Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reading Your New Testament - Letters

Outside of 6 or 7 books in the New Testament (NT), its content is basically letters to churches, sometimes called epistles.  Most of those were written by Paul the Apostle, which includes all the letters ending in -ans along with both Timothy letters and Titus (those three often referred to as the pastoral epistles) and Philemon.

A few thoughts on reading those letters...

First, they are letters.  They have a context both historically and personally.  Some address problems, some personalities, some have other purposes.  But they're letters.  If you got a hand-written letter in the mail,  you wouldn't start on page two or only read page four.  We have a tendency to treat the epistles like that:  we find our favorite parts and read them over and over and over again, never setting those favorite parts in their contexts.  Don't do that.  Read the whole letter and see how God is speaking.

Second, as both a challenge and an interpreting tool, you can ask the letter what was going on such that God through the author needed to say that to them.  In seminary, we called this "mirror reading," because we're trying to know what's happening by one part of the conversation - much like sitting next to a person on the phone and by their responses trying to guess what the conversation partner is saying on the other end of the line.  It's sometimes harder to do than others, but it's a good exercise.

Third, because most of the letters were written to churches, don't only apply it personally.  You need to apply it personally, don't get me wrong.  But not just personally - apply it to your church.  Where are the things you're reading visible in your church and where do they need to be visible?  What's your role in that?  How does that change how you pray for your church and its leadership?

Lastly, if you have a hard time understanding a portion of a letter, why someone would say what they said, how you're supposed to translate it to the 21st century, or where to turn so you can understand it better, don't get frustrated.  As a pastor, there are still portions of the Scripture that I don't have a firm grasp on.  Two thoughts:  (1) that doesn't limit its authority over my life because it's still God's Word even though I don't get it and (2) that doesn't mean that I'll never get it, so I should stay humble and keep studying, applying it the best I know how in the now.

Monday's coming and we'll kick off.  I can't wait to see what God does.

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