STUDY VII THE FUTURE OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM FIRST GROUP OF EPISTLES THE FIRST AND SECOND EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLES OF PAUL +Epistolary Writings.+ -- The New Testament is composed of twenty-seven books, twenty-one of which are Epistles. Of this latter number thirteen are ascribed to Paul. It is thus seen how largely the New Testament is made up of Epistles and how many of these are attributed to the Great Apostle. In the letters of men of great prominence and power of any age we get closer to the real condition of the affairs of that age than by any other means. In this way, we get information at first hand from the participants in the events of which they write. It is fortunate for us that we have this first hand material with which to deal, when we come to study the early growth and development of Christianity. By means of the New Testament Epistles (which are real letters and written with a definite purpose in view) we look directly into the faith, the customs, and practices of the early Christian churches. We see how they were organized and how they conducted their services. We see the marvelous changes wrought in the lives and characters of the converts. We note that the triumphs of faith were won through a belief in the Divine Son of God and the power of the Holy Ghost. The struggles and difficulties of these early Christians in coming out of heathenism are depicted in a masterly way. Paul, in his endeavor to guide aright the churches, of which he had been the spiritual father, shows what he believes and teaches about God, the Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, sin, redemption, and the future state of the soul. In these letters the incidental and indirect references to the doctrines taught, and the customs of the early churches, are as valuable as the direct. +Some Reasons for Paul's Writings.+ -- The Apostle was the founder of churches over a large area of territory. He soon realized, however, that it was impossible to visit them as often as he desired and as frequently as he ought. Many of the converts had come out of heathenism and needed doctrinal and ethical instruction in the way of Christ. They also needed encouragement, comfort, and sometimes sharp correction for outbreaking sins. As means of communication were open and easy along the well kept Roman roads, what was more natural than that Paul should begin to write letters which were not only to be read by the particular churches to which they were addressed, but passed on to the other churches. +Qualifications of Paul.+ 1. Intellectual. He was not only pre-eminent as a missionary, but even more remarkable as a writer. "He was the greatest thinker of his age, if not of any age, who in the midst of his outward labors was producing writings which have ever since been among the mightiest intellectual forces of the world and are still growing." 2. Spiritual. He had been converted in a wonderful way and had received a special revelation from Christ (Acts 9:3-15; 1 Cor.15:3; Gal.1:11, 12). He had been called to his great work among the Gentiles by Christ and the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:15; 13:2). He was absolutely absorbed in the work of Christ and in making known His gospel. +How the Epistles are Best Understood.+ -- Each one should be studied in the light of the occasion which called it forth and in connection with the church, group of churches, or the individual to which it is addressed. +Titles and Groups.+ -- The thirteen Epistles fall naturally into four groups; in each of which is set forth some great doctrinal and ethical truth. First Group, First and Second Thessalonians. "These Epistles are short, simple, and practical. They may be regarded as illustrating Paul's earlier missionary instruction to his converts -- hence the name 'Missionary Epistles,' sometimes applied to them. They treat of but one doctrinal subject -- the second coming of Christ." It should be borne in mind, however, that Paul speaks of Jesus Christ as "The Lord," "Our Lord," about twenty-five times in First Thessalonians; this shows how thoroughly he believed in the Deity of Christ. Second Group, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians and Romans. "This group is the great repertory of Paul's doctrinal and ethical teaching. Galatians and Romans deal chiefly with his doctrine of justification by faith. They are designed to disprove the current Jewish teaching (which was invading the churches) that men might be saved by obedience to the Mosaic law. On the contrary Paul maintained that the sole basis of salvation is the grace of God to be appropriated by faith on man's part." Third Group, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians. "This group is predominantly Christological. Errors had invaded the churches addressed, which tended to degrade the person and work of Christ, and the Apostle writes with a view to showing his pre-eminence and saving power, so that the readers may be induced to keep their allegiance to Christ and His gospel." Fourth Group, First Timothy, Titus and Second Timothy. "These are called 'The Pastoral Epistles,' and were designed to instruct Timothy and Titus as superintendents of the churches in Ephesus and Crete, and were thus semi-official in character. But they have also a strong personal element and a tone of warm sympathy and affection." The above characterization of the four groups of these Epistles by Prof. G. B. Stevens is brief and to the point. +Common Plan.+ -- The plan in all of Paul's Epistles, with slight variations, is much the same. The outlines of these letters fall uniformly into six divisions. "First, a greeting sometimes very brief, sometimes extending over several verses, in which hThe time was, in all probability, in the winter of 52-53 A.D., and the place of writing was at Corinth, where Paul remained for over a year and a half (Acts 18:1, 11, 18).
+Contents.+ -- The first three chapters are of a personal character and show how dear to Paul's heart were these converts of Thessalonica. They also show the good record made for the short time since they had embraced Christianity. But nothing could be more revolutionary in those days than to become a Christian; therefore Paul takes occasion to correct social, moral, and doctrinal faults and to instruct them more fully in the faith, in Christ, which they professed. In the matter of doctrine Paul mentions Christ as "the Lord," "our Lord" about twenty-five times, showing his belief in and teaching of the Deity of Christ. In regard to Christ's speedy second coming, of which many seem to have had a lively expectation so that they were troubled when some died lest these had lost their opportunity to see this glorious event, Paul writes to reassure them that all believers, those who have died and those who are alive at that time, "will enter together and share equally in the blessings of Christ's heavenly kingdom" (4:13-18). The Epistle closes with exhortations to be joyful, thankful, and prayerful.
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+
1. Introduction (1:1-10). Personal address and salutation. Thanksgiving for their faith, love and hope in Jesus Christ and for their conversion.
2. Narrative (2:1-4:12). How the gospel was given and how it was received at Thessalonica. An account of Paul's care and anxiety for the church. Paul's prayer for their establishment in the faith of Jesus Christ. Exhortation to abstain as followers of Christ from impurity and fraud; to follow after holiness and brotherly love.
3. Doctrinal (4:13-5:11). The second advent of Christ. The parts which the dead and living will have when Christ shall come again. The uncertainty of the time. The need of constant watchfulness.
4. Practical (5:12-28). Rules for the conduct of the church, its overseers and members. Exhortation to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Closing prayer that they may be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Greeting and benediction.
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS
+Occasion, Time, and Place of Writing.+ -- What Paul wrote about the second coming of Christ, in the First Epistle, seems to have been misunderstood by the church at Thessalonica (1:7-3:11). Then too there was probably a spurious epistle (and this may have occasioned much of the trouble) in circulation, in which Paul is evidently made to declare that the day of Christ is close at hand (2:2). He writes of this false epistle very vigorously that they be not troubled in spirit by a letter, "as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." Evidently some were neglecting their work, becoming impatient at the delay in Christ's coming (3:5, 11, 12) and walking disorderly.
The Epistle opens, with an expression of thanks for the general condition of the church and that it was enduring persecutions and tribulations well (1:2-6). Hence it is evident that some but not all of the church members were out of accord with an earnest sensible faith in Christ. This Epistle reflects certain conditions which Paul had to meet in his work and shows how he sought to check any defections from right conceptions of true Christian doctrine and life. In the second chapter Paul shows that the "day of Christ" may not speedily come, that certain other things must come to pass before it is revealed (compare Matthew ch.24), and that the true Christian way is to stand fast always in the Lord. In thus standing fast every believer will grow in faith and grace.
The duties taught are "courage and faith under persecution and calmness and quiet industry in the presence of the greatest expectations."
The time of writing was probably, a few months after that of the First Epistle, in 53 A.D. The place of writing was Corinth.
+Principal Divisions and Chief Points.+
1. Introduction (1:1-4). Salutation. Thanksgiving for the growth of faith in the Thessalonian church.
2. Doctrinal (1:5-2:17). The great day of the Lord. The Thessalonians seemingly misunderstood Paul's first letter and he now more fully explains the second advent of Christ. It will be a day of terrible retribution for the unbeliever but one of glory for all who trust in Him. A warning is given not to think the day near at hand. Certain things must first come to pass; "a falling away," "a man of sin," "signs and lying wonders." Thanksgiving that the Thessalonians have been chosen to salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit.
3. Conclusion (Ch.3). Paul requests prayer for himself that "the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified" with him; he also desires that the Lord may direct their "hearts into the love of God and into the patient waiting for Christ." Paul gives command to discipline the disorderly and that every man earn his own living. Exhortation to be not weary in well doing. Salutation and benediction.
What can be said of epistolary writings; their place and usefulness? Give some reasons for Paul's writings. What were the qualifications of Paul? How are the Epistles best understood? What can be said of the four groups and their characteristics? What is the common plan? What is the supreme purpose? What can be said of the first group of Epistles; First and Second Thessalonians? What is the chief doctrinal point? The First Epistle; what can be said of the founding of the church at Thessalonica? What can be said of the occasion, time, and place of writing? What are the contents? Give the four parts of the principal divisions and chief points. The Second Epistle; what can be said of the occasion, time, and place of writing? Give the three parts of the principal divisions and chief points.