December 6th, 2010


I went back and checked, just to be sure.  Paul begins and ends EVERY letter with “grace.”  It’s the first thing he wants you thinking about when you start reading, and it’s the last thing he wants ringing in your ears when you’re done.

Sunday’s sermon was about grace, from another letter of Paul’s (2 Cor. 8:9).  I said in the sermon that you’re not ready for Christmas unless you have grasped grace.  Grace is the message.

It seems to me that “the spirit of Christmas” or “the holiday spirit” is by definition temporary.  The message seems to be to forget your problems for a while, push disagreements out of the way, do a few acts of charity, and even if you’re ornery most of the time at least for a few weeks try to be kind.

Paul wouldn’t understand.  As he makes clear in all of his letters, grace needs to transform us.  His classic text is Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Note the italicized portion.  Grace is no excuse for letting sin continue to control us (as Paul argues in Romans).  Grace is nothing like “the Christmas spirit” that temporarily makes us better than we are.  Grace transforms us from the inside out – makes us forgiving and kind, allows us to give the benefit of the doubt, creates a passion to “do good works” – all of this out of gratitude for the gift we have been given in Christ.

When grace changes us, it doesn’t just do so for the month of December.



Dec 5: 2Cor 5-9
Dec 6:
2Cor 10-13
Dec 7:
Gal 1-3
Dec 8:
Gal 4-6
Dec 9:
Eph 1-3
Dec 10:
Eph 4-6
Dec 11:
Dec 12:



·        Did I already use up the word “favorite” describing Paul’s letters?  If so, I’m sorry.  I have had a spiritual joy ride this week reading the letters dubbed “prison epistles.”  I LOVE these four letters, all for different reasons!

·        “Go Eat Pop Corn!”  What does that phrase have to do with this part of the Bible?  The letters at the beginning of each word (GEPC) are a good way to remember the order of these books – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

·        Galatians.  This is actually NOT a “prison epistle.”  Galatians may have been the oldest of Paul’s letter that has been preserved for us.  Paul founded the church in Galatia (a Roman province in southern Turkey) in AD 47/48.  Apparently as soon as he left, some Jewish Christian teachers (think Christian Pharisees) swept into the vacuum left by Paul’s absence and began teaching the new believers that they needed to keep Moses’ law – i.e., circumcision.  Paul is livid – and he writes this letter to ground the Galatians once again in the grace and freedom that is the Christian gospel.

·        Ephesians.  Paul mentions being in prison three times in this letter (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), and the most likely prison is his final known imprisonment in Rome, about AD 62.  That makes Ephesians one of Paul’s final letters, about 15 years after Galatians.  He is thoroughly organized in this letter (first three chapters doctrine and final three chapters duty), and lofty in his descriptions of salvation, Jesus Christ, grace, the church, spiritual gifts, family, and spiritual warfare.  It is apparently a circular letter written to a wide audience, so it is less personal and more theologically grand than his other letters.

·        Philippians.  Once again, Paul is in prison (1:13 and 4:22).  Although there are alternate theories, the best guess is that this letter also was written from his final imprisonment in Rome, about 62 AD.  Paul seems to be aware that his death is imminent (1:20).  The difference between this letter and Ephesians is primarily its warmth.  Paul knows the Philippians well – well enough to name their past and present leaders, and well enough to express great confidence and joy in his personal relationship with them.  This is a “thank you” letter, because Epaphroditus, a Philippian, has brought Paul a gift from the church.  It’s more than thanks, however.  He wants them to follow through with Christ, building on what they started and doing their part to finish well (3:17), knowing that it is Christ who finishes what he started (1:6).  My life verse is Philippians 2:15-16, chosen when I was a teenager.

·        Colossians.  Probably during the same imprisonment, the same time frame – AD 62 – Paul wrote this letter.  Again, in contrast to Ephesians, there is a specific situation he addresses in Colossians.  False teachers have crept into the church, much like they had in Galatia.  It’s just hard to tell exactly what the false teaching was or what it’s source was.  Colossians is almost like a “best of” collection – with many themes from the three previous letters incorporated.  As always, the bottom line is grace (see devotions).

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