Join us for this recording of our live meeting at our Bedfordview site. Today we look at understanding what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God.
At the writing of 2 Timothy, Timothy is still in Ephesus but Paul is in a different situation altogether. He has been arrested again (after writing 1 Timothy) and placed in Roman prison. This time however, he is without his parchments, companions, a rented house; and is inaccessible.
He is totally alone. Under Emperor Nero he is expecting that he will not even make the next big change of season. This is Paul’s last letter and nothing will be heard from his pen again. At least nothing new: we still have 2 Timothy with us and Paul speaks on!
His epistle is very personal. He mentions twenty-three individuals by name. Much like Paul’s tears when he left the Ephesian elders on the beach in Acts 20, you can almost hear the trembling, emotional crackle of an emotive voice speaking in this letter to Timothy: “Hold on”; “keep fighting the fight”; “stay the course”; “Jesus is coming”; “He is faithful”; “Don’t hold back” are some of his impassioned pleas.
2 Timothy is best read with the emotion and sobriety of a last-time meeting between you and your father, knowing you will not see the man again. Hear Paul, see his confidence and total assurance that we have not believed in vain, and then try to live so that one day you too can say: “I have finished the race and am waiting for my prize, because I did what I what supposed to do.”
Paul’s preaching to the Philippians is the first evidence we have of the gospel’s arrival in mainland Europe. Acts 16 tells us it was the Holy Spirit who brought Paul and his companions to Philippi. Paul’s usual strategy was to preach in a synagogue when he first arrived in a town, but there wasn’t one in Philippi so he met with a Jewish ladies’ prayer meeting. Lydia was a convert from this meeting and her and her whole household were baptised.
Paul lands up in trouble and is jailed, and here we have read of the miraculous conversion of the jailer. The church in Philippi was made up of Lydia and her household, the jailer, and potentially a few women from the prayer group. Paul could only have spent a few weeks at the longest in the town.
He writes the letter many years later from house arrest in Rome. The Philippian church had sent physical help to Paul under house arrest. The help was in the person of Epaphroditus. But he had become sick and almost died. This was a great concern to Paul and to the Philippians. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to Philippi with the letter we now have.
The letter is positive and loving. It is often referred to as the epistle of joy because Paul uses the word joy more than in any other of his writings. Two other notable themes are fellowship and working out our salvation. Fellowship is a concept closer than ‘a little tea after church’ for Paul. Fellowship is akin to siamese twins sharing blood. He succeeds and they succeed, they fail and he fails. He sees their relationship as that close. In chapter 2:12 he encourages them to work out their salvation. Not work for salvation, but to work it out. His primary way for us to work it out is to co-operate with Christ working within each of us. And for this Paul is full of joy. He is so thrilled and assured by Christ’s working power in each person that the whole letter has the tone of praise and glorious hope. How uplifting a read!
Ephesians is very similar in structure and content to Colossians, so it is assumed that the letter was written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon. There are a few puzzles about the letter’s purpose and whom it was written to exactly. The letter is very general – Paul doesn’t deal with any questions or heresy, which is surprising considering that the Ephesian church was the closest to Paul of all the churches.
Paul’s exploits in Ephesus make for exciting reading (in Acts 19) and must have been even more so to live through. The message of Jesus flourished in Ephesus amid staunch pagan religion. The Ephesian god Artemis, who apparently sent a shiny, black, ‘many breasted’ meteorite, was shown up to be no god at all. For two years Paul established the church that developed there.
This letter is almost split in two distinct halves, showing how we become believers and, once we are believers, how we are to live. We are not saved by good works but are saved for good works. The letter can be read and re-read and you will find every time that there is something new you will see. It touches many areas of practical life – marriage, slaves, life in the church, relationships and children and parents; all packed with words of wisdom for heaven.
It would be good to note the overall process Paul follows in the letter. The order of the Christian life is important here. Many religions require good works in order for a person to come to a place of right relationship with their god. They require goodness before acceptance. Christianity is different and Ephesians shows this clearly. Acceptance comes before goodness. God accepts us in order to make us who he wants us to be. The order is vitally important to grasp. We cannot live the Christian life until we are in right relationship with God. We do not live the Christian life to be in right relationship to God – rather, we have faith in Jesus and that makes our relationship right with God!
Two concepts in Ephesians raise their head as tricky to deal with. Predestination and Chapter 6 on spiritual warfare present trouble for many. Here is some quick advice: what I have noticed over a few years is the tendency people have to focus in on the tough questions at the expense of easier ones. I would say focus in on the easier to understand concepts and explore them thoroughly. Even in Chapter 1 there are beautiful concepts – God’s choosing, Christ’s redemption, God’s grace, and the seal of the Spirit, which are matters that we should explore deeply. You will notice when you spend time on the majors the others take their rightful place of importance.
Then on predestination: it is very mysterious. How it works exactly, we cannot know. There’s nothing wrong with this: even science will tell us there are things we don’t know! What can be said, however, is the Bible never teaches what is know as double predestination, which is the teaching that God preordains who gets saved and who doesn’t. The Bible only teaches that God predestined those who are saved and those who are sadly lost chose completely for themselves. Mysterious!
Regarding spiritual warfare, one comment will suffice. Paul teaches many things in chapter 6 but it has to be noted that he is teaching them so that they may ‘stand’ (6:11). Paul is not teaching active ‘binding of the devil’ and ‘casting out of every trouble’, he is telling us what we are to do so that we stand and don’t fall. He wants us to be strong as the enemy attacks us. We aren’t encouraged at all to attack back. We stand and stand strong: that’s it, and Paul tells us how.
Colossians boldly claims that the Christian can and should rejoice in the fact that they can and should reject any means to spiritual gain other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is more than enough for all matters of life and godliness. We need hold onto nothing and no one else – ever.
Paul writes from prison in Rome upon hearing about the situation in Colossae from Epaphras. It is assumed that Epaphras planted the church and came to Rome to gets Paul’s counsel and advice. The letter deals with a multifaceted heresy. Much like 1 Corinthians, it’s difficult to understand exactly what the problems were in Colossae, but it is worth a good try. Colossians 1:18 is a big clue for us. It reads, “that in everything he might become preeminent”. At first the sentence doesn’t make sense. Paul has just said Jesus is above everything in the universe, now he says he needs to become ‘above all things’. But Paul is saying that Jesus needs to become preeminent to them. He is in reality, but apparently not to them. It seems they were thinking too little of the Lord Jesus. There is talk of philosophy being exalted, angels worshipped, strict worldly elements of religion and Jewish Law being brought in. Paul deals with each of these in the letter, although his overarching treatment for all the problems is that Jesus is all a person needs for every matter in the spiritual life. A real living connection with the Lord Jesus Christ is needed, everything else is smoke and mirrors – a waste of time and energy.
What is interesting to note, and it appears clearly in Colossians, is that the Bible is not loosely connected facts and thoughts but a chain of reasoning and arguments. The Scriptures argue, test and prove our faith against other options. The letters build arguments to prove why certain beliefs are right and others wrong. This is why it’s not healthy to simply open the Bible and read ad hoc. We need the arguments clear in our own thinking. I am sure this is what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians where he says we ‘pull down strongholds with reasoning’. A stronghold is a strong reasoning system built up to cause us to doubt the truth. The answer to it is to reason strongly back.
Enjoy the letter. You might want to answer some questions for yourself that the letter teaches while you read it through.
How does Paul say they and I can grow up in my connection with Jesus?
What does it mean to ‘live on Christ?’
How does Paul say we grow in godliness?
What are the wrong ways that Paul says we can go about answering the above questions?