Find abundant grace & peace in the Bible's letters, which were written to you!
1 Peter 1:1–2 (NIV)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Listen to passage & devotional:
Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 4: The Canonical Books
This week we'll be focusing on some of the different literary genres included in the Bible: Narrative, poetry/wisdom, the epistles, and apocalyptic. Today we're looking at one of the primary components of the New Testament: the epistle.
We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes
of the Old and New Testaments.
They are canonical books
with which there can be no quarrel at all.
In the church of God the list is as follows:
In the Old Testament,
the five books of Moses—
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;
the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth;
the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings;
the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon;
the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job;
the Psalms of David;
the three books of Solomon—
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song;
the four major prophets—
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel;
and then the other twelve minor prophets—
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah,
Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
In the New Testament,
the four gospels—
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John;
the Acts of the Apostles;
the fourteen letters of Paul—
to the Romans;
the two letters to the Corinthians;
to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians;
the two letters to the Thessalonians;
the two letters to Timothy;
to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews;
the seven letters of the other apostles—
one of James;
two of Peter;
three of John;
one of Jude;
and the Revelation of the apostle John.
The word 'epistle' isn't used much in everyday language anymore, except every now and then to refer to one of the New Testament books of the Bible. But the word itself isn't just a biblical word, rather it simply means 'letter.'
Twenty one out of the twenty seven books of the New Testament fall into the epistle genre. The first big clue that a particular book is an epistle often comes right at the beginning, where the name of the author is given followed by the recipient(s) the letter is addressed to.
Sometimes the letters were originally written to one particular church (like Ephesians) or a particular person (like Titus). The letters were always considered as 'open' letters which were shared amongst congregations, but some letters like 1st & 2nd Peter are called catholic epistles because they had a 'universal' audience rather than just one person or local congregation.
Many of Paul's letters were written in response to particular situations or questions a local congregation had. All books of the Bible must be interpreted in terms of how its original audience would have understood it, but that's especially the case with epistles. The more we know about the background of the author and audience, the better we can interpret its truth.
Be careful, though! Interpretation does NOT mean we get to manipulate the meaning until we get something we like! This is one more reason our churches are confessional, meaning documents like the Belgic Confession have helped set interpretive guard rails that have been agreed on for centuries.
We're often too quick as we read the opening addresses in epistle because they seem so formulistic. The letter is from so and so, written to certain people, followed by a greeting of grace, mercy and peace. We want to get to the good stuff, so we often jump in at verse 3 or 4 of the first chapter.
But look at the massively comforting truth Peter's opening address contains: It's addressed to God's elect; that's not just the chosen people from thousands of years ago, that's a direct reference to you! Certainly the first 'exiles' who got this letter lived in far flung Roman provinces, but you're an exile as well in that no matter how (un)comfortable your life is now, you're separated from your true home in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In this introduction you learn that you've "been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, and are being sanctified (made holy) by the work of the Spirit, so that you can "be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with His blood."
So if you want to experience God's "grace and peace in abundance," don't skip over the introductions in the epistles. They tell you exactly who you are!
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father God, who chose us according to His foreknowledge to belong to Him;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for His abundant grace and peace communicated in the epistles, and pray that through them you will be obedient to Jesus Christ;
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Acts 8