Short introduction to Hebrews

In order to encourage unwavering fidelity, Hebrews was written to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

He is higher than angels (1:2,4). He is the greatest of all high priests, since he serves continually and needs no reconciliation for Himself (2:17; 5:5-7; 7:23,24). He is greater than Moses, who faithfully delivered the Divine will, but didn’t Author it (3:2-6). His sacrificial offering (of Himself) was pristine (7:26,27; 10:14). Hence, His mediatorship is perpetual (7:25), his covenant is perfect, and His promises are greater than those previously received through Moses (8:6-8).

Since these things are so, God’s people should:

  • encourage one another’s obedience, lest we fall short (3:12-13; 4:1,2),
  • approach God’s throne of mercy with hope when we sin, (4:14- 16),
  • exercise our faith regularly (5:12-14), and
  • be diligent to the end (6:11,12).

Chapter 11 is a panorama of persons in the Divine narrative who define biblical faith. “By faith,” each of these committed themselves to acting upon God’s promises and commands without question—even in the face of great adversity. Each of their lives demonstrates the triumph of trust in God’s ultimate will, over the adversity of the present moment.

Chapter 12 is one of the saddest arbitrary divisions in Scripture, leading us to believe, perhaps, that it is disconnected from chapter 11. Not at all; rather, it is the pinnacle. There is no greater hero of faith, no demonstration of ultimate trust, “better” than that of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. His faith overthrew death itself, and He rose victoriously to the right hand of the Father, where He sits and waits: on us, and for us (12:1-4).

Rick Kelley, Prestonsburg (Ky) Informer

#hebrews, #nt-introduction

Short introduction to Philemon

A Shakespearean drama couldn’t have better highlighted the tension of slavery, or proffered a more noble solution to it. The main characters in the Divine “play” are Paul (the apostle), Philemon (the slaveowner) and Onesimus (the slave).

Act I. (Unkempt and weary from a long journey, the slave Onesimus is now standing again at the door of his owner, Philemon’s house. He holds a letter in his hand). Having fled from Philemon some time earlier, Onesimus had serendipitously crossed paths with Paul. He was taught the truth of Christ, and became a disciple. Presently, he hands the letter to Philemon. It is from Paul, an apostle—and a beloved friend of Philemon (v.1).

Act II. (A few months earlier) Though useful to him, Paul had decided it better to send Onesimus back to his Master (v. 11). Ah, but how? In this letter—breathed out by the Spirit of God—is a personal appeal to Philemon, to receive Onesimus back on two grounds: (1) that Onesimus was now a “brother in Christ,” and should be so received and treated (v. 16); and (2) that Philemon “owed Paul his life besides,” having escaped slavery to sin through Paul’s efforts (v. 19). Continue reading

#golden-rule, #nt-introduction, #philemon

Short introduction to Titus

When churches are first established, they usually lack organizational structure and practical wisdom. Titus is instructed to help set those things in order in the church at Crete (1:5).

Qualified elders (shepherds) should be appointed as soon as possible, to protect the flock from spiritual harm (1:5-9). Older saints must be encouraged to influence younger ones in their manner of life (2:1-8). Those saints who are not free (slaves) must not forfeit their fidelity to the Lord by harboring or seeking ill-will toward those who own them (2:9-10).

All are to be submissive to the civil authorities, so as to not promote the unrest and turmoil that is oft associated with worldly-minded people (3:1-3). In this way, the church shows itself serious and godly people—a people more concerned with the appearing of the Lord than mundane matters (2:11-14).

Since God extended abundant mercy to them through Christ—through the washing of regeneration (baptism) and renewal of the Holy Spirit (submission to His word)—Christians live in hope, and their lives are characterized by good works (3:4-8, 14). They avoid irrelevant talk and do not suffer fools (3:9-11).

May we grow more in His grace as we study this beautiful book.

Rick Kelley, “Prestonburg (KY) Informer,” Nov. 10.

#elders, #nt-introduction, #titus

Short introduction to Colossians

“The theme of Ephesians is ‘The church of the Christ, while the theme of Colossians is ‘The Christ of the church'” (credit: Terry Jones).

While Ephesians has in mind the supremacy of the Lord’s church in the eternal plan of God (Eph. 3:10-11), Colossians has in mind the supremacy of Christ over all things (Col. 1:15-20).

It is the pleasure of the Godhead that every Divine purpose be fulfilled in the One called “Jesus” (v.19; cf. 2:9). It is through His supreme, sacrificial offering alone that humanity may be reconciled to the Creator (v.20). It is through Him that the riches of God’s grace are manifest (1:25-28). He holds the key to all spiritual wisdom and knowledge (2:2-3).

Only Christ can “cut off” our sin, raising us from the dead through faith and baptism in His name (2:11-13). Only Christ can overthrow empty, insufficient world views, and bring us into the realm of true worship (2:18-23).

He is now at the right hand of God, but He will return in glory, ushering an eternal, bodily resurrection for those who have put their trust in Him (3:1- 4).

His faithful ones live exemplary lives — honest, unbiased, holy, merciful, kind, humble, meek, patient, and charitable (3:8-14). They have peace, because they seek to please Him (3:17). Christ permeates every realm of the Christian’s life (3:18-4:1).

An interesting side note: the Colossian letter gives us insight into how the early church received and circulated inspired letters, “And when this epistle is read amongst you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (4:16).

Rick Kelley, Prestonsburg (KY) Informer

#colossians, #nt-introduction, #pauls-epistles

Philippians: among the most beloved NT books

Among the most beloved books of the New Testament is the one with “joy” as the key word and theme. The Puritan poem, “Valley of Vision,” epitomizes Paul’s heart in Philippians. Truly, from the depths of the well (his prison cell), Paul seems to see God’s stars shining the brightest.

Speaking of vision, it was a divine vision, one in which Paul and his mission team were being summoned by a man of Macedonia, which led them to bring the gospel there (cf. Acts 16:6-10). Lydia and a band of religious women, along with her household, were the first saints known to this region (Acts 16:13-15). Always the opportunist, when Paul and his partner Silas were later imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the gospel, they converted the jailer and his family (cf. Acts 16:16-34).

Powerful and well-known are Paul’s words about death in the Lord (1:21), the humility of Christ (2:5-11), and the fact that Paul had suffered the loss of “all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (3:8). It was the upward call of God in Christ (3:14), the hope of the glorious resurrection body (3:20-21), that motivated him to face loss, turmoil, torture, — and even death — with no fear.

The Philippians saints were his “joy and crown” (4:1), and he encouraged their unceasing rejoicing in the Lord (4:4). That they might be whole in spirit, he encouraged them to be diligent in prayer, and pure in heart (4:4-9). And though he had learned to be content, he was ever grateful for their continual support of his ministry (4:10,15-16).

Saints are people of joy. They never regret the sacrifices they make for the sake of the gospel. We’re assured that God will provide for our every need – and richly so (4:19).

Rick Kelley, “Prestonsburg Informer,” Oct 6

#nt-introduction, #philippians

Short introduction to Galatians

One concern about early Christianity was how (if at all) it differed from the Mosaic economy. Early saints conflicted regularly over which (if any) applications of the Law remained relevant to Christians.

Paul argues in Galatians that the “works of the law” were inferior to the “faith of Christ,” as the former led to the latter (3:19-25). This proved the superiority of Christ’s system, and demonstrated that all believers – regardless of whether they had previously submitted to ordinances of the Mosaic Law — are equal heirs of God’s promise to Abraham (Gal. 3:26-29; cf. Gen. 12:1-3, et. al.).

A key word of the book is “liberty.” “Liberty” must be defined by God. It is not freedom from restraint, but freedom from the broken moral and spiritual systems found in the world. Liberty in Christ involves humble, sacrificial service (5:14-18; 6:1-4), moral excellence (5:19-26), and a promise of everlasting harvest (6:7-10)

—Rick Kelley, Prestonsburg KY church bulletin

#galatians, #liberty, #nt-introduction