Understanding the Epistles
Hey BG - how are you man? I love this section, it is SO HELPFUL to me and to the teens in my life teen group. I have a question though. I have been starting (actually, trying is a better word) to read St. Paul's epistles and i am having a hard time. What should I be looking for to help me understand specific letters better?
I'm so glad you asked this question.
St. Paul's epistles make up a substantial part of the New Testament. In addition, they offer incredibly important insight into the minds, hearts and traditions of the early Church.
When we read St. Paul's epistles, we read more than nice letters to communities throughout the Mediterranean world...we are reading and hearing the very voice of God through the pen of Paul.
I'm going to list out a few bullet points for each of St. Paul's epistles below. These won't answer all of your questions but hopefully they will give you a solid "jumping off point" as you start to read and navigate through the books on your own.
Don't be intimidated, the hardest part is over...asking for help. Now, take advantage of all of the texts out there that are designed to help you get more out of God's word.
- How to deal with attacks
- God’s grace to help you live the Christian life
- The fact that with the Holy Spirit, comes power to withstand anything
- Talks about Christ’s return, and how to be ready for his coming – to live and act morally…especially sexually
- Encouraging them to pray for God’s divine strength
- To be on guard against false teachers, voices and cultural trends
- Deliverance from sin, wickedness and a reliance on prayer
- Abandonment to living for Jesus in the face of temptation, peer pressure and sin
- Speaking out against immorality
- Condemning lives led for false gods
- Discussing the dangers of dissension within the Church
- Recognizing your spiritual gifts, and warning against wasting the gifts God has given you
- Remembering the truth about the resurrection and looking forward to the 2nd Coming
- Love for the Church
- Caution about discerning the truth and false apostles who lead you astray
- Conflict resolution and crisis intervention within the believers
- Proof of the apostleship and authority of Paul
- The importance and power of (Paul’s) testimony
- Living in freedom, living in the Gospel – the battle has been won by Christ Jesus
- Getting “right” with God, by faith in Christ Jesus, His grace makes you righteous
- Correcting misunderstandings about what a life in Christ really means
- The importance of faith and of community
- The joy of the Christian message and the joy for those who live it out, authentically
- The importance of humility and of unity
- The grace that comes with obedience, service
- Warnings against false teachers
- An exhortation to truly Christian conduct
- The freedom that comes with life in Christ
- The need to resist indoctrination that is not of God
- Salvation by God’s grace, not by works
- The relationship between your soul and your body, between love/grace and sin/temptation
- Your relationship to God (as mirrored through Israel’s)
- The call for all to live out sacrifice in their personal lives, to seek salvation and to be obedient, self-aware and loving in all ways
- The need to trust in God’s plan for you, fulfilled in Christ and guided by the Spirit
- The importance of unity with other believers, the greater Church
- A greater awareness of our commissioning by God, and our need to recognize and use all our spiritual gifts – putting our vocation at God’s service
- The mission of the Church, God’s plan and purpose for us
- How to live in relationships – husband/wife, parent/child, brother/sister, friend/friend
- Standing strong in the face of evil/temptation
- The power of Christ (His redemptive power) in you; the importance of Baptism
- Focus on your faith in Jesus, not on stupid traditions/superstitions
- The need to avoid things that are contrary to the Christian life, the importance of love
- Living a virtuous life – how to do it
- The need to pray and to be guided by the Spirit
St. Paul was writing to people just like you and me; their struggles were not much different than ours, eventhough culturally speaking there are huge differences.
Concentrate on the doctrines he is teaching, not the cultural disciplines of the day. For help with that, get a good Catholic Study Bible and be sure to spend time reading the introductions and footnotes to each epistle.
And have fun...Bible study doesn't have to be boring. If it's not interesting, take some time to pray, and find a way to make it more enjoyable. God's plan isn't to bore you, it's to save you.
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