SHARON ROCKWELL | CONTRIBUTOR
The letter finally arrived. Acceptance to a Christian university along with a scholarship for tuition and housing. I was on cloud nine! As I read the details of the scholarship requirements, I recognized the expected minimum grade point average. But there was another requirement and this one was not expected. The scholarship I was awarded came from an anonymous donor who simply requested that I send her a letter after each semester, updating her on my academic progress and personal goals.
With a grateful heart, I looked forward to sending those letters at the end of each semester. I would tell her how much I wanted to live up to her expectations, and that was doing my best. I proudly sent her a copy of my grades so that she could see the results of her investment. Though I never met the woman, I grew to think of her as a confidant and friend as I shared my academic progress, spiritual growth, details about happenings in my family, and about the boyfriend I fell in love with and then married the week after graduation. All possible because of the generous gift from a woman I never met. I continued to send letters after college so that she would know I put my degree in chemistry to good use.
Love Letters to the Church
I love letters – both sent and received. Last year my Bible study read through Acts, which records the establishment of the early church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Its author, Luke, detailed the missionary journeys of Paul in establishing local churches and giving direction to their work, worship, and organization. Acts 1:8 provides a summary of what was to come for those charged to be witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” When our Bible study ended in the spring, I wanted to know more details about what happened next. The answer comes in the form of letters. Paul wrote letters to the churches he planted and hoped to visit again, and through those letters Paul gives practical definition to the Christian faith. How thankful we can be to God who preserved Paul’s letters for our edification. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4). I usually do my personal Bible study by reading a chapter and then using a commentary for further understanding. But I changed my study this summer to reading the entire letter sent to one of the churches or one of Paul’s spiritual sons, at one sitting. Reading the letters this way gave me a whole new perspective. Paul’s letters are really love letters. He never fails to communicate his love for the church and his intense desire to see both Jews and Gentiles come to know the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He also wrote to convey a plan for organizing and managing the church.
Letters Laced with Joy
We know all Scripture is God-breathed. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul left us loving letters in which he always reinforced the redemption given by the Father through the sacrifice of the Son. He used some letters to correct false teaching in certain early churches. Other letters emphasized the work that God was doing in the lives of the believers, promoting peace and unity among them, and encouraging them to endure until Christ returns. Sometimes he gave warnings, such as the need to be spiritually awake and prepared for Christ’s coming. Other times Paul clarified doctrine as when he taught all have sinned and need a savior, and about what happens to believers past and present upon their death. Commonly, Paul introduced himself humbly, as a servant of God, and credibly, as an apostle of Christ. Even when using words of admonition, he sandwiched those words between thanksgiving for the believers and joy in knowing they were keeping the faith.
The joy in Paul’s letters is contagious. He is so focused on Christ that in one letter he claims his desire to be with Christ after death is equal to his desire to live and share the gospel. Paul wrote some of his letters from prison, some in physical hardship, and some knowing his death was imminent. In one letter, Paul concluded with “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).
I want to have that kind of joy in my life. I want to rejoice in all that the Lord has given me with a humble spirit and a grateful heart. Paul’s letters are loving reminders of the gift of our salvation through belief in Jesus Christ.
Lord, thank you for preserving letters which teach us to keep an eternal perspective in the midst of problems, heartbreaks, and suffering. Let me be joyful as I take Paul’s letters to heart.
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