Later Pauline Epistles
Paul's earliest letters were written during his second missionary journey around 50 AD
from Corinth. They were addressed to the church at Thessalonica and reassured them that
all believers, including those who had "fallen asleep" before the Parousia, would never be
separated from Christ and would experience first hand His return. Until His return or the
end of the believer's earthly life, whichever came first, the Thessalonians were exhorted to
remain faithful witnesses, hard at work for the advancement of the kingdom.
While in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, Paul began the Corinthian
correspondence, parts of which are preserved in the canon as First and Second Corinthians.
The first letter addresses a wide range of issues in response to questions and actions in the
church in Corinth. The Corinthian epistles stress that all of the church members, with
various abilities and talents, are important to the overall body of believers. All are to use
their gifts in love in all aspects of their lives to strengthen the unity and effectiveness of the
church. Separately, Paul wrote a strong letter to the various churches in Galatia, his first
converts, decrying their falling under the influence of Judaizers who encouraged the
Galatians to observe Jewish practices to bolster their faith in Jesus. Placing trust in
observance of the Law obviated the life, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension of
Jesus. Live in the Spirit in gratitude for God's grace, said Paul, not under obligation to the
Law to gain God's favor.
In the spring of 57 AD, Paul was making his way from Ephesus through Greece,
gathering the collection of the mainly Gentile churches which he would take to support the
Jerusalem, Jewish-dominated church, another step for unity within Christ. On the way he
spent three months in Corinth, strengthening the once fractious church. While there, Paul
wrote the letter to the Romans, considered by many to be his greatest epistle. His stated
purpose was to set up a visit to Rome and perhaps use that as a springboard for missionary
work further to the west, even including Spain. No doubt he also used the letter as a kind
of summary statement of the gospel for all who might read it, a means for getting his
perspective to the church located at the center of the great empire, and a defense of his
statements in the letter to the Galatians which might have offended Jewish believers.
Since Paul had not founded the church in Rome, he immediately states his credentials as
an apostle and a summary of the faith to which he had been personally called . " 1Paul, a servant
of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets
in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was
declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our
Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles
for the sake of his name, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7To all God’s beloved in Rome,
who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul knows that the Roman churches have both Jewish and Gentile believers, and he
quickly addresses their coexistence by the grace of God. " 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is
the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness
of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” He will
elaborate later in the letter on how the people of the Law live under the Spirit.
He begins by stating the need for a Savior for both Jew and Gentile, and how Jesus is
that Savior. " 3:22b For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now
justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of
atonement by his blood, effective through faith." Even Abraham was saved by his faith, said Paul; he
was deemed righteous by his faith before circumcision and the Law came into being. " 5:1
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have
obtained access to this grace in which we stand."
Because of God's grace, we are new creatures, represented by baptism, and slaves to a
new master. Although not perfect, we now live in the Spirit of God, the process of being
sanctified for God's purposes. "8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For
the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the
law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he
condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the
flesh but according to the Spirit." Nothing in all creation, says Paul, " 8:39b will be able to separate us from the
love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Has God cancelled the promises made to the Jews? Most of the Jews rejected God's
revelation in Jesus, Paul states, so God called others to His faith community. God is free to
choose, as the Old Testament scriptures attest. Ultimately, God will somehow join Jews
and Gentiles as His people. Neither can be arrogant, all must be grateful. Paul concludes
the letter with a call to faithfulness: " 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be
conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of
God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Paul and the church in Philippi had always had a special relationship. On more than
one occasion, they had sent gifts to Paul to sustain him in his ministry, and that is likely
the stimulus for this special letter, a thank you letter. Paul is writing from a prison,
traditionally thought to be in Rome in the early 60s. Paul spent numerous times in prison,
so the letter could have come earlier from Ephesus, some scholars believe. In any case, the
unquenchable spirit of Paul shines through; " 1:12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to
me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to
everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the
Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear."
The epistle to the Philippians is very personal in nature due to the great affection Paul
felt, full of affirmation and thanksgiving. Paul discusses his life and death in a revealing
manner to his friends. His discussion of death before the Parousia in earlier letters to
Macedonia (1 and 2 Thessalonians) was almost academic and apocryphal; it is now a matter
of his pending death. His main fear is that somehow he might do something which would
bring shame to the Lord. " 1:20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but
that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For
to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know
which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to
remain in the flesh is more necessary for you." Immediate resurrection faith and hope are clear.
In a plea for faithfulness and unity in the church, Paul includes a beautiful poetic
statement about Christ, the One he adores and serves. " 2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in
Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but
emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled
himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and
gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth
and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Paul presses on for a heavenly prize and urges his beloved friends to do likewise. " 3:20 But
our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform
the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make
all things subject to himself. 4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm
in the Lord in this way, my beloved."
There is a good chance Paul will not see his Philippian brothers and sisters again, so he
closes with this marvelous benediction, " 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your
gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all
understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Paul's missionary development strategy was to establish churches in major cities so that
the word would spread into the regions surrounding. This approach was implemented well
in the Roman province of Asia, the capital of which was Ephesus. Colossae was a ring city
of Ephesus located some one hundred miles east in the Lychus river valley near Laodicea.
While in prison Paul wrote two letters to the area. One was a letter to the church in
Colossae which was to be shared by the Laodiceans; the other was of more personal interest
to a member of the church there, Philemon.
Paul had been informed by the leader Epaphras that questionable theological threads
were being established in the church at Colossae. Although Paul had never been to the
area, he nonetheless felt compelled to address the mixture of religions taking place there.
As a result, this short letter contains perhaps the highest Christology of any of Paul's
writings to counter this threat.
Because Christ is supreme, nothing need be or should be added to His rule. "1:15 He is the
image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things
visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for
him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the
beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness
of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in
heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross."
Remember that Jesus is Lord, Paul exhorts. " 2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord,
continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving." Paul urges further, " 2:9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you
have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a
spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him
in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And when
you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave
us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the
Paul's letters often have a doctrinal, theological beginning and a practical, application-
oriented conclusion, and Colossians fits this outline. The practical section calls for high
moral living and relationships based on love and mutual respect. This includes husbands
and wives, parents and children, and even masters and slaves. Paul does not attack slavery
directly, but his thoughts are contained explicitly in the companion letter to Philemon.
One particular passage summarizes Paul's message well. " 3:12
As God’s chosen ones, holy and
beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if
anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ
rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you
richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual
songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God
the Father through him."
Traditionally this last of the letters to churches has been placed with Philippians and
Colossians as having originated from a Roman prison. There are a number of theological
similarities with the other letters, but some differences in emphasis and language. The
writer is less concerned with an immediate return of Christ but more focused on a long
term struggle the church will face in the secular world. Whoever wrote it, however, wrote a
masterpiece. The letter begins with a beautiful statement of the Gospel: " 1:3 Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly
places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in
love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his
will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have
redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he
lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his
good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things
in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according
to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the
first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the
word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised
Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his
glory." Note the clear statements of election, the Trinity, and redemption of all creation.
Jew versus Gentile issues are less noticeable; all are one in Christ. " 2:19So then you are no
longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the
foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined
together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for
God." The Christian is rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit but is called to minister in
gentleness and love. " 3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened
in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being
rooted and grounded in love." The writer stresses unity in the church as a manifestation of this
love; " 4:1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your
calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all."
The letter to the Ephesians has numerous similarities to the high Christology of
Colossians. One is the discussion of relationships built on love and mutual respect in
marriage, family life with children, and masters with slaves. The husband, for example, is to
love his wife just as Christ loves the church. Unlike Colossians, Ephesians does not
recognize a specific threat but rather a large encompassing one for the future.
Consequently, Paul concludes with this charge; " 6:13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you
may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt
of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make
you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to
quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word
of God. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. "
The pastoral letters, purportedly from Paul to Timothy and Titus, appear to reflect
somewhat later times than the ministry of Paul. There are Pauline statements and
messages, but the style and vocabulary have differences. There is discussion about church
organization which appears more developed than during Paul's missionary efforts. Of
concern is a more pronounced threat from heretical enemies as well.
Consequently, after the Pauline salutation, the letter gets right to the point. "1:3I urge you,
as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any
different doctrine, 4and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than
the divine training that is known by faith. 5But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good
conscience, and sincere faith. 6Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7desiring to be
teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions."
Next comes guidance on prayer and conduct during worship. " 2:1
First of all, then, I urge that
supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions,
so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of
God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Both men and
women are to participate in worship with reverence in accordance with customs of the day.
Qualifications for church officers are listed, both for bishops and deacons. Bishops
connote that there are multiple churches in an area which can be overseen by a bishop, a
later development. Women can serve as deacons. Those who teach and preach are
described separately as elders. A council of elders who "rule" is mentioned.
The final exhortation is to hold fast to the lessons of Christ, which implies the
availability of gospel documentation. " 6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you
were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."
The importance of blameless officers in the church was sent to Titus in Crete, just as it
had been sent to Timothy in Ephesus. They must be able to live exemplary lives. They must
be able to teach sound doctrine and refute the false.
Teach each member how to live the Christian life as their needs dictate, whether they be
older men, older women, young men, or slaves. " 2:11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation
to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled,
upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior,
Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of
his own who are zealous for good deeds. 15Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority."
Maintain good deeds in gratitude. " 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient,
to be ready for every good work, 2to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to
everyone. 3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing
our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our
Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy,
through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our
Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8The saying
How do you lead the people of God in a world of turmoil? Paul's final words to his
beloved son in Christ, Timothy, offer direction for all troubled times. We are to maintain the
faith, despite the punishment which that may bring, using the power of God. " 1:8 Do not be
ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying
on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own
purpose and grace... 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us ." Paul
states these truths: " 2:11The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot
We are to guard the faith against false teaching. " 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one
approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth...19But God’s firm
foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name
of the Lord turn away from wickedness...22 Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along
with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know
that they breed quarrels. 24And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient,
correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26and that
they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."
Paul warns against association with evil people. " 3:1 You must understand this, that in the last days
distressing times will come. 2For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good,
treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to the outward form of
godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
A key task for any Christian is to share the joy of Christ and advance His Word . " 3:16 All
scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that
everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." We are to share the Gospel
and live the Gospel. " 4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in
view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is
favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming
when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to
suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be
sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully."
The letter concludes with what may be Paul's final written words, " 4:6As for me, I am already
being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the
race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
Philemon lived in Colossae in a home large enough to become the meeting place of the
church. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon and the church which met in his home on behalf of
Onesimus, a runaway slave of Philemon's. Apparently Onesimus had somehow come in
contact with Paul and had subsequently become a Christian. This placed Paul in a very
difficult position, since the Roman law demanded the return of runaway slaves. Sending
Onesimus back made him subject to harsh punishment or even death. Paul writes to seek
protection of this man whom he had come to love as a brother in Christ.
Paul points out to Philemon that Onesimus had been of great help to him and that it
would be good if somehow Onesimus could be returned freely to continue that help. Paul
has a way of finding the positive in a situation, and he speculates that it was for the best for
all that Onesimus escaped and found his way to Paul so that he could become Christian.
What insightful words they turned out to be!
Paul appeals to Philemon to do the right thing with regard to Onesimus. If Philemon is
owed anything because of Onesimus, Paul offers to find a way to pay the debt himself. What
an interesting parallel that is to Paul's teachings about Jesus, whose sacrificial death payed
our debt for sins. Confident in Philemon, Paul even asks that they prepare a guest room for
him to use in a visit. Paul's standard closing seems very appropriate, since Paul is seeking
grace from Philemon. " 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."
There are numerous questions about the Pauline epistles; three of them may converge.
What happened to Onesimus? Who wrote Ephesians? How did the letters of Paul come to
be gathered and entered into the canon? Non-Biblical sources seem to indicate that the
letters were gathered in Ephesus by the bishop there. Further, there had to be a way for
the bishop to learn of the semi-private letter to Philemon, and he had to be motivated to
include it. Thirdly, the letter called Ephesians leans heavily on Colossians. There is
consequently speculation that the bishop wrote Ephesians as a Pauline follower and
admirer, using the collection of letters (especially Colossians) as a source. It was intended
to summarize the Pauline Gospel message, which it does beautifully. Who was this bishop
of Ephesus? Around 110 AD a church leader named Ignatius, who was being taken to
Rome to be martyred, wrote a number of letters. One was to the church in Ephesus telling
the people to honor their bishop, who was named Onesimus.