The Book of Books—Part 12

Paul Counsels the Church

THE Book of Acts (The Acts of the Apostles) informs us concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus who, in his misdirected zeal for God, so bitterly persecuted the followers of Jesus. This Saul was then commissioned by the Lord to be one of the twelve apostles to the church, taking the place of Judas who betrayed Jesus. His name was changed to Paul. Paul was just as zealous in his service of the Master as he had previously been in persecuting the disciples. In cooperation with other faithful Christians, Paul established many congregations of believers, his missionary tours taking him throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, in addition to his service in Jerusalem and other places in Palestine.

In addition to Paul’s faithful service as a traveling exponent of the Gospel, he wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to the various churches of his day, and some also to individual believers. As books of the Bible these appear next after The Acts of the Apostles. They are called epistles, and there are fourteen of these Pauline Epistles. The groups, or churches, to which nine of these letters are addressed were located in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. Two letters were sent to Timothy, a dear friend and co-worker in the faith; one to Titus, another friend and brother in Christ; and one to Philemon, also a faithful brother in Christ whom Paul highly esteemed. Paul also wrote an epistle specially designed for the benefit of certain Hebrew Christians. This Epistle to the Hebrews we will reserve for later consideration, but the first thirteen of Paul’s letters we will now consider as a group. These are commonly referred to as:

RomansI Thessalonians
I CorinthiansII Thessalonians
II Corinthians      I Timothy
GalatiansII Timothy

The opening salutations in all these epistles indicate that they were written to Christians, not to the unbelieving world. This must be kept in mind if we are to have a proper understanding and appreciation of their contents. The Book of Romans, for example, is addressed “to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” (Rom. 1:7) The word saint, as here used, is a translation of the Greek word which means ‘sacred’—sacred, that is, because devoted to God. In verse six, those who are called to be saints are said to be called of (or by) Jesus Christ.

This call or invitation is to follow Christ. Jesus said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) The acceptance of this invitation and a sincere effort to live up to its terms involve a full and continuous dedication of oneself to the Lord and to his sacred cause. In his second letter to the brethren in Corinth, Paul explains this divine cause to which the followers of Jesus are dedicated. He says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, … and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”—II Cor. 5:19

As a result of disobedience to divine law, the human race is alienated from God. But because God loved his human creation he provided through Christ a way of reconciliation, and those called to be saints are made ambassadors of Christ in this work of restoring mankind to harmony and peace with God. In this age, the work of those who are dedicated to this sacred cause is to proclaim the word of reconciliation; that is, to announce to all who will hear that a way of reconciliation has been provided through the redemptive work of Christ. Such also are to prepare themselves, through obedience to the divine will, for the future work of the messianic kingdom in which, if they are faithful now, they will share with Christ. That will be the glorious work of enlightening all mankind and restoring the willing and obedient of that time to human perfection, enabling them to live forever.

It is, then, to these followers of Jesus, these co-laborers in the divine cause, that Paul wrote his letters. In all of them he mentions directly or indirectly one or another feature of the divine plan for the future reconciliation of the human race to God, and the restoration of the obedient to everlasting life on the earth. However, the principal theme in his epistles concerns the spiritual growth and welfare of the church, those called to be saints. The letters are a further revealment of God’s plan for the present age, and the manner in which it is being carried out through his consecrated people.

God’s Providences

It is without doubt that in the Lord’s providences various circumstances and issues arose among those early disciples of Christ which prompted the apostle to discuss points of truth in his epistles which have served the needs of the Lord’s people throughout the entire age—truths pertaining to the Christian life and cooperation in the ministry of the Gospel which previously had not been given the emphasis placed upon them by Paul in these letters. One of these issues concerned the relationship between Jewish converts to Christianity and Gentiles who became followers of Christ.

We learned from the Book of Acts that the acceptance of Gentile converts into the church posed a problem for Jewish Christians. For centuries the favorable standing of the Jews before God was based upon their obedience to the Law given to that nation at Mount Sinai, and to the various ordinances associated with the Law. It was difficult, therefore, for many of the Jewish Christians to realize that through faith in Christ and in his atoning work they could be entirely free from the Law. Besides, the weak ones in the faith were prone to insist that Gentile converts coming among them must submit to certain ordinances of the Law—for example, circumcision.

As we learned, the apostles held a conference in Jerusalem to discuss this issue; but the conclusions of that conference were not heartily accepted by all the Jewish brethren, so in many of the congregations it remained an issue. This was the case in the church at Rome, and Paul’s letter to these brethren is designed to help them to see more clearly the truth concerning Christ. It is with this in mind that, in the opening chapter he writes, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.”—Rom. 1:16

Today we do not have the Gentile-Jewish issue in the church, but the basic principles of truth set forth in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome still reveal what it means to become and continue to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. The “Gospel of Christ,” Paul says, “is the power of God unto salvation.” In this he is simply saying that God’s provision of salvation, and the power he will exercise to save, is through and in keeping with the Gospel of Christ, not through circumcision or other extraneous works.

In Jesus’ parable of the sheepfold he spoke of some who might try to enter the fold by some other way than through the door provided by the Shepherd. (John 10:1) “The same,” he said, “is a thief and a robber.” Perhaps not many today are endeavoring to enter the fold through the door of circumcision, but in these last days many other doors have been designed, prominent among these being the door of good works.

Many today, in all parts of the professed Christian world, assume that living up to a high standard of morality makes one a Christian. Many take the position that adherents of various non-Christian religions, if they practice a high moral and ethical code, are just as pleasing to God as those who profess the Christian religion. It is in keeping with this view that often these days Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and other founders of non-Christian religions are referred to as being in the same category, religiously, as Jesus Christ.

In view of the world’s failure to understand the plan of God, this is excusable. The general thought has come down to us from the Dark Ages that all nonbelievers in Christ are forever lost, and in this view being lost means to suffer an eternity of torture in a hell of fire and brimstone. In view of this, the kindly disposed and sympathetic philosophers of the world are not to be blamed for attempting to widen the horizon of religious thought and outlook. Why should morally upright and sincerely religious people suffer such an eternity of despair because they have never had an adequate opportunity to understand the provisions of the Creator’s love through Christ?

But how different is the Bible’s approach to this problem! Becoming a Christian does not consist merely in escaping from an eternity of torment. While it includes being saved from the death condemnation which came upon Adam and his race, it is not primarily to gain personal salvation. To hear and appreciate the truth of God’s great plan of salvation as it Is revealed in his Word means that one is being called, or invited, to become associated with Christ in the future work of his kingdom. Paul speaks of this in his second letter to the church at Corinth as being “workers together with him.”—II Cor. 6:1

So, when Paul said that the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, he meant not only that those who now accept and obey the Gospel will obtain salvation, but also that through them the glorious opportunity of salvation will, during the thousand years of Christ’s kingdom, be extended to the whole world of mankind. We do not need, therefore, to open other doors to salvation in order to include the non-Christian world, for in God’s due time these will all be given their opportunity.

The Gospel of Christ

What is the Gospel of Christ? Paul answers this question very clearly and definitely in his letter to the churches of Galatia. (Gal. 3:8,16,27-29) He says that the Gospel was preached before unto Abraham when God said to him that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. From this it is evident that the Gospel (good news) provides blessings for all. In verse sixteen, Paul explains that when God made this wonderful promise to Abraham concerning a seed which was to be the channel of blessing, Christ was the seed he had in mind. That is why Paul used the expression, Gospel of Christ.

In Galatians 3:27 and 29, Paul presents additional information concerning the seed. He says that as many as are “baptized into Christ,” and thus have “put on Christ,” are Abraham’s seed, and “heirs according to the promise.” Thus we are definitely informed that the church of Christ will share with him in the privilege and honor of being God’s channel of blessing to all the families of the earth.

But what does Paul mean by being baptized into Christ? The word baptize means ‘to bury’, and to be baptized into Christ means the burial of one’s will into the will of God through Christ. The details involved in this baptism cannot be clearly set forth in a few words. However, by putting together the meaning of the various statements Paul makes on the subject, as we find them in his different epistles, these details become apparent. To begin with, one must exercise faith in God and in his Word. James explains that Abraham became the friend of God because of his faith. (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:11-13) This is understandable. Faith and confidence are the basis of all true friendships. Abraham’s faith enabled him to believe the promises of God, and to obey the expressed will of God in charting his life in keeping with those promises.

So, to be pleasing to God we also must have faith in God and in his revealed plan. In our study of the Bible up to this point, we have learned that God created man perfect, and in his image. We have seen that through disobedience man was condemned to death. In Romans 5:18, Paul explains how this has affected every member of Adam’s race, including ourselves. He says, “By the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” Then he adds, “Even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”

If we have faith in this and in similar declarations of the Bible, we will realize and acknowledge that by nature we are members of a sin-cursed and dying race, alienated from God through wicked works. The acknowledgment of this will lead to repentance and to our looking to God for a way out. Our faith will then enable us to accept the explanation of Paul and other writers of the Bible, that through Christ and the merit of his sacrificed life we can approach God in prayer and receive his forgiveness, and the free gift which Paul describes as justification of life.

But true faith is more—much more—than a mere mental assent to these revealed truths of the Bible. To be genuine, our faith must prompt us not only to repent of our sins, but also to dedicate ourselves to God and to the doing of his will. In II Corinthians 5:14 and 15, Paul explains to the church at Corinth how one who has true faith in God’s loving arrangements will react to them. He says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

If we conclude that we should no longer live unto and for ourselves, but for the Lord, it means that we will present ourselves unreservedly to him and to the doing of his will. In Romans 12:1 this is explained to be the presenting of our bodies a living sacrifice. If we have the proper faith in the arrangements and promises of God, we will know that although we are still fallen and imperfect, the Lord will accept our consecrated lives, and use our imperfect bodies in his service. Paul explains the thought, saying that our offering to the Lord is “holy, acceptable” to him, and our “reasonable service.”

Because the word baptism means to bury—baptizo in the Greek language, meaning ‘to fully immerse, or bury’—it is used in the Bible to convey the thought of full surrender of one’s will to do God’s will, as his will is expressed through Christ. The offering of ourselves to do the Lord’s will is, therefore, our part in being baptized into Christ. To help us grasp the full thought, Paul uses the human body as an illustration. In this illustration Jesus is the Head, and the other parts of the body represent the various members of the church. To be in this body means to have Christ as our Head, which means that our wills are buried in his.

In his letter to the brethren at Rome, Paul elaborates still further on what it means to be baptized into Christ. We read, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Rom. 6:3-5

Christ buried his will into the will of his Father, and it was the will of his Father that he lay down his life in sacrifice for the sins of the world. And now Paul explains that we are buried or planted together with Christ—baptized into his death. Full consecration to the Lord leads to this, for all those who through the Gospel of Christ are invited to walk in the narrow way.

In this passage Paul is not discussing the subject of water baptism, although it is important that every consecrated one be baptized in water, not as a means of attaining salvation, but as a testimony of that which has taken place in the heart; namely, a full surrender to the Lord. It was for this reason that Jesus was immersed in water. Water baptism is a beautiful symbol of the burial of one’s will into the will of the Lord, and of the hope of being raised in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection.

When one is lowered into the water he becomes helpless, fully dependent upon the immerser to raise him out of the water. So it is in full consecration to the Lord. We give ourselves over fully into his hands, for him to do with us as he wishes, and his will is that we die sacrificially with Christ. We have confidence in his love and grace. We know that he will fulfill his promises to strengthen us in our every time of need. We know, as Paul states, that since we are “called according to his purpose,” the Lord will cause “all things” to “work together” for our good.—Rom. 8:28

In giving ourselves wholly to the Lord, it is with the assurance that in his dealings with us no mistakes will be made, that he is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. So we gladly give our hearts to him, trusting in his promises that, finishing our course in death, he will raise us up together with Christ, to live and to reign with him. This is beautifully illustrated by the immerser lifting us out of the water.

It is this full devotion to the Lord, this being baptized into Christ’s death, that Paul refers to when in his letter to the Galatian brethren he wrote that as many as are “baptized into Christ,” and thereby “put on Christ,” are Abraham’s seed, “and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29) The provisions of the Gospel of Christ for them is that they die with Christ, that they might live and reign with him. The further provision of the Gospel is that through these, as the seed of Abraham, God’s promised blessings will, in his own due time, flow out to all the families of the earth.

Peace with God

In his letter to the Philippian brethren, Paul speaks of the Gospel call as a “high calling.” (Phil. 3:14) And indeed it is high—so high that we could not in our own merit and strength attain to it. But in the merit of Christ, and in the strength of the Lord we can. Apart from Christ we could have no standing with God; but through him we are justified, and have peace with God, no longer alienated from him through wicked works. Our works are still imperfect, but we have the assurance that they are made acceptable through the blood of Christ. And it is this justified standing before God that gives us “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and [we] rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1,2) What wonderful assurances and glorious prospects are thus set before the called-out ones!

Paul speaks of these as also being in Christ Jesus, as members of his body. He assures us that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:1) All the instructions of the Lord which are to be found in his Word for the guidance of this group of called-out ones, the church, were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To walk after the Spirit, therefore, is to obediently do the Lord’s will as we find it outlined in his Word. To walk after the flesh would be to chart our lives according to our own preferences. So Paul is emphasizing that even after we have dedicated our lives to the Lord, it is essential to continue walking as he would have us walk. Jesus referred to the way in which the Christian walks as being narrow and difficult, but we must continue to walk in it if we would maintain our favorable standing before the Lord.

New Creatures

In his letters, Paul reveals that those who dedicate themselves to the will and service of God become new creatures. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature,” he explains: “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Cor. 5:17) As the world sees us, we are no different than before, except that we do not participate in the things of the world. But God, who looks upon the heart, sees our new determination to please him, and our struggle to bring every thought into conformity with his will. Moreover, through his promises he has given us a new objective in life. Now our affections are set on things above, “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1-3) Whereas previously our chief thought in life was to make a living, and to enjoy as many of the good things of life as possible, now our chief consideration, and our greatest joy, is to do the will of our God; to lay down our lives in his service. This is our vocation, while our necessary efforts to obtain food, clothing, and shelter become our avocation.

Abraham, through his faith in the promises of God, became God’s friend. We do, also, and we enjoy his friendship and fellowship. But we become more than friends. We become the sons of God, his children. Observing this, Paul adds, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17) The “mountain of the house of the Lord” foretold in Isaiah 2:2 and Micah 4:1 will consist of Jesus and his church as the ruling sons of God. It is to this high position that we are called, and to which, if faithful, we will attain. Paul says that the whole “creation” is waiting for the manifestation of these “sons of God.”—Rom. 8:22,19

Help and Guidance

Paul’s letters are designed to encourage this called-out class to faithfulness in living their consecrated lives. He assures them of God’s help and guidance: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” he asks. After enumerating possible hardships and difficulties which might take us out of God’s care, he adds, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor [wicked] angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:35-39

To the churches of Galatia Paul wrote, “Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6:9) In his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Paul likens the Christian to a soldier in battle, needing armor. He wrote, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Eph. 6:10,11) Writing to the saints at Philippi, Paul expresses appreciation for the fellowship of these brethren, and his confidence that the Lord would continue to care for them, saying, “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.”—Phil. 1:6

In his letter to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colosse, Paul explains that he was praying for the brethren there that they “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 long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”—Col. 1:10-12

To the brethren in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.” (I Thess. 5:16,17,24; II Thess. 3:3) These are but a few of the rich gems of thought to be found here and there throughout Paul’s letters; thoughts designed to encourage the brethren to remain steadfast in their stand for the Lord, and to be faithful in service, knowing that the Lord would continue to supply them strength and guidance in their every time of need.

Important Truths Made Plain

Additionally, however, in most of Paul’s letters there is a principal theme which he discusses. We have already noted this in connection with his letter to the brethren in Rome. He wanted these brethren to know that whether Jew or Gentile, the only way to obtain the blessing of justification and of enjoying peace with God was through faith in the atoning blood of Christ, a faith manifested in full consecration to follow in his steps—that circumcision or other ordinances of the Law availed nothing in this respect. This issue is touched upon in several of Paul’s letters, indicating that the controversy was widespread in the Early Church.

But this was not the only issue at that time confronting those called to be saints. Human reasoning and fleshly ambitions led to other points of controversy. Jesus had said to his disciples, “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matt. 23:8,9) Many of the professed followers of Christ have not been obedient to these instructions, and even in some of the congregations of the Early Church there was a tendency to exalt human leadership and to forget that “all ye are brethren.”

This was particularly true in the church at Corinth, and this is one of the points discussed in Paul’s first letter to these brethren. In the opening chapter he says, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Cor. 1:12,13) In the third chapter he continues, “Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envyings, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”—I Cor. 3:3

In I Corinthians 3:6-9, Paul explains the proper relationship which should be maintained among the brethren and servants in the church. He says, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” Then he adds, “We are laborers together with God.”

Paul did not mean by this, however, that there was to be no law and order in the church. In chapter twelve of this same letter he sets forth the Lord’s outline of church organization. He uses the human body as an illustration of the relationship of Jesus to the church; Jesus, of course, being the Head in this body. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular,” he explains, then adds, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”—I Cor. 12:27,28

The reference to miracles, gifts of healings, and diversities of tongues obviously refers to the brethren in the Early Church who were blessed with these gifts. These were special gifts which were needed during the time when the church was being established. They could be conferred only by the apostles, and when the apostles died these special, temporary arrangements soon ceased.

In Paul’s letter to the brethren in Ephesus, he again outlines God’s arrangements for servants in the church. He says that Christ “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The work of edifying, Paul shows, was to be accomplished by the truth of the Scriptures. It is through “speaking the truth in love,” that we “grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.”—Eph. 4:11,12,15

In his letter to the brethren in Corinth, Paul enlarges upon the importance of love as the motive of all Christian activity. After outlining the organization of the church, showing that all of its members have a service to render, he continues, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (I Cor. 13:1) Throughout the remainder of this thirteenth chapter, the apostle presents the most eloquent treatise on the subject of Christian love that has ever been written. It is only when this divine principle of unselfishness motivates the called-out ones that they are able to work together harmoniously and to the glory of God.

Instructions to Teachers

Paul’s two letters to Timothy, and the one to Titus, contain much information especially appropriate to those who serve as teachers in the church. Since it is God’s will that every Christian be an ambassador for Christ, and to serve as a light in the world, it means that every Christian is, in reality, a teacher. To Timothy he wrote, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” (II Tim. 2:24,25) To Titus he wrote, “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”—Titus 2:7,8

Of fundamental importance to every Christian are Paul’s instructions to Timothy found in II Timothy 2:15. We quote, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” What is meant by rightly dividing the Word of truth? In verse eighteeen of this chapter, the apostle mentions one point that he doubtless had in mind in this connection. He warns Timothy of some “who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”

One of the most important doctrines of the Word of God is the resurrection of the dead. No one could be in error by teaching that the dead are to be raised. The mistake Paul mentions is that some were teaching that the resurrection had already occurred. He indicates to Timothy that those who were making this mistake had failed to rightly divide the Word of truth. Obviously, then, one way to rightly divide the Word of truth is to properly observe the time element in the plan of God, noting that there is what the apostle refers to as a due time for every feature of his plan of salvation.

In Paul’s letter to the brethren in Ephesus, he speaks of “the dispensation of the fullness of times,” in which the Lord will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” (Eph. 1:10) The fact that in the plan of God there is a dispensation of the fullness of times indicates that there are other dispensations or ages which precede the one in which time comes to the full. It is also obvious that since it is in the dispensation of the fullness of times that all things are gathered in Christ, all things are not gathered during previous ages.

So it becomes the privilege of the Christian in seeking to know God’s will and plan, to rightly divide the Word of truth in order to apply its many promises and prophecies in the age or dispensation to which they belong. Failure to do this leads to apparent contradictions in the Bible, and inability to see the beauty of the divine plan. But rightly dividing the Word of truth is not difficult.

In our study of the books of the Bible thus far, we have seen that the Law of God given at Mount Sinai was for the nation of Israel only, and designed for the Jewish Age. We have learned from Paul’s letters that the followers of Jesus are not under that Law, but under grace, and that God is dealing with them upon the basis of their faith in the atoning work of Christ, and the depth of their consecration to do his will.

In our study of the Book of Acts, we learned that the present age in the divine plan is the time when a “people for his name” is being called out from the world to live and reign with Christ in the age to come—that this is not the age in which God is converting the whole world. (Acts 15:13-18) In this text the Gospel Age feature of the divine plan is explained.

We have also discovered that while there are many prophecies in the Old Testament pertaining to the coming of Christ, not all of them were fulfilled at his first coming. Those describing his suffering and death were fulfilled, but the wonderful Old Testament descriptions of the glory of the messianic kingdom, and the blessings the people would enjoy under that kingdom, apply to the time of Christ’s second visit. So it is most important in our study of the Bible to note carefully its due times and its various sequences.

Two Salvations

In rightly dividing the Word of truth, it is also essential to keep in mind that its many promises of salvation not only apply to different ages, but often refer to different salvations. Paul indicates this when, in speaking of the completion of the plan of God in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he explains that some will be gathered in “heaven,” and some on “earth.”—Eph. 1:10

In our study of the Old Testament books, we observed many promises applying to that period in the divine plan referred to by Peter as the “times of restitution of all things.” (Acts 3:20) We found that all those promises described earthly blessings of one kind or another—opening of blind eyes; building houses and inhabiting them; beating swords into plowshares, etc. The New Testament, on the other hand, begins to unfold spiritual or heavenly promises to those who faithfully follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) In keeping with this, Paul wrote to the Colossian brethren, saying, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. … When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”—Col. 3:2-4

In the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the brethren in Corinth, he employs the time element in the divine plan as well as the earthly and heavenly salvations in his discussion of the resurrection of the dead. First he establishes the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He stresses the importance of this, saying, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (vss. 17,18) In verse twenty-two he writes, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” This is a general statement of the resurrection, emphasizing that the hope of life after death for all mankind is in the fact that they will be raised from the dead.

Paul then introduces a distinction in time in connection with the resurrection—“Every man in his own order,” he says, “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (vs. 23) The church of Christ—those who are members of his body, as explained by Paul in the twelfth chapter of this epistle—are included with Christ as Christ the firstfruits. In the order of the resurrection, these are the first to be raised from the dead.

Then comes that important phrase, “afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” The reference is to the entire thousand years of Christ’s kingdom which will accomplish the restitution of all things. It will be during that time that the remainder of mankind will be raised from the dead.

In the next verse Paul writes, “Then [the time element again] cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Cor. 15:24-26) Here again we have the completion of God’s plan described, and as Paul shows, the age of completion is the kingdom age, the time when Christ and his called-out ones will reign as the seed of Abraham for the blessing of all the families of the earth. That will be in the dispensation of the fullness of times, which will begin after the church has been exalted to heavenly glory with Christ; and before its end, all mankind will have been given an opportunity to be restored to human perfection upon the earth.

Having thus explained the proper sequence of the resurrection, later in the chapter Paul touches upon the different rewards to be administered. He explains that in the resurrection some will have heavenly bodies, and some will have earthly bodies—“celestial” and “terrestrial.” (vs. 40) He explains, however, that those who receive spiritual or heavenly bodies in the resurrection were human beings when they died; that their heavenly bodies are given to them as a reward for faithfulness in laying down their lives with Christ.

It is to these that the hope of immortality is extended. No one is inherently immortal. The idea that human beings have immortal souls within them is not taught in the Bible. Paul, speaking of the resurrection of the called-out ones, says that “this mortal” will “put on immortality.” (vs. 53) Following this, he introduces the time element again, “Then [that is, after this—after the resurrection of the firstfruits to immortality] shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”—I Cor. 15:54,55

The saying that death will be swallowed up in victory is quoted from Isaiah 25:8. This entire text reads, “He [the Lord] will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.” To this the Prophet Isaiah adds, “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isa. 25:8,9

Yes, it will be in that day that death will be swallowed up in victory. But that day will not come until the work of the present day, or age, is finished—that work being the calling out from the world the people for his name, and exalting them in the resurrection to glory, honor, and immortality, to live and reign with Christ in his kingdom. That kingdom will rule over all nations during that day when tears are being wiped from off all faces, and when all the dead are being awakened and given an opportunity to believe and live forever.—I Tim. 2:1-6

How marvelously harmonious is the testimony of the Bible when we rightly divide the Word of truth! Not only does it clearly reveal God’s loving plan for the called-out ones of this age, and for the restitution class—all mankind—in the next age, but it also outlines the way in which we as Christians should now walk in order to be pleasing to God. As Paul reveals in his various letters it is a way of sacrifice, a narrow way of full devotion to the Lord, a way in which the will of the Lord comes before every other consideration. Nevertheless, the Christian way is also one of joy; so Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.”—Phil. 4:4

Slaves and Masters

In his letters, Paul reveals that all classes of people are called to walk in the Christian way, that the called-out class is made up of rich and poor, as well as people out of all nations and races. These are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28) In the days of the Early Church, slavery was widespread. Paul’s letters reveal that both slave owners (masters) and slaves were called into the truth to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. He admonishes the converted slaves to be obedient to their Christian masters, and the masters to love their slaves.—Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; 4:1

Philemon was one slave owner of the time who accepted Christ and became a faithful Christian. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. Before accepting Christ, Onesimus ran away from his master and went to Rome. While in Rome he came in contact with Paul. He had probably met Paul previously while the latter was visiting in the home of his master, Philemon. Through Paul’s ministry, Onesimus accepted Christ and became a devoted servant of the Lord. He realized that he had disobeyed the laws of the time in running away from his master, and that now, as a Christian, his course of duty was to return and seek the forgiveness of Philemon.

Obviously, this situation presented a difficult problem for both Onesimus and Philemon. Paul sensed the situation and wrote a letter to Philemon for the former slave to deliver to his master personally when he returned to him. In this letter he asks Philemon to take back his former slave and to treat him now as a brother in Christ. This is the subject matter of “The Epistle of Paul to Philemon.” It is a wonderful demonstration of the manner in which Christian love can be depended upon to solve the most difficult problems which may arise among the Lord’s people, those called out to be a people for his name.

And since this little flock class, to whom it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom, are being prepared to administer the laws of God for the blessing of all mankind, it is important that they become developed in love, that all selfishness be put away; for only thus will they become properly qualified to participate in the rulership of that new kingdom which has as its great objective the establishment of the will of God “in earth, as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:10

Paul himself was thoroughly devoted to this Christian way of love, and he knew that it was leading him into a sacrificial death with Christ. To him nothing else in life was important. To the brethren at Philippi he wrote, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”—the high calling to live and reign with Christ.—Phil. 3:13,14

Near the close of his faithful life of service, locked in a Roman prison awaiting execution, Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—II Tim. 4:6-8

That Christ would return and receive his faithful followers unto himself, then to reign with him for the blessing of all the families of the earth was the great hope of all in the Early Church. Their faith in this fruition of their hopes enabled them to continue their witness in an unfriendly world, even though it frequently meant imprisonment and death, as in the case of Paul. May their example encourage us in our service of the Lord, and may we too be among those who will receive the crown of righteousness because we also love his appearing!

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