The Epistles: Part One
Theme Verses: Deut. 10:14To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Deut. 10:18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 2 Cor. 9:8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. James 1:27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Study Texts: Galatians 2:6-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-9; Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 11:17-34; 13:1-3; 16:1-4; Acts 11:27-30
Questions for Home Study and Class Interaction
1. Read Galatians 2:10. The apostles requested that Paul “remember the poor” in Jerusalem. What does it mean “to remember the poor”?
The apostles recognized the value of Paul’s mission to the uncircumcised (Gentiles) and gave their full support by extending their hand In fellowship (vv. 7-10). They made no requests of Paul except for one: “They only asked us to remember the poor”. Paul did not forget them. The collection for the saints in Jerusalem remained an important part of his journeys. “To remember” in scripture many times meant more than a mental acknowledgement, but to keep someone in mind and act appropriately. Here, that is the case. Paul was to bring the plight of the Jerusalem church to the Gentile converts and make an effort to collect money for them. Paul was eager to help. The message of grace and the breaking down of walls between differing ethnic/ socioeconomic groups Paul would bring to the Gentiles laid the foundation for the request for assisting the Jerusalem church (Jews), for compassion and mercy were at the heart of the gospel.
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 9; see also Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:3-18. Why did Paul work as a tentmaker to support his ministry? When should a leader be paid and when should he refrain from receiving payment? Which leaders of the church have the right to be paid? Why does Paul suggest paying elders in 1 Timothy 5:17-18?
In the ancient world, many philosophers and religious leaders of differing groups would travel about gathering followers and living off of their contributions. Many were charlatans and seekers of fame or easy money. Many brought their message to the masses for a price. Paul’s mission was different. His was a sincere concern for the welfare of those who heard his message and converted. In Thessalonians 2, Paul told the Thessalonians about his suffering hardship in Philippi (Acts 16:19-42, 35-40) prior to his coming to them. Even in Thessalonica, he suffered hardships. His mission was not one of ease or comfort, but suffering while preaching the truth of gospel and caring for his converts. In an effort to prove his sincerity, he worked as a tentmaker. He separated his actions from the charlatans and money-loving “wise-men” of the time. In verse 6, he informed his readers of his true pursuit, to please God and not man. He did not care about pursuing attention or developing a reputation for himself. His ministry was about the gospel not fame. Paul gave them not only the message but a personal commitment (“not only the gospel of God, but our own lives”). He had developed an emotional attachment to the Thessalonians (vv7-8). The gospel and its message should do no less for anyone bringing it to the lost. Paul proved this sincerity by “working night and day”. His work was difficult (“our labor and hardship”), but it was worth it to Paul. He was not a burden to the new converts and his work gave his message integrity.
Any leader of the church should weigh the pros and cons of receiving payments. If it brings disrepute or a questionable integrity to his message, the minister may need to find another source of income. In 1 Corinthians 9:3-18, Paul argued that even though it was his right to receive payment for his work as a minister, he would forgo it for the sake of the veracity of his message. The illustration of the soldier, vinedresser and shepherd deserving payment for their work paralleled the right of the minister to receive payment for his work. The use of Deuteronomy 25:4 about prohibiting the muzzling of an ox while it threshed the grain was significant. This was a lesser to greater argument. If God allowed the ox to eat for its labors, how much more would he have expected His ministers to be paid for their hard work. This was the right of all ministers, but a right which should not always be pursued. The integrity and reputation of the message always outweighed Paul’s reputation or his seeking remunerations.
In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul used the illustration of the ox to indicate that elders were worthy of double honor. “Double honor” seemed to have indicated that the elders were deserving of both respect and pay. But is this all elders? Paul qualified those worthy of pay as :1) those who “serve well”- refuting error and encouraging the church in seeking the truth of the gospel, and 2) “especially those who work hard at teaching and preaching.”. “Especially” could refer to 1) a subset of the group of elders who have a special gift or 2) translated “namely” or “specifically”. It is difficult to argue that any elder should not be actively preaching or teaching (see 3:1-7; Titus 1:9; and also Ephesians 4:11- the close connection between pastors and teachers- this could possibly be one group and not two). As the laborer is worthy of his wages, so is the elder. Apparently the elders had jobs out side of their commitment to the church (3:4, 12). Some believe that the payment is not a salary but an honorarium, though the context is too ambiguous for a concrete solution.
3. Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. What was Paul’s work ethic (see also 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)? Why were some of the Thessalonians not working? Were they Christians or non-Christians? What does it mean “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat”? Compare this command to 1 Corinthians 5:11.
Paul had a strong work ethic. He worked hard at both his tent making job (which was not the most reputable job in the ancient world nor did it yield much profit, thus making Paul’s life a struggle financially when he refused payment due to his concern for the integrity of the gospel) and his preaching ministry. He did receive gifts from some churches (see Philippians 4:14-20). In Thessalonica, he proved his sincerity and the validity of the message by working for his own living by making tents. He did not “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it” (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Paul did this so that he would set an example for the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul exhorted them to live peaceful lives and mind their own businesses. Apparently, people were being disruptive within not only the church community but in the community of unbelievers. In 2 Thessalonians, the problem did not seem to be resolved. In 3:11, some were still living undisciplined lives and not being “busy” but “busybodies” (this catches the word play in the Greek). Paul commanded the church to live by this maxim: “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” This is not an excuse not to give but a restriction. Several questions need to be asked. Is this a universal command or a punishment against those in Thessalonica who refused to work (note the “will not work” not “can not”) and became a nuisance within the community? The latter fits the context. Also, those becoming a nuisance were Christians. Paul’s command not to let them eat echoes Paul’s command for the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9-11) to refuse to fellowship with the man living with his mother-in-law, but this did not extend to non-believers (vv9-13). In Thessalonians, the intention of Paul’s command was for restoring the erring Christian not putting them out of community forever (vv. 14-15).
So why were the idle people not working? Many have argued that one of the problems plaguing the Thessalonian church was a skewed belief about Jesus’ return. With this in mind, many of the believers may have thought the resurrection was so near that they gave up their jobs to wait on it. Certainly the thrust of both epistles would back this, but does the immediate context support it? There does not seem to be a connection made in the immediate context between the idle members and the end time. This works against it, but does not rule it out. Some believe that the cultural practice of the patron-client relationship slipped into the church. Many wealthy individuals supported poor individuals by giving them money. Many times this act of “charity” was for a purpose- to have the client work for the patron. However, the more clients one had, the better the reputation one obtained in the socioeconomic environment of the pagan world. Not all clients were expected to reciprocate. “Doing good” was a term used in the Greco-Roman world for actions of benefactors (patrons); but not exclusively for that. It could simply mean “do good things.” However, such is also speculation, and is only a possibility.
Working for one’s living is a vital part of our faithfulness to the God who created us to work (Genesis 1-2; Ephesians 2:10). Paul believed work had a purpose beyond making money, but to benefit the ministries God expected his people to pursue. Work supported Paul and his ministry and to help the needy (Acts 20:33-35). The thief was to quit stealing and work so that he could in turn support the poor and needy (Ephesians 4:28).
4. Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Why does Paul condemn the Corinthians regarding the practice of the Lord’s Supper? What is the connection between the Lord’s Supper and treatment of the poor?
The Lord’s Supper in Corinth seemed to have been eaten within the context of a fellowship meal. The Corinthians were supposed to have gathered around the table and shared in remembering the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This, however, was not the case. The “haves” were abusing the “have nots” (v.22), creating factions and divisions within the church. Paul found this to be offensive to the very nature of the Supper. Apparently, the wealthy would not wait for the poor (vv21, 33) and consumed the food themselves, leaving nothing for those arriving late (probably due to long work hours). Paul condemned them for two reasons: 1) creating socioeconomic divisions and 2) forgetting to remember the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The reality is, if the Corinthians had understood #2, then #1 would follow. Jesus broke down the walls that created factions (Ephesians 2:14; see also Galatians 3:28). “Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner” takes in both of these problems (v. 27). No Christian can make a claim to understanding the Lord’s Supper and its implications if he or she judges others based on their socioeconomic status (or any status- race, ethnic background, etc.).
5. Read 1 Corinthians 13:3. What is the basis of all giving? Define the word “love” in this context. What is the proper motivation for giving? What are improper motivations?
Giving for any reason other than for the sake of the love God has given to us and the desire to express that love to the world is useless. Paul argues in chapters 12 and 14 that demeaning a fellow Christian because he does not possess certain qualities or a certain gift contradicted the nature of love. Love had to be the basis of the Corinthians lives or their work and labor were in vain and empty. No act of generosity or giving one’s life without love has value.
6. Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. After Paul came to Corinth and took their gift to Jerusalem, did he expect the Corinthians to continue to give every first day of the week? What was the purpose of this collection (cf. Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:10)? What does this say about giving? What is the significance of the Gentile church giving to the church in Jerusalem? Is Brentwood Hills church of Christ responsible for churches other than itself when we know there is a need?
The request for the collection for the poor in Jerusalem was brought to the Corinthians. Paul requested that they take up the collection “on the first day of the week” (see Acts 20:7- this seemed to be the time the church gathered for the communal meal and the Lord’s Supper) as he instructed the Galatian church to do. Paul intended to go to Corinth to write a letter of introduction to the Jerusalem church on behalf of those who would be appointed to take the collection to them and, if he could, to accompany them. Verse 2, however, indicated that once Paul arrived, the collection was to stop: “that no collection be made when I come.” Collections in the first century churches did not seem to have been a weekly occurrence, but an as needed event. They took up collections for the needy and poor. There is little evidence that they took collections for anything else other than supporting missionaries or ministers. The fact that they were taking up a collection for the Jerusalem church indicates that churches are not simply responsible for their own needy but for the needy of the church universal. This would mean that Brentwood Hills is responsible for those Christians members of other churches who cannot support their own or provide for their needy. When we receive requests from other churches for help, we must treat them like they are a part of us, because they are. What ties us together is Jesus Christ not Brentwood Hills.
7. Read 1 Corinthians 16:2. What is the significance of “in keeping with his income” (KJV: “as God hath prospered him”)?
God did not expect those who had less to give the same amount as those who made more. Giving was based on income. This principle had existed in the history of God’s people ever since the sacrificial system was established (Leviticus 5:7-11; 12:8; 14:21-22). The KJV paraphrases the sentence rather than translate it. I believe it caught the essence of the expression. God entrusted each of the Corinthians with their income, to act as stewards. They were expected to give in accordance with what God had blessed them with. The more they were given, the more they were expected to give. One cannot fully understand the nature of God’s blessings, if he does not use them in the way God intended for them to be used.
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