Friday, February 16, 2018

Personal Greetings

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For some time, I have been assembling my own commentary on Paul's letter to Philemon. Recently, though, I decided to work my way through 2 Timothy, a letter I have not preached or taught before. While I have read it several times, a word leaped out at me as I translated the first verse.  Quoting from the King James Version:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus

This is a typical salutation from the Apostle. The thirteen epistles written by him begin with his name. There is nothing unusual in this. But, what grabbed my eye was the word "apostle". Yes, Paul frequently begins his salutations by noting his divinely appointed office. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus find the same word in the very first verse. There are only four Pauline epistles which do not have "apostle" in verse 1: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon.

You might ask, then, why the word in 2 Timothy grabbed my attention. All, but four, of Paul's letters were written directly to churches; only four were personal letters: 1 & Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Having spent so much time in Philemon, I knew Paul never used the word "apostle" in that letter. When writing to his Christian brother and friend, Philemon, about the latter's runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul had no need to remind his friend of his exalted position within the church. Yes, he was an Apostle. Yes, the letter to Philemon bears apostolic authority; it is the Word of God. But, Paul found no need to remind his friend of this. His approach was to appeal, not command, his friend to receive back Onesimus as not only his servant but also his brother in Christ.

Approaching 2 Timothy, I guess I assumed Paul also had no need to remind his friend and former missionary partner of his office. I was surprised, then, when I saw the word "apostle" in that first verse. Quickly, I checked the other two personal letters (1 Timothy and Titus) and, sure enough, the word was there as well.

The Timothy epistles and Titus are collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles. Timothy and Titus are pastors and Paul has insight and instruction for them and their local churches. While the letters are directed to these personal friends, Paul leaves no doubt as to the authority of his words. He is writing not merely as their friend and co-worker, but as an Apostle of the Almighty God. His Words are God's Words. His wisdom is God's Wisdom. His commands are God's commands.

These facts are true in all of Paul's letters including Philemon. Let us clearly understand that, when we read the writings of Paul (or any other Biblical author), we are reading the very Word of God. What they have written is not merely their opinion.

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