Word from Scotland
by Sandy Shaw
In our sweeping through the Bible, so that we have an overview of Scripture, we come to the Letters – or the Epistles. Someone once thought that epistles were the wives of the apostles.
The letters are basically the preaching notes of the apostles - they deal with matters which arose in the early church - problems - and issues - and divisions.
They tell us about God - and about Jesus - but also about the Church - and what is important - and they also tell us a lot about the writers.
We need to mention Paul right away - about one third of the New Testament is either about him or by him. This man has had such an influence upon the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jesus permitted it - and we can even say willed it.
Paul was a fanatical Pharisee to begin with - called Saul after the first king of Israel. Then, he was so graciously willing to be called Paul - a Gentile name.
Paul was born in Tarsus - a University City - after Athens and Alexandria. His parents were Jews, so he was brought up on the Scriptures and taught about GOD. He came from the tribe of Benjamin - and was a student of Professor Gamaliel.
He persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ before becoming an apostolic preacher and writer.
Although a Hebrew, he spoke Greek - and so could preach and teach and write to all in the Greek world. He was a Roman citizen and he knew the Roman law and used it when necessary - but that did not give him a suffering free life.
Here is a disciple of Jesus Christ whose background is Jewish, Greek and Roman. He could go anywhere - and was prepared by God for service in the Kingdom of God, before he came to faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, it was not easy to write letters at this time. The Roman letter could be the longest letter we have from this period!
The format is the same in all his letters - and all the letters begin with grace and peace. The first time I saw this was on New Year’s Day in 1993.
Paul would have an amanuensis - a secretary - to whom he would dictate his letter - Romans 16 verse 22 – and the secretary inserts a personal greeting - it would be like a lawyer writing a legal document when you were buying a house and inserting - "I hope you get the house"! But God did not mind. This is the human side to the Word of God.
The other human side is - Paul was probably dictating some of these letters while chained to a Roman soldier.
There are letters to churches - and letters to individuals.
The tone changes too - I Thessalonians is very warm - and II Thessalonians reads quite differently – it is much cooler.
But we do learn this from the letters - the New Testament churches were NOT perfect. They had problems and if it were not for the problems, we would not have had the teachings in these letters.
No other faith has letters in their Scriptures! God speaks through letters.
I remember seeking a cartoon in 1980 in ‘Christianity Today’ where there was a demonstration against Paul preaching in Corinth - with ‘Male Chauvinist Pig’ on the placards - and underneath is written - "I see my letter has arrived"!
In II Thessalonians there has been a wave of persecution - and Paul speaks about what will happen to those who persecute believers or give them a rough time – everlasting destruction – 1verse 9,2verse 8 - judgment – 1verse 5 – being shut out or excluded 1verse 9 - tribulation 1verse 4 - vengeance 1verse 6 - and everlasting destruction 1verse 9 .
In a day when there is increasing persecution this letter is highly relevant, personal and practical - as well as encouraging and comforting.
HEBREWS - we do not know who wrote it - but it refers quite a lot to Leviticus - and was written by a Jew, and written to Hebrew disciples of Jesus Christ.
JAMES - written by the half-brother of Jesus. His name is really Jacob.
PETER - a fisherman writing Scripture - surely not? Peter lived in a time of tremendous persecution - and writes about this - and how to cope.
The more we read The Word of God we come to learn that there has never been a time when it has been easy to serve God. That is a lesson we need to come to terms with - early and quickly.
Peter is writing to those who have had to flee for their faith in Jesus Christ - those who have been dispersed - and they are regarded as misfits or aliens.
JUDE and JOHN - wrote letters - then we come to the seven letters of JESUS in Revelation Chapters 2,3 .
We know more about Paul than about any other apostle – one third of the New Testament is either about him or by him. He wrote 13letters.
He was an anti-Christian missionary – to begin with.
He spoke Greek as well as Hebrew and Latin.
He met Jesus outside Damascus at Kuneitra in Syria - only a few miles from where Jesus was transfigured – on Mount Hermon.
He went into Arabia – for around three years – to work out what had happened to him in the light of the Old Testament.
His birth process took three days – with the help of Ananias.
He always insisted on what happened to him, happened to others.
He became a leader later in the church at Antioch in Syria. Acts 13 .
Paul undertook three lengthy missionary journeys – 45 to 60 A.D . – and experienced imprisonment – ending up in Rome – but writing, to follow up his ministry, when he could not return to visit.
He appointed leaders – and then left – Timothy and Titus.
He emphasised – the Gospel – the good news of God through Jesus Christ – being ‘in Christ’ – he was a slave of Christ – Jesus bought me – he emphasis the grace of God – and the kingdom of God, where Jesus is king.
He is perhaps the most famous letter writer in history. If you enjoy reading other people’s letters, the New Testament will excite you.
The format of these letters is quite similar – it begins with the name and address – a greeting – prayer – spoken rather than written – a conversational style rather than literary style – Jesus followed the same pattern.
The letters are either personal – to individuals - or something happened in a Church and the matter is dealt with – or a general or circular letter e.g. Ephesians. They are personal and practical.
As we read the letters, we learn how we have imperfect churches – and – Divine Revelation!
“Loving God – we thank You for the wide variety of literature You have given us in Scripture – and we thank You for these letters – written in a day when it was not easy to write letters and have them sent and delivered. Encourage us as we read these letters to understand the difficulties the Church of Jesus Christ faced from the very beginning. Thank You for including these letters in the Bible and for the authority and authenticity of each one – in Jesus Name. Amen”
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Alexander 'Sandy' Shaw is pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship in Nairn, Scotland. Nairn is 17 miles east of Inverness - on the Moray Firth Coast - not far from the Loch Ness Monster!
Gifted as a Biblical teacher, Sandy is firmly committed to making sure that his teachings are firmly grounded in the Word.
Sandy has a weekly radio talk which can be heard via the Internet on Saturday at 11:40am, New Orleans time, at wsho.com.
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