The Authority of Letters

By Pastor John Crotts

           Much of the Bible’s New Testament is made up of letters. These were letters from church leaders like Peter and Paul to churches and even some individuals.

            A letter in biblical times had a pretty standard formula that was different from the way we write letters today. (Or at least the way we used to write letters before e-mail, text messages, and cell phones!)

            Our standard letters begin with the recipient of the note, such as “Dear Bob.” Perhaps there would then be some sort of greeting, but it jumps right in to the body of the message. It closes with the author of the letter, such as “Sincerely, John.”

            The letters of the New Testament start out with the name of the author, the name of the recipients, and then something of a greeting or a blessing. Let’s examine the introduction to Peter’s second letter to a group of churches in modern day Turkey.

            He begins, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:1-2).

            When you know what you are looking for it is easy to identify each of the main parts of Peter’s introduction in this second letter. But let’s zero in on the way that Peter describes himself.

            Simeon is the Hebrew way of spelling the more familiar Simon, which was Peter’s given name. Remember that it was Jesus who gave him the nickname Peter, which means stone or rock. Basically, Jesus called his friend Rocky. 

            He describes himself as a slave of Jesus. Although Peter had an important role in the foundation of the early church, he never lost sight of his fundamental identity. This is you identity as a Christian as well—a slave of Jesus. Servant sounds easier on the ears, especially in the south where the idea of slavery still brings back bad memories of past sins. But slave is the exact meaning of the Greek term Peter uses (Greek was the original language of the New Testament). 

            When the Bible describes Jesus as Lord, another way of putting that is that he is the Master. Do you claim to be a Christian? How does your lifestyle match up to your basic identity as Jesus’s slave? Who or what do your friends think is your master? Is it real with you and Jesus or do you live more like you were still in charge and just throw God a little attention and a few dollars on some Sunday mornings?

            The Bible describes the Christian life as more than slavery (adoption as sons and daughters, for example), but it is never less than slavery.

            In addition to referring to himself as Jesus’ slave, Peter also calls himself an apostle. The apostles were ones sent out directly from Jesus to serve as the foundation of the early church. They had the Lord’s authority, they taught his messages, and they did his miracles to authenticate themselves (see 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Ephesians 2:20).

            The fact of Peter’s apostleship meant that the churches he was writing to needed to take notice as to the content of the letter. This was no mere good advice from an old Christian celebrity; this was a message from Jesus through his deputized man. It carried the weight of the authority of Jesus, who is our master.

            Some professing Christians have a take it or leave it attitude about the Bible. They are pretty casual about reading it at all, and then when they do, they view its teaching as optional. Maybe a good example would be about sex.

            The Bible is perfectly clear that God created sex to be fully enjoyed by a man and a woman who are married to each other. Anything outside of the circle of marriage is out of bounds for sex. But, how many unmarried professing Christians are having sex with girlfriends and boyfriends? According to statistics, a lot of them are.

            Again, the Bible’s teaching is not fuzzy on this one. Sex in marriage is great, and God wants couples to have a lot of it for his glory. Sex outside of marriage, however, is absolutely forbidden. Some of the strongest words of warning in the Bible are given to those who disregard God’s sexual boundaries.

            Paul, another apostle of Jesus, said in his letter to Christians living in the sexually wild city of Corinth, Greece, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

            The sexually immoral that Paul mentioned are those having sex before they are married, adulterers are having sex with people other than the one they are married to, and two different terms are used in the original language for those participating in same sex activities. Did you notice how strong the warning is from Jesus through Paul? He said that those who do these things aren’t going to heaven! How strong is that?

            Now, there is great hope for people committing sexual sin. You can repent. You can believe in the Master, Jesus Christ. You can be forgiven and changed. Paul actually goes on in his letter to the Corinthians to say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

            The Master Jesus suffered and died on the cross in the very place of sinners like you and me. God punished him in our place so that God could still be just and yet also justify guilty people. Then God raised Jesus from the dead, proving that the whole thing was real. He loves you and offers you a fresh, forgiven start, even this day.

            The Bible is God’s authoritative message. It should never be thought of as optional. One major reason the books of the Bible are the ones we have in the Bible is that they were penned by authentic apostles of Jesus like Peter and Paul. These letters are Jesus’s letters to churches and individuals. But because they are inspired, they all have direct application to each one of us.

            If Jesus is your master and you are his slave it will certainly show up in your lifestyle. So many people in town think that they are Christians but they don’t act like it at all. Is that you? 

            You are doing yourself no favors by putting your head in the sand and hoping it all works out. Ask God to make it clear if you are the real thing. Don’t rely on your church attendance record, baptism, or even a prayer that you prayed in the past. 

            Peter said he was Jesus’s slave and apostle. Obviously, you and I aren’t going to be apostles, but we can be slaves of Jesus by faith in Jesus. We can also submit to the Scriptures as God’s authoritative truth as well. May it be so in our lives.