Church Epistles
  • [Gal 1:1] Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
  • [1 Tim 2:7] Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity [truth]
  • [Acts 20:26-28]  Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
  • [Acts 20:29-31]  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse [distorted] things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
  • [Acts 20:32]   And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

The Lord Jesus sent messages to seven local churches by His exiled servant John.  Those messages are recorded in Revelation chapters two and three.   The same Lord sent messages to seven other churches by His servant Paul.  These are the subject of this article.  We know from Paul that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.  However all Scripture does not have the same degree of applicability to believers today.  For example, while the ten commandments have value to us, they are not as applicable today as they were to the children of  Israel at the time they were given.

    It is absolutely essential for the believer to learn the scriptural difference between his relationship to earth and heaven, the flesh and the Spirit, Judaism and Christianity. Only from the Pauline epistles will the Holy Spirit minister this Christian truth to him. Then, when established and hid with Christ in God, he can be ministered to by the remainder of the Word without being drawn from his position in Christ, who is his life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Miles J Stanford

The uniqueness and value of Paul’s letters are highlighted by Cyrus Scofield in these perceptive comments:

    The Epistles of the Apostle Paul have a very distinctive character. All Scripture, up to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, looks forward to the cross, and has primarily in view Israel, and the blessing of the earth through the Messianic kingdom.   But "hid in God" (Eph. iii. 9) was an unrevealed fact -- the interval of time between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and His return in glory; and an unrevealed purpose -- the outcalling of the ecclesia, the church which is Christ's body. In Mt. xvi. our Lord announced that purpose, but wholly without explanation as to how, when, or of what materials, that church should be built, or what should be its position, relationships, privileges, or duties.

    All this constitutes precisely the scope of the Epistles of Paul.  They develop the doctrine of the church.  In his letters to seven Gentile churches (in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica), the church, the "mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God "(Eph. iii. 9), is fully revealed, and fully instructed as to her unique place in the counsels and purposes of God.

    Through Paul alone we know that the church is not an organization, but an organism, the body of Christ; instinct [animated] with His life, and heavenly in calling, promise, and destiny. Through him alone we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches, and the right conduct of such gatherings. Through him alone do we know that "we shall not all sleep," that "the dead in Christ shall rise first," and that living saints shall be "changed" and caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His return.

    But to Paul was also committed the unfolding of the doctrines of grace which were latent in the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Paul originates nothing, but unfolds everything, concerning the nature and purpose of the law; the ground and means of the believer's justification, sanctification, and glory; the meanings of the death of Christ, and the position, walk, expectation, and service of the Christian.

    Paul, converted by the personal ministry of the Lord in glory, is distinctively the witness to a glorified Christ, Head over all things to the church which is His body, as the Eleven were to a Christ in the flesh, the Son of Abraham and of David.

An interesting, logical structure to the church epistles was revealed by E W Bullinger. He noted that the writings to three of the churches stand out as ‘treatises rather than epistles’; they are the letters to the Romans, Ephesians, and Thessalonians.  Then, sandwiched between Romans and Ephesians, and between Ephesians and Thessalonians, were letters that contain reproof and correction concerning the content of the treatise that they followed. 

  1. Romans (Doctrine and instruction concerning believers’ standing and walk)
    1. Corinthians (Reproof concerning practical departure from Romans)
    2. Galatians (Correction concerning doctrinal departure from Romans)
  2. Ephesians (Doctrine and instruction concerning what believers are in Christ, and what Christ is to them)
    1. Philippians (Reproof concerning practical departure from Ephesians)
    2. Colossians (Correction concerning doctrinal departure from Ephesians)
  3. Thessalonians (Doctrine and instruction regarding the Lord‘s return)

Bullinger notes that though the order of other NT books sometimes varies from manuscript to manuscript, the order of these church epistles never varies. Furthermore, it is not chronological.  It is as though the Holy Spirit inspired not only the content but also the order, to make a complete, logical course of instruction especially suited to the believer in this age of grace.

These epistles are the repository of the most sublime truths ever revealed to man. They are greatly under-appreciated.   It is these letters that contain the wonderful facts that the Lord Jesus Christ lives in the believer, and we live in Him as members of His body, members not of an organization, but of an incredible organism with the Lord Jesus as the head.  While they are all invaluable, Ephesians is my personal favorite. Listen to what Arno Gaebelein had to say:

    The highest and most glorious revelation that God has been pleased to give, He has given through the apostle Paul; and his Ephesian Epistle holds the place of pre-eminence. The revelation that is given in this Epistle concerning believing sinners, whom God has redeemed by the blood of His Son and exalted in Him to the highest possible position, is by far the greatest revelation. Here God is revealing His own loving heart and telling out by His Spirit how He loved us and thought of us “Before the foundation of the world” (1:4).  He is showing forth “the riches of his grace” (1:7) and making known the secret He held back in former ages. How rich it all is!  Like God Himself, this revelation coming from His loving heart is inexhaustible. 

But note the admonition that was given by Paul himself in Acts 20:29-30 “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse [distorted] things, to draw away disciples after them.”   Paul knew that there would be a departure from his teachings soon after he went to be with the Lord.  That condition has continued down through the centuries.  How important it is for us to saturate our hearts and minds with the teachings that the glorified Lord Jesus revealed to us in these church epistles!

    Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 

    But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:  That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

    Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.  Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

    For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

                                                                             Paul the Apostle

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