Jude’s Letter To Christian Friends

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The executions of Peter & Paul in Rome were part of a pattern of persecution of Christians that continued for some time throughout the Roman Empire.

In Israel, certain Jews rebelled against the cruel & heavy-handed rule of their Roman overlords.  But ultimately, their rebellion was crushed & the city of Jerusalem was obliterated by Roman armies.  This took place about 35 years after Jesus had returned to heaven, in partial fulfillment of things he had taught his witnesses about the end times.

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During this period of tumult, Jude wrote a letter to scattered Christian friends (359).  The inspired scriptures suggest that Jude was a close relative of Jesus, like James.  And like James & many other people, Jude didn’t realize that Jesus was the son of God until after he had been raised from death.  But then, Jude believed & became a strong witness for Jesus.

Jude’s short letter, like Peter’s last letter, contains strong warnings against false teachers, and lists some of their tactics for upsetting God’s work among believers.

 

false-teachers

Jude emphasizes that the power to overcome the lies of false teachers is found only in Jesus.  He encourages believers to persevere in faith & prayer, insisting this is the key to serving other believers who are being led astray by false teachers.

  • To those beginning to doubt God’s truth, we are to show mercy as we  encourage their faith.
  • To those who have actually begun to embrace false teachings, we are to intervene more forcefully — contending for the faith & demolishing  the lies of false teachers.

Jude admonished his friends to respect the power of evil, even while hating the power of evil.

But he concluded by emphasizing the power of Jesus to bring faithful believers through all evils of this world & ultimately home to heaven.

LORD, please help us to love contending for the faith.

(359) The letter is known simply as Jude.

Peter Insists On Holiness

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Peter’s second & last letter to Christian friends was written at the end of his life, from Rome (357).  In this short letter, Peter gives Christians practical advice for our daily walk with Jesus, another warning against false teachers, and a reminder of the promises we have in Jesus.

Peter wrote this letter because his love for God inspired him to love us.  His prayer is that our love for God will inspire us to love other people.

God wants us to share in his divine nature, says Peter.  Jesus has made this possible, by his sacrificial death & by his resurrection.  The Holy Spirit is the divine nature of God, the living heart of the body of Christ.  But in order to grow in the divine nature of God, individual members of the body of Christ must be diligent in several things.  In other words, we have to cooperate with the leading of the Holy Spirit as we grow.

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  • Faith is first. We receive God’s grace by faith, not because of anything we are or do.  Faith is how our life in God begins.  Then, God expects us to grow in a variety of ways.
  • We are expected to pursue goodness (or virtue or purity), which is best done in daily fellowship with other members of the body.
  • We are expected to pursue knowledge of God’s nature & of his ways, which requires daily meditation on God’s word.
  • We are expected to pursue self-control (letting our spirit rule our flesh), which requires spending daily private time with God in prayer.
  • We are expected to pursue perseverance (or patience or longsuffering or endurance or steadfastness), by daily depending on God to work all things for our good at just the right time.
  • We are expected to pursue godliness, by daily letting God have his way in our lives. He’s the master; we’re his servants.
  • We are also expected to pursue kindness toward other believers every day —  especially toward newer believers.
  • The culmination of all this is love – both for other believers & for those who remain separated from God.

As we put on these Christ-like characteristics, we bear fruit for God’s kingdom; otherwise, we remain barren.

False teachers were not only barren but also dangerous.  They tended in various ways to keep the people’s focus on themselves, instead of on Jesus.  They were more interested in their own material welfare, than in the spiritual welfare of the believers in their care.  Peter warns the members of the body of Christ to be aware of the ever-present danger posed by false teachers.

By contrast, Jesus died — for our spiritual welfare in this life & the next.  He has promised that our earthly lives will ultimately give way to life in heaven, our ultimate welfare.  Until that day, our part is to live holy lives, dedicated to God, here on earth.

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LORD, please help us to love holiness in this life.

(357) 2 Peter 1-3

Servants of Jesus: Peter & Mark

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From various clues in the inspired Christian scriptures, we can piece together certain key events in the life of Mark:

  • John Mark was a son of Mary, a woman whose home in Jerusalem was a meeting place for the followers of Jesus (book of Acts, 12th chapter).
  • Mark went with Paul & Barnabas on their first mission trip to Turkish Antioch (also book of Acts, 12th chapter), but he later turned back to Jerusalem (book of Acts, 13th chapter).

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  • Mark wanted to go with Paul on his second mission trip, but Paul refused. So Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus (book of Acts, 15th chapter).
  • About 10 years later, Mark was reunited with Paul in Rome (letter to Colossians, 4th chapter & letter to Philemon).
  • As he neared the end of his life, Paul wanted Mark to return to him in Rome (2nd letter to Timothy, 4th chapter).

At about this time, perhaps 35 years after Jesus had returned to heaven from earth, Peter was also in Rome — awaiting execution for the crime of being a Christian.  (Several early church leaders record that Peter was singled out for execution because of his leadership role in the church at Rome.)

Possibly, it was at this time that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter & Mark to record their testimony of the good news of Jesus, which we know as the Gospel of Mark (356).

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However, many contemporary Bible students date Mark’s gospel narrative much earlier & view it as the basis for subsequent gospel narratives.

Precise dating of the document is difficult, but it remains as a significant means by which the Holy Spirit helped Peter & Mark serve Jesus.

LORD, please help us to love simply telling Your story.

(356) This testimony is incorporated into previous posts on this site.

Paul’s Later Life & Ministry

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Our best understanding is that Paul was released from minimum security confinement in Rome after about 2 years, when he was approaching 60 years of age.  Clues in his letters suggest that the Holy Spirit may have led Paul to travel to the following places during the next few years — to strengthen existing churches & perhaps to plant more churches.

  • In Romans, Paul twice had mentioned his desire to go to Spain to plant churches there. (It is conceivable that God sent Paul to Spain by means of exile from Rome, just as he had sent Paul to Rome by means of persecution from Jerusalem.)

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  • In Philippians, Paul had mentioned his desire to re-visit that church (in northeastern Greece).
  • In Philemon, Paul had mentioned his desire to visit his friend in Colosse (in southern Turkey).
  • In Hebrews (if Paul wrote that letter), the writer had mentioned his desire to visit the Jewish Christians to whom he was writing – who perhaps were in Rome (in Italy) or in Jerusalem (in Israel) or in Cyrene (in North Africa).
  • In his first letter to Timothy, Paul mentioned his desire to visit Ephesus (in western Turkey).
  • In his letter to Titus, Paul mentioned his plans to visit Crete (the Greek island) & Nicopolis (probably the Greek city).
  • In his last letter to Timothy, Paul reported on the location of three of their friends; Carpas was in Troas (in northwestern Turkey), Erastus was in Corinth (in Greece) & Trophimus was in Miletus (in southwestern Turkey). So it’s possible that Paul had recently visited all three of these places.

But since we have nothing like Luke’s detailed record of Paul’s earlier travels, we cannot be certain of Paul’s later travels.

Two of Paul’s letters seem to have been written after he was released from prison in Rome & before he was re-imprisoned a few years later.  Paul wrote these letters to young church leaders.

  • One was written to Timothy in the Turkish city of Ephesus.
  • Another was written to Titus on the Greek island of Crete.

timothy titus

A second letter would be written to Timothy — after Paul was re-imprisoned in Rome, while he awaited execution there for the crime of being a servant of Jesus Christ.

LORD, please help us to love having no place to lay our heads.

Today Is The Day!

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Hebrews is a letter of instruction & encouragement to Jewish or Hebrew Christians.  The letter is filled with inspired wisdom and is an inspiring witness for Jesus.

But there are certain things we don’t know about this letter:

  • We don’t know exactly who wrote it. It may have been written by Paul, or perhaps by Barnabas.
  • We don’t know exactly when it was written. It may have been written at this time, or perhaps several years later.
  • We don’t know to whom it was written. It may have been written to Jewish believers in Rome, or perhaps in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Cyrene in North Africa.

What we do know is that God has allowed this letter to be preserved for the encouragement & instruction of believers today.  This is how it begins (350).

The writer or the witness first emphasizes that God speaks to his created children, and that God speaks to us most powerfully through his son, Jesus.  It is through Jesus that we can best learn about God, hear from God & relate to God.

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As God, Jesus is greater than all the angels in heaven.  As a man, Jesus was lower than the angels.

In an extended commentary on Psalm 95, the witness emphasizes that, as a man, Jesus was greater than Moses – who, till that time, was widely regarded as the greatest hero of the Jewish faith.

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In that same commentary, the witness also emphasizes that the most important day for any Christian is today.

  • The past day when we first entered into salvation was undoubtedly important.
  • The future day when we will be taken to heaven is undoubtedly important.
  • But the present day — in which we show the world our faith in Jesus by the way we love other people – is the most important of all days. Only today, can our transformed lives give testimonies to the power of Jesus.

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LORD, please help us to love You by loving people, today.

(350) Hebrews 1-3

Suffering In The Spirit

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Continuing his first letter to Christian friends (349), Peter emphasizes the blessings of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  Suffering with Jesus is incompatible with sinning; when we’re suffering with Jesus, we’re not sinning.

suffering-joyfully

Sharing joyfully in the sufferings of Christ is often the most powerful witness for Jesus.  Peter actually encourages us to thank God when we get to suffer for following Jesus, as we keep on doing good in Jesus’ name.

In church life, leaders are to model humble submission to God, rather than becoming spiritual dictators.  The humility of Christ is wanted for all members of any faith fellowship, and especially for its leaders.

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This is important because we have an enemy, who will use any device to destroy Christian fellowship.  Satan wants to devour us spiritually, as a roaring lion physically devours its prey.

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Humbly depending on God, Peter concludes, is our best defense against Satan.

At about this same time, Luke wrote his record of the acts of the Holy Spirit through the witnesses for Jesus, and the miraculous spread of the Christian faith from the Middle East into southwestern Asia & southern Europe.  His narrative began with Jesus’ return to heaven, and covered a period of about 30 years – up to the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

The book of Acts shows us how Jesus worked through his church then, and how he desires to work through his church now.  (It is paraphrased in previous posts on this blog, and harmonized chronologically with letters from early Christian leaders.)

LORD, please help us to love the joy of suffering with You.

(349) 1 Peter 4-5

Peter’s Call To Holiness & Readiness

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There is widespread agreement that Mark’s gospel is based principally on Peter’s inspired recollection of his relationships with Jesus & the other 11 witnesses.

After Jesus returned to heaven, Peter was his witness primarily among the Jews.  However, he was also used to welcome Gentiles into God’s family, when he was led by the Holy Spirit to share the good news about Jesus with Cornelius.  Peter played a leading role in the church in Jerusalem.  Later, Peter served briefly alongside Paul in the Galatian region of Turkey.  Several 2nd & 3rd century Christian leaders record that Peter eventually served as head of the church in Rome for 15-25 years.  Beyond all this, little is known of his travels as a missionary.

In any case, we do have two letters that Peter wrote to believers, dated between 60 & 65 AD.  The first was written to encourage Christians under the threat of violent persecution in various places in Turkey (348).  Peter intended that this letter would be shared with numerous Christian churches in that part of the world.

He begins by reminding the churches that Jesus has given us the hope of a far better life in heaven.  When suffering here on earth is endured in this hope, it actually strengthens our faith.  The secret of enduring is to focus on walking in holiness, not to focus on our suffering.

And the best way to walk in holiness is to love one another.  Love covers a multitude of sins – our sins & the sins of others.

holiness-teresa

Peter refers to church members as living stones, whom God is using to build a spiritual temple here on earth.  Since we have been chosen by God for this, we need to let God use us for this; we need to cooperate with God.  Jesus is our best example of  such cooperation with God.

Following the example of Jesus, Christians are called to submit to human authority, even if it involves suffering.  Similarly, wives are called to submit quietly to their husbands, believing that God can use this example to strengthen their husbands’ spirits.  At the same time, Peter admonishes husbands to remember always that their wives are equally loved by God; they are fellow heirs of God’s grace.

Peter then encourages the believers always to be ready to tell others why we follow Jesus.

We never know when those opportunities will arise.  When we live for God instead of for ourselves, it catches people’s attention.  And this often leads to opportunities to tell others about all that Jesus has done for us.

LORD, please help us to love holiness & readiness.

(348) 1 Peter 1-3