Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and the primary port for Asia Minor. It boasted an advanced system of aqueducts, a 25,000-seat amphitheater, a major library with more than 12,000 scrolls, and the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).
Salvation by grace.
In Eph. 2:1–10, Paul eloquently describes how God initiated salvation for undeserving sinners just because he loves them. Through no merit of their own, he rescued them from slavery to sin and graciously gave them new life in Christ (Eph. 1:5).
The apostle Paul received special visions from God (see Acts 22:17–21; 2 Cor. 12:1–7; Gal. 2:2). In his first vision, he saw the Lord Jesus (Acts 9:1–7). One of the mysteries God later revealed in a vision was that the gospel was for both Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:6).
Christians sometimes distinguish between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” But the Bible clearly teaches that we are to love and serve the Lord with all that we are, including both our hearts and our minds (Eph. 4:23; see Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37).
Paul makes it clear that Christians must live holy lives (Eph. 5:1–21; see 4:17–24). This means rejecting sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, coveting, and drunkenness. Instead, they should strive to imitate God, because he loves them (Eph. 5:1–2).
Flaming darts (Eph. 6:16) were arrows tipped with cloth, then dipped in pitch and set on fire before shooting. They were used to ignite structures and the shields of opposing infantrymen. In defense against such darts, soldiers often covered their shields with leather and soaked them in water.
The imperial guard that Paul mentions in Phil. 1:13 was probably the Roman emperor’s group of elite personal bodyguards. Through his imprisonment, Paul was able to tell them about Christ. Because of this, Paul rejoiced even in the midst of his difficult circumstances (Phil. 1:18).
The heart of Philippians is the magnificent “hymn of Christ” in Phil. 2:5–11. Paul poetically describes Jesus’ preexistence and equality with God, his incarnation as a man, his death and resurrection. He is the supreme example of humility and personal sacrifice for the sake of others (Phil. 2:3–5).
Encouragement is an important theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The words for “joy” or “rejoice” occur more than a dozen times in this brief letter.
Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:22) could refer either to the “royal family” or to anyone connected with the emperor’s service. This could include soldiers, slaves, and freedmen, who were most likely the crowd Paul was speaking of. Apparently even people within the imperial household were trusting in Christ.
Colossae was most likely the smallest city to receive a letter from Paul. Located along the Lycus River about a hundred miles (161 km) east of Ephesus, it was known for its wool production.
Worship of angels.
Many Colossians greatly feared evil spirits. In order to control the spirits and to avoid affliction, they called on angels for help and protection (Col. 2:18). Paul reminds them of Christ’s supremacy in dealing with demonic powers (Col. 1:13–14; 2:15)
The Scythians (Col. 3:11) lived about 500 miles (805 km) north of Colossae along the Black Sea coast. The Greeks thought of them as violent, uneducated, uncivilized people. In contrast, Paul states that Christ binds all people from all nations together in unity through his love. Racial and cultural prejudice has no place among Christians.
Paul’s letter to Laodicea was probably lost, though some think it could be the same letter as Ephesians. Regardless, Paul expected that his letter to the Colossians would also be read aloud to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:15–16). Laodicea and Colossae were about 9 miles (14.5 km) apart (see also Rev. 1:11; 3:14).
Paul began each of his letters with some variation of the phrase Grace and peace (1 Thes. 1:1). Peter began his letters in the same way, and John began his second letter that way as well.
Thessalonica was the proud capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, with a population of more than 100,000. It was a center of education as well as commerce.
Paul mentions Jesus’ return in every chapter of this short letter. In 1Thes. 4:13–18, he tells the Thessalonians what will happen to Christians who already have died. When Christ returns, they will see their loved ones again, and they will all be with the Lord forever (1 Thes. 4:15–17).
The Romans promised peace and security to the citizens of their empire. They promoted this message on coins and statues. But Paul warns that, regardless of how secure people may feel, God’s day of judgment will come for those who have rejected him (1 Thes.5:3; see Jer. 8:11).
Why were Christians being persecuted?
The fact that Christians worshiped only one God excluded them from participation in community gatherings, which often focused on other gods. The church’s custom of meeting secretly also raised suspicions of disloyalty to the Roman Empire.
Sanctification (2 Thes. 2:13) refers to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, whereby the person becomes increasingly more like Christ. This ongoing process continues until the redeemed person is resurrected and made completely holy in heaven (glorification).