Christ in the Prison Epistles - Introduction
J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
The object of all Bible study has in view the exaltation of our Lord, the enriching of our lives, and the empowering of our labour. We must translate into factors of power every living promise made to us by God in His Word. That the Prison Epistles are eminently suited to this purpose cannot be gainsaid, for in a convincing and challenging way the Spirit presents our Lord Jesus to our hearts. These Epistles have been aptly described as the "Contemplative Epistles" (Dr. Scroggie), and the "afternoon" of Paul's life (Dr. Griffith Thomas). The theme is "Christ in us", making good in our lives now all that He procured for us at Calvary through His atoning death.
They fall into two pairs, one pair being doctrinal; Ephesians, Colossians; and one pair, personal; Philippians, Philemon. Other contrasts could be noted but this is not the object of this study. A careful reading of each book (ten times) impresses upon the heart the importance of this absorbing subject now before us; Christ in the Prison Epistles.
The Lord Jesus is directly named fifty-five times in Ephesians, forty-nine times in Philippians, thirty-seven times in Colossians and eleven times in Philemon. These facts indicate that the Lord Jesus was central in the life of the apostle, and He must be pre-eminent in the life of the saint, and of the church. The many titles used emphasize His greatness. His government and His glory; He must be owned as Lord, for His Lordship is absolute. Where His Lordship is acknowledged it sanctifies our relationship, Eph. 5.22; 6. 9; it strengthens our fellowship, Phil. 1. 14; 2. 19; it stimulates fidelity in stewardship, Col. 4. 7; and it sweetens life's hardships, Philemon 9, 24.
The Person of the Lord Jesus dominates these letters: His presence is real; His passion is clearly seen; His position in glory is emphasized; His provision for us is inexhaustible; His pre-eminence is indisputable and the purpose of God is that Christ should be all in all.
In Philippians and Philemon we see Christ in the individual; in Ephesians and Colossians Christ in the church. In Philippians "Christ in me" makes me gospel-minded, ch. 1 ; gracious-minded, ch. 2; heavenly or glory-minded, ch. 3; godly-minded, ch. 4.
In Philemon "Christ in me" makes me gentle to all, 2 Cor. 10.1.
In Ephesians "Christ in me" makes me prayerful, ch. 1 ; thankful, ch. 2; purposeful, ch. 3; humble, ch 4; useful, ch. 5 ; and faithful, ch. 6.
In Colossians "Christ in me" strengthens me, ch. 1 ; separates me, ch. 2; satisfies me, ch. 3; and He stimulates me to serve Him acceptably, ch. 4.
Paul the apostle is seen in these letters in the manner of his approach to different problems and churches. In Ephesians he is the theologian expounding truth; in Philippians he is a saint and pastor encouraging others; in Colossians he is a warrior defending the faith; and in Philemon he is a gentleman writing to a friend.
Paul's aspiration expressed in the words "that I may know him" is realized as we ponder these Epistles and gaze in holy wonder upon our Lord Jesus who, by filling us with His fulness, captivates our hearts, refreshes our drooping spirits, inspires our service and lifts our minds above earthly things.
The Christian. In Ephesians—The Scholar—understanding His mind. In Philippians—The Disciple—following His Lord. In Colossians—The Pilgrim— assimilating His Word. In Philemon— The Brother—displaying His grace.
In Ephesians—The believer—a member of His Body—His death—Burnt Offering aspect. In Philippians—As a true Nazarite—His death—Drink Offering aspect. In Colossians—Asa humble pilgrim—His death—Peace Offering aspect. In Philemon—A fellow-worker and sufferer—His Lord as the Perfect Example.
The Holy Spirit. Ephesians—The prominent factor—indwelling the believer. Philippians—The powerful influence—supplying daily needs. Colossians—The producing agent— directing us to Christ. Philemon—The personal guide in difficult matters.
Characteristics. Ephesians is doctrinal—instruction in righteousness. Philippians is practical—reproof for lack of unity. Colossians is philosophical—correction of evil teaching. Philemon is ethical—guidance in domestic matters.
The Cross. Ephesians—It is the symbol of unity—manifest it. Philippians—the standard of conduct—honour it. Colossians—the secret of victory—appropriate it. In Philemon—it is the strength of brotherhood—share it.
The Church. Ephesians—its constitution declared—an established church. Philippians—its cooperation in service—an evangelical church. Colossians—its comely deportment— an enriched church. Philemon—its care for the members—an exemplary church.
Suggestive Analysis. Ephesians— Christ our Leader—"In Christ"—unified—no division. The Inestimable Church. Origination, 3. 9; Foundation,
2. 20; Unification, 4.4-6; Revelation,
3. 9-11; Ministration, 4. 11-16;
Obligations, 5. 16 to 6. 9; Opposition,
6. 12-18; Consummation, 5. 27.
Philippians—Christ our Life—"In Christ" — gratified — no disappointments. The Imperishable Cross. The subject of the gospel, 1. 5, 15, 18; the symbol of humility, 2. 5-7; the standard of sacrifice, 2. 8; the secret of unity, 2. 25; the sign of surrender, 3. 7-9; the sifter of character, 3. 18; the stimulant in giving, 4. 18.
Colossians—Christ our Head—"In Christ"—satisfied—no deficiency. The Incomparable Christ. His inherent glory, 1. 17; His intrinsic worth, 1. 15, 18; His infinite fulness, 2. 9; His indisputable victory, 2. 15; His inspiring position, 3.1 ; His indefatigable ministry, 1. 23-29.
Philemon—Christ our Example—"In Christ"—reconciled—no distance. The Impressionable Christian. Lordship acclaimed, vv. 5, 16, 20; Fellowship appreciated, vv. 1,5, 6, 23, 24; Worship accepted, vv. 6, 22; Sonship assured, v. 10; Discipleship attested, vv. 11, 13; Stewardship acknowledged, vv. 18, 19; Relationship adjusted, v. 16.