|Topical Bible Study||October 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part X
Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
THE “churches of Galatia,” like many other congregations of apostolic times, were being tried by teachers who insisted that in addition to faith in Christ, certain ordinances of the Law must also be observed in order for one to be justified before God. It was this situation which prompted Paul’s letter to the Galatian brethren. He comes to the subject very early in the epistle, saying, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”—ch. 1:6,7
Chapters one and two deal mostly with Paul’s personal experience in accepting Christ and being appointed to apostleship. He emphasizes that God had given him a special revelation to qualify him to serve the Gentiles, in order to give the brethren at Galatia confidence in what he was writing. He also relates the necessity of correcting the Apostle Peter in connection with this issue in the church.
In chapter three, Paul reminds the reader of God’s promise to Abraham concerning the blessing of all the families of the earth through his seed. He asserts that this was a statement of the “gospel,” that it was made before the Law was given, and that one of God’s intentions was to justify the Gentiles through faith. (ch. 3:8) In verse sixteen, he explains that the promised “seed” was Christ. To Paul, this meant that one could be justified through faith in Christ apart from the Law.
Verses seventeen through twenty-six reveal the relationship of the Law to the original covenant which God made with Abraham, that it was “added because of transgressions, till the seed should come,” (vs. 19) meaning that after the ‘seed’ came, the Law would no longer be needed. These verses also explain that the Law was designed as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” (vs. 24) that is, to teach the need of the atoning blood of Christ.
Verses twenty-seven through twenty-nine explain that those who, through faith in Christ, become members of his mystical body by being baptized into his death, thereby become a part of the “seed” of Abraham, and “heirs according to the promise.” Verse twenty-eight shows that being either a Jew or a Greek (Gentile) is not what qualifies one to be a part of the promised ‘seed,’ for these, as well as “male nor female,” “bond nor free,” are all one in Christ Jesus. It is those who, individually, and through faith “put on Christ,” that qualify.
In chapter four Paul presents what he calls an “allegory,” in which he uses Sarah and Hagar, the two wives of Abraham, to represent first, the original covenant made with Abraham concerning the development of a seed, and second, the Law Covenant which was later ‘added’—Sarah representing one, and Hagar the other.—ch. 4:24-31
Isaac was the seed of Sarah, and, as Paul explains, represents Christ and the church—“We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” (ch. 4:28) Ishmael, the seed of Hagar, represents, as Paul explains, the Jewish nation under bondage to the Law. Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so, Paul explains, the Jews were persecuting the ‘faith seed’ of Abraham represented by Isaac.
Thus did Paul endeavor to make plain to those whom he calls “foolish Galatians” the seriousness of giving heed to teachers who had already to some extent “bewitched” them with their Judaizing teachings. (ch. 3:1) His conclusion on this point was, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”—ch. 5:1
Chapter six of the epistle contains helpful admonitions to unselfishness, such as, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”; and again, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (vss. 2,10) But even in this final chapter of the epistle, Paul reverts to the subject of circumcision, saying, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”—vss. 15,16
To the Church at Ephesus
PAUL was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote his letter to “the saints” who were “at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Evidently the majority of these saints were Gentiles, and one of the purposes of the epistle seems to have been to assure them that they had indeed been made fellow heirs of the royal promises made originally to Israel. He wrote:
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”—ch. 2:11-14
In the letter, Paul also calls attention to the exceeding grandeur of the inheritance which believing Gentiles are invited to share with believing Jews. He speaks of being blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (ch. 1:3) and then reveals the high position now occupied by Jesus in these ‘heavenly places,’ being raised to this high station in his resurrection.
He speaks of the time when God “raised him [Christ] from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”—ch. 1:20-23
In chapter three Paul explains that the Lord had especially made known to him this “mystery” concerning the Gentiles being made “fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” (vss. 3,6) All the promises of the Old Testament concerning participation with the Messiah in his kingdom work were addressed exclusively to Israel, and it was in the Lord’s providence that Gentile believers were given this and other reassuring statements to the effect that those promises also now apply to them.
Paul points out in this letter that believing Jews and Gentiles were made one in Christ Jesus, so in chapter four he admonishes them to maintain this “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (vs. 3) Then he adds, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”—vss. 4-6
In this fourth chapter, Paul mentions the various servants in the church provided by the Lord to nurture the ‘body’ so that all its members develop into mature Christians, and actually attain that unity of the faith mentioned in the verses just quoted. These servants are the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists. And all are admonished to speak the Truth in love in order that those who hear may “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”—vs. 15
Throughout this letter, Paul speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as it reaches believers through the Word of Truth. In chapter two, verse eighteen, speaking of Jews and Gentiles, he says that through Christ “we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” In chapter four, verse three, he admonishes believers to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Then, in chapter five, verse nine, he speaks of the “fruit” of the Spirit, saying that it is “in all goodness and righteousness and truth.”
In verse eighteen of chapter five, we are admonished to be “filled with the Spirit,” with the next verse suggesting one of the means to this end; that is, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
A familiar lesson to many Christians concerning the “whole armour of God” is found in the closing chapter of this epistle. (ch. 6:13) Paul urges Christians to put on this armor. We quote:
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”—ch. 6:13-17
The Epistle to the Philippians
PAUL’S letter to the brethren in Philippi was also written while a prisoner in Rome. He expresses a strong hope that he would be released and be free to visit them again, yet he is not sure, and some aspects of the letter are written as though it were a farewell message to those for whom he expresses great love. He wrote, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”—ch. 1:6
“I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more,” he wrote, “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”—ch. 1:9-11
Paul was somewhat uncertain as to whether he would rather be released from prison and continue his service in the flesh, or be executed and remain asleep in death until the return of Christ. “I am in a strait betwixt [these] two,” he wrote. But there was something which, he said, “is far better,” that is, a third consideration. The King James translation obscures the meaning of what Paul wrote on this point, translating it as a departing “to be with Christ.” However, the Greek word here translated ‘depart’ really means ‘return,’ and what the apostle refers to is the returning of Christ when all the sleeping saints would be raised from the dead to be with him. This was his great desire, the thing which to him would be far better than either of the two possibilities he mentions.—ch. 1:21-24
Chapter two opens with a touching lesson on the importance of mutual sympathy and love among the brethren, merging into an admonition to humility in which Christ is used as an example. Beginning with the fourth verse we read:
“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery [more correctly translated: “thought not by robbery”] to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”—vss. 4-11
In the third chapter, Paul relates his former standing as a Pharisee and how little that meant to him, now that he had learned that Jesus was indeed the Christ. His suffering as a Christian, and even now his imprisonment in Rome, he considered as assets if they would help him ‘win Christ.’ We quote:
“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.”—ch. 3:7-11
In the opening verse of the last chapter he admonishes, “Stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” In the eighth verse he writes:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
This letter was written partly as an expression of Paul’s appreciation of the spirit of love represented in a gift which the Philippian brethren sent to him at Rome. One of the brethren at Philippi, Epaphroditus, was the messenger to deliver the package, and he did so at great personal sacrifice. “He nearly died for the work of Christ,” Paul wrote, “risking his life to complete your service to me.”—ch. 2:30, Revised Standard Version
In the closing chapter, Paul refers to this again and speaks of his rejoicing in the evidence of their love toward him. He mentions the fact that he had learned both “to abound” and to “suffer need.” (vs. 12) At the time, he was able to write, “I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”—vs. 18
PAUL’S letter “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse” (ch. 1:2) was also written while he was a prisoner in Rome, although his only reference to this fact is in the last verse of the epistle, where he says, “Remember my bonds.” (ch. 4:18) Paul did not lament the fact that he had the privilege of suffering with, and for, Christ.
We do not know with certainty that Paul had personally met the brethren in Colosse. He speaks of having heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love” which they had “to all the saints,” and “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel.”—ch. 1:4,5
Paul possessed a consuming love for all his brethren in Christ, his great desire for them all being that they might be faithful to the Lord. To those at Colosse, having been informed of their “love in the Spirit,” he wrote:
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”—ch. 1:8-12
It is in this epistle that Paul identifies Jesus as being “the firstborn of every creature.” (ch. 1:15) And, in full agreement with the Apostle John’s record in the first chapter of his Gospel, Paul affirms that Jesus was the active agent of the Father in the creation of all things. See chapter one, verses sixteen through nineteen.
In verse twenty-four of this chapter, Paul speaks of filling up “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” Many Christians may not realize that the sufferings of Christ were not completed on Calvary. Paul’s reference, of course, is to the Christ company, the “body” of Christ. (I Cor. 12) It is the privilege of all these to suffer and die with Christ, encouraged and strengthened by the promise that if they are faithful in this even unto death, they will live and reign with Christ.
In the second chapter, mention is made of the issue which, as we have seen, was almost universal in all the congregations of the Early Church; namely, freedom from the ordinances of the Law that had been given to Israel. In this chapter, Paul also speaks of being buried with Christ in baptism, and of being “risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him [Jesus] from the dead.”—vs. 12
The Christian’s resurrection is as yet only by faith, but in proportion to our faith it becomes a reality so far as our viewpoint of life is concerned. In the opening of the third chapter Paul emphasizes this, saying:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”—vss. 1-4
In II Corinthians 3:6-12, Paul uses the glory of the countenance of Moses as he came down from the mount to administer the Law Covenant, to illustrate “the glory that excelleth” in connection with the appearance of Christ, the antitypical Moses, when he administers the promised New Covenant. (Jer. 31:31-34) So the promise that “then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4) confirms this hope of every faithful Christian to be associated with Jesus in making that New Covenant by which the world of mankind will be reconciled to God.
Thus we find, that even in these intimate letters to the brethren, the main purpose of which is to encourage them to faithfulness in their service of God, there is also reflected this background of hope for the world. Indeed, were it not for this larger theme of the entire Bible—the theme of redemption and restoration of a lost world through Christ and his church—these devotional portions would be void of the strength and beauty which we now attach to them. They are more than lessons on moral ethics, for they are pointing out the way for the followers of Christ to attain to glory with him, that they might be associated with him in the blessing of all the families of the earth.Go to Part XI