4:5-6).

John explained what it means to have fellowship with God; the reality of God in our lives comes through faith in Christ. You can know your faith is genuine if you love God and strive to obey Him out of gratitude for His atoning sacrifice; “This is love for God: To obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Others can know your faith is genuine by seeing your obedience to God’s commands played out in your behavior; “And this is His command: To believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another. … And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us” (1 John 3:23-24). John encouraged brotherly love; he said: “This is love: Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. … We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10-11,19).

John further suggested that believers understand God’s testimony, while unbelievers do not. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).

John added information on Christ’s second coming, which we will explore in chapter ten. He also reminded believers to be on guard for false teachers, who would certainly distort and deny the message of the Gospel. They would seduce the world, entrenched in sin and suffering, but believers must overcome the world. Despite the fact that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one [the devil or Satan], we know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him Who is true. And we are in Him Who is true” (1 John 5:19-20). Christ is sufficient to overcome the world! John told believers:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the
love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of
sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does—comes
not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but
the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Second Letter of John, written: 85–90 A.D.
Author: John, to Christians everywhere
This letter was similar to John’s first letter, but he placed more emphasis on truth and love in following Christ. Truth and love should be automatic; looking at our society and culture today, “all men are liars” (Psalm 116:11). Ironically, you have to swear in court to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God.” Of course, swearing before God does not eliminate perjury like it should. Furthermore, many people would be hard-pressed to show significant evidence of love in their lives; few people love others the way they should. So-called Christians who are married in a Christian church, vowing the marriage oath before God to love their spouse “until death does them part,” simply no longer acknowledge that vow as binding. How sad!

John exclaimed that we can praise God, because He alone is faithful in truth and love. The Bible tells us God cannot lie (see Titus 1:2); evidence of His love abounds in His creation, His sustaining our lives, and most of all His redeeming work on the cross and willingness to forgive our sins. The Bible says: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

John encouraged believers to overcome lies with truth and hatred with love; he wrote, “This is love: That we walk in obedience to [God’s] commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love” (2 John 6).

Third Letter of John, written: 85–90 A.D.
Author: John, to Gaius
This letter was written specifically to a man named Gaius to encourage him to continue living for Christ and to thank him for hospitality. John expressed that the standard for our lives should be the Gospel, rather than human ideals or worldly values. John said, “Do not imitate what is evil but what is good” (3 John 11). Be a lover of truth, not an ignorant evildoer.

Letter of Jude, written: 64–65 A.D.
Author: Jude, the brother of Jesus, to all Jewish Christians

Jude became a follower of his brother, Jesus, after the resurrection. His audience, under heavy persecution, was planning to compromise the message of the Gospel so their persecution would ease. These Jewish Christians were vulnerable to immoral living because of the influence of unbelievers surrounding them. Unbelievers, who “follow mere natural instincts and do not have the [Holy] Spirit” (Jude 18), have the ability to divide believers; they “speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them” (Jude 10).

Similar to 2 Peter, Jude’s message encouraged believers to remain strong in faith, oppose any heresy, and refute false teachers. The believers were not to strive for political correctness to keep their comfort. Instead, they were to preach and teach the full message of the Gospel, even though it would certainly offend many, and expect and be ready to suffer persecution for the name of Christ. Nothing is more valuable than the truth about God.

Letter of Revelation, written: 95 A.D.
Author: John, to the seven Christian churches in Asia, along with Christians everywhere

The final letter in the Bible was also written by John, in exile on the island of Patmos. This letter was directed toward seven churches of Asia, which were all experiencing harsh persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian. This apocalyptic letter contains end times information that will be reviewed in chapter ten.

No comments: