The majority of the New Testament is made up of letters. Most of the letters (from Romans to Philemon) were written by the Apostle Paul. We can recognize them because they’re named for their various recipients. With the exception of the author of Hebrews, whose identity is lost to us, the rest of the letters are named for their respective writers. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote James; the Apostle Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter, the Apostle John—the same one who wrote the Gospel—also wrote 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude, also James’s and Jesus’s brother, wrote Jude.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Watch Week Six: New Testament: The Letters & Revelation
read, copy, share
These books are often described as “occasional” documents because, much like our letters (or emails), something happened to “occasion” their writing. In other words, they were written to address particular issues faced by particular people living in particular places during a particular time in history. As we study these letters, it is helpful to remember that even though they were written to certain groups or individuals, they were circulated widely among believers. The first recipients of the letters not only read them aloud when they met for worship, they also shared them with neighboring church communities. As new churches received them, they copied them before sending them on to other churches who did the same. It was this process that preserved the letters, ultimately making them available for us to study centuries later.
reading other people’s mail
It may seem strange to us that the letters were read and circulated beyond their original audience. Many of them addressed messy—not to mention unflattering—situations. So why would the church share them, ultimately preserving their contents for all Christians to read? The book of Jude gives us some perspective.
In this letter addressed generally to all believers, Jude writes twenty-four verses to communicate one essential message: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (1:3). Although we only find this command in Jude, it helps us understand every letter’s message—no matter the circumstances and reasons for writing. As we study each letter, we find they can be summed up in Jude’s call. Contend for the faith!
The letters teach to contend for the faith by persevering in it (Hebrews), holding fast to God’s revelation (Romans) and the one true gospel (Galatians), by suffering well (2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter) and living in ways pleasing to God (Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians) even as grace does its transforming work (1 Timothy, 2 Peter). They teach to contend for the faith by imitating Jesus (Philippians), in our conduct toward others (James, Philemon) and in the way we care for God’s church—its unity (1 Corinthians), purity (2 Corinthians), and doctrine (Titus). And above all, they teach to contend for the faith through love (1, 2, 3 John).
a god worth sharing
When the early believers studied these letters, they recognized something in them that is as true for us as it was for them. These letters don’t just teach about God and what it means to be a Christian. They present us with opportunities to encounter God and be transformed into the likeness of his Son. And that is something worth sharing.
Our lives look very different from those of our Christian brothers and sisters who lived in the first century. What might contending for the faith look like in your life—at your work, with your friends and neighbors?
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