Dear 5x5x5 Bible readers,
After our short stay in the pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy (in Ephesus) and Titus (in Crete), we turn now to the letters of 1, 2 & 3 John. The John that is writing is an apostle, one of the “sons of thunder” who knew Jesus personally. He wrote the gospel according to John earlier, to introduce Jesus to those who did not know Him. Now, much later in life, he is writing to those who are already Christians.
These letters address the behavior of those who claim to be Christians. You will see repeatedly the phrase, “If we claim…” which is followed by clear expectations of the behavior of a Christian. John’s themes are simple and straightforward on topics of light/darkness, truth, love, sin, and obedience. John was probably the last surviving apostle when he wrote these letters, and he fights vigorously against the corruption of a true faith. It’s refreshing to see such clarity!
On June 27 we begin reading the book of Luke. Luke probably did not know Jesus personally and he was not one of the 12 disciples. Luke was a well-educated doctor and an early convert, who became very dedicated to the cause of the gospel and accompanied the apostle Paul on several missionary trips. Luke set out to compile a very detailed account of the life of Jesus and he interviewed many eyewitnesses before compiling this compelling and thoughtful summary.
Luke’s gospel is sometimes called a “gospel of relationships” as he provides many excellent character descriptions. As you read through Luke this month, make a note of all the different people Jesus encounters – consider their gender and their ethnic, religious, economic, and social groups. Luke chooses to highlight the poor and outcast, and he introduces thirteen women mentioned in no other gospel. He also shows delight and appreciation for children. The gospel helps us see value in people that society often rejects, and to bridge socio-cultural gaps – consider Jesus’ interaction with people as you read and study Luke.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus, Luke 5:31-32
On June 26 we will read Philemon – you’ll find it tucked away right before Hebrews. Philemon is a one page letter, Paul’s personal request for a favor from a friend. It’s a big favor – the life of an individual hangs in the balance. Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus, who had run away. In Rome Onesimus meets Paul and becomes a Christian, perhaps they even shared a jail cell together. Onesimus’ conversion to Christ greatly complicated his future – he knew he could not keep running from his responsibilities forever, but if he returned to his master he risked immediate execution or (if the owner was merciful) branding as a runaway. Paul writes a persuasive letter, using all his influence to persuade Philemon to welcome his runaway slave back and to treat him well.
Imagine an estranged relationship you know, or another awkward social situation where an offense has been committed, or there is a socially imposed distance… How can you play the role of a reconciler? How does Paul use his best diplomatic skills to bring two people together? What does he appeal to?
On June 20 we started Colossians, the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Like the other letters of Paul we have been reading, it is relatively short and succinctly addresses both doctrinal and lifestyle issues.
When I think of the book of Colossians, several things stand out to me. In chapters 1-2 you will find one of the most powerful passages in the whole of scripture on the identity of Christ. In the margin of my Bible I have Colossians 1-2 tied to Ephesians 1-2 because in those four chapters you will find a very complete “Christology” (the doctrine of who Jesus Christ is).
Secondly, in the book of Colossians you will find a very good summary of what it means to be converted. There are important themes of alienation and reconciliation, our transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (1:13), what it means to live a life worthy of the Lord (1:9-12), how we were dead in our sins but are now made alive in Christ (2:9-15), the putting off of the old self and putting on the new self (ch. 3), and how being a believer affects our relationships (ch. 3).
Take heart, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing”! (1:6)
If you’re on track with our 5x5x5 plan, we have just finished the book of James, and are starting Matthew. Though we have already read one account of Jesus’ life in the book of Mark, you will find that Matthew’s story is from a different point of view. Imagine two of your close friends – if an outsider asked each of them to tell your life story, they would probably tell it slightly differently, each highlighting things they thought were important or particularly memorable. Your life story hasn’t changed, it is simply told from a different perspective!
Matthew was a Jew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. He writes to a Jewish audience using metaphors and references they would be familiar with. In fact, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament author. The book of Matthew is the first in our New testament because it serves a bridge from the Old to New Testament. From the very first sentence Matthew makes it clear, he is connecting Jesus’ arrival with the Old Testament story line… a story that begins back with Abraham, Moses, the people of Israel, and a line of kings.
The Jews had been waiting thousands of years for a Messiah, a King – but Jesus and His kingdom were completely different from what the Jews expected. We learn more about the King (Jesus) and the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ teachings including the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), Jesus’ interaction with people, and the parables (Mt 13-25).
As you read and reflect on Matthew here are some ideas to help you discover the riches of this gospel: Look up some the references to the Old Testament, highlight all of the commands Jesus gives, mark the word “kingdom” as you read, or simply ask the question, “Who is Jesus? What is he like?” and record what you discover in jour journal.
Persevere in your reading! One chapter a day is not too much! — Mindy
Welcome to the book of James! The book of James is all about how we live as Christians – it’s about “doing”. Sometimes this book is controversial because of its emphasis on good works, and readers wonder if it contradicts other parts of scripture. Let me encourage you to see James through the analogy of motion – where there is life, there will be motion. Movement does not cause life, but it does invariably follow life. Movement is a sure sign that life is present. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Genuine faith in Christ always results in actions that demonstrate faith. Actions are evidence of faith.
James is a simple preacher, perturbed that people are claiming Christ but are not living right. His words are easy to understand, but are we doing what he says? “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. “ – James 1:22
Dear 5x5x5 Readers,
We finished reading Hebrews earlier this week, and started reading Galatians. If you’ve been on vacation this week and not reading regularly (like me!) do not despair, you can catch up quickly by reading the first three chapters of Galatians and then you will be back on track.
I am fascinated by the way our 5x5x5 reading plan has decided which book of the New Testament we read next. It is not random, but very intentional. In Acts, we discovered the birth of churches across the Roman empire, and we witnessed the apostles deciding how to best integrate and welcome gentile believers (those without a Jewish heritage and unfamiliar with Jewish cultural practices) to the community of Christians. Then in Hebrews we read Paul’s extensive arguments, directed at Jewish believers, explaining how the old system of the law was improved upon and replaced by the work of Jesus Christ. We have a new covenant in Christ – for gentiles this was great, they were welcomed into the faith without the drama of having to keep the law; for Jews, this was very confusing, what part of their old way of life and worship should they keep and what should they discard?
And now we read Galatians – a letter from Paul to a group of young churches in the region of Galatia (modern day eastern Turkey). In his letter to the Galatians Paul is angry and offers a short, withering blast without his usual warmth and encouragement. Why is Paul so upset and shocked? The churches in Galatia are not a hotbed of sexual immorality and idolatry like the city of Corinth – what have they done to earn this sharp rebuke from Paul?
The Galatians over-emphasized Jewish practices, like the keeping of festival days and circumcision. They also looked down on other people and felt superior to other cultures. This tendency was a dangerous perversion of the gospel, where trust in human efforts to keep “the law” resulted in earning the acceptance of God. Paul says NO – salvation is by faith alone, and it does not matter if you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. (Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book and it is called the “cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation”! In theme, it closely parallels the book of Romans.)
God’s love is not conditional on how many rules we obey, nor on what cultural circumstances we are born into. Hallelujah!
Consider this: Some early Christians, like the people in Galatia, became obsessed with legalism. Others took Christian reform and freedom too far by refusing to follow anyone’s rules. Which is the greater danger in your current community?