Jesus is risen, what should we do? The Book of Acts is one attempt to answer this question. The letters of Paul another. Instead of retelling a history, Paul responds to the needs of a real community. The three longer letters of Paul (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians) hold the most developed forms of early Christian theology. They are each sometimes called The letter to the… or the Epistle to the… because they were each written to a certain people. Epistle is simply and old-fashioned word for letter. As well, there is no internal title to the text. The titles and chapters and verses are given by later scholars.
Most likely, all three longer letters were written near the end of Paul’s life, around 51-52 AD. The Letter to the Romans holds a special place in the History of Methodism in that it was after hearing a portion of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans at a Moravian house meeting that John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. Each letter is many chapters long and filled with long and challenging exhortations and descriptions of God. Each is overwhelmingly laced with the grace of God above everything else. Instead of describing the letters in more detail, I want to share a selection from my favorite portions of each letter: Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and 2 Corinthians 5
First from the Letter to the Romans
So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.
Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
(Romans 8:31-39, CEB)
Now from the First Epistle to the Corinthians
Listen, I’m telling you a secret: All of us won’t die, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory.
Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death?
(Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-58, CEB)
And finally the Second Epistle to the Corinthians
If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.
So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:13-21, CEB)