Apostle Paul has one of the most compelling testimonies of any biblical figure. A Roman citizen who was trained as a Pharisee, Paul originally went by his Hebrew name, Saul. Saul carried out a vicious campaign of violent persecution against the early church before encountering the spirit of Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He suddenly became blind for seven days, and soon after carried out his duties as a faithful servant of God.
Second only to Jesus, Apostle Paul might be the next most prominent New Testament figure. His thirteen letters not only account for a major portion of the New Testament, but are also loaded with vital information about remaining faithful to God, teaching correct doctrine, and conducting proper protocols for the church. Paul’s letters contained love and concern for the believers in these nascent churches, but also instructional criticism when warranted. Let’s take a brief glimpse at the contents of Paul’s writings.
It should be noted: although the Book of Acts isn’t attributed to Paul, it contains necessary information about his conversion (Acts 9:1-22) and the determination with which he carried out God’s work of evangelism. Acts contains one example after the next of Paul enduring imprisonment, harsh treatment and malicious accusations, all for the sake of the Gospel.
Apostle Paul’s New Testament writings begin with Romans. As the title suggests, this letter is addressed to the church in Rome. Paul gives them a guide on sound doctrine, warning them—and us believers today—to build a life of faith on true theology. Paul begins with a warning about God’s wrath towards those who were given the Word, yet rejected it for the world (Rom 1:18-32). Throughout Romans, we see that righteousness is the foundation upon which all believers must build in order to carry out their faith honestly.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, concerned about the problems reported to him. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the fundamentals of the faith concerning the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15). He also addresses the division, quarrelling and immorality practiced by the Corinthians, reminding them of the proper path believers must walk: we are to remember that we belong to God, not the world (1 Cor 6:20).
Building upon his earlier message, Paul also wrote this letter to the Corinthian church as a warning to guard their faith against false teachers who were spreading false doctrines. He outlines the true characteristics of an apostle, warning the Corinthians to examine their faith according to Scripture and repent now while they have the chance so that God does not deal with them harshly (2 Cor 13:10).
Apostle Paul testifies to the truth of the Gospel, warning that those who teach alternatives to the Word are cursed (Gal 1:9). Paul teaches the believers that the law was meant to point us towards Jesus, and that we are to live with Christ and die to ourselves (Gal 2:20). As believers who are freed from sin, we cannot fall back into living by the desires of the flesh, but must produce the fruits of the spirit instead (Gal 5:22-23). Although many Christians point to Paul’s writings as “proof” that we need to only have faith in Jesus, here is just one example that shows us that true faith involves acting on our beliefs and producing fruit.
Written to the church in Ephesus, Paul addresses the believers with a joyful heart that he was chosen by God to carry out His work. Believers should also be joyful at the fact that God adopted us as His children through Jesus’ sacrifice. We have been redeemed by Jesus and “made alive” through him (Eph 2:5). We are urged to live up to the calling that God gave us; to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit; to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” (Eph 4:1) and to be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1). Being a good steward, Apostle Paul doesn’t just leave us hanging, but gives us an itemized rundown of the full armor of God that we must equip ourselves with in order to do spiritual battle (Eph 6:10-20).
Paul addresses believers regarding the proper attitude towards God’s work. Although Paul was imprisoned for testifying to the Word, he rejoiced in the knowledge that God would use his struggles for good (Phil 1:19). Even in the worst-case scenario of death, Paul regarded dying for the Gospel as the ultimate gain (Phil 1:21). Here’s an important part that is often overlooked: Paul reminds us that a true life of faith requires us to “not only to believe in [Christ], but also to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). God’s grace and mercy are so abundant that to die in Him is to live. But if we ignore this and try to live a life in the world, the end results are dying in spiritual darkness and eternal separation from God.
We are also reminded that everything we leave behind in the world is nothing compared to what we have gained in knowing Christ. Paul was a Pharisee and had acquired wealth and status. He could have sat in prison comparing his old life to his present circumstances and walked away from his duty. Thankfully, he had the wisdom to realize that everything he lost in his old life is “garbage” (Phil 3:8). What ultimately matters is that we continue on the path to salvation and “press on toward the goal to win the prize” that God wants us to obtain: heaven and eternal life (Phil 3:14).
After praising their steadfast faith, Paul reminds the Colossians to guard it so that “no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition” (Col 2:8). Here’s an interesting point we should consider: once we have come to faith through Jesus, we must continuously protect that faith against anything that sounds good and seeks to replace the Word that God planted in our hearts.
Col 2:16-23 warns us against being disheartened by those who piously cling to the traditions of man; such rules and traditions are not of Jesus, and have nothing to do with God’s Word. Paul even specifies that these rules and regulations “have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col 2:23). The traditions of man aren’t just burdensome…they do nothing in terms of restraining bad habits that jeopardize our faith. Instead, Paul gives us an actual useful list of things to “put to death” (Col 3:5,8).
Paul praises the Thessalonians’ faithfulness. They “became imitators of us and of the Lord”, and “became a model” to believers in other regions (1 Thes 1:6, 8). The fruit of our faith should be so apparent that others can notice it without a “need to say anything about it” (1 Thes 1:8). Paul was worried that they may have been tempted to stray from truth, but they remained “standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thes 3:8). Chapter 5 contains Paul’s instructions for believers to continue preparing for the day of the Lord: putting on the full armor of God, encouraging one another, and warning those who are falling away from the path to salvation (v 8,11,15).
Paul acknowledges and thanks the Thessalonian church for their growing faith and increasing love for each other (2 Thes 1:3). These fruits of the spirit are “evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering”(2 Thes 1:5). Whatever we endure for the sake of God’s Word will be repaid “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (2 Thes 1:7).
Paul encourages them to keep enduring until Jesus’ return, until the day when those who persecuted God’s work are repaid according to their deeds. In preparation for this day, believers are to pray for the Word to be “spread rapidly and be honored”; pray to “be delivered from wicked and evil people”; continue following the Lord’s commands with Christ’s perseverance; and “keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive”, refusing to keep God’s commands (2 Thes 3:1,2,4-6).
Paul addresses Timothy, whom he has mentored and regards as a spiritual son “in the faith” (1 Tim 1:1-2). Timothy is given instructions on how a church is to properly conduct itself to honor God. Timothy is also commanded to tell false teachers to stop spreading false doctrines, and to stop wasting time on idle things, which distract from advancing God’s work (1 Tim 1:3-4).One of the differences between true teachers of God and false teachers is that the latter teach not out of love and sincere faith, but from a desire “to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about” (1 Tim 1:7). Their only concern is satisfying their egos.
Paul asks us to consider the grace with which God has saved us: even he, “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” was shown grace and love (1 Tim 1:13). Paul instructs Timothy to remember God’s grace and hold onto what he’s been given so that he may receive eternal life (1 Tim 1:16) and avoid being like those who’ve rejected the faith and “have suffered shipwreck” as a result (1 Tim 1:19). This passage illustrates the importance of faithfulness until the end. Apostle Paul had a horrible beginning as a violent persecutor, but ended a faithful servant of God. Contrast him with, say, Judas Iscariot, who walked with Jesus and still ended up betraying the Savior. If we start off well only to fall away from truth, then we are doomed. It doesn’t matter how we begin; what matters is how we end our life of faith.
In Paul’s final letter to his protégé, he recognizes that his time is nearing its end. Paul expresses gratitude to God for how Timothy has endured thus far. Paul asks Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God”, never being timid or ashamed of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:6-8). Near the end of his life, many of Paul’s fellow servants deserted the faith, but he appeals to Timothy to stay strong no matter what, urging him to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (2 Tim 1:14). Likening his duty to that of a soldier’s, Paul instructs Timothy to “please his commanding officer” and be “a good soldier of Christ” (2 Tim 2:3-4).
All who desire to serve Jesus and live in him will face persecution from a world that doesn’t know him (2 Tim 3:12). But Paul reminds us again that dying with Christ means living with him (2 Tim 2:11). Though many will turn away from the Word in favor of “what their itching ears want to hear”, God’s servants are to “endure hardship [and] do the work of an evangelist” through all things (2 Tim 4:3, 5).
Paul addresses Titus, who has been placed in charge of the church in Crete. Paul reiterates many of the similar instructions he outlines in 1 Timothy. Elders are to be faithful and blameless, proven capable of leading their own households before they can be placed in charge of a congregation. True believers are to avoid rebellious talk and idle chatter, and the teachers are to “teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine”and remind the congregation “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good (Titus 2:1, 3:1).
In this letter from prison, Paul writes to Philemon, a brother in the faith whom Paul expresses affection towards. Paul then asks Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus as “better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul goes a step further in telling Philemon to “welcome him as you would welcome me” (Philemon 1:17).The Bible is often criticized on the grounds that it endorses slavery, or is indifferent towards slavery at best. Yet Paul clearly states that believers are not to practice what is considered acceptable in the world, including slavery at that time. Though the practice was legal under Roman law, Paul specifically names slave trading among a litany of other sins in 1 Timothy 1:10. When Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as though he were Paul himself, Paul obliterates the lines between “slave” and “free”. He is quite literally living out the example he expresses in Galatians 3:28. Those who say that the Bible is indifferent towards slavery rely on an extremely selective, context-free reading of Scripture.
It should go without saying: summaries of Apostle Paul’s writings are completely and utterly inadequate compared to reading his actual words. Too much essential knowledge and instruction ends up being left out, and besides, the words recorded in Apostle Paul’s writings are inspired by God, not man’s own musings. Spend time in the Word itself, and be edified by the writings of one of the great leaders of the faith.