Six Steps for Studying the Epistles

Reading the Bible through in a year as I had done before, I came once again to the epistles. Though I’d read them previously, this time it occurred to me: These are letters from an actual person to actual people. There’s more than just information here; there’s emotion.

I realize that sounds pretty obvious to some people, but now I knew that, in the future, I’d read them differently. The emotion couldn’t have been only on the writer’s part, I thought, because those receiving them must have felt excited to get them.

We’re blessed to have Bibles we can pick up daily and read affirming, convicting and truth-filled messages. The original letters to the churches were often circulated and an individual may have heard the letter only once before it was on its way to be shared with another church. How precious they were. How empowered the readers must have been on receiving those letters.

Letter writing is becoming a lost art. What a joy to savor words on paper from someone who loves us and hopes the best for us. My realizations led me to read the epistles like I’d never read before, as if they’d been sent directly to me. Identifying with the people for whom they were intended, it was exciting. I received fresh insight, higher understanding, and a new appreciation for the first century Church.

These are some practices I discovered for knowing the power of the God’s word.

  1. Pray before reading. Thank God for the person who wrote the letter and that it made it safely to you. Pray that the Spirit will provide power to guide you and encourage you.
  2. Read from a different translation than you normally use. The wording may be just different enough that you get a better understanding of the scripture.
  3. If you underline or write notes in the margins of your Bible, read from one that has no margin notes or underlining so these don’t distract you. If you have none, perhaps you can borrow for this part of your study. If you must write, take notes in a separate journal.
  4. Read slowly and deliberately. Because many of us have read the epistles several times, we can be tempted to read through them quickly. However, familiarity with the text can get in the way. If you were reading a letter received in the mail, it wouldn’t be familiar. You couldn’t anticipate the next phrase and you would have to listen with your heart and mind all the way through. Also, since these letters were originally read to groups, try reading aloud.
  5. Pay attention to the greetings at the beginnings and ends of the letters. The early believers would have been overjoyed to hear these heartfelt words. Some of those mentioned are people the writer traveled with. The inclusion of their names offers hints into co-workers in ministry. Paul quite often did this. Sometimes the writer also included blessings and prayers. These have power to bless and encourage you as they did the original readers.
  6. Pray again when you’ve finished. If God has spoken to you through the writer’s words, thank Him and ask Him to keep revealing truth to you. Confess any sin the Holy Spirit has revealed in your life as a result of reading. Claim God’s promise of abundant life in Christ and share what you’ve learned with someone else.

After reading through the epistles this way, try using some of these ideas for reading other passages of scripture.

Be a blessing to someone today.

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“Teach Us To Pray”

Sometimes when I read about the life of prayer some people live or have lived, I feel like such a slouch. Paul, the apostle, mentions several times in his letters to the churches specifically how he prays for them. I believe this may be how I can pray for others, but also how I can pray God’s will into my own life. I certainly need love, strength, spiritual wisdom, and discernment of his will.

Here are a few of the ways Paul prayed for those he loved so much.

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:18-20).

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God(Philippians 1:9-11).

“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light” (Colossians 1:9-12).

Even Jesus’s disciples wanted to learn how to pray more effectively. And he was happy to teach them. When asked, he replied with a model prayer, and this is how he taught us to pray:

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’” (Matthew 6:9-13).

Would you be willing to pray for others and yourself the way Paul did?

Heavenly Father, please give me patience with myself when it comes to prayer, while also opening my heart and mind to hear you more clearly. You speak but I’m sometimes chattering away. Give me words to worship you, pour out my heart to you, and stand in the gap for others. Teach me to pray so that I can become more spiritually mature. Give me insight into your hopes for me and help me to keep things simple.