“Saul, (Paul) yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord . . . . “(Acts 9: 1).
Paul is one of the most loyal followers of Jesus, but he was not always a follower. In fact, as Saul, he hunted down Christians and imprisoned them for daring to follow a man he did not understand, or care to understand. However, one day, as he made his way to Damascus, his thought became so enlightened by the Word of God, that he became physically blind–a blindness caused by the expression of the evil thoughts and practices his heart had embraced, and he began to reflect on his actions. As the “light of truth” shone more clearly in thought, he humbled himself before God and was led to believe that he would be healed by a man called Ananias … and he was healed. Once regenerated, his name became Paul.
This revelation became a basis for Paul’s journey of
spiritual growth and development, and to date, he is one of the most prolific writers of the New Testament. This article will look at The Letters of Paul:
1. List the Letters of Paul
2. Summarize Each Letter
3. See How Each Relates to Today’s World
Thirteen letters have been attributed to Paul, and are listed in the New Testament as Books. They are:
I & II Corinthians
I & II Thessalonians
I & II Timothy
The Letters of Paul will be discussed in 11 articles–just as they occur in the New Testament of the Bible–the Books of Romans being the first. Not only will each article discuss the author’s understanding of Paul’s letters, but will also look at how Christian leaders throughout the ages have weighed in on the meaning of Paul’s letters, and how reading them can aid mankind in discovering the pathway to freedom.
The first letter that Paul wrote was to the Romans–people he referred to as “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1: 7). What is the message that he is sending them?
Many spiritual leaders before Paul spoke to Christians–primarily Jews, but Paul was destined to reach outside of sect or religion and embrace the Gentile. His teachings revealed that God is “no respecter of persons,” for he looks at the heart and not the body. He also embraced the idea that God’s child is not “”born in sin,” but equipped with truth, not error, love, not hate and good, not evil as many leaders of the Old Testament had espoused.
He wrote to the Romans about the clear distinction between God’s law and man’s law–one being good and the other evil–one developing faith and grace, the other sin and fear. He says in affect: “sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (6:14). The law he refers to is man’s law. Faith, he taught, is not partial to nationality or religion, it is the same for everyone who has it, and further, every man has the capacity to have it. Any belief to the contrary, is merely a dictation of human law, not a commandment of God. Human law is flesh-directed, Spirit is God and man expressing spirituality, is God-directed.
This letter to the Romans also makes it clear that Paul believed Jesus to be not God, but the Son of God. He says, “what the law (man’s law) could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:” (8:3). He’s saying that Jesus, God’s son, appeared in the flesh (not God appeared in the flesh) so that fleshly mortals could identify with him and learn that it is possible to overcome sin as humans living in fleshly bodies, but thinking divinely, as Jesus taught. This nullifies the idea that man is not expected to overcome sin while here on earth because God did not make him able to do so. Such a view is mortal thinking, not immortal, human, not divine. The man that God created, as Moses points out in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, is made in “the image and likeness of God” and has the capacity to be Godlike–to express all that God is. Once man believes this, he improves his chances of practicing it here on earth. As long as he believes he is a sinner and cannot cease sinning, he will do so! As a “man thinketh, so is he.”
What Others Say About the Letter to the Romans
At this point, it may be interesting to see how other religious leaders view Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Easy English Bible Version gives a simplified version of Paul’s purpose for writing the Romans:
- To prepare the church in Rome for a visit.
- To give a clear explanation of the gospel.
- To give the truth about the Christian faith to any Christians in Rome who had false ideas about it.
- To give practical advice about how Christians should behave toward each other.
- To give practical advice about how Christians should behave toward their rulers.
- To unite Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. In many churches, there had been serious arguments between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Adam Clarke, a British Methodist theologian and Biblical scholar, says:
Paul had made acquaintance with all circumstances of the Christians at Rome … and finding that it was … partly of heathens converted to Christianity, and partly of Jews, who had, with many remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah, and
that many contentions arose from the claims of the Gentiles to equal privileges with the Jews, and from absolute refusal of the Jews to admit these claims, unless the Gentile converts become circumcised; he wrote this epistle to adjust and settle these differences. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/view.cgi?bk=44&ch=0
Around the 16th century, Martin Luther, a German Monk, Catholic priest and professor of theology, defines the words” law, sin, grace, faith, justice, flesh, spirit” according to his interpretation of Paul’s meaning and makes it clear that unless one understands Paul’s meaning of those words, it is useless to read the Book of Romans. The following excerpts from his Preface to Romans outline the meaning of those words:
“You must not understand the word law here in human fashion, i.e., a regulation about what sort of works must be done or must not be done. That’s the way it is with human laws: you satisfy the demands of the law with works, whether your heart is in it or not. God judges what is in the depths of the heart. . . . You must get used to the idea that it is one thing to do the works of the law and quite another to fulfill it. The works of the law are every thing that a person does or can do of his own free will and by his own powers to obey the law. But because in doing such works the heart abhors the law and yet is forced to obey it, the works are a total loss and are completely useless.
Luther seems to be saying that there is a clear distinction between man’s law and God’s laws. Thus, one can conclude that just because something is legal does not necessarily mean it is fair, impartial and just, and . . . if a person obeys the law out of fear and not out of love, he has no “just reward.”
Luther interprets Paul’s thoughts about “sin’ this way:
All human beings are called liars (Psalm 116), since none of them keeps or can keep God’s law from the depths of the heart. Everyone finds inside himself an aversion to good and a craving for evil. Where there is no free desire for good, there the heart has not set itself on God’s law. There also sin is surely to be found and the deserved wrath of God, whether a lot of good works and an honorable life appear outwardly or not.
The key to this viewpoint is that all human beings are sinners. It is only when thought unites with the divine that man is able to say and do the “work of God.” Thus, it is sinful to point out the sins of others when one is not obeying the divine laws himself. Religion leaders who stand in the pulpit and preach “hell and damnation” to their followers who “commit adultery” and are secretly having “affairs” themselves will be hit with “many stripes.”
What about grace? Grace is that divine influence that comes into thought and makes one morally strong. It causes us to turn from sin and reach for that which is right and good. It stops you in your tracks with “Now, you know that is not right, don’t do it!” Some of us heed the nudging, but others ignore it. Luther puts it this way, “. . .it means to live well and in a manner pleasing to God, as though there were no law or punishment. It is the Holy Spirit, however, who puts such eagerness of unconstained love into the heart, as Paul says in chapter 5.
Faith plays an important role in one’s desire to fulfill divine Law. According to Luther, “Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.”
Faith is the impetus that makes us choose “good works” over the status quo. It guides and governs through a deep-seated desire to please God. It constantly unfolds, uplifts and gives a sense of fulfillment and inner peace. Should you do something and the feelings from what you do bring agitation, upheaval within yourself, you knew what you did was not in harmony with divine law before you did it. Your faith brought you to the door, but your greed would not let you turn the “knob to get in.”
Justice grows out of faith. One’s faith in God allows him to be just, to obey what is good and true, and to treat others as he wishes to be treated. It is not a “make an excuse” kind of justice called “self-justification.” It is a justice that asks “If God were here, is this something He would do?” If to the depth of your soul you cannot answer “Yes,” the thing you are about to do is unjust. Self-justification goes like this, “I am going steal this bread because my children are hungry and if God did not want me to do it, He wouldn’t have placed it in front of me. This is God’s provision!” That is not God talking, that is human will speaking. God is not a thief, and He will not lead you to be one!”
Luther says of Paul’s teaching of justice: “God’s justice or that justice which is valid in God’s sight, . . . gives it and reckons it as justice for the sake of Christ our Mediator. It influences a person to give to everyone what he owes him.”
Paul speaks of the “flesh” and “spirit” as opposites. One does not compliment the other, but destroys the other. If one’s thoughts are focused on pleasing, glorifying or keeping the fleshly body healthy, he is “of the flesh” not of the spirit. Spiritual thinking focuses on the substance of Spirit, God. Such qualities are peace, harmony, spirituality, unfoldment , wellness and purity of thought. Healthy thoughts always turn us toward God, not a fleshly body. Fleshly body thinking is a great fallacy of mortal thinking–the medical world. It wants to keep the mind centered on diseases you may have, make get, don’t want to get, your family history of diseases and all of the medicines and surgeries that will prevent or cure them. Such thinking causes diseases to multiply not cease . . . as they would have you believe.
They say, “Go and get this test to see if you got it!” I say, “God created you with perfect thoughts which keep the human body in check! Blot out those evil thoughts and replace them with thoughts of health–thoughts that align themselves with God.” Running out getting one test after another does not prevent or cure disease. Spiritual thinking protects, governs and cures. I speak from daily practice and experience.
Luther reiterates Paul’s teaching with: “ Spirit, he says, comes from Christ, who has given us his Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit makes us spiritual and restrains the flesh. ”
Making a clear distinction between “the Spirit” and “the flesh” enables man to choose whom he will follow. I think of “Spirit” with a capital “S”–another name for God. It is that which is pure–without an ounce of error, whereas “spirit” with a small “s” denotes the thoughts of mortal man–thoughts about oneself, and about a god made in the image of man, not man made in the “image of God.” God is not man-like, man is God-like, and that man is not fleshly, but spiritual.
Paul’s letter to the Romans, is also a letter to the Americans–or anyone else whose seeks to understand divine law, justice, grace and truth. He spoke in a language the people of his day could understand, and with research into the meaning of certain words, a language we can understand. Spiritual inspiration directed the thoughts of Paul and the pen he held in his hand, and if you are to understand his words, spiritual inspiration must guide your thoughts. Seeking only a literal translation of his words without a spark of love in your heart, will never get you there.
Paul spoke of a law that revelation, regeneration and unconditional love for God and all that he created, enables understanding and demonstration. Half-stepping gets little or no understanding. It is a justice that is impartial–rising above race, color, creed or sexual orientation, a justice that seeks the perfect man, a man made in the likeness of God–without human shape, form or conditions, but is centered in faith, hope and divine anointing. It is not words, Paul says, that allow the “kingdom of heaven to glow within us, but spiritual works. It is not self-justification, self-love and self-glorification that open the pathway of freedom for all, but selflessness, impartiality and perfection that keep the way clear of mental debris and chaos.
Have you read this letter? More importantly, are you living this letter? If not, open your thought to the Book of Romans–one of the Letters of Paul, and find a clear view of the message of Jesus Christ!
This is the first article based on the 13 letters of Paul. Look for the I & II Corinthians to follow.