The Epistles: Part Three and Conclusion
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: Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:25-28; Philippians 4:10-20; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; 6:3-19; 1 John 3:11-20
Questions for Home Study and Class Interaction
1. Read Romans 12:8. Why does Paul say giving is a spiritual gift? Does he expect everyone to give? Note he also says mercy is a spiritual gift. Does the Bible ever say that the ability to make money is a spiritual gift? What is the significance of this?
This passage reflects the same theme found in 1 Corinthians 12: diversity within unity. Each Christian had been given a gift for the benefit of not oneself but the community. Here Paul indicated that there were those gifted in “imparting” or “giving”. This giving was further qualified by “generosity”. It could also be translated “singleness” or “simplicity,” a giving that had no ulterior motive. The gift here may be one of comparison rather than exclusion. Others were not excluded from giving simply because they did not possess the spiritual gift. All were expected to serve (v.7) and to show mercy (v.8) despite the fact Paul singled each one out as a spiritual gift. There were those who seemed to have excelled in these areas due to their unique gift given to them by the Lord.
2. Read Ephesians 4:28. What does Paul expect those who used to be thieves to do once they have been reconciled with Christ?
In contrasting the former way of living to the new life found in Christ, Paul reminded the Ephesians of the significant changes that had taken place. Those who had made their living stealing were now to make their living working. But the work had purpose; a purpose that went beyond supplying goods to fulfill needs. Paul’s own work ethic had exemplified what he called the thief to do (see Acts 20:33f.). As Francis Foulkes concludes:
“The Christian motive for earning is not merely to have enough for oneself and one’s own, and then perhaps for comforts and luxuries, but to have to give to those in need.” (Ephesians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 65)
3. Read Philippians 4:10-20. Would Paul agree with this statement: “God just wants us to be happy”? What does Paul learn from his experiences in life? What does Paul seek to be? Does Paul see any differences between having more than he needs and not having enough? What did God supply for Paul?
The Philippians had been given opportunities to assist Paul financially during his ministry in Thessalonica (v. 16) and while imprisoned in Rome (the context here). Paul accepted their gift with joy (v.10) but was quick to qualify that joy. Paul had to be careful not to have anyone think his ministry was for the sake of profit like many of the false teachers of his time (see question #5). His thankfulness was extended to the Philippians for their show of dedication to his ministry of sharing the gospel. His appreciation was for the hearts of the givers not the gift. The gift simply demonstrated their participation in his proclaiming the gospel and their desire to help him through difficult times (see 1:5; 4:14). Paul claimed he never spoke of being in need (v. 11). This statement was ironic, for he did many times go without (see 2 Corinthians 11:26-27). Paul’s joy came in knowing that the Philippians would themselves be blessed (v. 17). Their gift was their sacrifice to God not Paul, for He was and is and forever will be the One who supplies His people with all goods things. “His riches in the glory in Christ Jesus” was the source of these blessings. Paul’s focus throughout this text was on the nature of the commitment the Philippians made to God and how the gift demonstrated this and how the gift glorified and honored God (vv. 17-19). But Paul made certain the Philippians understood one thing: no matter what his economic status, he was always “content” (vv11-12). The word “content” was a word used by the early Greek philosophers called the Stoics. It indicated in their beliefs a state of complete self-sufficiency despite external circumstances. Paul uses the word in a Christianized sense. His sufficiency did not rest in his own inner strength, but in the One who supplies strength. This strength was needed so that he could find contentment in any circumstance, whether rich / “live in prosperity” or poor/ “with humble means”. Paul could be hungry and without food or without clothing to warm himself and be content. This contentment was in understanding that living in Christ was all one needed. It is of interest that Paul saw no difference between being well supplied and being in need. Both had inherent dangers for Paul, threatening to draw him away from depending on and finding completeness in Christ. The passage “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” then is not a principle that means whenever you trust in God you will succeed in whatever you are trying to accomplish, but in whatever circumstance you find yourself in, contentment can be found. This is not “happiness”, for certainly not every circumstance demands we be happy. Dealing with children abused by their parents should not make us happy, but we can feel a sense of contentment knowing that Jesus will and can make all things right. “Happiness” has become an idol in our land, for many have justified immoral lifestyles by using these phrases: “I have the right to be happy” or “Just as long as you are happy” or “God just wants me to be happy”.
4. Read 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Who is primarily responsible for the widows in the church? When is the church responsible for widows?
The widow was worthy of “honor”, a word that meant more than simple respect, but deserving of financial support (see Matthew 15:4-5; 1 Timothy 5:17). However, the church was to care for them only if their family could not (v.4) or refused to. Even more, the widow had to qualify for assistance. She was to be destitute (“left alone”), another could not be supporting her. She was to have her “hope” or a confident expectation that God would care for her now and in the end and living a life dependent on prayer. There was to be no façade in her religious conviction. “Giving herself over to wanton pleasures” was tempting for many widows during this time. It was difficult for widows to survive and many of them would resort to immoral means to make a living. Not providing for one’s own family member who was widowed was to Paul worse than the way pagans acted (v. 8). Christian morals and ethics should always outdo the world’s. Being 60 years of age may indicate the age of retirement or the Jewish view of when “old age” set in (later Jewish tradition found in the Mishnah in the tractate Aboth indicates this). In verse 9, she was to be a “one-man woman.” Seeing that Paul told the younger widows to remarry, it seems unlikely that he was refusing to assist the woman who had lost her second husband to death (v. 14). Remarrying was to Paul acceptable. This qualification probably meant that she was faithful to her husband when they were married. The widow was to have a reputation of “good works” and known for her hospitality. Her being helped would then be based on her generosity and service to others in her youth. If a house could take care of their own widow, then they were to do so. It would lessen the burden placed on the church (v. 16) and widows who were truly “left alone” could be cared for.
5. Read 1 Timothy 6:3-19. When is godliness profitable? With what should we be content? Should we desire to get rich? What does it mean: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”? How does a man get rich and what is he to do with his wealth?
In verse 3-5, Paul warns the Ephesian church of false teachers. These charlatans were peddling their philosophies and religions for the sake of gain. Paul was not. Paul’s life was not a pursuit of goods or wealth, for his “contentment” was always present. His “contentment” or “sufficiency” was found in Christ. His pursuit was godliness, living a life reflecting the nature of Christ to the world. That was the only true “gain” to Paul. Wealth and riches were for Paul a worthless pursuit. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing (see Job 1:21; Ecclesiastes 5:15). This verse is difficult, for it is literally “for we have brought nothing into the world for we cannot take anything out of it either”. Most translate it “and we cannot take anything out of it either” but, if this is the case, it is a rare meaning. The emphasis then is on “taking it out.” What really counts is what we take out of this world. Godliness has eternal consequences; riches are transient and will be destroyed in the end. Seeking to become rich is a dangerous pursuit. If we cannot take it with us, then why pursue it? We should find contentment with simple necessities, “food and clothing” (clothing” could mean “covering”, referring to shelter as well). If we cannot, we have fallen into the trap, and are in danger of being dragged into destruction and ruin (v. 9). “Those who want to get rich” will find no peace and only the devil waiting to tempt them into believing they need more to feel complete than Christ. In verse 10, “the love of money” is portrayed as one of the many roots of evil. The draw wealth has can ensnare many Christians. So in the end, we should take Paul’s advice and flee (v.11; “these things” probably refers back to “love of money”) the pursuit of wealth. It should not be our goal. We should not feel deficient if we do not have a house “big enough” for our stuff or our family. We should be content knowing we have shelter, electricity, indoor plumbing, etc. Why do we pursue bigger and better things for ourselves? If seeking riches is such a dangerous thing, why are so many willing to put their neck on the block for it? Paul concludes that a Christian should not desire wealth (v.9), but come to an understanding of what true contentment was.
6. Read 1 John 3:13-17. How do we know we love our brother? How do we know we love God?
Cain was the perfect example of hate, exhibited in the murder of his brother Abel. Hate causes people to act in ways that harms others or ignores their needs. Love, on the other hand, seeks to heal and serve. Love is the evidence of the Christian life. We have gone from death to life, but that life has to be manifested through love. Love was defined by the act of Christ in his self-sacrifice. We are to emulate that. Love is expressed in all giving. We are to love to the point that we are willing to die for each other. We are to love to the point that we cannot see a brother or sister in need without using our goods to help. (Note: In verse 17, “closing of the heart” is literally “closing of the bowels”. The seat of affection in the Jewish mind was found in the bowels. If the Jews had sent Valentine cards, they would have a picture of a colon or small intestines, not a heart.) This meant not merely passing them by, but also not feeling a sense of compassion as well. Love is not merely the act, but the act stemming from genuine concern. Love is not expressed without the heart and the heart is of little good without action.
7. How does God want us to use our possessions? What are some important concepts to remember in dealing with the things we have? When we use our possessions, what priority should we place on our own wants and needs?
8. How can we make the principles we have learned practical as a church, family, and individuals?
9. Define wealth. Define greed. Define covetousness. Define stewardship. Define pure and undefiled religion before the Father.
10. Summarize the two or three most important lessons or principles you have learned in this study about living as God’s stewards in the world.
11. What difference(s) will what you have learned make in the way you approach and live every day?
Church of Christ
5120 Franklin Road
Nashville, Tennessee 37220
Phone: (615) 832-2541
Fax: (615) 832-2583