Themes from Colossians - Hebrews
The letters by Paul included in the New Testament are ordered from longest to shortest and from those addressed to churches to those addressed to individuals. Thus, the seven Pauline epistles in our reading for today are shorter and include four addressed to individuals. In addition, today’s reading includes Hebrews, the first of the General Epistles. Hebrews is officially anonymous, although many are the guesses as to its author.
Colossians shares many similarities with Ephesians since they were written about the same time. However, while Ephesians focuses on the church as Christ’s body, Colossians zooms in on the centrality and supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ for His body and what that means practically for every believer. Essentially if Christ Jesus is who Paul describes him to be (see 1:15-20), then all a believer needs is to walk in union with the Christ he or she received as Lord at salvation (2:6). Your nourishment and growth as a Christian will come by holding fast Christ as Head (2:19), not by following earthly human regulations or ascetic guidelines (2:20-23). The Christian should rather seek those things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (3:1) and put to death the things that are earthly (3:5ff).
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul rejoices in how his and his colleagues’ faithful ministry resulted in the Thessalonians’ genuine conversion to Christ (chs. 1-2), and he reminds them of Christian basics like the reality of persecution (3:1-5), the need to abstain from all sexual immorality (4:1-8), and the duty of Christian love (4:9-12). The spiritual vitality of the Thessalonian church was such that Paul realizes his reminders are somewhat superfluous. They were already obeying. They were already aware of much of what he was writing. But even those growing in Christ need encouraging pushes to continue their growth in sanctification. Also, the Thessalonians seem to have taken seriously Christ’s soon return (see 1:10) and needed clarification about those who died in Christ before His return (4:13-18) and about the future Day of the Lord (5:1-11).
2 Thessalonians returns to end-time themes. Persecution (1:4) and some misleading teachers (2:1-3) had the Thessalonians wondering if they had misunderstood Paul’s teaching about the second coming. Paul assures them Christ is coming (1:5-10), reminds them of events that will precede Christ’s coming (2:3-12), and urges them to stand firm in what he has taught them (2:15) rather than in theological rumor or hearsay. Paul closes by stressing what he had modeled in his own ministry and urged upon the Thessalonians before (1 Thess. 1:8-9; 4:11): the need to work to meet one’s own needs (2 Thess. 3:6-15).
The verse that unlocks the purpose of 1 Timothy is 3:14-15: “I am writing to you these things . . . in order that you may know how you must behave in the house of God.” “You” is singular and addressed to Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith and the de facto pastor of the church at Ephesus. If Timothy will communicate to the church what Paul writes to him in this letter, insist on it as the way to “do church,” and practice it personally, he will be a good servant of Christ and, ultimately, save himself and those who hear him (4:6, 11-16). As you read 1 Timothy, note how practical and wide-ranging Paul’s instructions are—from qualifications for church leaders (3:1-13), to the priority of prayer (2:1-8) and the orderly care of widows (5:3-16). These instructions are the pathway to godliness (a key word that occurs nine or ten times in 1 Timothy) for all believers.
2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter, written just months before his martyrdom. He writes to ask Timothy to visit him because he longs to see him one more time, and he (Paul) senses that his departure is drawing near (4:6). 2 Timothy 1:8 is perhaps the key verse of the letter: Timothy is to share in Paul’s suffering for the gospel and continue passing on what he learned from Paul to others (2:2). The way forward will not be easy (3:1-9) but Timothy has Paul’s example to follow (3:10-11), the Scriptures to preach (3:15-4:4), a ministry to accomplish (4:5), and a reward to receive if he remains faithful (4:8).
Titus emphasizes that the truth is “healthy” teaching that leads to godliness. Teaching that does not lead to godliness is not healthy and must be refuted (1:9, 13). A phrase that runs through the letter is “good works” (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 5, 8, 14). Salvation is decidedly not by works (3:5) but healthy teaching will produce believers in all walks of life who by their good works will keep the truth from being slandered (2:1-10).
Philemon is a letter about Christian forgiveness. Paul is asking Philemon, a prominent believer in Colossae, to forgive Onesimus, a runaway slave who has since become a believer. Each of the three people involved in the “forgiveness triangle”—the man asking a believer to forgive (Paul), the man who needs to forgive (Philemon), and the man who needs to be forgiven (Onesimus)—illustrates a role in the forgiveness process that all of us will play at different times in our Christian life. What can you learn from each person?
Hebrews exhorts Jews wavering in their faith commitment to Jesus as Messiah to consider all the ways that He is better than anything Judaism has to offer. He is infinitely higher than angels (ch. 1), more glorious than Moses (3:3), and more permanent than any Levitical high priest (ch. 7). The repeated word in Hebrews is better. To abandon faith in Jesus is to lose out on a better covenant (8:6), better blood (9:12), a better sacrifice for sin (9:26-28; 10:12), and a better everything! So hold on to faith (ch. 11)—as others and, especially, Jesus Himself have done (12:1-3) —and endure as loving chastisement whatever suffering your faith may incur (12:4-12). Don’t return to Judaism but rather move onto maturity (6:1). Join with Jesus in bearing His disgrace (13:13). He alone is the great Shepherd of the sheep and His blood alone is the blood of the everlasting covenant (13:21).
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About the Author
Timothy W. Berrey is the author of Planning Your Life God's Way and From Eden to Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History. He is the director of Graduate Studies at Bob Jones Memorial Bible College in Metro Manila, where he has lived with his wife Laura and six children since 2005.