ORDER OF THE EPISTLES
Just a little FYI here about why the epistles are the way they are in the Bible. The early Christians who assembled the epistles into the New Testament did not have access to their chronology, so they ordered them in two other ways. First,
"The arrangement [of the epistles of Paul] is neither chronological, geographical, nor alphabetical, but by length, in descending order from the longest (Romans) to the shortest (Philemon). This is the case except with the epistle to the Hebrews, which was placed last because some have questioned whether or not it was written by Paul" (Bible Dictionary, p. 743).
And a second theory,
"The epistles do not stand in the order in which they were written, but in the order of the importance of the audiences addressed. Thus, Romans comes first because Rome was the capital of the empire. Corinth was the next most important city, and so on. Paul's epistles to individuals follow those to collective audiences...Hebrews appears last, because there is good reason to doubt whether it is by Paul.
"After Paul's epistles come the seven 'catholic,' or general, epistles--so called because they were addressed to Christians generally. They appear roughly in the order of their length.
"Christians adopted this order of the epistle as early as the time of Eusebius in the beginning of the third century" (J.I Packer, M.C. Tenney, ed., Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 587).
- To congregations--Romans through 2 Thessalonians
- To individuals--1 Timothy through Phileman
- General epistles (other than Pauline)
Just for variety and to keep the class awake, on one side of the board, put up the scripture references below. On the other side, in mixed-up order, put the names of a government leader, expectant or new parents in your congregation, your bishop or branch president, and a missionary from your ward or an exemplary youth. Have the class read the scripture and match it to the person. Then discuss the relevance of each today.
- 1 Tim. 2:1-2 "I exhort therefore, that, first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (government leader)
- 1 Tim. 2:15 with JST footnote "Notwithstanding they shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." (expectant or new parents)
- 1 Tim. 3:2-3 "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous." (your bishop or branch president)
- 1 Tim. 4:12 "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (an examplary youth)
- We should pray for our political leaders, even if (or maybe especially if) we disagree with them. We should pray at election times that those who will help us lead "a quiet and peaceable life" will be elected.
- How is it that we are "saved through child-bearing?" And why did the JST change it to say "they" instead of "she"? If we "continue" and raise (or rear) those children "in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety [modesty]," we receive excellent spiritual training ourselves. Parenthood is the practicum for godhood. It provides great opportunities for service and for the development of all divine characteristics, if we let it.
- The word bishop is from the Greek episkopos. Epi means "over;" think of the epicenter of an earthquake. (Is that what a bishop feels like sometimes?) Skopos means "caretaker." Put the two together and you have "head shepherd," or "chief slave." (That's probably what a bishop feels like most of the time! If so, he's doing the right things, according to the definition of the word.) The Episcopalian denomination of Christians is so named because of the emphasis it places on pastors of congregations.
- There are six checkpoints noted here for believers. Which of these could you stand a little work on this week? We must "be an example of the believers in...
- Word. Do we gossip? Are we uplifting in our speech? Do we encourage others and ourselves?
- Conduct (the literal meaning of the word translated in the King James Version as conversation). Our children can see our character and faith by the way we live. It is said that when we are under stress, we reveal the most about ourselves. This is the condition our family members can observe more readily than anyone else. We must conduct ourselves well in crisis, small or great, as well as in ordinary daily life.
- Charity. Love must be our motivation for everything, and our solution to everything.
- Spirit. Are our daily actions guided by the Spirit?
- Faith. Are we easily discouraged and depressed, or do we see the Lord's hand in the details of our lives? Do we follow through on counsel of our leaders? Do we trust the Lord enough to obey all of His commandments as best we can?
- Purity. We must be very careful of the media influences we allow in our homes. A lack of vigilance in this area will affect all of the other areas. (Actually, that can be said of each of these six items--they are all a part of each other.)
THE LAST WORDS OF PAUL
The Second Epistle to Timothy contains Paul's last words. Paul was ill at this time, and probably on "death row." (Note he asks for his cloke, his books, and his parchments in 4:13). Knowing this, the two-fold theme of the epistle is especially poignant: 1) God's care despite persecution of the saints, and 2)encouragement and counsel to those who suffer trials.
The first point can be summarized in 1:12 and 4:18.
"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
"And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
The second can be summarized in 2:3,15.
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [meting out to others] the word of truth."
PEACE AMIDST CHAOS
How does one live in the peace of the gospel while enduring the trials of life? The answer, and a great key to living as a Christian, is found in 1:6-7.
"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. [What gift have all church members been asked to receive by the laying on of hands? The Gift of the Holy Ghost.] For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
"Fear is spoken of [in the Bible] as something unworthy of a child of God, something that 'perfect love casteth out' (1 John 4:18). The first effect of Adam's sin was that he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). Sin destroys that feeling of confidence God's child should feel in a loving Father, and produces instead a feeling of shame and guilt. Ever since the Fall God has been teaching men not to fear, but with penitence to ask forgiveness in full confidence of receiving it" (Bible Dictionary, Fear, p. 672).
The word spirit in verse 7 refers to "the disposition or state of mind brought by the Holy Ghost" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2239). Do we allow our state of mind to be influenced by the Holy Ghost? If we do, our fears should certainly diminish. The Holy Ghost will bring power. "Faith is a principle of action and power" and is always linked with hope. The Holy Ghost will fill us with love, which is the opposite of and antidote to fear. And the Holy Ghost will give us a sound mind, alternatively translated as self-discipline. Without faith, charity, or self-discipline, we cannot have peace. But with these three, we can overcome the fears and uncertainties of the latter-days and trust in the Lord with confidence in ourselves as His servants.
Therefore, we must heed Paul's warning in chapter 3.
AVOIDING THE FACES OF APOSTACY
In the early days of Christ's church, apostacy crept in, and eventually all believers went astray or were killed. Now, in the days of the Restoration we have been promised that this will never happen again collectively, but it will happen individually. We must check ourselves against these harbingers of personal apostacy:
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent [without self-control], fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady [rash, reckless], highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (3:1-4).
You may want to discuss as a class each one of these negative and dangerous attributes, so opposite to the Attributes of Christ in the Preach My Gospel handbook.
Brother Lynn Scoresby, a prominent LDS psychologist and family counselor and author of the blog Leading Families, identified three types of apostacy. The First Apostacy, he said, is getting angry and leaving the Church in a huff. The Second Apostacy is perverting the Church from within. The Third Apostacy, or the New Apostacy, is much more subtle and very dangerous. It's not really new, but it has experienced a resurgence in recent years. The New Apostacy is like a virgin with not quite enough oil. It's like a sacrifice of a lamb, but a blind one. It's like paying 8% tithing. It's like accepting a Church calling and never getting around to doing it. The New Apostacy is to not do what you say you believe. It is half-heartedness. It is hypocrisy. It is a lack of spiritual integrity. If the integrity of a building is compromised, it may look fine, but in a hurricane or an earthquake, it will crumble. So with the faith of one whose spiritual integrity is not solid. (A. Lynn Scoresby, BYU Education Week Lecture, August 19, 1999. For a treatise by Brother Scoresby on how to help our children avoid this apostacy, listen to his excellent lecture, "The Crisis of Unbelief", given August 17, 1999 at BYU Education Week.)
Paul warns that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (3:12). How do we avoid being drawn into any kind of apostacy? The answer is immediately given by Paul in his counsel to Timothy: "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (3:14-15). Hooray! We are doing the right thing in Sunday School class!
Why is studying the scriptures such an effective safeguard against evil? Again we find the explanation given immediately by Peter: "And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect [suited, ready, complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (3:16-17 JST). To summarize, scripture will do four things for us:
- Teach us truth (doctrine)
- Point out what we need to change (reproof)
- Put us back on course (correction)
- Keep us there (instruction in righteousness)
"The Apostle Paul’s voice echoes through the centuries addressing us who are “called to be saints” in the latter days. He shares with us the joy he found in his glorious vision of the resurrected Lord, and his life stands as a witness of his testimony and as an example of overcoming adversity to preach the gospel. In his letters we can feel his passion for the gospel and his love and concern for the members of Christ’s Church. His words instruct us in the doctrines of the Atonement and inspire us to enjoy its blessings" (David Rolph Seeley and JoAnn H. Seeley, "Paul: Untiring Witness of Christ," Ensign, August 1999).
We all should keep Paul's final words before us as a goal for the end of our own lives--who knows when it will come? Maybe tomorrow, maybe 80 years from now...
"For 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" (4:6-8).