1 Peter

Good morning! On this shortest day and longest night of the year, I give thanks for this community of light and wisdom. You have been sources of encouragement and hope in all the past year. Since we read 1 Peter today, I might say (in a paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:10) “once we were no people, but now we belong to each other and to God”, though I won’t presume that all of us are on the same page regarding those things. 🙂

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Good morning! Today we read the book of James, which Martin Luther famously called “an epistle of straw”. He disliked this book’s robust emphasis on the importance of righteous human behavior as opposed to faith alone. I find it curious that James self-identifies as a teacher, since we mostly think of teachers narrowly as those who convey information. The descriptor works for James though if we realize that his teaching has more to do with mobilizing people for action rather than conveying book knowledge. Contrary to Luther, I believe James may be an essential book for stereotypically action-oriented millennials, and any in the 21st century who feel compelled to “do something” with Christian faith rather than simply profess it.

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Hebrews 1-5

Good morning! Today we begin reading through the book of Hebrews, which is called a letter in its title but is much closer to a sermon in form. Its writer (not Paul) uses highly developed rhetoric and quotes from many parts of scripture, as though he has a concordance at his fingertips. This writer thinks nothing of taking passages out of their original context (like the Psalms, for instance) and putting them to different uses. The main emphasis here is on the power of faith to lead to salvation throughout biblical history, and especially in Jesus Christ. Hebrews contends that Jewish spirituality and theology lends itself to Christian belief, such that Jesus is the “great high priest” whose once-for-all-time sacrifice satisfies the need to atone for sins and please God.

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Titus and Philemon

Good morning! Today’s texts of Titus and Philemon are purported to be brief letters of Paul to several followers. The book of Titus is like Timothy in the sense that it gives encouragement for a younger disciple to lead a worthy life. The letter to Philemon concerns the status of Onesimus, a slave who is well-regarded by Paul due to their ministry together. Though the former book encourages slavish obedience for the sake of orderliness, Philemon restores some sense of the Christian faith being a force for freedom and justice.

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2 Timothy

Good morning! Second Timothy reads quite a bit differently from First Timothy, though some elements of “Paul’s” combativeness remain. This letter has none of the hierarchical language regarding women, slaves, children, widows, etc. Instead, the writer addresses Timothy with tenderness and encouragement. He does mention those who have wronged or abandoned him in the faith, presumably because their doctrine went “off the rails” at some point (including with the idea that the resurrection has already occurred). Despite the grudge-baring and occasional bitter remarks about others, I get a sense of acquiescence and trust that all shall be well. Two areas that caught my attention are the remarks about faith and about Scripture.

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1 Timothy

Good morning! Today we read all the first letter to Timothy, a younger protégé of Paul. The book takes the form of advice about being a Christian leader from the elder to the younger, but scholars disagree again about whether Paul genuinely wrote this or if it’s put in his name. The controversy about its authorship emanates from the fact that, unlike Paul’s writings, these chapters focus almost exclusively inward, on the structure and conduct of Christian communities, while barely mentioning those outside the fold. This follows a pattern I’ve noticed: the church that fails to consider the outsider first, but puts its own interests first, quickly gets lost in the minutia of who’s better than whom.

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2 Thessalonians

Good morning! I hope you’re enjoying this breeze through some of the shorter letters of the New Testament. Today we read the second of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church. Whereas in the first letter Paul emphasized the goodness for believers of Christ’s return to encourage their patient endurance, today his counsel magnifies the judgment on nonbelievers at the same time. This threat accompanies more pedestrian advice about community life. Elements of both have been taken out of context and used in ways that magnify suffering.

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1 Thessalonians

Good morning! Today with First Thessalonians, we read what most scholars believe is the earliest existing Christian literature. This letter to believers in Thessalonica is written early in the fifth decade of the Common Era, meaning it’s perhaps only twenty years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In its theology and counsel, we see a recently-converted Paul trying to shepherd a group of Christians to keep the faith despite hardship, expecting the resurrected Christ’s imminent return.

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