Titus 1 (day 1130) 3 February 2013

          1-4: Paul’s introduction of himself in Titus is longer than in his other letters. He sees himself as the God-appointed defender of the true faith.

Titus, like Timothy, was one of Paul’s most faithful companions and helpers. Paul refers to him in verse 4 as “my loyal child in the faith,” a hint that Titus was one of those of whose conversion to Christianity Paul was responsible. He was a Gentile Christian who apparently was never circumcised (Galatians 2:3), evidence of Paul’s victory over the Circumcision Party’s efforts to demand that Gentile converts first become Jews by circumcision before being allowed to take part in the church. Elsewhere Paul refers to him as “my brother (2 Corinthians 2:13),” and as “my partner and coworker (2 Corinthians 8:23).” It was Titus by whom Paul sent his stern letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:18), and who was responsible for a reconciliation between them and Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23, 7:13 and 7:6). When Paul made his first trip to Jerusalem to defend his mission to the Gentiles before the leaders of the Church, Titus went with him along with Barnabas (Galatians 2:1).

5-9: We learn that Titus was used by Paul in a significant role in Crete. Unfortunately, we don’t know when Paul was in Crete or what was accomplished there. The only mention of Crete in the book of Acts comes late, when he is sailing under guard to Rome and passes south of that island, but makes no landing there. However, it is apparent that Titus was given a great deal of authority: he was to appoint elders in towns all over Crete, and bishops as well. (The qualifications for bishops were also given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.) Those who serve as leaders in the church have always been held to higher standards of behavior than others.

10-16: Paul doesn’t have a very high opinion of the populace on the Island of Crete. He cautions Titus that he will be confronted by many who will try to contradict everything he says. He must be firm in resisting any attack on the pure faith that Paul has passed on to him. Verse 15 is an extraordinary insight into human character. There are some people who are able to see the good in everything; they are the “pure,” as Paul calls them. There are others, however, whose corrupt character makes it impossible for them to see the good in anything.

 

Titus 2 (day 1131) 4 February 2013

1-2: Doctrine does not exist for itself, but is rather an instrument by which right behavior can be directed. So, Titus is to advise older men to behave in such a way that exhibits sound doctrine. His primary concern in this chapter is that Christians must present a good face to the community so as not to bring disgrace on the church. It would damage the church’s reputation (and thus the strength of its witness) for older men to behave rashly or foolishly.

3: Older women should likewise behave in such a way that demonstrates how their lives have been ordered by the gospel.

4-5: Older women are charged with the responsibility of teaching the younger women “what is good,” and there follows a list of things such character should produce, including family responsibilities and personal character. In that culture, for a wife to refuse to submit to her husband would have been scandalous and might have damaged the church’s reputation by proxy.

6-8: Likewise, young men are to conduct themselves in such a way that does not invite censure by opponents of the church.

9-10: Model behavior of slaves would in a similar way serve to show the church in the best light possible to the outside world.

11-15: All of this is predicated on a basic doctrine of the church: Christ gave himself up so that salvation might be available to all. God’s grace trains us to exhibit those qualities that make for peace in any community – self control, upright and godly living. This is what Titus should teach them with boldness so that no one would have reason to look at him condescendingly.

 

Titus 3 (day 1132) 5 February 2013

1-7: Another checklist is given Titus to use as a teaching outline. Seven dos (be subject to authorities, be ready for good works, speak evil of none, avoid quarreling, be gentle, be courteous) are followed by seven don’ts (foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to pleasure, full of ill will and envy, despicable, hating). We used to live by the don’ts, he says, but Jesus saved us through his mercy, not our deserving. Salvation was transmitted through “the washing of rebirth” – probably a reference to the change of heart that leads us to baptism, what John Wesley would call justification – and through “renewal by the Holy Spirit” – what Wesley would call sanctification. Being justified by the grace of Jesus Christ is not the goal, but is the necessary step toward “becoming heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

8-11: Coming to faith is therefore not the ultimate goal, but devotion to good works leads us through the process of sanctification – the process of being made holy. Avoid stupid controversies, he says, and I’m sure he was thinking about the circumcision debate. Avoid genealogies; God can raise up stones as children to Abraham, said John the baptizer (Matthew 3:9). Avoid arguing about the law, since the law does not have the power to save (Romans 3:28). Avoid contentious people, since they lead you into stupid controversies.

12-13: Paul often sent his letters by courier. Tychicus is mentioned in other letters (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7); Artemas is otherwise unknown. Nicopolis is on the western coast of Greece, and Paul says he is going there for the winter and wants certain people to come to him there. Zenas the lawyer is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Tradition has it that Zenas was one of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus into the villages of Galilee (see Luke 10:1-24). That he is called a lawyer may mean that he was a Jewish scribe or rabbi who converted to Christianity. Apollos, of course, was a travelling apostle mentioned often by Luke and Paul (Acts 18:24 and 19:1; 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-6, 3:22, 4:6 and 16:12).

14-15: One last entreaty to do good, and Paul signs off with a typical closing.

2 Timothy 1 (day 1126) 30 January 2013

1-2: The greeting in this letter is much like that of 1 Timothy, but there Paul was an apostle by the command of God while here his apostleship is by the will of God. Reading Paul’s letters it is often difficult to decide whether he felt invited to be an apostle or compelled to it.

3-7: We learn some personal details about Timothy and the relationship between Timothy and Paul. Timothy was from Lystra and was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16:1). Now we learn that his mother’s name was Eunice and his grandmother’s was Lois, that Paul commissioned him to the work of evangelist through the ceremony known as the “laying on of hands,” and that when Paul left him to continue his journey the separation was a tearful one.

8-14: The great sweep of salvation history is covered in these few verses. Christ was “before the ages began,” then came in the flesh to abolish death and give life. Paul was appointed as herald, apostle and teacher, and because of that he has had to endure much suffering, including times of imprisonment. He tells Timothy to be brave and not shrink from the same suffering for the sake of the gospel.

15-18: Paul mourns the loss of others who served in Ephesus before Timothy, whether they broke with Paul or left the church altogether is not specified; Paul would have thought one was like the other in any case. Onesiphorus stands out, however, as one who remained under Paul’s tutelage.

 

2 Timothy 2 (day 1127) 31 January 2013

1-7: Paul uses a hodgepodge of metaphors to describe the work in which they are engaged; the good soldier, the enlisting officer, the athlete, the farmer. They are a bit tangled and it is confusing as to which are intended to apply to Timothy (the good soldier, the athlete or the farmer, perhaps?) and which apply to Paul (the enlisting officer, the athlete, the farmer?).

8-13: Paul says he is willing to endure every hardship, even chains, for the sake of “the elect,” i.e. those who will hear and receive the gospel and become believers. We should not be afraid to die with Christ, or to endure the suffering he endured because that makes us a partner with him to live and to reign. But denial of him reaps a reciprocal denial from him, although his faithfulness will never be compromised by our lack of faith.

14-19: Timothy is to warn “them” that they must be like Christ in suffering and enduring in order to share in eternal life with him. Paul roundly condemns Hymenaeus and Phletus for trying to convince people that the general resurrection of the dead had already taken place (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2).

20-26: Slipping now into the metaphor of household pots and pans, Paul says the faithful are like the more valuable utensils in the house. Stick to your guns, he tells Timothy. Live a life of mature faith not swayed by youthful pursuits but steady and pure. Stay away from controversy and be gentle but firm in correcting others; maybe your faithfulness will lead to their repentance. (Note that Paul is convinced that they are agents of the devil himself.)

2 Timothy 3 (day 1128) 1 February 2013

1-9: Paul sees distressing days ahead. From the extensive catalogue of ills, the kind that Paul is fond of listing, we see that the cause of those distressing days will be that many people will love everything but God. Jannes and Jambres were the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who, through their arts, were able to copy several of the miracles Moses cast against the Egyptians (see Exodus 7:11, 8:7 and 9:11). Their names are not in the Old Testament; Paul gets them from other popular Jewish literature, works of fiction that sought to fill in some of the missing details of the Biblical texts.

10-17: Paul beseeches Timothy to recall what he has seen Paul go through and how Paul conducted himself in difficult situations. (The persecutions he suffered in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra are described in Acts 13:48-14:20. But Paul also had much success in those places – remember that Timothy is from Lystra.) God can be trusted, he says, to come to the rescue of the godly people who are destined to come under persecution. Wicked people will grow in wickedness, but Timothy is to grow in knowledge of the scriptures and in his devotion to teaching others the way of salvation.

 

2 Timothy 4 (day 1129) 2 February 2013

          1-5: Paul foresees the day when people will look for “teachers to suit their own desires,” so he urges Timothy to teach as hard as he can, to be patient and never give up, to persist even when everything is going against him, to stick to it under all circumstances and to demonstrate the gospel by his own way of life. (It does seem to me that we now live in an age of “information” when people around the world can easily know all about Christianity without knowing Christ, and our age certainly fits the description given here.)

6-8: Paul apparently believes that his life is drawing to its close. He has lived the advice he just gave Timothy. The “crown of righteousness” is not to be imagined as a physical crown but rather a way of saying that God will account him, like Abraham, to be righteous because he has kept the faith (see, for example, Romans 4:9).

9-15: A number of people are named, some of whom played a prominent role in the establishment of churches around the Northern
Mediterranean world. Demas is sometimes named as Paul’s companion (see Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24), and apparently is another with whom Paul had some sort of dispute. Crescens (not mentioned elsewhere) and Titus have also left him, but I don’t think he means that they, too, have had a falling-out with him – especially Titus. Luke, the beloved physician seems to have been a faithful and constant companion. Paul did have a falling-out with Mark (Acts 15:37-39), but apparently that rift has been remedied. Tychicus was someone on whom Paul depended as a messenger to his churches (see Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7 and Titus 3:12). There are several Alexanders, though none of them are elsewhere identified as a coppersmith. The Alexander here mentioned is likely the same as the man condemned earlier (1 Timothy 1:20) along with one Hymenaeus. The mention of books and parchments is an interesting glimpse into Paul’s personal habits.

16-18: This is a most intriguing passage. We imagine Paul is in Rome where he was to be put on trial. He indicates that some kind of hearing or trial has taken place, and for whatever reason none of his friends were there to testify on his behalf; he felt deserted, he says. On the other hand, that hearing apparently resulted in no action being taken against him, and some have seen in the remark about being saved from the lion’s mouth an indication that Paul was acquitted and allowed to go free (throwing prisoners into an arena filled with lions was apparently one of the ways in which criminals were executed in Rome, and elsewhere in those days).

19-22: Another gathering of names. Aquila and Prisca (Priscilla) Paul had met in Corinth (Acts 18:2), and they had accompanied him on some of his journeys (Acts 18:18). Now they are apparently in Ephesus with Timothy. Onesiphorus was apparently a resident of Ephesus and a member of the church there (see 2 Timothy 1:16). Erastus was a helper who was paired with Timothy on at least one other occasion (Acts 19:22). Trophimus was a Gentile Christian from Ephesus (Acts 20:4, 21:29) who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem – his presence there was apparently the reason for the riot that resulted in Paul’s arrest. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia are not mentioned elsewhere. Claudia is a woman’s name (Claudius is the male counterpart), indicating that leadership roles in the church were shared by both sexes. Paul put together quite a team, didn’t he?

 

1 TIMOTHY (day 1120-1125)

 

          Here are all the references to Timothy in the New Testament outside the two letters addressed to him:

Acts 16:1: “Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.”

          Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Acts 16:3: “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

          Top of Form

 

Acts 17:14: “Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind.”Top of Form

Acts 17:15: “Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.”

Top of FBottom of Form          Acts 18:5:When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.”

Acts 19:22: “So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia.”Top of Form

Acts 20:4: “He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.”Bottom of Form

Romans 16:21: “Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.”

1 Corinthians 4:17: “For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

1 Corinthians 16:10: “If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am;”

2 Corinthians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:”

2 Corinthians 1:19: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’”

Philippians 1:1: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:”

Philippians 2:19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you.”

Philippians 2:22: “But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”

Colossians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,”

1 Thessalonians 1:1: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”

1 Thessalonians 3:2: “…and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith.”

1 Thessalonians 3:6: “But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you.”

2 Thessalonians 1:1: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:”

Philemon 1:1: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,”Bottom of Form

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hebrews 13:23: “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free; and if he comes in time, he will be with me when I see you.”

 

1 Timothy 1 (day 1120) 24 January 2013

1-2: It would appear that Timothy, along with Silas (Silvanus), was Paul’s most frequent companion. The two letters that follow purport to be from Paul to him while Timothy was working on his behalf in Ephesus. The letters show that the church began to be organized as an institution very early on, with rules for various levels of leadership.

3-7: First up, he urges Timothy to refrain from the kind of pseudo spiritual activities that occupied much of Greek culture and by which many Jews and, later, Christians, were led into inefficacious practices.

8-11: Paul has maintained that the purpose of the law is not to save but rather to convict (see Romans 3:28, 10:4; Galatians 3:10); here he gives another list of things which the law forbids.

12-17: He believes that Christ has made an example of him because he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” In spite of this he received mercy, which he says proves that Christ came into the world to save sinners – himself being the foremost because he persecuted the followers of Christ.

18-20: He doesn’t want Timothy to wind up like Hymenaeus and Alexander. The sin of Hymenaeus was that he claimed the resurrection of the dead had already taken place (see 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Paul fleshed out his teachings about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Here he seems to be saying that anyone who doesn’t hold to that teaching is headed for a spiritual shipwreck.

1 Timothy 2 (day 1121) 25 January 2013

1-7: A few verses back (1:18) Paul hinted at instructions he would give. Here we have the beginning of his “training manual.” Rule #1: pray for everybody, even kings. He envisions a world of peace in which they can live in “godliness and dignity,” but such a world in his day and time depended on the well-being first of all of those who were in power. God wants everyone to be saved, he says, with which we Methodists agree. He quotes a portion of an early Christian hymn or creed, acknowledging one God and asserting that Christ is the mediator between God and humanity; then adds that he, Paul, is the herald to the Gentiles.

8-15: What he describes here is a traditional Jewish synagogue prayer service, with the men and women separated. His insistence that women should not teach men is consistent with prevailing Jewish mores, of course – remember that Paul had been a Pharisee – but we note that both Aquila and his wife Priscilla instructed Apollos (see Acts 18:24-26) in Ephesus. This happened while Paul was away, however, so maybe this is his way of telling Timothy not to let such a thing happen again. In any case, this passage reflects traditional Jewish understandings of gender roles, an understanding which created some conflict within the broader Greek culture.

 

1 Timothy 3 (day 1122) 26 January 2013

1-7: In this growing movement an organizational structure has become necessary. Who is in charge? Who has the authority to make decisions? We can see that by the time of this letter the church has established the offices of bishop and deacons. There is much discussion among scholarly circles about whether this arrangement is more reflective of Jewish or Greek community organization. The titles used are Greek. The bishop, or overseer, must be blameless, monogamous and respectable among other things. It is interesting that Paul, who never married, should picture bishops as married men with children. As such, their family is the church in microcosm, and their ability to manage the family is a good measure of their ability to manage a congregation. Some mellowing in the faith is a good thing, too, recognizing that rapid advancement contributes to vanity.

8-13: Deacons were given special duties in the congregation. An example is Stephen and the other 7 Greeks who were given responsibilities for the distribution of food to the widows in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:3-6). They, too, must lead exemplary lives. It would seem from verse 11 that women are allowed to serve in this office.

14-16: The reason Paul is giving these instructions is so that Timothy can keep things running in proper order until Paul is able to return to Ephesus. In verse 16 he quotes from another early hymn or creed.

 

1 Timothy 4 (day 1123) 27 January 2013

1-5: It seems Paul was constantly warning against false teachings of one kind or another. The particular aberration he’s writing about in verse 3 is typical of the kind of religious fads that were sweeping through the Mediterranean world of the time. I know of no cult that forbade marriage, though many religious groups, including Judaism, promoted fasting. The main thing Paul is saying is in verse 1: “some will renounce the faith.” He is telling Timothy to beware of every fad and every quack that finds its way to Ephesus. He is to protect his congregation from everything that threatens the pure faith in Christ crucified and risen.

6-10: He is to hold strong to the faith that has been passed on to him and instruct others in the Way, rejecting other ways. The goal is godliness, for that is the way to God, and the way to salvation. The last phrase, “especially of those who believe,” deserves some thought. The implication is that those who don’t believe will also enjoy a measure of God’s salvation because the whole world will benefit from the faith and godliness of believers.

11-16: Timothy will have to be especially diligent in his work to overcome the tendency some will have to take him lightly because of his youth. Reading scripture, preaching and teaching are the three tasks in which he is especially gifted. Paul encourages him by reminding him that he was especially commissioned by leaders in the church through the ceremony of the laying on of hands. Early Christians and other people of the time believed in the power of touch (see, for example, Exodus 30:29 and Leviticus 5:2).

 

1 Timothy 5 (day 1124) 28 January 2013

1-2: In other words, Timothy, treat your elders and your peers with respect. Don’t engage in inappropriate conduct with the young ladies.

3-8: Paul distinguishes between widows who have children or grandchildren and those who do not. The idea is that children and grandchildren have a responsibility toward their widowed mother or grandmother, and the church should not be burdened with their welfare. “Real” widows, those who are bereft of husband and children, should be honored, that is, taken care of. He has some harsh words to say about widows who “live for pleasure,” and for those family members who do not provide for their own relatives.

9-10: Within Greek culture, apparently, widowhood often precipitated behavior that was scandalous, a situation that was closely related to the fact that in that culture a single woman’s choices for gainful employment aside from prostitution were nearly nonexistent. It is likely that, very early on, congregations had official lists of widows (see Acts 6:1) for two reasons: first, they were a welcome source of workers within the church; second, since in that culture there few opportunities by which a woman could provide for herself, widows comprised a specific area of concern for the church to provide some welfare. Timothy, as the lead pastor of the church in Ephesus, would have the responsibility for maintaining the “widows’ roll.”

11-16: But the desire to care for widows also presented an opportunity for some to abuse the system, and Paul therefore separates widows into four categories: 1) those over the age of sixty, whose prospects for remarriage would have been almost nonexistent; 2) those under sixty who upon entering widowhood behaved in a way that brought shame to the church, “gadding about” and such; 3) those under sixty who upon entering widowhood pledged themselves to Christ and his service; and 4) those under sixty who upon entering widowhood pledged themselves to Christ and his service but later violated that pledge by remarrying. There is much confusion around verse 12, which speaks of “young” widows wishing to marry and thus violating their “first pledge.” But the “first pledge” is not a reference to their first marriage. It is a reference to those younger widows who decided to be placed on the “widows’ roll” of the church. Such a designation was considered in the early church to be a lifetime pledge equivalent to marriage. Verses 12 and 13 therefore refer to that fourth category. Paul’s advise is that young widows should not be placed on the “widows’ roll” in the first place, but instead be encouraged to remarry and start a family.

It does seem to me that women who were widowed between menopause and age sixty are by this rule kind of left in the lurch.

17-22: This paragraph is packed with lots of advice. First, elders (mature members of the faith publicly set aside for specific duties) are to receive a “double honor:” there is the honor of being given the responsibility, and then there is the honor of being compensated for their labors, particularly preaching and teaching. Second, without at least two witnesses any charge against an elder must be ignored. Third, where misconduct is proven a public denouncement against that elder must be made so that others will understand that such behavior is not to be tolerated. Fourth, he tells Timothy not to allow himself to be swayed or influenced by his personal relationships. Fifth, don’t be hasty to lift individuals up to positions of leadership; make sure they have a maturity of faith that can be trusted. Finally, make sure you yourself are a good example to everybody else.

23: Amen.

24-25: Sooner or later everything, good and bad, will be brought to light.

 

1 Timothy 6 (day 1125) 29 January 2013

1-5: Slavery was a simple reality in those days, and it is really an extraordinary thing that Paul, in seeking some human situation to use as a metaphor for his relationship to Christ, would declare that he was a slave of Jesus Christ (see, for example, Romans 1:1), and would often refer to other Christians in the same way. It is also typical of the mindset prevalent in the first century that, rather than view slavery as an evil social institution, Paul would be more concerned for the state of the soul of the individual slave. It is not that he approved of slavery or disapproved of it; it is simply that it wouldn’t have occurred to him that he could approve or disapprove of it. That is what is being expressed here. Paul’s advice is that, if a slave treats his or her master with respect, the master will not have cause to put down Christ or the teachings of the church. He is also concerned that Christian slaves of Christian masters might expect special treatment. He tells them instead that their master’s faith is all the more reason for them to serve diligently. Furthermore, he believes that to teach otherwise is ignorant and conceited, and will lead to a host of other maladies culminating in the slave’s thinking that “godliness is a means of gain.”

6-10: A couple of statements in this passage are often cited in popular literature. “We brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it,” follows a reminder that we should strive to be content with what we have, as long as what we have is enough. Godliness is not a means of gain, but godliness with contentment is itself great gain. The other recognizable quote is in verse 10: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Paul obviously believes that seeking wealth is the road to perdition that carries many an unsuspecting soul away from the faith.

But at what point has Paul stopped talking about slaves? Verse 2, Verse 5, or verse 10?

11-16: Always, though, Paul wants to point his friends to Christ. “Fight the good fight,” another oft-quoted bit of advice, sums up Paul’s idea of what living the faith means. It is a pursuit, a pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, all of which are gathered up in the person of Jesus who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

17-19: On the other hand, if you happen to be rich, don’t despair! Guard against haughtiness and hope only in God because riches are fickle and fleeting, as too many have discovered to their despair. Paul’s point to Timothy is that those who have great riches should also be great in good works and in sharing. That is the only way they can “take hold of the life that really is life.”

20-21: Final words of encouragement and advice. The “profane chatter and contradictions” is probably a reference to sophistry, a popular debating technique of the day that relied on clever dialogue that twisted the facts.

 

 

2 Thessalonians 1 (day 1117) 21 January 2013

          Although called the second letter to the Thessalonians, many scholars are reluctant to ascribe the present epistle to Paul, citing a number of stylistic and content differences.

          1-2: The greeting is nearly identical to the one of 1 Thessalonians, the only difference being the double use of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

3-4: His thanksgiving for them in this second letter is much briefer, though I am sure no less heart-felt, mentioning again the persecutions they have suffered (compare 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

5-12: Their persecution is evidence of God’s activity because a certain amount of affliction must pass before the judgment of the world and the resurrection of the dead (compare Romans 8:18-22). Everyone must suffer some affliction, it seems, and when Christ returns his followers will enjoy restoration while the actions of his enemies will be punished. The language about “mighty angels in flaming fire” is one of those things we would not expect Paul to write, but the remainder of the paragraph does mirror Paul’s sentiments elsewhere. However, the idea that Jesus might return with angels is not new with Paul (see Matthew 13:49, 25:31), and the accompanying flaming fire is an Old Testament image (remember the burning bush – Exodus 3:2?).

 

2 Thessalonians 2 (day 1118) 22 January 2013

1-2: It is clear that the congregation in Thessalonica is very anxious about the coming of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians the issue was their concern about those who die before the Lord returns. In this letter the issue is that they have been told by someone that Christ has already returned, and apparently it is someone who has claimed that the idea came from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, which claim Paul obviously wishes to deny in the strongest terms. (We know today, of course, that such rumors are generated by folks like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the “Left Behind” series of books that claim to be true to scripture, including Paul’s letters, but is only true to their fantastic extrapolations from a dozen verses gathered from here and there.)

3-12: How does he know Christ hasn’t returned? He gives his reasons here. First of all, he says, there has to be an event called “the rebellion.” Unfortunately, these verses are badly garbled in the Greek and there is little agreement among translators as to the exact meaning. The gist of it, however, seems clear enough. It is likely that the imagery employed here was familiar enough to Paul’s readers: There was a firm and widespread belief among Jews and Gentiles alike that there was a force of evil at work in the world in opposition to that which is good. Jews, of course, identified the impulse for good with the God of Abraham who created the world, and the impulse for evil with the devil, whose name, as we know from other ancient literature, was Beliar or Belial (see 2 Corinthians 6:15, where Paul contrasts God and Beliar as opposites). The common belief that had arisen among Jewish Christians was that, just as Jesus was God in the flesh, so there would arise one who would be the devil in the flesh. This one (in later writings called the antichrist) would gather around himself those who rejected Christ, and set himself up as God. Verse 4 probably conjured up in his readers’ minds stories of foreign despots of the past who had set up statues and emblems of other gods or of themselves in the temple in Jerusalem. First, however, the power that restrains him will have to be removed. The identity of that power is not revealed. One interesting guess is that he is referring to Rome. Paul, himself a Roman citizen, had been rescued on more than one occasion by Roman authorities.

It is important to understand here, I think, that Paul is setting up an opposition not only between God and Satan, but also between the church and those who side with the “lawless one.”

Christ will finally annihilate the “lawless one” with “the breath of his mouth,” an image which he possibly takes from Job 4:9 (see also Exodus 15:8, 2 Samuel 22:16 and Psalm 18:15).

13-15: Paul entreats them to ignore wayward teachings like this one, and hold to what he taught them while he was with them and in his letter, probably a reference to 1 Thessalonians.

16-17: These verses read like a closing benediction, and some have imagined the rest of the letter to have been added later. However, it might also be seen as a transition from one topic to another. Paul is simply telling them hold on to the hope that they have in Christ, and now he will move on to another topic.

 

2 Thessalonians 3 (day 1119) 23 January 2013

1-5: He is eager to get on with his mission and asks for their prayers to speed the work along. It is obvious that this is not one of Paul’s letters from prison. Indeed, many scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of all the letters of Paul that have been preserved and this one, if it is indeed Paul’s, must have followed on it in short order.

6-15: One final complaint has reached him, however. Some among them have apparently become freeloaders, and Paul will have none of that. He emphasizes his own industry (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9). Have nothing to do with those who don’t contribute to the work, he says. Curiously, though, he doesn’t want them completely cut off. The point is to shame them into doing their part.

16-18: He closes the letter with his own handwriting, saying it is the mark in every letter he writes. All of his letters do not include this note about his own handwriting (but see 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, and Philemon 1:19), but it may be the case that he appends the final phrase or sentence in each letter’s closing. So far as I know, no manuscript has yet been found in which an obvious change in penmanship is evident at the closing – in other words, the original letters have never been found, only copies.

 

 

1 Thessalonians 1 (day 1112) 16 January 2013

          Paul’s stormy visit to Thessalonica is described in Acts 17. He was run out of town after only a few weeks and fled to Beroea where he was chased out again. He was spirited off to Athens then, leaving Timothy and Silas behind. Later, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (see 3:1) to determine how things were going. This letter and the one that follows were sent from Athens (see 3:1-5) in response to what Timothy reported back to him about divisions within the congregation and their unhealthy concern over when the Second Coming would take place and what would happen to people who died before Christ returned. Other issues are taken up as well.

1: The greeting from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy will be repeated in 2 Thessalonians. Silvanus is the Latin form of Silas.

2-10: The usual thanksgiving for the recipients of the letter follows. He commends them for their faith in the face of persecution. Paul had encountered violent opposition there, and it would seem that the church he started had to deal with the same opponents. Even so, their hospitality to other believers is remarked upon, as is their wholehearted rejection of pagan beliefs. In verse 10 he mentions their eagerness for the return of Christ, a subject on which he will comment in more detail later in the letter.

 

1 Thessalonians 2 (day 1113) 17 January 2013

1-8: Paul, as is his wont, establishes his “credentials” with them; that is to say, he reminds them that although he had been mistreated by the Philippians he nevertheless proclaimed the gospel to them in Thessalonica, which proves his courage and also goes some ways toward proving his message because he would not risk himself so if he were not confident that he was telling the truth. Furthermore, he reminds them that he treated them gently and cared for them deeply.

9-12: In addition, he worked among them without demanding any payment (in contrast to other wandering teachers of the day), and he did not take advantage of anyone but lived an exemplary life among them, encouraging them to do the same.

13-16: Having commended himself, now he commends them: they received Paul’s teaching as being from God. He gives them high praise by comparing them with the churches in Judea; they have persisted and thrived in spite of being persecuted by their own neighbors, which was what had happened in Judea.

17-20: Finally, remembering how he had been chased out of town by enemies of the gospel, he places them high on his list of all the churches with which he has been associated, and paints a picture of bragging about them to Christ when he returns. This is high praise indeed.

 

1 Thessalonians 3 (day 1114) 18 January 2013

1-5: Paul, now in Athens and fearing the work he did in Thessalonica might be undone by the kind of persecution he himself had suffered there, sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they fared.

6-10: Timothy has just brought back a good report and Paul’s gratitude and relief overflow.

11-13: He hopes to be able to return to them. Perhaps he did. On his last missionary journey he traveled again through Macedonia to Greece following an altercation in Ephesus, and back through Macedonia on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-4). On that trip he is accompanied by two Thessalonians, Aristarcus and Secundus, which may indicate that he did indeed make it back to Thessalonica. Aristarchus traveled extensively with Paul and is mentioned as well to have been in prison with him (Colossians 4:10). Secundus is named nowhere else.

 

1 Thessalonians 4 (day 1115) 19 January 2013

          1-8: As always, Paul is concerned that their lives reflect their faith. Their sanctification (being set apart for sacred use) is God’s goal for them, he says. However, living holy lives was not part of the popular Greek culture of the day, and Paul was concerned that they might fall into the kinds of practices that were all too common in that time and place, and so his emphasis here is on the need for sexual purity. He insists that they cannot reject this teaching without rejecting God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

9-12: Love for one another was to be the hallmark of the church, and Paul is also concerned with the face that the church presented to the world. “Live quietly,” he tells them. “Mind your own affairs.” He wanted them to be diligent and self sufficient so that they would not have to depend on non-believers for their sustenance.

13-18: In these verses he addresses one of the issues that bothered some of the folks in Thessalonica. When Christ returns, what happens to those who have already died? He assures them that those who have died will not be left out or left behind. All who believe in Jesus will be raised with him, he says – those who have died no less than those who are living. In fact, to reassure them, he insists that the dead will be raised first. Verses 16 and 17 have been the source of some of the most incredible speculation imaginable. Paul’s readers would have understood these words metaphorically. He is using imagery from Exodus 19:13-16 which describes the people preparing for Moses to go up on the cloud-enshrouded mountain to meet with God. They are told that they are not permitted to go up the mountain until they hear a heavenly trumpet sound a long blast. The trumpet blast is emblematic of the invitation God gives for them to join him in the clouds on the mountain which reached into the sky, or into the air, as it were. This is the picture Paul conjures up to describe what will happen when Christ returns and calls his people to himself.

 

1 Thessalonians 5 (day 1116) 20 January 2013

1-11: As to when the return of the Lord might happen Paul tells them what Jesus told the disciples, that the day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night,” suddenly, without hint or warning. Their job is to live exemplary lives in the community and help each other.

12-22: He leaves them with some final instructions: honor the leaders of the church, avoid dissention, admonish the lazy ones, encourage the anxious, help the weak, exercise patience, do good to one another, rejoice, pray, give thanks, don’t “quench the Spirit” (bureaucracy can do that) or despise those who prophesy, check out everything you are told carefully and hold on to what is good. And, by all means, avoid evil of every kind.

23-28: He ends the letter with a blessing for them and asks that they pray for him and his companions as well. He commands them to read the letter to everyone in the church and wishes the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with them.

 

 

Colossians 1 (day 1108) 12 January 2013

          Colossae was situated on the Lycus River in southwest Asia Minor (Turkey), about 100 miles east of Ephesus. So far as we know Paul did not start the church there and never visited it (although the comment in 2:1 may simply be a reference only to latecomers in the church at Colossae.) Some commentators believe it was the hometown of Philemon because at the end of the letter Paul says he is sending Onesimus there (4:9), but of course it is impossible to know whether it might be the same Onesimus mentioned in his letter to Philemon.

The reason for the letter is to head off a developing heresy which has been brought to Paul’s attention, perhaps by Epaphras (who is mentioned at 1:7 and 4:12). The authorship of the letter has been called into question by those who believe the vocabulary is not authentically Pauline, but I see no damage our understanding or interpretation of it if we take the letter to be from Paul’s hand.

The letter contains few hints that might help us locate Paul’s whereabouts when it was written.

1-2: A typical greeting, purporting to be from Paul and Timothy (as is the case in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians).

3-8: First, he gives thanks to God for their faith, as reported to him by Epaphras who apparently was one of the leaders in, and perhaps even the founder of, the church in Colossae.

9-14: We see in this paragraph the first hints of the heresy mentioned above: Paul emphasizes his desire that they have spiritual wisdom and understanding and lead lives worthy of the Lord, and that they be strong in the faith and prepared to endure “everything with patience.” Verse 13 is the only occurrence of the phrase, “the power of darkness.” This initial section of greeting, from verse 3 to verse 14, is more protracted than in any others of Paul’s letters.

15-20: He emphasizes now the divinity of Christ, that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” leading scholars to speculate that the heresy brewing in Colossae may have had to do with a denial that Christ was God’s Son.

21-23: Next, Paul emphasizes the humanity of Christ, that he died and that his death resulted in the reconciliation of believers to God, leading scholars to speculate that the heresy brewing in Colossae may have had to do with a denial that Christ was truly human and therefore did not really suffer death.

24-29: He wants them to understand that his mission, his burning desire, is to bring Gentiles to faith, a mature faith, in Christ.

 

Colossians 2 (day 1109) 13 January 2013

1-7: Laodicea was some ten miles down the river from Colossae. The churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hieropolis (5 miles across the Lycus River valley from Laodicea) were close and had much in common. Paul says he is struggling for them but the nature of the struggle is not specified. Perhaps he is struggling for his freedom in Rome so that he can visit them. He is obviously concerned that they might be led astray by “plausible arguments,” and encourages them to continue just as they were taught.

8-15: His concern about false teachings is amplified in verse 8. He cautions them to guard against philosophy which he sees as an enemy of faith, against the “empty deceit” of those who promise what they cannot deliver, against human tradition that nullifies the law and the will of God, and against “the elemental spirits of the universe,” probably a reference to pagan beliefs in demons and such. He now refers to faith as “a spiritual circumcision,” making us wonder if the so-called circumcision party was active in Colossae as well as Philippi. Faith, expressed in baptism, is a kind of death, he says, out of which we are resurrected with Christ into freedom from the law.

16-19: A number of issues are mentioned here over which the Colossians are apparently jousting with religious peddlers: dietary restrictions, observance of holy days, self-abasement, angel worship and vision mongering. Hold on to Christ, he says, and don’t be distracted by false teachings.

20-23: The Colossians have apparently been impressed by some who are teaching strict religious practices based on the idea that certain human-made things are holy. They’re not, says Paul.

 

Colossians 3 (day 1110) 14 January 2013

1-4: Faith in Christ causes us to seek the things that are above; that is, to seek what is God’s will and God’s way. This seeking will culminate in Christ being revealed, or made known – and by this Paul can only mean the return of Christ. When that takes place his followers will also be made known and will participate with him in glory – the future glorious reign of Christ when all things will be made new. I think that is a fair representation of Paul’s meaning here.

5-11: Paul believed that committing oneself to following Christ meant automatically that one would cease doing those things that are not pleasing to God – the things of the flesh, as he would say. Faith in Christ results in a renewal of a person’s character. Sin and sinful attitudes are laid aside. Barriers between races, nationalities and classes are erased.

12-17: The ideal Christian community is described, based on that harmony that results when people live and act out of love and mutual respect for one another.

18-19: Likewise, husbands and wives are to let love be the guide in their relationship – wives, with “fitting” subjection (that is, within the context of the prevailing culture) and husbands with loving regard.

20-4:1: The same mutual respect and loving treatment should be applied in other relationships as well: children and parents, slaves and masters. The general rule is to treat others the way you would treat Jesus Christ.

 

Colossians 4 (day 1111) 15 January 2013

2-4: Typically, Paul ends with some general instructions and encouragement and asks for prayers for himself and his companions.

5-6: There is also concern for how outsiders view Christians and the church, so he cautions the Colossians in their behavior toward them. Verse 6 does not refer to what we today term “salty speech” of course, but rather to the kind of discourse that has been preserved through faithfulness. In other words, don’t let anyone lead you astray from the gospel you have been taught.

7-9: He is sending Tychicus and Onesimus to them. This is likely that same Onesimus who is the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon.

10-14: He sends greetings from Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas. Mark and Justus are the only Jewish Christians with him, he says; the others are Gentile Christians. Mark, whom he identifies here as a cousin of Barnabas, may be that John Mark about whom Paul and Barnabas had a falling out (see Acts 15:37-39), and who is mentioned a number of time as one of Paul’s closest companions. He is included in the letter to Philemon, along with Demas, Epaphras and Luke. That lends credence to the idea that Onesimus, mentioned in verse 9 above, is indeed the slave of Philemon. Jesus Justus is not mentioned anywhere else. Epaphras was named earlier (1:7) and is here identified as one of them, that is, a Colossian. Luke is thought to have been the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Paul had some kind of falling-out with Demas (see 2 Timothy 4:10), but, whatever the cause of the rift between them, it was apparently healed because Demas is named again in Philemon (1:24) as a loyal companion. All of these connections demonstrate how dynamic and connected the church had become throughout the northern Mediterranean world during the lifetime of Paul.

15-17: Final greetings and instructions: We do not know whether Paul ever visited the church in Laodecia: it is only mentioned in Colossians and Revelation (1:11 and 3:14), but was within a dozen miles of Colossae and so communication between the two congregations would have been expected. Nympha is named only here; I think it is logical to assume that she was the hostess of the little congregation that had been started in Hieropolis, which was only just across the valley from Laodicea. There is a hint in verse 16 that there was also a letter from Paul to the Laodiceans; if so, it has been lost. The mention of Archippus is the best evidence we have that Philemon was indeed part of the congregation in Colossae, because Archippus is greeted also in the letter to Philemon (1:2). The charge to him in verse 17 may indicate that he was the one Paul expected to support his request to Philemon that Onesimus not be punished.

18: Several of Paul’s letters contain this epilogue (1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 1:19).

Philippians 1 (day 1104) 8 January 2013

          Philippi was located on the northern shore of the Aegean Sea in Macedonia. It was established by Philip, father of Alexander the Great, and was later the site of the victory of Antony over Cassius. The Battle of Philippi secured the Roman Empire some 40 years before the birth of Jesus, and Philippi was rewarded by being made a Roman province. Paul’s visit there, during his second missionary journey, is recorded in Acts 16.

1-2: The letters to Philippi and to Timothy are the only places where bishops (or “overseers”) and deacons (or “helpers”) are mentioned, but reveals a rather extensive organizational structure in the church very early on.

3-11: The opening thanksgiving and prayer for the recipients of his letter is a typical Pauline feature.

12-14: Paul tells them that his imprisonment has been a blessing because it has emboldened others to proclaim the word.

15-18: There is also some rivalry and competition for leadership in the early church. We have seen that in other letters, especially Galatians. But Paul takes the high road here: regardless of the motives of others who have preached in Philippi, Paul is grateful for all who proclaim Christ.

19-26: Paul believes that his imprisonment (probably in Rome) very well might result in his death, but that does not burden him. Death to Paul was simply the doorway through which he would be united with Christ. Still, he allows that his continued presence might provide some needed leadership in the church in Philippi, and hopes to visit them again.

27-30: He urges them to be strong and keep the faith in the face of opposition. When Paul was there before he was put in jail for causing a disturbance when he healed a slave girl of a “demon” that earned money for her owners. He and Silas were miraculously freed from the jail (see Acts 16, beginning at verse 16).

 

Philippians 2 (day 1105) 9 January 2013

1-5: Paul knew that the church would not survive if it became a place of competition and striving, and so he pleads with the congregation at Philippi to “be in full accord” and “of one mind.” He tells them to put others first even as Christ had considered his own life to be forfeit for the good of all.

6-11: An early Christian hymn. Christ, though divine, willingly humbled himself as a frail human being who suffered and died. Early on, Christians saw the death of Jesus as a sacrifice that he willingly made in their behalf. Having done so, God raised him and put him over heaven and earth. Given this, every knee indeed should bend and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord. Paul leaves us to wonder if every knee ever will bend.

12-13: Verse 12 is another of John Wesley’s favorite verses: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We don’t save ourselves; only God can grant salvation. But God will not do so without our willing participation. Salvation does indeed depend on our acceptance of it; and to accept salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

14-18: Paul asserts that his imprisonment and likely execution will not be in vain if they will only “hold fast to the word of life.”

19-24: He plans to send Timothy to them as soon as he knows the outcome of the charges under which he has been imprisoned, but hopes himself to be able to come to them as well. Verse 21, “all of them are seeking their own self interests,” is an indication that Paul lost some support while he was in prison in Rome (see 2 Timothy 4:16).

25-30: In the meantime he will send Epaphroditus, who has been to Philippi at least once already (see 2 Timothy 4:18). Epaphroditus has been ill, he says, but has recovered, and longs to see them again.

 

Philippians 3 (day 1106) 10 January 2013

          1-3: As he has in others of his letters, Paul warns them against those who would “mutilate the flesh,” a reference to circumcision. Paul was convinced that for Gentiles, being circumcised was tantamount to trusting in a human ritual instead of in God. There is no reason to be “confident in the flesh,” he says.

4-6: The so-called “circumcision party” has nothing on Paul. He is as genuinely Jewish as they come. He lists the proofs of his pedigree (see 2 Corinthians 11:22 for a similar sidebar) – a genuine circumcised Jewish Pharisee who persecuted the church.

7-11: None of his striving to obey the law means anything at all, he says, compared to the value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, and he is willing to give up everything in order to share in the resurrection of Christ.

12-16: The goal Paul is speaking of is the salvation that comes through faith in Christ, which means relinquishing any reliance on the stipulations of the law (such as circumcision) which do not have the power to save but only to condemn.

17-21: He entreats them to stand strong in the faith, and not be swayed by the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Heavenly things, not earthly things, are the things for which we are to strive. “Our citizenship is in heaven” is a striking phrase. If one is a citizen of heaven, then one’s fellow citizens are also fellow believers. That is why in Christ there are no divisions, no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Galatians 3:28).

 

Philippians 4 (day 1107) 11 January 2013

1: Verse 1 really belongs to the previous paragraph in chapter 4. Paul re-echoes his call for them to “stand firm in the Lord in this way,” meaning that they should live according to Paul’s teachings, not according to the way of the circumcision party.

2-3: Perhaps these verses show the reason Paul has been emphasizing the importance of being of the same mind. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche , are apparently involved in a disagreement that threatens to spill over into the congregation. Paul acknowledges that they have been important contributors to the life of the congregation, and assures them that in spite of their differences their “names have been written in the book of life,” meaning that they belong to Christ and their conflict will not undo that bond. Neither Euodia, Syntyche nor Clement are mentioned anywhere else in scripture.  Other early Christian writings identify him as Clement, bishop of Rome, a late first century leader in the church and the author of a letter to the church in Corinth known as 1 Clement. Scholars are not unanimous in this identification, however.

4-7: The word “rejoice” occurs 9 times in this little letter, significant enough to make rejoicing one of the primary themes of it. Rejoice, be gentle, have faith that the Lord is near, pray and give thanks. That is the formula for lasting inner peace.

8-9: Set your mind on these things – honor, justice, purity, pleasantness (to be distinguished from pleasure), commendableness, excellence and praiseworthiness: Piece o’ cake.

10-20: Paul is determined to make it understood that he needs no earthly thing and is content with whatever befalls him, but he does want to thank them for the gift they sent him by Epaphroditus. He remembers that they had supported him before, when he was laboring for the gospel in Thessalonica – not that he needed their help, of course. He is certain that God will repay them for their kindness; even though he didn’t need it.

21-23: The closing of the letter reveals that among the Christians in Rome with Paul are certain “members of the emperor’s household.” This must certainly be a reference to none other than the royal entourage of Caesar himself, though perhaps not to his own family. Very early on the gospel message attracted men and women from every social stratum. Typically, Paul sends greetings from the others who are with him, although in this case none of them are named. “All the saints greet you” is often thought to be a reference to the other apostles, whose company Paul was proud to claim.

 

Ephesians 1 (day 1098) 2 January 2013

          Ephesus was located at the western end of Asia Minor (Turkey) on the Aegean Sea. Paul’s visit there is described in Acts 19. He stayed for about 3 years (Acts 20:31), longer than in any other place. Still, owing to certain vocabulary differences, many scholars doubt that this letter was written by Paul. Further, there is manuscript evidence that the original letter was addressed generally to “the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus,” and not specifically to Ephesus. All this speculation aside, it is a well crafted treatise which beautifully describes what it means to be a Christian. In a sense it is more a sermon than an epistle. We note also that it was written from prison (see 3:1, 4:1 and 6:20), a circumstance that certainly fits with Paul’s career.

1-2: A typical salutation pronouncing the grace and peace of Christ on its readers, including us.

3-14: A summary of the theology presented in the letter, that through Christ we are adopted as God’s children, forgiven and redeemed through his blood, and have become partners with God in the redemption of all things.

15-23: This section of thanksgiving mirrors that in Romans 1:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. Paul follows his thanksgiving for them with his prayer that they will grow in wisdom and knowledge and power to do God’s will, which is to redeem the world under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

 

Ephesians 2 (day 1099) 3 January 2013

1-10: It is such a simple faith. People (including those in the present) lived according to the passions of the flesh (which results in all kinds of ills such as jealousy, deceit, anger, lust, etc.), under the influence of “the ruler of the power of the air,” a reference to a popular belief in evil spirits that work counter to God’s will. Even so, God’s love for us did not fail, but though we were dead through sin God saved us by “raising us up” with Christ. Verse 8 was frequently quoted by John Wesley in his sermons. God’s grace does not depend on anything we do, but solely on God’s love for us.

11-22: Paul assumes, of course, that the Jewish people are God’s chosen people, and that Gentiles were initially left out of the covenant God shared with them. But through Christ those who were “far off” have been brought near. Christ has broken down the wall between Gentile and Jew. It is no longer the law that binds us in covenant to God, but faith in Christ reconciles us to God and to one another. Christ is the cornerstone that holds the temple of faith together. In those days the cornerstone was not a decorative feature. It was the capstone at the top of the arch which bore the weight of the wall. We can picture the two sides of the main entrance curving to a point at the top where the cornerstone joins them, symbolic of Jews and Gentiles joined in the saving sacrifice of Christ.

 

Ephesians 3 (day 1100) 4 January 2013

1-6: Paul recalls his commission to be “the apostle to the Gentiles.” Verse 3 would seem to refer to his Damascus road experience, but the expression “as I wrote above (or before) in a few words” is curious; his call to preach to Gentiles came some years after the Damascus road experience. Moreover, his earlier accounts of the Damascus road experience do not indicate that he received anything that could be called an “understanding of the mystery of Christ.” It would seem there was another experience of revelation, the account of which has been lost.

7-13: He asserts that the purpose of the gospel is to reveal God’s purpose that was hidden until the coming of Christ, which is to draw all the world to him through Christ so that Gentiles as well as Jews are included in God’s promise of salvation and eternal life.

14-19: The theme of universal access to God’s grace continues with the reference to “every family in heaven and on earth.” Paul’s hope, his prayer, is that all of them will grow in the knowledge and in the spirit of God through the love of Christ.

20-21: This reads like the end of a letter, or of a sermon, but does not necessarily have to be interpreted as such. The ascription of glory does, however, represent at the least a conclusion of the present line of reasoning and gives the reader a clue that the letter is about to take a different direction.

 

Ephesians 4 (day 1101) 5 January 2013

1-6: The different direction signaled at the end of the last chapter is to address the subject of the need for unity within the body. That unity is secured by attitudes of humility, gentleness, patience and love for one another. There is, after all, but one God who called us to one hope through one faith, sealed by one baptism.

7-16: God’s grace is the gift we receive in Christ. Verse 8 quotes an early hymn, and verses 9-10 add commentary to it. If Christ ascended, he must also have descended – this verse is why some versions of the Apostles’ Creed add the statement “he descended to the dead.” The gift of God’s grace results in the conferring of special abilities that will result in equipping the church with the leadership it needs to mature in the life to which God calls us. Maturity in the faith is proven by steadfastness in carrying out God’s will for unity and avoiding distraction from conflicting doctrines.

17-24: So, Paul tells the Gentile Christians that they should stop acting like Gentiles; that is, those Gentiles who behave according to pagan mores that encouraged self indulgence.

25-32: Instead, Christians should live by a different set of attitudes, and here Paul gives an impressive list. Would that every congregation should memorize verses 31-32!

Ephesians 5 (day 1102) 6 January 2013

1-2: To love as Christ loved means to give yourself up for the other. That is what Christ did for us, and that is what the followers of Christ should do for each other.

3-5: Still, Paul finds it necessary to list forbidden behaviors which would seem to be obviously contrary to the life God has called us to live.

6-14: The use of light and darkness as metaphors to refer to life with and without a covenant relationship with God is common throughout the New Testament.

15-20: Live carefully, he tells them. Focus on God’s will. Be inebriated by worship, not by wine.

21-24: Paul’s advice to wives, which has spawned so much controversy in recent times, reflects the culture in which he lived. Rather than interpret his words out of contemporary sensibilities, remember that his emphasis on submission is grounded in the idea of the lordship of Christ over all of us.

25-33: Husbands, for their part, are to give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave himself up for the church. In other words, love her so as to be willing to die for her. Something to think about.

 

Ephesians 6 (day 1103) 7 January 2013

          1-9: As we have seen in others of Paul’s letters, he teaches a reciprocal respect between those in authority and those under authority. Parents should be honored, and this injunction is given with Biblical support (Exodus 20:12), and parents have a responsibility for their children’s education – to be brought up in the “instruction of the Lord.” Likewise, slaves are enjoined to obey their masters as they would obey Christ. Masters in return are to treat their slaves without malice. While we do not agree with slavery, these instructions would have provided a distinct improvement in the conditions of those who were under such a burden. For an example, see Paul’s entreaty to his friend Philemon concerning the slave Onesimus (Philemon 1:15-16).

10-17: These are perhaps the best-known verses in Ephesians, the so-called “whole armor of God” passage. Paul wants them to be able to “stand against the wiles of the devil.” How do you do that? Well, with honesty and righteousness, by practicing peace and by keeping faith, knowing that your salvation is secure through the Spirit of God. But Paul’s way of saying it is much more colorful.

18-20: His final request is that they pray for “the saints” (probably a reference to the apostles who are spreading the gospel) and for him to be faithful in his preaching. That he would have the opportunity to preach although imprisoned supports the theory that the letter was written from Rome where, although a prisoner, his imprisonment was quite relaxed (see Acts 28:30-31).

21-22: Tychicus had accompanied Paul to Macedonia on his last missionary journey (Acts 20:4) and was likely acquainted with some of the leaders of the church at Ephesus (see Acts 20:17. The mission of Tychicus to Ephesus is also mentioned at 2 Timothy 4:12.)

23-24: The closing is a bit unusual. The reference to those who “have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ” is unique in all the Bible.

 

Galatians 1 (day 1092) 27 December 2012

          Here is a list of the ways in which Paul starts his letters.

Romans: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”

1 Corinthians: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes…”

2 Corinthians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”

Galatians: “Paul an apostle – sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers who are with me …”

Ephesians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”

Philippians: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…”

Colossians: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother …”

1 Thessalonians: “Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy …”

2 Thessalonians: “Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy …”

1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope …”

2 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus …”

Titus: “Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness …”

Philemon: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother …”

1-5: As you can see from the above list, the greeting in the letter to the Galatians is markedly different from all the rest, and in the very first verse Paul seems to take on a defensive and argumentative tone. He wants to insist from the very beginning that his ministry is directly commissioned by God, not by any human authority. Galatia was a Roman province in central Asia Minor (Turkey) established in 25 B.C. by Caesar Augustus. Iconium, Derbe and Lystra, three towns in the south of the province, are mentioned in Acts (14:1-23) as places Paul visited and perhaps established churches, but the letter is not specifically addressed to any of these or others which Paul might have started. There is no way to satisfactorily correlate the account of Paul’s travels in Acts with references in the letters to various places and events.

6-9: This is the place in the letter where we expect Paul to give thanks for his readers (see, for example, Romans 1:8-15; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9), but instead the letter takes an unexpected turn as Paul immediately begins accusing them of “turning to a different gospel.” We will learn later that the “different gospel” is that other preachers have convinced many of them that they must be circumcised if they are to be saved (see 5:3, 6). Paul has insisted from the beginning that circumcision has nothing to do with salvation, and curses those who disagree.

10-12: Now there follows the question of authority: who has the authority to determine which position is correct? Paul insists that the gospel he proclaims comes directly from Jesus Christ, and thus his authority should not be questioned.

13-17: He recounts the story of his own conversion, emphasizing that he knew as much about Jewish traditions as anyone, but his encounter with God’s Son led him to proclaim the gospel. Again he insists that what his teaching came from no human source but directly from God. By the way, Paul’s three year sojourn in the wilderness of Arabia is mentioned only in verses 17-18. That part of his experience was left out of the Acts account.

18-24: Following his hermitage in Arabia Paul says he went to Jerusalem where he met with Cephas (Peter) and James, then was off to Syria and Cilicia. His point is that the gospel he has proclaimed was not compromised by contact with other sources in Judea.

 

Galatians 2 (day 1093) 28 December 2012

1-10: His meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem is apparently the one mentioned in Acts 9:26-30. He insists that there was a general understanding that circumcision was not required and that he, Paul, would be the apostle to the Gentiles.

11-14: The confrontation between Paul and Peter in Antioch is not recorded elsewhere. Paul says that he challenged Peter for his duplicity regarding Jewish dietary restrictions.

15-21: Paul’s favorite theme is presented here again: we are justified by faith, not by works; that is, not by keeping the Law of Moses. His logic is summarized in verse 21: “If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

 

Galatians 3 (day 1094) 29 December 2012

1-5: Paul reminds them that when they first heard the gospel they received the Holy Spirit, and tells them that if now they depend on being circumcised they nullify the Spirit’s influence. They are going backwards, he says, from spirit to flesh.

6-9: In a rather incredible leap Paul links Christians to Abraham. He will make this point in a number of places. The gist of his argument is that Abraham lived in a time before the law, and therefore God’s choosing of him had to do with faith, not law.

10-14: The blessing of Abraham is mediated through Jesus Christ who became a curse by dying “on a tree.” Thus, Christ is condemned by the law, but through his condemnation God’s salvation is made available to Gentiles.

15-18: The way to get right with God is through faith, not through law; that is a point Paul continues to emphasize. He wants to show that faith predates the law, and illustrates that point by using Abraham as his example. In this paragraph he uses the argument from Genesis 17:7-8 that God’s promise was to Abraham and his offspring, which in the Biblical text is a singular noun. Paul says the word offspring in that passage is not a reference to the Jewish people, but rather a reference to a single person, Jesus Christ. The covenant with Abraham thus skips over the law to Christ, making the law null and void as a means of entering into a right relationship with God.

19-20: So, why did God give the law in the first place? Paul says it is because of transgressions; that is, the purpose of the law is to define sin. The law, furthermore, was given through angels (a late rabbinic idea that God, being holy, did not directly give the law but transmitted it through angels) by a mediator, Moses. A mediator is one who stands between two parties, and a covenant based on law is broken if the law is broken. But a promise depends only on one person. God makes the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and that promise is held by God’s grace through faith.

21-22: Ergo, the law cannot be the basis on which eternal life is granted; faith, however, can be and is.

23-29: Of course, the faith of which Paul is speaking is faith in Jesus Christ. Since Christ is the recipient of the promise given through Abraham, faith in Christ supersedes the law which was given as an interim guide for living within the covenant.

 

Galatians 4 (day 1095) 30 December 2012

1-7: Paul likens the law to trustees assigned to govern the behavior of a minor child until the time comes for the passing of the inheritance. In Christ we have been redeemed from allegiance to the law and now have the status of children of God, inheritors of eternal life through faith in Christ.

8-11: Paul grieves that the Christians in Galatia have “fallen back” into slavery to the law. The requirement of circumcision has been mentioned before and will be again. Here Paul also mentions that they are keeping the observance of special days and seasons; apparently the teachers who have convinced them of the necessity of circumcision have also laid on them the burden of keeping the Jewish festivals.

12-20: His tone takes on a personal timbre as he recalls the time he spent with them. He refers to an infirmity, the nature of which we are never to learn, but he has mentioned suffering with a “thorn in the flesh” on another occasion (2 Corinthians 12:7). He urges them to “become like I am,” meaning to give up their new allegiance to the legalists who have turned them away from relying on faith. He recalls how tenderly they had treated him before and wonders what has become of their good will towards him.

21-31: Back to Genesis. Abraham had two sons; one by Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, the other by Sarah. Hagar’s child was Ishmael, Sarah’s was Isaac. The covenant promise was of course carried through Isaac, not Ishmael. In Biblical lore Ishmael was sent away from Abraham’s family and married an Egyptian woman (Genesis 21:20-21). In a curious twist, Paul now identifies Hagar and Ishmael with Jerusalem because she, having been a slave, represents slavery to the law, while Isaac represents the church because he is the child of the promise (born to a barren woman to whom God promised a child). Abraham was told by Sarah to drive Hagar out (Genesis 21:10), and God supported her in that demand (Genesis 21: 12). Paul is actually telling the Gentile Christians in Galatia that they are symbolically the spiritual children of Abraham/Isaac, while the Jews are symbolically the legal descendants of Abraham/Ishmael.

 

Galatians 5 (day 1096) 31 December 2012

1: Christ has set us free from the onerous requirements of the law. I think that’s what he means.

2-6: His argument is that it is not possible to be justified by the law, but only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. His conclusion, that circumcision voids the grace of God, is nonetheless unconvincing, it seems to me.

7-12: Nevertheless, he pronounces doom on those who are trying to persuade the Galatians that circumcision is necessary for their salvation. He carries their argument to the extreme; if cutting off a little flesh is good, why not go all out and castrate themselves? I doubt he meant that as a joke.

13-15: The freedom to which we are called in Christ is not unbridled freedom, however. It is freedom to be servants to each other through love.

16-21: It is interesting that Paul, though insisting on freedom from the law in terms of circumcision, should be so interested in cataloguing all the ways in which our failure to abide by the restrictions of the law in terms of behavior should lead to our condemnation. But he is not talking about circumcision here; he is returning to his theme of the separation of flesh and spirit which he began in chapter 3. Living according to the flesh leads to the kinds of corruption listed here.

22-26: Living according to the spirit, on the other hand, leads to the attitudes listed here.

 

Galatians 6 (day 1097) 1 January 2013

          Happy New Year!

1-5: This is a confusing passage. I think it means something like this: Those who transgress are to be gently restored, taking care to avoid any temptation to join them in their transgression. In other words, don’t do what they do, but do take up the burden of correcting their mistake, otherwise they might think more highly of themselves than they ought. On the other hand, don’t take pride if you succeed in their restoration; that is their victory, not yours. Be proud instead of what you yourself might accomplish.

6: This is one of those places where I picture Paul pacing back and forth dictating the letter and losing his train of thought for a moment to throw in something that just popped into his head. It is good advice, perhaps, but feels out place.

7-10: Do what is right and work for the good of all – that is how one “sows to the Spirit.”

11: Paul concludes the letter with his own handwriting. Scholars love to speculate as to why he wrote with big letters. Some think his eyesight was poor. Some say his dependence on secretaries to whom he dictated resulted in his penmanship being so unpracticed that his handwriting resembled that of a child just beginning to learn to write.

12-16: A final swipe at the troublemakers who think they all should be circumcised.

17: And now, he says, don’t bother me anymore, please.

18: And finally, to emphasize the other main point of his letter, he prays the grace of Jesus Christ to be not with them, but with their spirit.

2 Corinthians 1 (day 1079) 14 December 2012

          Scholars are divided over whether 2 Corinthians represents one letter or is an amalgamation of several letters. These are questions that need not concern the casual reader but is an interesting debate for those who wish to dig deeper. The primary difference between 1 and 2 Corinthians is that 2 Corinthians is primarily concerned with what is going on inside the church, while 1 Corinthians was deeply concerned with the relationship the believers have with those outside the church.

          1-2: A standard salutation begins the letter. At the end of 1 Corinthians Paul had begged them to send Timothy on to him should he pass through Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10-12). Now we find that he and Timothy have indeed been reunited.

3-7: The greeting continues with a word of gratitude for God’s involvement in the lives of the believers (compare Romans 1:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:4-9). Paul hints that he has been enduring much suffering since last they communicated, and he understands that they, too, have had some difficulties. He emphasizes God’s great heart of compassion and consolation to comfort them as well as him.

8-11: Indeed, it would seem that he and his companions have truly been put upon to the point of discouragement. It is impossible to match these verses with any specific occasion of persecution in Paul’s ministry – there were so many of them!

12-14: As to his relationship with them, his conscience is clear. He is convinced that all he has done on their behalf has been motivated by his determination to serve only God. He hopes that they can boast about each other when Jesus returns.

15-22: Paul had planned to make two visits to Corinth, but decided against it. He has apparently received some criticism for this, and defends himself, saying that he was not vacillating. His intentions were always positive towards coming to them, for it was God who brought them together.

23-24: What changed his mind about visiting them was the fear that his visit would not be a happy one.

 

2 Corinthians 2 (day 1080) 15 December 2012

          1-4: The reason he thinks a visit might be painful is because he realizes that his last letter was hurtful, although he insists that it was written out of his love for them.

5-11: Here is another tantalizing hint of inner conflict at Corinth about which we can only guess. Notice, though, how different is the tone of this letter from the first one. In 1 Corinthians Paul was ready to excommunicate opposition willy-nilly. Now, however, he urges them to “forgive and console” someone who not only opposed but insulted him! Even the great “Apostle to the Gentiles” must continue to grow in love and in Christlikeness.

12-13:Troas, a coastal town at the westernmost point of Asia Minor, is mostly remembered as the place where the young man Eutychus fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and toppled out of a second-story window (Acts 20:7-12). It is not clear why he mentions Troas and his visit to Macedonia at this point in the letter, but Paul remembers that his reason for leaving Troas, in spite of opportunities there (“a door was opened for me in the Lord”), was his disappointment that he could not find Titus.

14-17: The “triumphal procession” has two comparisons. First, to his Greek readers, it is an image of a parade for a general and his troops who have triumphed in battle. Second, from his Jewish heritage, it is an image of the glad procession to the temple to celebrate God’s acts on behalf of God’s people. Regardless of anything that happens, he says, Christians are to celebrate the triumph of Christ. For those who oppose Christ, Christians are likened to the smell of death, but for those who believe, they are the fragrance of life. Who can handle such a responsibility? He answers the question by contrasting his tent-making ministry with that of those who profit from their preaching.

 

2 Corinthians 3 (day 1081) 16 December 2012

1-3: We cannot escape the impression that Paul has a very high opinion of his missionary work. Unlike other evangelists, he says, he doesn’t need a letter of introduction to them. They themselves are his letter of introduction.

4-6: As usual, though, after his elevated opinion of his own work, Paul demurs by giving all credit to God for any success he has had and any abilities he has exhibited, and reiterates that the new covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (which is administered by God), not of the letter (the Law, which is administered by human beings).

7-11: In Exodus 34:29-35 we find the account of how Moses’ face shone after his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai where he was given the 10 commandments engraved on stone tablets. Paul refers to the Law as the “ministry of condemnation,” in keeping with his insistence that the Law has no power but the power to condemn. The gospel, on the other hand, is the “ministry of justification” (see Romans 5:16). The glory of the gospel is greater than the glory of the Law.

12-18: In the Exodus account Moses wore a veil because his shining face frightened the people. Paul uses that as a metaphor to illustrate how those Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Christ are unable to “see” the glory revealed in Christ and in his followers. Turning to Christ, he says, is like having the veil removed so that we clearly see the glory of Christ. He makes the extraordinary claim that the followers of Christ see the glory of Christ reflected whenever they look in a mirror! To prevent confusion over who is reflecting who, he makes it clear that we Christians are a reflection of Christ.

 

2 Corinthians 4 (day 1082) 17 December 2012

1-6: Continuing with the image of Moses’ face being veiled because it shone with the glory of God, Paul asserts that he and Timothy (see 1:1) have not tried to veil the gospel. If there is anything hidden in the way he has presented the gospel it rests in the unbelief of those who refuse it. Just as Moses’ face reflected God’s glory, the gospel reflects the glory of Christ who in turn reflects the glory of God.

7-12: The “treasure” refers to the reflection of Christ in the gospel. The bearers of the gospel – Paul and Timothy – are not perfect reflectors, and so the power that enters the lives of those who believe does not come from them but from God. Indeed, bearing the gospel is an act of dying to oneself so that the recipients may have the gift of life.

13-18: Even so, the cost is worth the reward of eternal life with Christ, and the suffering he and Timothy endure is merely a “slight momentary affliction.” That which “can be seen” is temporary; that which “cannot be seen” is eternal.

 

2 Corinthians 5 (day 1083) 18 December 2012

1-5: Verse 1 is often part of funeral litanies. The “earthly tent” is the physical body of the believer. The soul, the spiritual body, is the eternal “house not made with hands.” And yet, Paul sees this transformation not as a replacement for our current existence but rather an addition to it. We are “not to be unclothed, but further clothed.”

6-10: While we are in this earthly existence we are “away from the Lord” because what is yet to be cannot be seen except by faith. The goal of the Christian is to please God in this life and in the life to come, because that is the basis on which we will be judged.
11-15: It is the heart that counts, not the outward appearance. The Corinthians can “boast” of Paul and Timothy that their hearts are in the right place. Verse 13 is perhaps a reference to ecstatic utterances during which one might appear to be “beside oneself.” Verse 15, “he died for all,” is a foundational verse for John Wesley’s insistence that all can be saved – in other words, God does not predestine anyone to be lost.

16-21: The new life in Christ is not something we have to wait for, but rather something that faith in Christ immediately conveys. In Christ the world is reconciled to God, and the message of that reconciliation is entrusted to Paul and Timothy – and all who belong to Christ.

 

2 Corinthians 6 (day 1084) 19 December 2012

1-10: Paul uses Isaiah 49:8 as a springboard to an assurance of God’s saving grace. Now is the time, he says, to accept the grace of God, and he assures them God’s grace is not accepted in vain. He and Timothy have done everything in their power – both active (“purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,” etc.) and passive (“hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments,” etc.) – to remove every obstacle from anyone’s acceptance of Christ.

11-13: Yet, he senses some resistance on their part, and entreats them to return the affection he and Timothy have for them.

14-18: Paul cautions them about associating with unbelievers, for they are as separate as night and day. “Beliar” in verse 15 is the only occurrence of the name in the Bible. It is a Greek term that refers to the devil and means “worthless” or “wicked.” Believers have no more in common with unbelievers than Christ has with the devil, in other words. Believers are temples in which God resides (see 1 Corinthians 3:16), he says, and cobbles together several passages from the Old Testament (Leviticus 26:11-12, Ezekiel 37:27 among others) to illustrate the point.

 

2 Corinthians 7 (day 1085) 20 December 2012

1: Isn’t the prospect of God claiming us as his children enough to make us want to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit?” Paul obviously thinks it is.

2-4: Again Paul insists on his and Timothy’s purity of intent in all their dealings with the Corinthians, and claims great pride in them.

5-12: There is no real consensus among scholars as to whether the earlier letter mentioned in this passage became what we know as 1 Corinthians or another letter that has not survived. 1 Corinthians was a bit judgmental and Paul may well have regretted writing some of the things that are in it. In any case Titus was apparently dispatched to monitor the situation in Corinth and brought the news to Paul in Macedonia that the Corinthians, though dismayed by the letter, had eventually taken it to heart and had repented of some of charges Paul had made. Titus, of course, was an important student and companion of Paul’s, as was Timothy. Most commentators hold that he is not the Titius (or Titus) Justus of Corinth mentioned at Acts 18:7, but it seems to me that there are no irrefutable arguments against such a conclusion. We know in any case that Titus was a Gentile Christian and that he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem on one occasion (see Galatians 2:1, 3). Although Paul’s letter to Titus is preserved as part of our Bible, 2 Timothy 4:10 hints that there may have been a rift between Paul and Titus at one point.

13-16: Nevertheless, at the writing of this letter Paul and Titus are congenial companions.

 

2 Corinthians 8 (day 1086) 21 December 2012

1-7: Among other things, Titus had been engaged in fund raising in Corinth for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem. Paul urges them on by complimenting the response of the Macedonians who have given generously in spite of their own poverty. Paul knew that generosity begets generosity – that’s why matching gifts are successful as a fund raising technique.

8-15: This is an excellent passage on stewardship and generosity. The abundance of some can be used to overcome the poverty of others, and that generosity may very well be one day returned should their fortunes be reversed. Paul reminds them that Christ gave everything for their sake. In God’s economy there is always enough to go around. The quote in verse 15 is from the story of manna in Exodus 16:16-18.

16-24: Along with Titus Paul is sending two others who are unnamed. The purpose of sending the three was to protect Paul from being accused of commandeering some of the collection for himself. It’s always good in the church to have more than one or two people handle the money. There has been much speculation about the identity of the two, particularly the “brother who is famous among all the churches.” Most ancient scholars believed that to be a reference to Luke, but recent scholarship is more divided with the majority simply refusing to attempt to identify either of the two.

 

2 Corinthians 9 (day 1087) 22 December 2012

1-5: Just in case they’re not motivated enough, Paul adds a little additional motivation: He has bragged about them to the folks at Macedonia, and he may bring some of the Macedonians with him to Corinth to witness their generosity firsthand! So, he sends Titus and the others to make sure their offering is ready before Paul gets there.

6-9: Moreover, he reminds them, generosity and abundance go hand in hand. I have to wonder if Paul is recalling what his friend Luke records as a saying of Jesus, that the “the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38). Paul backs up his assertion with the bold claim that “God loves a cheerful giver.” God provides so that we can give to others, so that through us God provides for them, too. The quote in verse 9 may be from Psalm 112:9.

10-15: Paul’s theology of generosity is based on a simple fact of nature: God provides the seed. We may keep it for ourselves (eat it) or give it away (sow it in the field). The portion we give away is returned to us many times over in the harvest that follows. It is indeed an indescribable gift. Thanks be to God!

 

2 Corinthians 10 (day 1088) 23 December 2012

1-6: Paul is self-effacing here (uncharacteristically!). The harsh letter to which he referred earlier is completely out of character with his meek demeanor when he is face to face with them. He hints that if their offering does not reflect the generosity he thinks they should display he can come down hard on them, especially on those who are found to be wanting in the “obedience” of the church – that is, on those who don’t give generously. I wonder how successful Paul would be as church fund raiser today.

7-11: He wants to be sure that they understand that he can be as demanding in person as he is in his letters.

12-18: He will not bother to compare himself with those who commend themselves, declaring that such jockeying for position shows a lack of good sense. He, however, has authority that none of them have in that he is the one who first brought the gospel to them. Furthermore he intends to use his credentials with them as a springboard to other mission fields beyond. Paul was always looking ahead to the next frontier.

 

2 Corinthians 11 (day 1089) 24 December 2012

1-6: Paul is hearkening back to a charge he made earlier (see 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-5) about the Corinthians’ gullibility – their willingness to buy into the teachings of whoever happens to come along. Some of them, he charged, claimed allegiance to Apollos and some to Cephas, whom he casts here as “super apostles.” He defends his own status among them by insisting that, although he may not be as eloquent as some he is certainly knowledgeable about the scriptures.

7-11: Still, his sense of inferiority to those who actually walked with Jesus causes him to seek other ways by which to justify himself. One of his favorite means is to suffer more than the others and to deny himself more than they. So, he has not received any support at all from the Corinthians, but has accepted support from the Macedonians so that the Corinthians would have the benefit of his knowledge without cost.

12-15: But there are also those who have corrupted the gospel message to their own ends. One thing they will not do, however, is work for free, and that Paul has done on the Corinthians’ behalf and will continue to do.

16-21: His opposition, however, is not insignificant. That is evident from the amount of space Paul dedicates to them. He and his companions, he says, were too weak to appear before the Corinthians as anything special, but chose to be weak that the gospel might be elevated even more. Still, if they are impressed by boasting, Paul can boast, by golly.

22-29: He is just as Jewish, just as Israelite, and just as much a child of Abraham as they. Furthermore, he is an even better ambassador for Christ because he has suffered more than any of them, and gives a lengthy catalogue of all the ills he has endured.

30-33: His boasting, he says, is about things that prove that he is weak. The story of his escape from Damascus is at Acts 9:23-25; it is not clear why he mentions that particular episode here unless it is to illustrate his helplessness in having to be lowered over the wall by others.

 

2 Corinthians 12 (day 1090) 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

1-10: Paul hints that he has had an experience of being given a glimpse of heaven – scholars generally agree that the “man” he claims to know is a reference to himself. His humility allows him to tell the story, but not to go so far as to make it clear that he himself is the one who was “caught up to the third heaven.” Then, as if to balance that lofty experience, he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” which God refuses to free him of. You have to admit it is a clever approach, to boast by emphasizing the negative things!

11-13: Still, his primary reason for asserting his position as an apostle is simply that he has not burdened them in any way. The other apostles by contrast accepted wages of one kind or another from the congregation in Corinth.

14-18: Preparing to visit them for the third time, he entreats them to consider his past dealings with them and the conduct of Titus and others he has sent to them.

19-21: Paul outlines his fear and anxiety about what he might find when he arrives in Corinth. He fears he will discover among them a whole host of problems – quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, disorder, impurity, sexual immorality and licentiousness – the very things which he has counseled them against throughout his letters to them.

 

2 Corinthians 13 (day 1091) 26 December 2012

1-4: Previously Paul had chastised them for putting up with sexual immorality in their community and for their bent toward litigation (see 1 Corinthians 5 and 6). He will not drop those charges, he says, but for their own good he will “not be weak in dealing” with these sins. We do not know what authority Paul had in any of the churches other than the authority they grant him by dint of his knowledge of scripture and his relationship with Christ. He is depending on his reputation to be all he needs to whip them into shape, so to speak.

5-10: He urges them to engage continually in self examination; he does not wish to use the authority God has given him except for the purpose of building them up.

11-13: The letter ends rather abruptly with an exhortation that they should live in peace with one another and “greet one another with a holy kiss,” a practice in the early church which we have regrettably abandoned. The benediction in verse 13 is one still used in church services around the world today.