|Topical Bible Study||December 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part XII
Titus, Philemon, Hebrews
PAUL’S epistle to Titus, like his two letters to Timothy, was addressed to one of his companions in the ministry and, also like his letters to Timothy, may properly be referred to as a pastoral letter. Its chief theme is designed to instruct Titus in the qualifications and duties of a servant or teacher in the church.
Titus is also referred to by Paul as his “son” in the faith, indicating that it was directly through Paul’s ministry that this young man heard the Gospel and devoted his life to the service of God. To this “son after the common faith,” Paul extended Christian greetings: “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (ch. 1:4) In verse five of the first chapter, Paul informs Titus that he had left him in Crete to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.” Then he outlines for him the qualifications of those to be appointed, as follows:
“A bishop (or elder) must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”—ch. 1:6-9
In this epistle, as in many other places in the New Testament, the real hope of the church is kept before the reader, emphasizing that Christianity is not merely a way of life, or just a moral philosophy, but the great plan of God for the redemption and recovery of a lost world, through the Messiah, the Christ. Christ had already come to redeem the world. He had returned to heaven, but would come again at his Second Advent, and then the glorious plan of God would be consummated. Paul wrote about this saying:
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”—ch. 2:13-15
The ‘peculiar people’ referred to here are those who are being called out from the world through the power of the Gospel, and invited to suffer and to die with Jesus, promised that if they are faithful in this they will live and reign with him. This has been the work of the Gospel Age. With this fully accomplished, the ‘good works’ of God, his design to bless all the families of the earth through Christ and his church, will be effected.
Paul’s Letter to Philemon
PAUL’S letter to Philemon reveals one of the greatest human interest stories to be found anywhere in the Bible. Philemon was one of the Christian brethren in Colosse. He was an owner of slaves which was common in those days. The fact that the apostles seemingly did nothing to correct this evil which had fastened itself upon human society would indicate that they did not understand it to be the Christian’s work, while in the flesh, to reform the world. But Paul loved slaves who were Christians, even as he loved their masters.
One of Philemon’s slaves ran away from him, and went to Rome. This was during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. This slave, Onesimus, probably had become acquainted with the apostle while he was being entertained at the home of Philemon, and he contacted Paul in Rome. Since Paul was a prisoner, it is obvious that Onesimus elected to see Paul of his own free will. What his motive was, we do not know. However, he must have remembered the apostle favorably, and perhaps also had been impressed by the Gospel which he heard Paul preach in the home of his master.
As a result of getting in touch with Paul in Rome, this slave accepted the Gospel and became a Christian. This presented a problem for Paul, and also for Onesimus and Philemon, his master from whom he had escaped. Paul meets the situation by persuading Onesimus to return to Philemon, and to ask his forgiveness for the wrong done.
To help bring about a genuine and Christlike reconciliation, Paul wrote a letter to Philemon and gave it to Onesimus to deliver when he returned to his former master. It was a difficult situation, but Paul rose nobly to the occasion, manifesting loving tact and consideration for both master and slave. We do not know what the result was, but we may assume that the reconciliation was complete, and that all rejoiced together in the Lord.
The Book of Hebrews
THE Book of Hebrews is the last of Paul’s letters recorded in the New Testament. While it is addressed to the Hebrew Christians, it seems likely that it was intended for some particular group, or ecclesia of Jewish converts, rather than all Jews who had accepted Christ. The tendency toward lack of full faith and zeal on the part of those to whom the epistle was addressed could hardly be true of all the Jewish converts of Paul’s day.
This fact concerning the spiritual condition of those to whom the letter was written reveals Paul’s motive in writing the letter, and helps to add greater meaning to many things which he writes. First, we will quote a few texts from the letter which indicate this background of thought:
“We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”—ch. 2:1
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”—ch. 3:12
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”—ch. 4:1
“When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”—ch. 5:12
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)”—ch. 10:23
“Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”—ch. 12:3
“See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.”—ch. 12:25
Since the letter was written to strengthen the faith of Jewish believers, he used language, logic, and scriptures with which they would be particularly familiar. He assures them that the God who spoke to their fathers through the prophets had now, “in these last days,” spoken unto them through his Son, Christ Jesus.—ch. 1:1,2
Throughout much of the first chapter Paul endeavors to enhance the reader’s appreciation of the high position of authority occupied by the beloved Son of God through whom he now speaks to his people. He mentions the honorable position of the angels in the arrangements of God, and shows that Jesus was highly exalted above these—“anointed … with the oil of gladness” above his “fellows.” (ch. 1:9) It is because of the high authority vested in Jesus, through whom his Father speaks to us, that we should give ‘more earnest heed’ to the things we have heard.—ch. 2:1
Perhaps the trials and sufferings of the Christian way were weakening the faith and cooling the zeal of the Hebrew Christians. In the second chapter Paul explains that it is God’s purpose to bring “many sons unto glory” (vs. 10), even as he had exalted his beloved Son Jesus to glory. He explains that for Jesus the path to glory was one of suffering, and implies that the same is true of the ‘many sons’ who will be joint-heirs with him in glory.
In the third chapter Paul reveals that in our association with Jesus we are members of a priesthood of which he is the “Apostle and High Priest.” (vs. 1) One of the chief works of a priest is to offer sacrifice, so by explaining this viewpoint of the Christian life Paul is again reminding the Christian that he must expect to suffer; for in this age God’s priests do not offer animals in sacrifice as they did in the Jewish Age, but instead, offer themselves. (See Rom. 12:1)
In the third chapter Paul again dips into the experiences of natural Israel to get a lesson of warning for those who are members of the Gospel Age ‘house of sons.’ He reminds the reader—and the Jewish believers to whom the letter was first written—that the Israelites failed to enter into rest, but instead continued to wander in the wilderness for forty years, all because of their unbelief.
The fourth chapter enlarges upon this thought of “rest” for the people of God. “We which have believed do enter into rest,” he says. (vs. 3) And then in the tenth verse he writes, “He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Earlier in the chapter Paul speaks of the rest into which God entered, following the work of Creation, and he explains that now believers are resting in the same way. In other words, God is allowing Christ to accomplish his purposes toward the human race, and we, too, are trusting in the finished work of Christ.
Having introduced Jesus in the opening chapter as the exalted mouthpiece of the Heavenly Father, Paul continues to emphasize the truly high position the beloved Son of God occupies in the Divine plan, and how much, therefore, he should mean to us. In the closing verses of the sixth chapter, he reminds us of the promise God made to Abraham, and of the sealing of that promise by his oath. Then Paul tells us that this hope is centered in the oath-bound covenant with Abraham. We quote:
“When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”—vss.13-20
The Jews were familiar with the Aaronic order of priesthood, but the idea that Melchisedec, who predated Aaron by many centuries, was a recognized priest of God who foreshadowed Christ, was ‘strong’ meat for the Hebrew Christians. Not strong in the sense of being complex or difficult to understand, but from the standpoint that it put a severe test upon their faith.
Actually it is one of the simplest, and also most beautiful, symbols found in the Bible. Melchisedec, unlike Aaron, was both a priest and a king. The subjects over whom he ruled also brought their sacrifices to him. Thus he was a type of the combined offices of priest and king as they will function in Christ during the thousand years of his reign.
God dealt with the Jewish nation through the Law Covenant which he made with them at Mt. Sinai, Moses serving as mediator. They broke this covenant, and through the Prophet Jeremiah (ch. 31:31-34) God promised to make a “new covenant” with them. In the eighth chapter of Hebrews Paul mentions this New Covenant. He explains that Jesus is its servant, or Mediator.
Paul cites this as evidence that Jesus came to fulfill the promises which God had made to Israel, not to set them aside. In this chapter he does not go into detail concerning the ‘ministry’ of this covenant as he does in II Corinthians, chapter three, where he explains that the followers of Jesus are also “able ministers” of this New Covenant in association with Jesus. This means that the New Covenant is now being made only in the sense that its ‘ministers’ are being chosen from this world and prepared for the great future work of administering the laws of the covenant.
In the ninth chapter Paul uses an illustration that would mean much to a Jewish Christian; namely, the Tabernacle of the wilderness. The services of that Tabernacle, particularly the Day of Atonement service held each year, pointed forward to the sacrificial work of this age. Jesus offered himself once for all, and through the merit of his blood his followers are able to offer themselves in sacrifice, “holy, acceptable unto God.”—Rom. 12:1
The lesson is presented at least partially for the purpose of explaining to these Hebrew Christians why they were suffering—that it was because the age of kingdom glory and covenant glory had not yet begun; that now the ministry of the covenant was one of sacrifice; and that not until the Second Advent will Jesus “appear” to give the salvation promised through the New Covenant and through the kingdom.—ch. 9:28
Throughout the opening verses of chapter ten Paul continues the lesson of type and antitype; and in verse twenty-two he makes his practical application to Christian faith and steadfastness. “Let us draw near” to God, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” he writes. “Let us consider one another,” he continues in verse twenty-four, “to provoke unto love and to good works.”
Verses twenty-six and twenty-seven of this tenth chapter are a timely warning to all Christians, and also reveal an important fact of the Divine plan. They read: “If we sin wilfully after that we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
While this passage indicates the possibility of one losing the favor of God and going into what the Bible calls the ‘second death,’ it distinctly shows that this can happen only to those who first of all have received a knowledge of the Truth. In other words, it is descriptive of willful sin against God, knowing all the circumstances involved.
The statement in verse thirty-one, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” is not a threat of eternal torture; it is merely a reminder that those who sin willfully after coming into Christ no longer can claim the covering of his robe of righteousness. Therefore, they have nothing to protect them against the sentence of death which is the wages of sin. None of humanity can stand before God and meet the requirements of his perfect law in their own righteousness.
The last five verses of this tenth chapter encourage a patient waiting on the Lord, and emphasize again that the glorious fruition of Christian hope is at the return of Christ. Paul said that it would be only a “little while” from his day until Christ did come. This expresses God’s viewpoint of time. With him a thousand years are as one day, “and as a watch in the night” when it is past.—Ps. 90:4
The entire eleventh chapter is devoted to a lesson on faith in which Paul cites the faithfulness of many Old Testament characters, and their fidelity to God and to his promises. It is one of the most magnificent chapters of the Bible. In the opening of the twelfth chapter he refers to the characters he has presented to the reader in the eleventh chapter, and speaks of them as a “cloud of witnesses” with which the Christian is “compassed about.”
Paul then cites the greatest of all examples of faithfulness, even Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He then admonishes us to “consider” Jesus. The Greek word here translated ‘consider’ more literally means, ‘make a comparison with.’—vss. 2,3
Paul wanted the Hebrew Christians to whom he wrote this letter to realize that regardless of the extent to which they had suffered as a result of their stand for Christ, they had not endured nearly as much as their Leader had. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin,” he reminded them.—vs. 4
In this chapter Paul also explains that some of their suffering may have been in the nature of chastenings from the Lord. But this, he explained, they should accept as an evidence of Divine love, “for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”—vs. 6
He speaks of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, and admonishes us to keep “looking diligently” lest we be like that “profane person.”—vss. 15,16
Beginning with verse eighteen, and on to the end of this twelfth chapter, Paul uses another very powerful method of exhortation; namely, presenting to the reader some of the glorious things in prospect for those who cannot be shaken away from their faith and their faithfulness. To do this, he refers once more to the type—to the time when the Law was given on Mt. Sinai.
Paul likens what happened back there to what will occur in connection with the inauguration of the New Covenant. The shaking mountain, the fire, the trumpets at that time, were symbolic of a worldwide social upheaval which occurs in conjunction with the inauguration of the New Covenant and the establishment of the kingdom.
According to the Greek text, Paul said that we are ‘approaching unto’ this antitypical scene. That was true of the Early Church, and it has been true of the brethren all down through the age—the “little while” of waiting of which Paul speaks. (ch. 10:37) It is still true of all who have not yet made their calling and election sure.
Paul speaks of the antitypical mountain to which we are approaching as “mount Sion,” and he says that we are also approaching unto “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”—vss. 22-24
This is a glorious prospect, and should stimulate all the Lord’s people to greater faithfulness in their service to God. Paul sums the matter up in verse twenty-eight, saying, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
One of the important lessons set forth in the closing chapter of this epistle, which in the first instance was written to Hebrew Christians, is found in verses ten to thirteen. In these verses the apostle reminds us of the typical Day of Atonement service in which a bullock and a goat were sacrificed, their blood sprinkled upon the mercy seat in the Most Holy of the Tabernacle, for sin, and their bodies burned without the camp of Israel.
Paul indicates clearly that the followers of Jesus participate antitypically in those sacrifices. It is clear that the bullock in that typical ceremony pointed forward to Jesus, and that the goat was typical of his followers, those who would be members of his body, his church. Just as Jesus suffered and died outside of the “camp” (ch. 13:11), that is, because he was rejected by the world and cast off, so it is our privilege to suffer in the same way. Paul says, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”—vs. 13
Thus did the apostle, in the concluding chapter of his letter, point out to these Hebrews that their suffering was no cause for discouragement, but rather the reverse, for it indicated that they were having the privilege of suffering with Christ, the Captain of their salvation; that they were being prepared for glory in the same manner that he was, and that this was God’s will for them. It is likewise God’s will for all who have taken up their cross to follow the Master.
For an in-depth study of The Book of Hebrews, see the booklet A Study of the Book of Hebrews.Go to Part XIII