February 21, 2022 – The Bible as a Bookshelf – The Letters

On Sundays at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, we are going through a series entitled “Long Story Short” where we look at the Bible as Bookshelf. Each Monday through this series, I’ll layout for what you basic details about the shelf we looked at. And just a reminder you can listen to my podcast of this sermon here or stream it below: 

Yesterday in our message at St. Matthew’s, we continued looking at the different parts of scripture and we looked at the Letters. What we did yesterday was we combined two sections into one. We combined Paul’s letters with the General or “catholic” letters.  Let’s talk about what the letters were and then how they are different. 

First, the letters are just that. They are letters. They are letters that early church leaders wrote to churches. We’ll talk about how they differ in a minute, but right off the bat, know that the letters are just that, they are letters. They are letters written to churches or to the church that deal with a variety of issues. Some theological, some pastoral, some personal. That is what these letters are, they are what is implied in their name. They are letters.  

Now let’s talk about what makes them different.  We have on these shelves two different groups. As mentioned, we have Paul’s letters and the General or “catholic” letters.  First, Paul’s letters are written by Paul the Apostle while the General letters have a variety of different authors, some we know (Peter, John) while some we don’t know who wrote them (Hebrews).  Second, the general letters are typically addressing a major point of doctrine within the larger church, these letters are bigger picture deal with bigger issues. They are more universal letters, written to the “The” church as opposed to being written to a specific church. 

That is what Paul’s letters were. They are very specific. These are specific letters, written to specific churches (or persons) about specific things.  Paul’s letters are so often very person or individual, and understanding the context of what is happening helps these letters make more sense.  Quite often Paul will be writing back to churches that either he helped start or helped grow, answering specific questions they wrote to him about.  Once again, understanding that back story of what is happening in the churches helps it makes better sense to us.  Paul’s letters are many things, but there are three things that I want you to understand that they are they: 

  1. Inspired.  Paul’s letters were understood to be inspired Holy Scripture from the very beginning.  We see in 2 Peter 3: 16 that from the very beginning Paul’s letters were seen as “scripture.” The church understood them as authoritative from the very beginning.  Paul’s letters predate the majority of the Gospels and in fact, many churches may have seen or read Paul’s letters before they had ever read a Gospel. 
  2. Theological.  Theology means “the study of God.”  Paul’s letters were reflections on who Jesus is and an explanation of what we believe. These letters were the first books of theology in church history.  Sometimes folks like to pit Jesus against Paul, that is simply not how these letters should be understood.  Paul, through the Holy Spirit, is helping us better understand who Jesus is. He is helping us better understand what it is that we believe. Paul’s work is the very foundation of our formal beliefs and doctrines as Christians.
  3. Personal. And as mentioned earlier, Paul’s works are personal.  They are letters written to churches and persons that Paul deeply loves.  We see his fatherly love for Timothy and his fatherly frustration with Corinth.  Paul is desiring for these persons and these churches to grow and be faithful. 

One of the things that I believe that all of the letters show us is the importance of the church. Each of these, they show great for the church and a great desire to see the church be faithful and grow. These letters are a love letter to Jesus and to His church and every one of them offers practical, real wisdom and advice for how we can live out the Gospel fully in our day to day life and for how our churches can be faithful 

There is much to be gained and learned from each of these letters. 

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