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Survey of the New Testament

I.  Introduction:

 Tonight we are looking at three books by three different authors.  First, we will look at the last letter of Paul in the New Testament.  Then we will consider a letter by an unnamed author.  And finally, we will look at the book of James, the brother of Jesus.  The last two letters are the first that we have looked at that are authored by someone other than Paul.  Yet, as we will see, they both continue in pointing us to Christ and our need for faith in Him.  But before we get there, letís look at Paulís last letter, his letter to Philemon.

II.  Philemon:

 A.  Author:  As usual with Paulís letters, he identifies himself as the author in verse 1.

 B.  Time and Setting: This letter is different from the other letters of Paul in the New Testament.  As with Timothy and Titus, it is addressed to an individual but includes the rest of the Church where the person is involved (see 1-2).  Yet, this letter is about a personal matter between Paul and Philemon.  It seems from the letter that Onesimus was a slave of Philemonís at some point and has deserted him and possibly even stolen from him.  Yet, through the ministry of Paul, Philemon has come to know the Lord.  Thus, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ and asking Philemon to forgive him and welcome him back.  The letter only consists of 25 verses and is one of the shortest in the New Testament. 

 C.  Outline:
  1.  1-7 Introduction and Greeting
  2.  8-22 Paulís request concerning Onesimus
  3.  23-25 Conclusion

 D.  Theme:  A major theme in this short letter is the power and impact of the gospel on an individual.  At one time Onesimus was useless to Philemon.  He had abandoned him and failed to be a faithful servant.  Yet, now that he is a believer, Paul commends him to Philemon and encourages Philemon to welcome him as a brother.  Thus, even in this short letter we see how the gospel can transform a man from a useless, runaway slave, to a faithful brother in Christ.  At the same time, we also see the necessity of new believers dealing with the consequences of their sins as well as the necessity of believers forgiving one another and treating one another as members of the family of God.  Look at 15-16.  Onesimus has been transformed by the gospel and we see its power evidenced in his life.

III.  Hebrews:

 A.  Author: The author of Hebrews does not identify himself in the book.  Although many suggestions to authorship have been made throughout the years (from Paul to Priscilla), it is hard to defend anyone with much evidence.  Thus, we consider the book to be anonymous.

 B.  Time and Setting: Just as we do not know much about who wrote the book, it is also hard to know exactly who the original recipients were.  From the letter itself, it seems that it was written to a group of Jews who were struggling under persecution and who were being tempted to return to their Jewish beliefs and abandon faith in Christ.  The author has written to encourage them against such a move.  He wants to demonstrate to them that the Old Testament points to Christ and finds its fulfillment in Him.

 C.  Outline:
  1.  1-10 The Superiority of Christ
  2.  11-13 The need for Faith

 D.  Theme: The major theme of the book of Hebrews is that Christ is the rightful center of the Christian faith.  Look at 1:1-4.  The author goes to great lengths to show how Christ is superior to angels (1:5-2:18) and Moses (3) and the priestly order of the Levites (7-10).  Thus, to return to the Old Covenant is ridiculous, for it stands as simply a foreshadowing of the true covenant which is established by Christ for those who have faith in Him.  The book of Hebrews helps us to understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.  The author is encouraging these Jews (and us as well) to persevere in their faith in Christ, who is the author and perfecter of our faith (see 12:1-2).  At the same time, the author gives clear warnings for those who do not persevere in the faith (see 2:1, 3:12-14, 6:4-6).  We must hold fast to our faith in Christ, trusting that we do so only by His grace.

IV.  James:

 A.  Author: Although there are a number of Jamesí mentioned in the New Testament, most hold that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this book.  We agree with that conclusion.

 B.  Time and Setting: This letter is one of the earliest of the New Testament writings (probably around 40-50).  It seems that James is writing to a group of believers to encourage them in their practice of the faith.  Since we are so close to Reformation Day, we should mention that Luther was not very fond of the book of James to say the least due to its emphasis on works (see 2:14-26).  Yet, in Lutherís fight to recover justification by faith, which is clearly taught in the New Testament, he failed to see the agreement between Paul and James for the necessity of works which evidence the faith that justifies.  As many have said, we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith never comes alone.

 C.  Outline (difficult to outline):
  1.  1-2 Persevering in Faith
  2.  3-4 Dealing with the tongue and worldliness
  3.  5 Money and Patience

 D.  Theme:  The theme of the book of James is the call to live out our faith practically.  Look at 1:22-27.  It is not enough to simply be hearers of the Word only, no, we must be doers of the Word.  Our faith must be accompanied by action.  There is no such thing as an apple tree that grows oranges.  In the same way, there is no such thing as faith without works.  The works do not save, for if the letter taught that it would contradict the rest of the New Testament.  Rather, the works simply serve as evidence of salvation.  James does not ask for a certificate of baptism or a story about a prayer prayed at Youth Camp twenty years ago.  Rather, he calls for believers to examine their lives and to live out their faith in obedience to Christ their Lord, for true, biblical assurance of salvation comes from such.

V.  Conclusion:

 I want to keep it at the front of our minds as we continue through the New Testament that book after book, letter after letter, faith in Christ is the central theme.  Whether it is Paul writing to struggling Churches, or the author of Hebrews, both point to Christ.  Whether the situation is good or the situation is bad, perseverance in faith is what is called for.  Although many specifics are dealt with and we do not need to ignore any of them, we must keep at our center the importance of faith in Christ.  This is the message of the New Testament and we still need to hear and heed it today!  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 18 November 2006 )

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