Category Archives: Discipleship

Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Peter

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1 Peter by Joseph Novak

1 Peter:  In the midst of a strange land all the strangers assembled in one place, and called it Home.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Peter

Christians just don’t fit in, and that’s not easy for the first-century church. Christians are suffering all over the world (1 Pe 5:1), and the Christians in modern-day Turkey need to know why. They need to know how to deal with it. They need to know how to live.

And they need to know it’s not it vain.

The apostle Peter writes these Christians a letter to address these issues in two ways:

  • Testify the truth. The more they know about Jesus, themselves, and the world, the better they’ll understand their difficult situation.
  • Exhort them to live accordingly.

The book reflects this focus. Peter explores a piece of doctrine, and then encourages the Christians to apply it to their lives. He makes four of these back-and-forth cycles:

  1. Peter begins his letter by calling Christians “aliens,” or residential foreigners to the Roman Empire (1 Pe 1:1, 17). He then goes on to explain the relationship between suffering and salvation: suffering lasts now, but it proves our faith so that joy and glory can come later.
    Therefore, Christians should be holy, or set apart (1 Pe 1:14). They should love one another and long for the word of God.
  2. After explaining why Christians are different, Peter goes into what the Christian family is: a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (1 Pe 2:5, 9).
    Therefore, Christians ought to keep their behavior excellent, so that even their oppressors will glorify God. They should submit to authorities, submit to one another, honor their spouses, and demonstrate kindness—even when they’re suffering as Christians.
  3. And who set the finest example of suffering to glorify God? Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, the Christians should live for the will of God and use their spiritual gifts to serve one another and glorify God.
  4. And as if these folks had any more questions about suffering, Peter goes into it one more time. Suffering tests us. It’s a way that we identify with Christ. And it never gives us an excuse to sin—the suffering Christian will still do what is right (1 Pe 4:19).
    Therefore, church leaders should set a good example, and all Christians should humble themselves under God, standing firm as they  look forward to Jesus’ return.

To Peter, suffering is something the Christian should always see coming. We’re foreigners here, and we shouldn’t expect to be treated differently until our King claims dominion forever and ever (1 Pe 5:10–11).

Theme verse of 1 Peter

If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Pe 4:16)

1 Peter’s role in the Bible

No other book of the Bible focuses on suffering and glory as much as First Peter. This epistle was written to give Christians a fuller understanding of what’s going on: the present sufferings and the glories to come.

First Peter is the second of the General Epistles (or Catholic Letters), the writings of apostles to the church at large. While Paul wrote to specific congregations and individuals, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote to broader audiences across the Roman Empire.

This letter from Peter focuses on the sufferings and glory of Christ and His church. While Paul briefly explores Christian suffering with the Thessalonian church, Peter writes a whole letter on the issue. To Peter, Christian suffering isn’t just something to put up with—it’s something to expect.

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pe 4:12).

No suffering is enjoyable, but Peter actually calls it a blessing. Here’s a list of reasons why he sees it this way:

  • When we suffer as Christians, we identify with Jesus (1 Pe 4:1, 13).
  • After we share in His hardship, we will share in our King’s glory (1 Pe 5:10).
  • Suffering is an opportunity to prove our faith (1 Pe 1:6–7).
  • It’s an opportunity to do what is right—even when we are wronged (1 Pe 2:20).
  • Christ set an example of suffering for us to follow (1 Pe 2:21).
  • The way we deal with persecution will bring our persecutors to glorify God (1 Pe 2:12).
  • When we do what is right no matter what the circumstances, God is pleased (1 Pe 2:20)

And if anyone’s an expert on this, it’s Peter. He saw Christ suffer with his own eyes (1 Pe 5:1). He knew from early on that he would be martyred for Christ’s sake (Jn 21:18–19). And he’d caught a glimpse of the glory to follow (2 Pe 1:16–18; Mk 9:2–3).

This book was likely written in the early 60s, and the second book attributed to Peter was probably written a few years later.

Quick outline of 1 Peter

  1. Suffering proves salvation (1 Pet 1:1-12)
    Therefore:

  2. We are a holy people (1 Pet 2:4–11)
    Therefore, pursue excellent behavior:

  3. Christ suffered for us (1 Pet 3:13–22)
    Therefore:

  4. Suffering tests us (1 Pet 4:12–19)
    Therefore:

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: James

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James by Joseph Novak

James:  Faith is a picture taken by the beggar at your door, not a selfie.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of James

Imagine you grew up learning the Law of Moses, doing good works and observing the commands that God had given to His people Israel. Now, all of a sudden, you’re told that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the seeking savior whose death on the cross covers your sin. And all you have to do is believe in Him.

Now imagine seeing non-Jews grafted into the people of God (the church). They don’t all keep your Sabbaths. They’re not circumcised. They don’t even know the Law—but they’re just as much a part of God’s people as you are, because they had faith.

If this were you, you might wonder if God even cared about good works anymore.

The apostle James meets this line of thought head-on: “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17, 26). He writes a letter to the Christian Jews scattered across the world, encouraging them to keep the faith and press onward to good works.

In only 108 verses, James (also a Jew) addresses the trials his brothers and sisters are facing in the world, and sets out very, very practical approaches to Christian living for the people of God.

Theme verse of James

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jas 1:22)

Quick outline of James

  1. Trials and temptation (1:1–20)
  2. True religion (1:21–27)
  3. Favoritism and judgment (2:1–13)
  4. Faith and works (2:14–26)
  5. Teachers and the tongue (3)
  6. Submission to God (4:1–5:6)
  7. Strength and anticipation (5:7–20)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: Titus

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Titus by Joseph Novak

Titus:  Don’t adapt the gospel to your life. Adapt your life to the pattern of the gospel.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Titus

The churches on the island of Crete need leadership, correction, and order. Establishing churches is Paul’s forte, but Paul doesn’t sail to Crete to organize things. He already has someone on the island he can trust.

That man is Titus.

Titus is Paul’s partner in ministry (2 Co 8:23), a Gentile (Gal 2:3). Like Timothy, Titus is Paul’s child in the faith—he was introduced to Christ through Paul’s ministry (Ti 1:4).

Paul had left Titus in Crete with a purpose: to set up order in local churches (Ti 1:5). This short epistle unpacks that concept in Paul’s list of things Titus should do:

  • Appoint elders (Ti 1:5–16). Paul lists the qualifications of overseers: they’re to be upright, responsible, not divisive . . . there’s a whole list of things Paul expects of church leaders.
  • Instruct people to be sensible (Ti 2). Men and women of all ages have their parts to play in the church. Whereas the Cretans are known for being “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti 1:12), the Christians are to live sensibly, which in turn glorifies God (Ti 2:4, 8, 10).
  • Encourage good deeds (Ti 3). The Christians are saved, and they should behave like it—but why? Paul concisely argues for godly living: we do what is right in response to God’s kindness to us in salvation (Ti 3:3–7).

The book of Titus is a short guide to setting up order in the local churches of first-century Crete, but today it still gives us a theology of counter-cultural Christian living.

Theme verse in Titus

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you [. . .].” (Ti 1:5)

Titus’ role in the Bible

Titus is the last of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Paul also wrote to Timothy—twice.

Titus is clearly a man that Paul has come to trust. Paul seems to have begun planting churches on the island of Crete, but Titus is specifically responsible for maintaining Paul’s standard of teaching in that area. Titus’s role is similar to Timothy’s (which you can learn about in Paul’s first and second letters to him), but he seems to be facing different cultural challenges—namely the Cretans’ undisciplined lifestyles.

Titus gives us a concise argument for good deeds: the people of the Church should behave differently from the people of the world because God has changed them. Though we don’t all attend church in Crete, we have undergone the same transformation:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Ti 3:3–8)

The church behaves differently because God has made her different.

Quick outline of Titus

  1. Appointing counter-cultural elders (Ti 1)
  2. How the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:1–10)
  3. Why the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:11–3:15)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 2 Timothy

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Timothy by Joseph Novak

2 Timothy:  The dying apostle writes his will: “To my dear son Timothy I leave all that I possess: my gospel and these chains.”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Timothy

Paul is about to die.

He had devoted his life to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had fought for sound teaching in the churches. He had trained pastors. He had corrected individuals, churches, and even apostles. He had testified before kings. Now Paul’s work was almost done.

But even though Paul would soon leave the world behind, he wasn’t leaving the world without a representative for truth. Timothy, Paul’s protégé, his son in the Lord, needed to carry on Paul’s standard of sound teaching (2 Ti 1:13).

Paul’s second letter to Timothy focuses on solemn charges to the younger pastor:

  1. Guard and fight for the gospel. Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel, and Timothy is responsible for guarding it (2 Ti 1:12–13) and entrusting it to others (2 Ti 2:2). The road ahead will be fraught with suffering (2 Ti 1:8; 2:3), but Paul encourages Timothy to be strong, and fight the good fight (2 Ti 1:7; 2:1).
  2. Pursue righteousness. There are a lot of people out there who will try to disrupt Timothy’s work and lead people into ungodliness. Timothy and the other believers are to accurately handle the word, avoid empty chatter, flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Ti 2:22).
  3. Continue in sound teaching. Apostasy is coming in the future, and Timothy must remember the Scriptures.
  4. Preach the word. Paul’s last charge to Timothy is to preach the word. Timothy is not only responsible for keeping church doctrine in line; he’s also supposed to bring that teaching to the lost.

Second Timothy shows us what Paul needed another preacher to know before he was taken from the world. Today, it’s a fine letter of advice for church leaders, and gives instruction to those who want to live godly lives.

Theme verse of 2 Timothy

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Ti 1:13)

2 Timothy’s role in the Bible

Second Timothy is the second of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Titus also received a pastoral epistle from Paul, but Timothy got two.

Although Titus and Philemon come after this letter in our Bibles, Second Timothy is probably the latest of Paul’s letters. We assume this because Paul wrote the letter near the end of his life (2 Ti 4:6).

Quick outline of 2 Timothy

  1. Guard and maintain the gospel (2 Ti 1)
  2. Fight and suffer for the gospel (2 Ti 2:1–13)
  3. Pursue godliness (2 Ti 2:14–26)
  4. Continue in sound teaching (2 Ti 3)
  5. Preach the word (2 Ti 4)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Timothy

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Timothy by Joseph Novak

1 Timothy:  Dear Paul, Thanks for your letter & for all the advice. The part about wine: ok! The part about women: huh? Yours, Tim.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Timothy

Timothy was Paul’s protege, his “child in the faith” (1 Ti 1:2). Paul had left Timothy in the city of Ephesus to steer certain men away from false doctrine and provide sound leadership. This is Paul’s follow-up letter.

1 Timothy is about sound doctrine and godliness. Paul deals with two main issues in this epistle:

  • What Christians should or should not teach. False teachers had already cropped up in the early church, and Timothy was sure to deal with more of them. Paul encourages Timothy to maintain sound teaching regarding the law and the gospel (1 Ti 1:8–17), gifts from God (1 Ti 4:1–5), and the Scriptures (1 Ti 4:13). Timothy is also charged with teaching his church to behave in a godly way, which means he spends even more time discussing . . .
  • What godliness looks like in the church. From family to finances, from prayer to church leadership—Paul walks through several facets of life and discusses how to go about them in godly ways. The Greek word most commonly translated “godliness” or “piety” in the New Testament appears eight times in First Timothy: it doesn’t show up this much in any other book of the Bible.

First Timothy is a letter to a young church leader with specific instructions on how to “fight the good fight” (1 Ti 1:.18; 6:12). This book gives us a look at Paul’s instructions regarding the challenges Timothy faced—challenges many pastors still face today.

Theme verse of 1 Timothy

“But in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Ti 3:15)

1 Timothy’s role in the Bible

First Timothy is the first of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Titus also received a pastoral epistle from Paul, but Timothy got two.

Timothy has a special relationship with Paul, and it shows. In this letter (and Second Timothy), we see Paul’s expectations of Timothy. This young church leader is specifically responsible for maintaining Paul’s standard of teaching in the church of Ephesus.

Paul probably wrote First Timothy a few years after he wrote Ephesians, the book that was read to the congregation Timothy now lead.

But First Timothy’s tone is notably different from Ephesians’. For example, whereas Paul’s instructions in Ephesians deal more with the high-level “Why?” and What?”, his charges to Timothy are in great detail and focus more on the “How.”

So while Ephesians lists general ways a Christian can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, First Timothy lays out specific ways to honor elders and widows,

Why the stark difference in Paul’s approach? The text gives us a few reasons:

  • Paul was writing to a fellow church leader. His letters to churches had to be general: if they were too specific, they wouldn’t be applicable to the common listener. However, First Timothy was written from one preacher to another preacher, from one church leader to another church leader, from one Jewish Christian to another Jewish Christian.
  • Paul was writing to a friend. Paul and Timothy had many shared experiences, and he was very familiar with the challenges Timothy faced, whether in ministry or in health (1 Ti 5:23).

This book gives us a good look at the challenges pastors face, but more importantly, how Paul instructs Timothy to deal with them.

Quick outline of 1 Timothy

  1. Sound teaching: the law and mercy (1 Ti 1)
  2. Living in godliness and dignity (1 Ti 2–3)
  3. Paul’s reason to write (1 Ti 3:14–16)
  4. Sound teaching: discipline and godliness (1 Ti 4)
  5. Overseeing the church (1 Ti 5:1–6:10)
  6. Charge to godliness (1 Ti 6:11–21)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 2 Thessalonians

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2 Thessalonians by Joseph Novak

2 Thessalonians:  When I told you, brothers, that he’s coming back soon, what I really meant was soonish.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Thessalonians

The world just won’t let up. The Christians in Thessalonica was under fire from all directions.

The unbelievers outside were still persecuting them. The unbelievers of the city had come after Paul when he first founded the church in this city (Acts 17:4–5), and they continued to afflict the church. Paul had already written them a letter to encourage them about this: the church had to continue growing in faith and love with the hope that Jesus would return.

But now false teachers were saying that Jesus had already come. The Thessalonians were being told that the day they had hoped for had already passed. They’d been working in faith and laboring in love (1 Thes 1:3) as they prepared for the day of the Lord—was all their preparation and suffering in vain?

And some of their own had just given in. They were undisciplined, doing no work, and yet trying to be involved in everyone else’s affairs (2 Thes 3:11).

This church was very dear to Paul’s heart—they were his children in the Lord (1 Thes 2:7,11). So he reaches out to them again with a letter that addresses these three issues.

Theme verse of 2 Thessalonians

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Th 3:3)

2 Thessalonians’ role in the Bible

Second Thessalonians is the ninth of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Thessalonica).

Paul needed to address the three troubles the church in Thessalonica faced:

  • Persecution from outside. Paul puts the church’s situation in context. The’re being identified with Jesus, and therefore the world hates them now. But what happens later, when Jesus returns? God will give them relief and judge their persecutors (2 Thes 1:6–7). Jesus will be glorified, and so will His saints (2 Thes 1:10–12). What happens when Jesus returns? Justice.
  • Despair from false doctrine. Someone has told the church that Jesus had already returned and gathered His own to Him—possibly even by forging a letter from Paul (2 Thes 2:2). Paul reminds the church of his teachings regarding the return of Jesus, and the things that must happen beforehand—including the appearance of the mysterious “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes 2:3).
  • Busybodies in the church. A few Thessalonians had fallen off into undisciplined lives: they weren’t working, and they weren’t holding to Paul’s traditions. Some had become “busybodies,” people getting involved in other’s work without contributing themselves (2 Thes 3:11). Paul reminds them of the example he set: how he worked among them with his own hands (2 Thes 3:7–8). He also leaves instructions for dealing with those who would reject his teachings in this letter (2 Thes 3:14–15).

Paul cared about the church he’d established, and the message he sends them still informs the way we should think about Jesus’ coming and the work we should do in the meantime.

Quick outline of 2 Thessalonians

  1. How persecution of the church ends (2 Thes 1)
  2. What must happen before Jesus returns (2 Thes 2)
  3. How to live and work together (2 Thes 3)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Thessalonians

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1 Thessalonians by Joseph Novak

1 Thessalonians:  In Christ there is no night but only one eternal morning in which the living and the dead awake and embrace.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Thessalonians

Timothy had good news for Paul: the church they had founded in the city of Thessalonica was growing. The members were loving one another. They were standing firm in their beliefs. They were holding up under persecution for their faith. The gospel is sounding forth from their city. Paul is overjoyed to hear this, and (with Timothy and Silvanus) writes them a letter to encourage and instruct them.

This is one of the most positive letters from Paul to a church. Paul overviews his history and relationship with the church members (which you can also read about in Acts 17:1–9), commends them for their excellent example, and goes on to list ways that they can “excel still more” until Jesus returns:

  • Sexual morality
  • Understanding the Lord’s return
  • Unity
  • Basic Christian conduct

The Thessalonians set a good example for churches in the area (1 Thes 1:7), and they still set a good example for us today.

Theme verse of 1 Thessalonians

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” (1 Thes 4:1)

1 Thessalonians’ role in the Bible

First Thessalonians is the eighth of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Thessalonica).

Paul opens his letter commending the Thessalonians for their “work of faith,” “labor of love,” and “steadfastness of hope” (1 Thes 1:3)—themes that echo throughout his letter. Paul writes to remind, encourage, and instruct them concerning a few areas of interest:

  • Encouragement for the Thessalonians. Paul had sent Timothy to them, and Timothy had returned with a glowing report. The Jews in Thessalonica had opposed Christianity since it came to the city (Acts 17:5), and the church there had come under persecution from their own countrymen. But despite the present suffering, the Thessalonians stood firm in their convictions. Paul commends them: they are following the examples of Paul, the church elders in Judea, and even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (1 Thes 1:6).
  • Expression of Paul’s affection for them. Paul communicates his pride in the Thessalonians, even calling them his glory, hope, joy, and crown (1 Thes 2:19–20). He was both mother and father to this church (1 Thes 2:7, 11), and he loves them dearly.
  • Instruction for future growth. The church was setting a fine example (1 Thes 1:7), and Paul challenges them to do more and more (1 Thes 4:1). He reminds them of the hope of Christ’s return (1 Thes 4:13–5:11) and lists ways to act until He does (1 Thes 5:12–24).

Paul also points to the return of Jesus throughout the letter:

  • Paul recalls the Thessalonians turning to Jesus and waiting for His return (1 Thes 1:10).
  • The Thessalonians will be Paul’s hope, joy, and crown when Jesus returns (1 Thes 2:19).
  • Paul prays that their hearts will be established at the coming of Jesus (1 Thes 3:13).
  • Paul wants them to be prepared for the day of the Lord (1 Thes 4:13–5:11).

 Quick outline of 1 Thessalonians

  1. Commendation for faith, hope, and love (1Thes 1–3)
    • The Thessalonians’ example (1 Thes 1)
    • Paul’s history with them (1 Thes 2)
    • Timothy’s visit and report (1 Thes 3)
  2. Challenge to grow in these areas even more (1Thes 4–5)

 

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Bible Overview Series: Colossians

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Colossians by Joseph Novak

Colossians: God assembled all the pieces of the universe as one huge jigsaw puzzle, a perfect picture of Christ.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Colossians

Paul had never been to Colossae, but he’d heard from a good friend that the church in that city was blossoming in faith and love. They’d been rooted in Christ—but young churches had been misled before. Paul desperately wants to encourage the church and head off any persuasive arguments from false teachers, so he writes them a letter.

The brief book of Colossians is all about who we are in Christ. In the first two chapters, Paul teaches the Colossians who they are in Christ; in the last two chapters, he instructs them on how to walk in Christ. Paul emphasizes the mind throughout the book—the better the Colossians know what they believe, the harder it will be for someone to persuade them otherwise.

This letter is still a profound, encouraging word to us today for several reasons:

  • We, like the Colossians, have never met Paul face-to-face (Col 2:1)
  • We continue to face persuasive arguments that contradict sound Christian doctrine (Col 2:8).
  • We need to remember that our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:1–3).
  • We should walk in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus (Col 1:10).

If we know who we are in Christ, we’ll have a much better idea of what to believe and how to behave.

Theme verses of Colossians

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” (Col 2:6–7)

Colossians’ role in the Bible

Colossians is the seventh of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Colossae).

Paul makes a few statements as to why he wrote this letter:

  • He heard about their growth and wants to encourage them (Col 1:3–8)
  • He wants them to walk in Christ and remain established in their faith (Col 2:6–7).
  • He knows false teachers are trying to lead them astray (Col 2:8, 16, 20).

Like his letters to the Ephesians and Philippians, this epistle is meant to encourage the Colossians to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel (Eph 4:1; Php 1:27; Col 2:6). Whereas Philippians focuses on the believer’s attitude and Ephesians focuses on how to walk as part of God’s family, Colossians emphasizes the believer’s mind (Col 2:8; 3:1–2). Paul addresses what Christians should know (Col 1–2) and what it looks like to set our minds on things above (Col 3–4).

Quick outline of Colossians

  1. Who we are in Christ (Col 1–2)
    • Christ: our head (Col 1)
    • Christ: our God (Col 2)
  2. How to walk in Christ (Col 3–4)
    • Christ: our life (Col 3)
    • Christ: our Master (Col 4)

 

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Bible Overview Series: Philippians

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Philippians by Joseph Novak

Philippians: Even in chains, Paul is freer than wild horses. Even in prison, his joy is boundless as the skies.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Philippians

Life was hard in the city of Philippi. The Christians were being persecuted for their faith. Paul, their first teacher, was in prison far away. One of their key members had fallen deathly ill. They had worked for the sake of the gospel ever since Paul first shared it with them—and the work was really hard.

And in the middle of all this, Paul tells them to rejoice. Why?

Because God is at work.

The book of Philippians is one of Paul’s most encouraging letters. Paul commends the Philippians for their earnest work in spreading the Word of God. He tells them how much he longs to see them. He warns them about potential pitfalls. He coaches them on dealing with hard times, and provides examples from his own life, other Christians, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter what, the good news of Jesus will advance. God will complete His work in the Philippians’ lives. His children will have all their true needs supplied. Paul will continue to minister to them.

And that’s reason to rejoice.

Theme verse of Philippians

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Php 4:4)

Philippians’ role in the Bible

Philippians is the sixth of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Philippi).

No book of the Bible focuses on joy like Philippians. The imprisoned Paul hears that the Philippians are going through difficult circumstances:

  • They were being persecuted for their faith (Php 1:28)
  • Other teachers were trying to trouble their friend Paul while he was in prison (Php 1:17)
  • Their friend Epaphroditus had gone to visit Paul but had fallen very sick (Php 2:26–27)
  • False teachers were trying to submit the Gentile believers to the Old Testament law (Php 3:2)

Despite all these hardships, they were still doing their part to spread the gospel—even sending Paul a gift to provide for his needs. Paul writes this letter as a response to all this.

Like his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, this epistle is meant to encourage the Philippians to joyfully walk in a manner worthy of the gospel (Eph 4:1; Php 1:27; Col 2:6). Whereas Ephesians focuses on how to walk as part of God’s family and Colossians focuses on the believer’s mind, Philippians focuses on the believer’s attitude. And Paul drives his point home: of all the books of the Bible, Philippians has the highest concentration of the words translated “rejoice” or “joy.”

Quick outline of Philippians

  1. Rejoice! Christ is our life (Php 1)
  2. Rejoice! Christ is our example (Php 2)
  3. Rejoice! Christ is our glory (Php 3)
  4. Rejoice! Christ is our strength (Php 4)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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