Connecting to the Larger Story
As Paul traveled from one city to the next establishing and growing churches along the way, he would stay for a while until the church was stable with leadership in place to continue its ministry. When he moved on, however, troubles, conflicts, and disputes over his teaching would often arise. As news of the trouble reached his ears, Paul would write a letter to be read to the whole church to address the issue - often correcting a misunderstanding - and encourage them to continue in holy living.
Important to Note
1) Paul's encouragement often came in the form of a series of instructions on how to live in a holy way. Instead of addressing specific situations like many of the commandments of the law, these instructions lifted up general patterns of behavior and lifted up virtues by which to live: compassion, kindness, forgiveness, humility, patience, etc. They also warned against behaviors and attitudes that could lead down a slippery slope to faithlessness: anger, malice, jealousy, harsh words, etc. Instead of merely rules to follow, Paul set out the ideals by which we should make decisions and orient our lives.
2) Another common theme of Paul's in his letters to the churches was that of unity. The members of the church should act as one and put aside divisions because they were all one in Jesus Christ.
3) Paul also encouraged a general attitude of thanksgiving among believers. Whether things were good or bad, believers should find something to give thanks to God for.
Thoughts for Reflection
1) What ideals do you live your life by?
2) Why was unity so important to the church?
3) Why should we give thanks in the midst of difficult times?