Lesson 3: Perspective On the Six Books
Romans 1;7, 16:16, Gal. 1:1-2, I Cor. 1:1-2, II Cor. 1:1, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:1
This is Lesson #3. Welcome again! In the first two lessons, we tried to review and inspect the setting of these books, i. e. the background, atmosphere and surroundings. We have said the apostle Paul wrote these books on his second and third missionary journeys. With the exception of Romans, I would call these books, very simply, follow-up material. By that I mean, Paul knew these people personally. I'm talking about Christians, at their respective geographical locations where Paul and his co-workers had visited, preached, converted and baptized many. At each of those locations (you have them marked on your map), there was a group of baptized believers, i. e. simply disciples, saints, brethren, or just plain Christians. Collectively, the Christians at any one of these places, i. e. the whole group of Christians in a locality, who met as a body. By that I mean, just as the United States Senate meets as a body of lawmakers, the Christians in all of those places met as a body of believers. They were required to assemble; but, they assembled, also, because they wanted to. They met for mutual fellowship, mutual edification, for worship of God, to teach, and to learn to teach others in fulfillment of the great commission that Jesus gave on the mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:18:20). The body of believers at any one place, i.e. the whole camp of the saints (either assembled or dispersed throughout their respective homes and communities) were a congregation or a church in the local sense of that word. The word "church" can mean a local congregation of saints, that is, the Christians in a specific community; or, it can mean all the congregations of the world under the headship of our King and Master, Jesus Christ, i. e. in the universal sense. In Romans 16.16, the apostle Paul in referring to the congregations of Achaia, Macedonia, Asia, etc., i.e. Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus, etc., in writing to the brethren at Rome as "churches of Christ." Now let me emphasize: that is NOT a denominational name. It was just a simple description of several of these camps of the saints in a collective sense. Paul simply meant ALL of God's people with whom Paul was acquainted in their respective congregations. They all sent greeting to Rome. So, Paul simply said "The churches of Christ salute you," i.e. greet you. Notice in that verse that the word "churches" is NOT capitalized, i.e. it is NOT used as a proper name. Paul was not trying to distinguish these congregations, scattered over the region, as distinct and separate from some other group(s) of people or societies or cultures. Either they were God's people, baptized into Christ, i.e. born again believers, as Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John chapter 3; OR, they were NOT God's people., just that simple. He was not talking about some exclusive breed, or clan, or tribe, or brand name. In the very same sense, when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (one of these same churches), Paul started off in v. 2 of that letter by saying, "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth." Again, it's not a proper name, simply a description. In II Corinthians, Paul addressed those same brethren the same way, in the very first verse. So, the church of Christ describes God's people, and the church of God describes the very same people. Then, in a repetitive way in the same verse, Paul referred to the Corinthians and others as "the saints which are in all Achaia." Again, just a simple description, NOT a proper name, NOT a brand name. To the saints in the region of Galatia, Paul simply said, "Unto the churches of Galatia." —just plain Christians; but, more than one congregation as has already been pointed out. To the brethren that met in the city of Thessalonica, i.e. the congregation that Paul and Silas started in Acts 17:4 where it simply said, "some of them believed," Paul simply addressed them in the very first verse of I Thessalonians like this: "Unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ..." — another description. Thus, to be in Christ is to be in God. In the second letter to Thessalonica, Paul used the very same description (v. 1). In writing to the brethren at Rome, THIS is how Paul described who he was writing to in chapter 1:7, "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." — simply, the Christians in Rome. Was that one congregation at Rome, or several congregations? I don't know! Paul didn't say. He described them as beloved of God, called to be saints," but, Paul didn't describe their congregational relationship, i. e. we're not told their grouping for work and fellowship and worship.
The reason I take the time to emphasize this simple description bit is simply that it has ceased to be meaningful to most religious folks in our day. All Paul preached and all they knew at Thessalonica and the other congregations (we've talked about) was just plain simple Christianity. Jesus the Lord of Glory, came to earth, he was crucified, he came forth from the dead, he gave us (his servants) an assignment, and left word he would be back again. Then, he went back to heaven, where he is today, reigning on the right hand of the Father. Oh, there were a few false teachers on the prowl, even back then; but, all that big denominational hoop that plagues us today, from the TV screen and on every corner, was not even heard of back then. Today when you try to talk to people about their souls, it takes about a half a day just to get them down to the New Testament. In most cases, you never get that far. If I simply shake hands with a stranger and tell them my name is Bernard Horsley and I preach for the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ, nine times out of ten, they come back with some question like, "Reverend Horsley, where is the headquarters to your church?" Boy, oh, boy! Where do you start? Number one, they called me "reverend," and that is an unscriptural title. Number two, when they ask about the headquarters of "MY" church, their concept is some big man made corporate arrangement with a board of directors hidden away in a grand ivy covered mansion some place, two or three states away, that takes care of the finances and conducts some general conference for legislating or repealing of church laws every two or three years. The Bible didn't even enter into their thinking. Number three, they referred to the church as "your church," i. e. they called it, in effect, Horsley's church. Like I said, where do you start? You feel like telling them they're too dumb to understand and just walk away. Now, If you try to be as gentle as you can, and begin by explaining that "reverend" is the wrong word, because that word refers to God and I'm not God. Then, they start coming back defensively, "Oh, Oh, I understand that Pastor Horsley...most churches us that word, you know, for respect." (They always start off, "Oh, I understand that," and they don't understand). Then I must tell them, the word "pastor" refers to an elder, and I'm not an elder either, so just call me Bernard, that's what my mother called me. So, I try to quickly get beyond that and move on to the next problem with their question. I tell them the head AND the headquarters of the church is in heaven. They look puzzled for a few seconds and then start stuttering, "Oh, yes, I understand THAT Reverend Horsley, uh..uh.I mean Brother Horsley; but, where do you send your money? Then, if I tell them we don't," then they want to know if I get it all. Money is important! If we ever get past that one, and I tell them it's the Lord's church, not my church. Then they say, "Oh, yes, I know that; but, I thought you said you was THE preacher. I say, "I am A preacher, yes." Then, they want to know, "How many preachers YOU got?" It's a rat race, my friend. I know, you thought preaching was easy. Then, they go away and tell others that bunch of Church of Christers is about the dumbest, stupidest group I ever talked to. Well, so much for that. Back up just a moment. I said this material, i.e. I and II Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, and Galatians, could be described as follow-up material. By — that I mean, simply an extension of what Paul had preached and taught whenever he was there in person. The book of Acts didn't tell us everything Paul taught. Luke gave us a few high points. For example, in Acts 18:8, Luke said, "and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." Now, it would be interesting to hear the exact sermon(s) that Paul preached. We don't have to know the exact words to infer that Paul taught the same thing Peter preached on Pentecost. The same thing Paul himself had been taught by Ananias in Acts 9:17-18, when that preacher said to Paul, "why tamest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). The Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31, asked, "Sirs. what must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." And, following that, down in v. 33, it says, "he, [i e. the jailer], was baptized, he and all his, straightway." Phillip had taught the eunuch the same thing, Acts chapter 8. Now, in Acts chapter 17, Luke didn't say a thing about the Thessalonians. Am I to assume that the brethren at Thessalonica were not baptized? Maybe they were sprinkled or taught infant baptism and confirmation when you got old enough to understand. What do you think? Certainly NOT! You see, we didn't have to be told everything Paul taught on his missionary tours to know what was taught and what they believed. Why? Because Jesus himself said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). That statement was a general statement and applied to every creature in all the world where ever the gospel was preached according to the verse before that, Mark 16:15. The people at Thessalonica, that had heard Paul preach, they knew that! It was the first thing and the same thing that Paul preached everywhere he went. Here's my point: as the brothers and sisters in Christ, after they were baptized at Thessalonica, Corinth, Galatia, and at Rome, and as they began to live the Christian life, they ran into problems just like you and 1 do. They were tempted, just like we are. They were human, just like we are. They had questions. It didn't all come with the plan of salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. They didn't have a New Testament like you do. The Christian religion is a TAUGHT religion. It's not like getting a flue shot - one hit and you're immuned. Christians at all of these places needed more teaching and more understanding. How were they to handle problems of immorality in their families? How were they to conduct themselves in a civil sense, i. e. in relation to the Roman government? What if some brother took advantage of them? What about discipline in the church? What about marriage problems? Have YOU got all the answers? They didn't have all the answers! As they grew as Christians, they needed more information. You do, too! I do, too! It comes with the territory, as they say. Paul could see the need to follow up his teaching as they grew and matured as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. In some cases, hundreds of miles stretched out between Paul and those he had taught and baptized. In some places, Paul had been chased out of town. If he went back to those places and he was found out, it would have caused the brethren there much trouble. So, the next most practical thing was for Paul to write them a letter. Paul was FOLLOWING UP on what he had earlier taught them. As Paul, an inspired apostle, took paper and ink and gave them instruction, I'm talking about the Christians in Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, and Rome, the Holy Spirit saw to it that these things were preserved for us. We need some answers, too. Now, that's why these books were preserved, to help US live the Christian life. You must see these books in their proper perspective and keeping in mind the background and the reason for them being written. In all six books, it's evident Paul had learned something about these brethren. Some had written to Paul and made inquiries on certain subjects. In some cases, Paul had learned some of the circumstances by and through traveling brethren. In some cases, Paul simply anticipated their problems and, thus, gave them the appropriate instruction. In some cases, they were being fed false doctrines. Remember now, these letters are real letters. They were written to real people. People with real problems, just like us.
These letters are so closely allied with the book of Acts that you need to know that book like the back of your hand. Take the time to look up the passages. Read a little extra ancient history about these places. Did the city have a wall around it? Was it on a hill, or down in the valley? Or, was it a sea coast town? Try to get the mood of the times.
Now, with all the help you can get, it's hard to unravel the exact meaning of some passages. It's a little like hearing only one side of a telephone conversation. We can read what Paul told these brethren; but, we don't know exactly what they ask Paul, if they wrote to Paul. What we're saying is: you must keep every passage in its proper context. Even if it's painful, keep it in context. Wouldn't it be great if everyone studied the Bible like that? If you don't know the answer, admit, I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER1 You're not supposed to know everything! I can promise you this: if you'll learn what you can learn, then you'll never be the same person again. Ignorance will vanish forever. You'll know the answer; and, you'll know that you know the answer.
Alright, in our next lesson, Lesson #4, we are going to begin the actual study of I Thessalonians. This will take us several lessons, of course. From there, we'll go on to II Thessalonians; and, after that, to the Corinthian letters. Lesson #4 will be an introduction to I Thessalonians. So, in preparation for that lesson, I would like to encourage you to do three things: (1) Re-read the first few verses in Acts chapter 17 that deal with Thessalonica ~ read it good! (2) Because the Thessalonian letters were written from Corinth, re-read the first 17 verses of chapter 18 of the book of Acts dealing with Paul's 18 month stay at Corinth. And then, finally (3) Read through the book of I Thessalonians. Now, that sound like a lot of reading, primarily because the book of I Thessalonians has 5 chapters - but, the whole book of I Thessalonians has a grand total of only 89 verses. That is only about 9 verses more than just the first chapter in the book of Luke. So, your entire reading assignment, including the verses in Acts, is less that Matthew's entire quote of what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. So, take your time, and read it good. Come to Lesson #4 all pumped up! Ready to play detective! I'll be with you in Lesson #4. Until then, happy reading!