The Epistles of Paul – Their Messages
1 Thessalonians – The believers of Thessalonica received this letter to strengthen their confidence and reassure them of Jesus’ promised return. This young first century church was established during a time of Christian persecution. They lacked maturity and needed assurance of Paul’s love and faithfulness during attacks from angry Greeks, zealous Jews, and Roman authorities. Christians were being stoned, tortured, and at times, beaten to death.
Paul’s letter addresses their ultimate source of hope—Jesus. He was resurrected, and He promised to return for those who remained faithful. Paul gives this group a warning to be joyful, knowledgeable, watchful, and prepared for Christ’s return. Paul told them to be comforted that their loved ones who have died will be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
2 Thessalonians –This church did not understand that Jesus’ return would not be an immediate return. Second Thessalonians was written to clear up their confusion on this promise. They had mistaken the intent of Paul’s first letter and considering the increasing persecution, they had become confused but idle while waiting.
Many of these new believers thought since Jesus was to come for them at any moment they could have a lazy Christian walk, Jesus would swoop in to rescue them, and punish their attackers. This meant they were neglecting the charge of being about the business of presenting the gospel and living as examples of spiritual transformation. This message applies to believers in our current times as well.
Paul encouraged his readers to have patience through troubles and trials. He reminded them of certain things that must happen and be in place before the Christ’s second coming. He urged them to stand firm and to beware of the “mystery of iniquity” (deceit, sin and wickedness) from “the wicked one” the “son of perdition.”1 Paul’s closing assured them that the Lord is faithful and would keep from evil those who faithfully serve Him.
1 Timothy – Timothy was a second generation Christian having the benefit of godly relatives who helped develop his faithful walk with the Lord. Timothy became a protégé of Paul’s and became a leader under Paul’s tutelage. In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages spiritual growth, mature understanding, and how to identify false teachers.
Paul particularly stresses prayer, worship and serving widows, elderly and slaves. He ends his letter with a warning to be guarded and to stand firm on faith. Serving as an example and mentor to the young or immature is a great responsibility we hold with our children as Paul had with his young disciple.
2 Timothy – Timothy shared a close relationship with Paul and was sent many times as Paul’s representative. Though a very timid young man, Paul saw potential and sincere commitment in Timothy. The young man began to travel with Paul and Silas where he learned much and became well respected.
During his entrusted service at Corinth, Timothy began having problems which prompted this instructional letter from Paul. The letter included guiding advice for Timothy in handling the church in the areas of standards for church leaders, elders, women, and various groups within the church.
Titus – Paul left Titus on the isle of Crete to serve the churches there. The purpose of Paul’s letter was to encourage and advise Titus regarding setting things in order in the churches and to ordain elders in each city. Like with Timothy, Paul was trying to train and call for his “representatives” to be able to take over for him as he was imprisoned much of this time.
Discipline was ignored and even disrespected in many of these young churches. Paul wanted the church to live spiritually with control and integrity. He stressed that church leadership should live with exemplary behavior and righteousness. Some of his last words in this letter tell Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to renounce ungodly living and worldly passions so that we might live sensible, honest, and godly lives in the present age as we wait for the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. He gave himself for us to set us free from every wrong and to cleanse us so that we could be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).
Philemon – Paul’s letter here is written to the wealthy owner of a runaway slave. The slave had stolen from his master and ran away, an act punishable by death under Roman law. The slave having met Paul (now an old man), became a Christian. This letter is an appeal from Paul to Philemon for forgiveness of the slave’s crimes.
Paul was sending the slave back to his rightful master with the letter. Since the slave had received salvation, he was a changed man. Paul wanted the slave to help Philemon in ministry since he had now become a Christian brother to them both.
Forgiveness is powerful; Paul’s plea illustrates what Jesus has done for us. As the slave was reconciled to his owner, we are reconciled to God through Jesus when forgiveness occurs. This is the purpose of the cross. Jesus died to atone for our sins, paying our debt for us, so that we can have forgiveness.