Ministry Resources

The Church Reaches Out

We have studied the book of Acts and the epistles associated with the early period of the church—James and Galatians. Our study helped us see the overall progress of the gospel message throughout the Roman Empire and how both Jews and Gentiles became part of the church. It also helped us understand the message of consistent Christian living that James presented to the first Jewish believers and the truth concerning the basis of salvation that Paul explained to the Galatians.

In this lesson, we will consider the letters associated with the church during the years after the Jerusalem Council when Paul made his second and third missionary journeys. We will examine the background of these letters and see how Paul responded to the needs of the new congregations that formed as the church reached into Macedonia, Achaia, and Italy.

We will discover that those early believers had many of the same difficulties we experience. Some of them were confused about the second coming of Christ. Others were torn by divisions among themselves. Still others needed to become mature in their Christian faith and understand more about what it meant to believe in Christ. Through Paul’s letters, we will see how God provided guidance and instruction for believers with these various needs.

First and Second Thessalonians: Letters to Macedonia

The area of Macedonia included the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a seaport as well as a center of trade. During Paul’s lifetime, its population may have been close to 200,000.

Historical Background

Sometime after the Jerusalem Council, Paul set out on his second missionary journey, taking Silas with him (Acts 15:36, 40). Timothy joined them in Lystra (Acts 16:1–3), and Luke traveled with them from Troas to Philippi, where he apparently remained (Acts 16:10–40).

After a time of ministry in Philippi, Paul went on to Thessalonica, where he gained many converts. These included some Jews, several prominent women, and a large number of Gentiles. Paul had to leave Thessalonica by night. He stayed for a while in Berea and eventually arrived in Athens (Acts 17:10– 15). Timothy remained in Berea and rejoined Paul in Athens later. From there, Paul sent him to visit the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:1–5). After this, Paul left Athens and continued on to Corinth, where he ministered for more than a year and a half (Acts 18:11).

While Paul was in Corinth, Timothy brought news of the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6). In response to this news, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians. It appears that he received additional information soon after and wrote 2 Thessalonians as a result (2 Thessalonians 2:2; 3:11).

Content and Outlines 

In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul responded to the report and the information he had received about them. We see that they were undergoing persecution and were confused about the second coming of Christ, for both letters refer to these subjects.

Though both letters have similar themes, there are differences in their content. The first letter has a full review of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians; the second simply has a few references. The first letter explains what will happen to those who have already died in Christ; the second describes the “man of lawlessness” who will appear before the Day of the Lord comes. The first letter contains a general warning against those who are idle; the second says that those who are idle should be avoided as well as warned. Together, both letters represent the teaching that was especially needed by this group of people who had misunderstandings about the Lord’s coming and were only recently converted from paganism (1 Thessalonians 1:9). They are the first letters in which Paul discussed end-time events. Read through them, using the following outline to guide you.


I. Greeting and Thanksgiving. Read 1:1–10.

II. Review of Paul’s Ministry. Read 2:1–16.

III. Paul’s Desire to Visit the Thessalonians. Read 2:17–3:5.

IV. Report of Timothy. Read 3:6–13.

V. Instructions about Christian Living. Read 4:1–12.

VI. Truths about the Lord’s Coming. Read 4:13–5:11.

VII. Final Exhortations. Read 5:12–28.


I. Thanksgiving and Prayer. Read 1:1–12.

II. Events Surrounding the Day of the Lord. Read 2:1–12.

III. Exhortation to Steadfastness. Read 2:13–17.

IV. Request and Command. Read 3:1–15.

V. Closing Remarks. Read 3:16–18.

First and Second Corinthians: Letters to Achaia

The cities of Corinth and Athens were located in the area of Achaia. Corinth had been destroyed in 146 BC but was rebuilt by the Romans in 44 BC. It became the capital city of the province of Achaia, and in New Testament times it was wealthy and prosperous. It was also idolatrous and immoral, for its inhabitants worshipped many gods and had a reputation for leading corrupt lives.

Background and Content of 1 Corinthians

We have previously said that Paul ministered in Corinth for more than a year and a half (Acts 18:1–18). It was at this time that the Corinthian church was founded. After this, Paul returned to Antioch, and later he set out on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23).

Paul’s third journey took him to Ephesus, where he remained for more than two years (Acts 19:8–10). While he was there, he received reports about the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11; 5:1; 11:18) and a letter from them containing several questions (1 Corinthians 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12). He may have written an earlier letter as well in response to a previous report (1 Corinthians 5:9). The reports and the letter showed that the Corinthians needed strong teaching about moral standards and other important Christian values. Paul then wrote 1 Corinthians, and he replied to each problem that was raised, explaining the spiritual principle that related to it.

The content of 1 Corinthians can be divided into two basic sections. In the first part, chapters 1–6, Paul dealt with the problems he learned about from the report brought to him by those who were of “Chloe’s household” (1 Corinthians 1:11). In the second part, chapters 7–16, he answered the various questions that the Corinthians wrote to him about. The letter is informal in tone. It is as if Paul were having a conversation with the Corinthians. He asked questions (1:20, 4:7). He pleaded (4:14–16). He warned (4:18–21). He rebuked (5:2, 6). He taught (12:1–6). In all of this, he sought to emphasize the fact that Christ must be Lord in every area of a Christian’s private and public life.

First Corinthians covers a wide variety of topics. Read through it, using the following outline as a general guide to its content.


I. Introduction. Read 1:1–9.

II. The Solution to Divisions. Read 1:10–4:21.

III. The Need for Discipline. Read 5:1–6:20.

IV. Counsel Regarding Marriage. Read 7:1–40.

V. Proper Use of Freedom. Read 8:1–10:33.

VI. Behavior in Public Worship. Read 11:1–14:40.

VII. The Gospel and Its Power. Read 15:1–58.

VIII. Concluding Remarks. Read 16:1–24.

Background and Content of 2 Corinthians

While Paul was still in Ephesus, he may have visited the Corinthians to deal personally with the problems he wrote to them about in 1 Corinthians. He seems to refer to such a visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14, 21; and 13:1–2. If he did, apparently he was not well received. The church was still torn by rival groups, and there was strong opposition to Paul by some false apostles (2 Corinthians 10:7; 11:13). It may be that the letter he referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, 9 and 7:8–12 is one that he wrote to them after this second visit.

Paul left Ephesus and sent Titus ahead to bring back another report from Corinth. He then proceeded to Troas. Not finding Titus in Troas as he expected, he went on to Macedonia, still deeply concerned about the Corinthians. While he was there, Titus arrived with his report. It showed that there had been a change for the better in Corinth (2 Corinthians 7:6–16), although some were still opposed to Paul. This news formed the background for Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians. He explained his situation (1:3–2:4), asked the Corinthians to be reconciled to him (6:11–13), rejoiced over the good report he had received (7:6–7), and made a defense of his apostleship (10:1–13:10). He also wrote about the collection for needy brothers in which the Corinthians were participating (8:1–9:15).

This letter is perhaps the most personal of all of Paul’s correspondence. Because of the malicious opposition he received from certain people, it was necessary for him to defend himself and his ministry. Otherwise, not only he but also the gospel would be discredited. The letter does not recount the exact accusations. However, we may infer what they were by studying what Paul wrote in response. He used phrases like “so many” (2 Corinthians 2:17), “some people” (3:1; 10:2), “some say” (10:10), and “such people” (11:13) to refer to those who opposed him.

Now read through the entire epistle, using the following outline as a general guide to its contents.


I. Greeting. Read 1:1–2.

II. The Motives of Paul’s Ministry. Read 1:3–2:13.

III. The Character of Paul’s Ministry. Read 2:14–7:16.

IV. The Collection for Needy Believers. Read 8:1–9:15.

V. The Authenticity of Paul’s Apostleship. Read 10:1–13:10.

VI. Conclusion. Read 13:11–14.

Both Corinthian letters demonstrate how Paul dealt with a group of people who were immature and often hostile to him. They always seemed ready to doubt his character and disregard his work among them. In spite of their attitude and lack of spirituality, however, Paul continued to care for them, expressing his deep love and concern (2 Corinthians 12:14–15).

The letters to the Corinthians reveal that many of the early Christians had serious problems. The existence of these problems is not remarkable, though. What is remarkable is that the church not only survived but also grew steadily in spite of them. This is a testimony to the truth that the church is not simply a human organization but rather the supernatural body of Christ, brought into being, sustained, and led forward by God in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Romans: Letter to Rome

The apostle Paul directed this letter to all Christians in Rome, the great capital city of the Roman Empire. This letter is perhaps Paul’s most important work, for in it he gave a full explanation of God’s method and provision of salvation for all humanity. It is profound in its teaching and clear in its application. It is worthy of careful, thorough attention.

Historical Background

As a result of the good report Titus brought about the Corinthians, Paul sent them 2 Corinthians, then resumed his third missionary journey southward. It is likely that he visited Corinth again and wrote to the Romans while he was there, since he had already made plans to go to Rome (Acts 19:21). He sent his letter to the Romans by way of Phoebe, a deaconess in the church of Cenchrea, a city close to Corinth (Romans 16:1–2). At the time Paul wrote, the church in Rome had existed for some time already, for its reputation was widespread (Romans 1:8). It had probably been started by Christians who settled there. Paul knew many of the believers by name, and some were relatives (Romans 16:3–15).

From the contents of Romans, it appears that Paul had several reasons for writing it. He hoped that the Roman Christians would help him carry out a mission to Spain (Romans 15:23–24). In addition, he was concerned that they understand the full meaning of the gospel and not be led astray by false teachers (16:17–19). This concern led him to give them a full presentation of the message of Christ, since he was not able to teach them in person.

Content and Outline

Romans is a reasoned presentation of the heart of the apostle Paul’s teaching about the gospel. In this respect, it is unlike several of his other epistles, which were written to correct certain specific errors of belief and conduct. To the universal problem of sin, Romans gives the eternal solution of God’s righteousness as revealed in Christ. Its arguments are persuasive, and its style is forceful and logical. It contains several of the most important truths about salvation, including those of justification (set forth in ch. 3:21–5:21) and sanctification (taught in ch. 6:1–8:39). The theme of the book can be found in Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

Paul followed this theme throughout his epistle as he explained the truths about God’s righteousness step by step. Read Paul’s letter to the Romans, using the following outline to guide you.


I. The Need for God’s Righteousness. Read 1:1–3:20.

II. The Provision of God’s Righteousness. Read 3:21–5:21.

III. The Results of God’s Righteousness. Read 6:1–8:39.

IV. The Triumph of God’s Righteousness. Read 9:1–11:36.

V. The Application of God’s Righteousness. Read 12:1–16:27.

The teachings of the book of Romans have challenged Christians ever since they were written. They lift believers out of the depths of guilt and condemnation (Romans 3:23) to the heights of future glory in Christ (8:18–21) and guide them into practical ways of expressing God’s love in daily life (12:9–21). I hope that its message will become part of your life.

After Paul left Corinth, he concluded his ministry in Achaia and Macedonia, said goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Miletus, and eventually arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–19). At the close of Paul’s third missionary journey, congregations of believers had been established in Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia, as well as in other places. The church had grown from a small group of believers in Jerusalem into an army of thousands in cities all over the Mediterranean region. When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, though, his circum stances changed. He was arrested and had to continue his ministry not as a free man traveling where he willed but as a prisoner, confined and kept under guard first in Jerusalem, then in Caesarea, and finally in Rome.

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