The Heart of Paul’s Theology

Study at Home Series

Discover the heart of Paul’s gospel and the power it holds for us today.

For other Study at Home Series, click here

For the Group Leader

Instructor: Dr. Reggie Kidd

Thank you for leading a small group study! At Thirdmill we produce teaching materials to help church leaders study and teach the Bible more deeply. We are grateful you have chosen to let us accompany you as you grow in your knowledge and application of the Scriptures.

With this 12-week study, you will lead participants through the series The Heart of Paul’s Theology. Together you will explore the apostle Paul’s background and overarching theology, and you will learn how he applied his theology to the specific needs of the Christians in Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Along the way, you will discover the relevance of Paul’s theology for our lives today.

This study is designed to build community and foster learning in a group setting like a Bible study or adult Sunday school. It can be done online or in person.

Each session is expected to take about 60 minutes. The lesson includes approximate times for each section to help you guide your group through the material within that time frame. However, feel free to adapt the timing to your circumstances and the needs of your group.

Read – Each session includes several chapters of recommended reading from Paul’s writings and the story of his life and ministry as recorded in the book of Acts. We encourage you to ground the lesson in this primary source material by reading these chapters yourself and by encouraging the participants to read them as well.

Connect – Each session begins with some introductory comments and a reflection question (or questions). These questions help participants get to know each other as they share about non-threatening areas of their lives. Once a person speaks in a small group setting, they are much more likely to participate in a more personal discussion later. We recommend that you give participants a short time to write an answer to the question on their handout, and then invite each participant to briefly answer the question out loud. If your group is large, you can have them answer in one sentence without an explanation, or you can divide the group into pairs or threes. If your group is online, participants can write their answers in the chat box.

Watch – Each session includes a 20-minute video. To help participants get the most out of the video, please print and distribute copies of the handout for them to fill in as they watch the video. A link to the handout can be found at the end of each session. We recommend that you, as the group leader, watch the video and fill in the answers before the session. You do not need to review the answers with the group; however, be prepared to provide any answers participants may have missed. (Note: To keep the videos to 20 minutes, some content from the original videos has been removed. If anyone wants to experience the full-length videos, they can find them along with other resources, including manuscripts, on the series page The Heart of Paul’s Theology.)

Discuss – Each session includes a series of questions related to the content of the video. The questions discuss the video content as well as topics related to the present day. Facilitating this section requires artful leadership and practice. Work to limit participants who might dominate the time as well as to draw out participants who are quieter and slower to respond.

Straight from the Heart – Each session invites participants to engage directly with a facet of the heart of Paul’s theology. Through these activities and questions, participants consider key Scripture texts and hear brief commentary on the text drawn from parts of the video not included in the “Watch” section. Please give equal, if not more, time to this section than to the “Discuss” section so participants can learn directly from the Bible instead of only from what someone else says about the Bible.

Apply – Each session finishes with questions to prompt personal application of the content. Give time for participants to consider their answers and write them on the handout. Then give time for several people to share what they have written for one or two of the questions. We recommend that you always hear several brief answers about what has encouraged and what has challenged the group. Do not require people to share answers that require vulnerability, but model transparency yourself. Hopefully, as the study progresses, trust will grow among the participants, and they will become a community of true fellowship.

May God use your investment in this study to help you and your community grow in your appreciation of Jesus’ redemptive work and in your participation in his kingdom.

Session 1

Paul’s Identity

READ

Acts 9:1-31; 11:19-30; 12:25; Romans 6:1-14

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Culture is an important part of each person’s identity. It affects what we believe to be true, our priorities, our values, and how we live our daily lives. In order to properly understand the heart of Paul’s theology, we need to take into account his personal background, his life experiences, and the two very different cultures that shaped him.

REFLECTION

  • To what or to whom are you deeply loyal?
  • What is your ethnic identity?
  • Do you see any connection between those two answers? If so, what?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something new you learned about Paul from the video?
  • In what ways did Paul’s character and education prepare him for the work God had for him to do?
  • What impact did Paul’s Jewish background have on him and his theology?
  • Paul’s theology is deeply grounded in what God revealed in the Old Testament, so if we want to understand what Paul wrote, we too need to be familiar with the Old Testament. What has helped you understand the Old Testament?
  • What impact did Paul’s contact with Greco-Roman culture have on his ministry?
  • In Paul’s community, Jews were the “insiders” of the faith and Gentiles were the “outsiders.” In your community, who are the insiders? Who are the outsiders? What do we learn from Paul about how to relate to these two groups in a way that is true to the essentials of the faith?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

The Believer’s Union with Christ

Paul was able to straddle two opposing cultures because he did not derive his primary sense of identity from either of them. His identity came from his relationship with Jesus Christ who was both the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for and the hope of the Gentile nations. In Thirdmill’s video, Paul and His Theology, Rev. Dan Hendley says:

Paul wants believers to have this as their critical identity, their essential identity. Who am I? I am essentially one with Jesus Christ as my Lord and my master. And that identity as being in Christ is preeminent over any other identity that anybody could have, whether it’s their family or their culture or their successes or their business or whatever it may be. It’s the essential identity of the children of God that we enter by faith in Jesus.
  • Throughout Paul’s letters, he emphasizes the change that Jesus Christ works in the landscape of reality. Read Galatians 3:26-29 and list the changes that being in Christ makes in the life of the believer.
  • Paul always links the truth with action. According to Romans 6:1-14, how do we become united with Christ? What changes does Paul believe should happen in the life of the believer as a result of being in Christ?
  • Rewrite Romans 6:2 in your own words: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Where do you get your identity?
  • On what basis do you evaluate the identity of others?
  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Handout: Session 1

Word  PDF

Session 2

Paul, the Apostle

READ

Acts 13-15; Galatians 1:1-10

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In the last session, we saw how Paul’s life and education as a Jew formed the foundation of his theology. We also looked at how his exposure to Gentile culture allowed him to minister to Gentiles inside and outside of the Church. We saw that Paul was able to navigate both of these very different environments without compromising the gospel because his primary identity came from his position in Christ. In this session, we are going to explore Paul’s God-given mission as an apostle.

REFLECTION

Choose an object you have with you and explain to the group how it relates to some aspect of your mission in life.

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something new you learned from the video?
  • In his time, Paul could be a controversial figure, and the same is true today. What are your feelings about him?
  • Read Galatians 1:1-10. List different things Paul points to that support the truth of his position.
  • What was Paul’s God-given mission according to Acts 9:15, 16 and Acts 13:1-4?
  • What part did Paul’s letters play in that mission?
  • Considering what you have seen in the video and in the Bible passages, how would you describe the authority behind Paul’s ministry?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Purpose for This Life

It’s easy to think that Paul lived such an extraordinary, missionary lifestyle because he received his commission straight from Jesus. But you too have been commissioned by the risen Lord himself: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18-19).

When Jesus ascended to heaven, some of his followers thought he would be coming back soon. But when we pay close attention to the metaphors Jesus used about the growth of God’s kingdom—a seed becoming a great tree and yeast working its way through dough—we see that the process is a slow, incremental one. Paul’s life is a picture lesson of how to live in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. In Thirdmill’s video Paul and His Theology, the section about Divine Purpose tells us:

This is not a time for simply waiting for Christ to bring the fullness of the age to come at his return. On the contrary, God has designed this period of time for great activity. We are to build the church in every nation on earth. Paul devoted his own life to spreading the gospel and building up the church in unity and love. And he called others to join him in that service as well.
  1. Summarize Paul’s view of his life and ministry as he expressed it in Philippians 1:21-25.
  2. Read Ephesians 4:11-16.
    • What does Paul say about how God wants us to carry out our mission?
    • List the various ways Paul describes the goal of our mission.

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Is there anything you would like to add to or change about your mission or purpose for your life that you stated earlier? If so, what?
  • What do you need to be better equipped for works of service and for building up the body of Christ in unity and maturity?
  • How do you equip God’s people for works of service?
  • How has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Handout: Session 2

Word  PDF

Session 3

Paul’s Theology

READ

Acts 16, 22-23; Romans 8

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Now that we’ve looked at how Paul’s background and his life experiences influenced him, we turn to Paul’s theology itself. In future sessions, we’ll explore individual theological topics as Paul developed them in his letters to specific churches. Here, we’ll consider two overarching frameworks that help us fit those specific topics into the big picture of Paul’s thought and teaching.

REFLECTION

Share an event or experience that changed your life in a significant way (i.e., something that made a “before and after” difference) and explain how it changed your life.

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • Summarize the difference between justification and sanctification according to Paul.
  • The Judaizers in Paul’s day taught that believers needed to add the good work of circumcision to their faith. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that believers need to add the good works of the sacraments to their faith. What are some examples of good works people around you think they need to add to their faith in order to be saved?
  • According to Paul, the transition from this age to the age to come is not an immediate change from one age to the next. Instead, it involves a period of overlap when both ages occur simultaneously. How have you experienced the “already” of God’s kingdom? Where do you long for the fullness of God’s kingdom to come?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Christian Hope

Paul’s faith in Christ and his eschatological perspective on reality provide a firm foundation of hope for the believer. As we read in the book of Acts, Paul’s Christian life was continually marked by suffering. The hardships and opposition were so great that he told the Corinthians, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8).

  1. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
    • What blessings was Paul already experiencing in the midst of his sufferings?
    • What blessings was he looking forward to in the future?
  2. Read Romans 8.
    • What blessings was Paul already experiencing in the midst of his sufferings?
    • What blessings was he looking forward to in the future?

In Thirdmill’s video, Paul and His Theology, Dr. Jimmy Agan tells us:

In Romans 8 Paul tells us that our present sufferings are not worth being compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. We want to notice how Paul contrasts this future hope of glory with our present reality of suffering and affliction. The first thing we want to notice is that Paul doesn’t say, “Downplay the present sufferings; deny that they’re real; deny that they’re painful.” Paul’s logic is just the opposite. He says, “Take all that you know about affliction and suffering and sorrow in this broken world, magnify it, look at it in its fullness, and know that God’s glory is even greater than that.” So, Paul’s logic is from lesser to greater, that the greater glory will overwhelm and wipe away all the tears of the lesser sorrows.

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Think about a situation that feels hopeless. What is something from today’s session that can bring hope to that situation?
  • What can help you fix your eyes on what is unseen and eternal when you need encouragement?
  • How has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Handout: Session 3

Word  PDF

Session 4

Background of the Letter to the Galatians

READ

Acts 13–14; Galatians 1:1-10

CONNECT (10 minutes)

The apostle Paul wrote his letters to address the specific needs of communities or individual believers. One of his earliest letters was written to the believers in the region of Galatia. His hope was to counteract the damaging and divisive effect of false teachers who were misrepresenting the relationship between Jewish traditions and new life in Christ.

REFLECTION

What was the community or context in which you came to faith in Christ and grew in your relationship with him? Describe some of its characteristics.

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • List some of the dearly held traditions of your faith community.
    • Which of these are specifically taught in Scripture?
    • Which ones are community standards that may be wise or helpful but are not specifically commanded in Scripture?
  • According to the video, why does Paul say, “If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you” (Galatians 5:2)?
  • What are the sources of division among Christians in your community right now?
  • What does the teaching in this lesson about unity in the church make you think about this disunity?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Divine Judgment

In Galatians 1:9 Paul writes, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Literally, “Let there be an anathema, an excommunication, on such a person.”). Terms like “anathema” and “excommunication” have fallen out of favor in much of the world. Many Christians are deeply embarrassed by the way the church has used and abused its power throughout the centuries. But Paul’s judgments were not founded on his opinion or preferences. Rather, he followed Christ’s example of warning people of God’s coming judgment.

Paul was deeply concerned with the ultimate destiny of the Galatians. He knew that true believers in Christ can never lose their salvation. But he also knew that not everyone who professes faith has saving faith. So, he warned the Galatian church not to forget the coming judgment of God. And he hoped this warning would encourage them to rely on Christ and the Holy Spirit for salvation instead of trying to earn God’s good pleasure by their actions.

  • Describe the tone of Jesus’ warnings in Matthew 18:6-7 and Matthew 23:13-15.
  • What common characteristics do you see between the teachers of the law Jesus describes in Mark 12:38-40 and the teachers Paul describes in Galatians 6:12-13?
  • What arguments does Paul use in Galatians 6:7-9 to impress upon the believers their personal responsibility?

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • In Galatians 3:3 Paul writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In what ways do you rely on yourself and your actions to please God?
  • Choose someone on the other side of a divisive issue and pray for God’s peace and mercy to be upon them (Galatians 6:15-16). If God brings to your mind practical steps you can take to close the gap in your fellowship with them, do it.
  • How has this study clarified your understanding of the sufficiency of Christ?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 4 Handout

Word  PDF

Session 5

Paul’s Authority and Proofs for Justification by Faith

READ

Galatians 1:11 – 4:31; Genesis 12:1-8; Genesis 15:1-6

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Jesus dismantled Paul’s life on the road to Damascus. Paul’s encounter with the risen Messiah forced him to revisit what he already knew about God’s promised salvation. In his letter to the Galatians, he presented a carefully structured argument to show why salvation is not, and has never been possible through the law or Jewish traditions like circumcision. Instead, it has always been through faith in God’s promises.

The apostle Peter may very well have been thinking about Galatians when he said of Paul’s letters, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). But there is no one more qualified to explain the relationship between law and grace, faith and works, the old and new covenants, than a Pharisee of Pharisees who was tutored by Jesus himself.

REFLECTION

What is one of your favorite books in the Bible? Why?

Some people prefer the practical guidance of books like Proverbs and James, while others prefer to let the praise or lament of the Psalms give form to their conversation with God. Some people are drawn to the inspiration or warning in the stories of people’s lives. Some only look to the red letters of Jesus’ words, while others mine for Christ in even the most obscure parts of God’s written revelation.

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • Why was it important for Paul to prove his authority as an apostle at the beginning of this letter?
  • Read Genesis 11:27–12:3.
    • What parts of God’s promises do you imagine would have been most surprising to Abraham?
    • If you were Abraham, what would have taken the most faith for you to believe?
    • In what ways have God’s promises to Abraham already been fulfilled?
  • How do you imagine the content of this letter might have affected you if you were one of the original recipients?
  • How could you present Paul’s arguments to people today to help them understand that they should look only to Christ for right standing before God?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Christ and the Gospel

  • According to Galatians 1:3-4, what did Christ’s death accomplish for the believers in Galatia?
  • In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul says the Galatians are turning to a different, perverted gospel. According to Paul, and what you have seen in the video, what makes the difference between the true gospel — or “good news” as it’s sometimes translated — and the perverted gospel?
  • Read Isaiah 52:7-9. What stands out to you from the passage?

Thirdmill’s video, Paul and the Galatians, discusses Isaiah 52:7-9 in this way:

In this passage, Isaiah spoke of the announcement of God’s victory over evil when Israel’s judgment of exile would come to an end. And he used the term “good news” to describe the announcement that God would establish his reign in human history by judging his enemies and blessing his people. As Isaiah said here, the good news of salvation is, “Your God reigns” — the reign of God. This reign of God after the exile is what the New Testament calls, ”the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43), which is also another term for “the age to come.” So, when Paul said that the false teachers had “no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:7, NIV), he implied that they had denied that Christ had brought the age to come, the age of salvation, the age of the kingdom of God. By continuing to teach what had led so many in Israel to receive God’s judgment — namely that justification before God came by works of the law — the false teachers had rejected the true significance of the Christian good news.

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • How do you evaluate the validity of competing truth claims?
  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 5 Handout

Word  PDF

Session 6

Practical Exhortations to the Galatians

READ

Galatians 5–6; Romans 2–3

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In the last session, we considered Paul’s carefully crafted argument that justification before God is by faith alone. In this session, we transition to the practical outworking of that theological truth, specifically the believer’s freedom in Christ, our relationship with the Old Testament law, and the Holy Spirit.

Pause and pray as a group. Invite the Holy Spirit to be present among you, bringing unity to your group and helping you not just to know these truths, but actually to live them out.

REFLECTION

What is something you loved as a child that you don’t like now? Or, what is something you didn’t like when you were younger that you really enjoy now?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • What person have you known that lived with “responsible freedom in Christ”? What did that look like?
  • What does it look like to apply the moral teachings of the Old Testament in light of New Testament priorities for living in the last days in Christ?
  • Describe in your own words what it means to “walk by the Spirit.”

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Life in the New Age

In Thirdmill’s video, Paul and the Galatians, we read this:

Nearly everything Paul wrote in Galatians was based on his belief that the false teachers in Galatia had failed to acknowledge a core dimension of the Christian faith – the fact that Jesus had inaugurated the last or latter days, the age of eternal judgment and salvation.

We are all tempted to underestimate how much Christ has brought the age to come into our lives. Our relationship to the Old Testament law and our relationship with the Holy Spirit are two areas where life should be dramatically different after the coming of the Messiah than it was beforehand.

The Law: Before and After

  • According to Galatians 3:19, 24, what purposes did the law serve before Christ?
  • Read Romans 2:17-24. In what ways do these verses show how believers in the new age can have a proper relationship to the law? What potential errors in our relationship to the law does Paul warn of?
  • What errors do Christians need to stay away from according to Galatians 5:1, 13?

The Holy Spirit

  • Galatians 5:16, 17 and Romans 7:19-23 point to the ongoing struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. Galatians 5:19-23 lists some acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit.
    • What practices have you found that help to foster the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?
    • How does the Holy Spirit help you see, repent of, and hate the acts of the flesh?

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Prayerfully read through the acts of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how you participate in these with what you do and with what you fail to do. Repent. Ask God to help you hate sin so much that you turn from it.
  • Prayerfully read through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Which of these gifts has the Spirit given you in abundance so you can share them with others and follow Paul’s advice in Galatians 6:9, 10: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
  • How has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • How has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 6 Handout

Word  PDF

Session 7

Salvation and Persecution in Thessalonica

READ

Acts 15:1–17:15; 1 Thessalonians 1, 2

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Relationships are fundamental to Paul’s theology. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul clarifies that faith in Christ is the only way to have a restored relationship with God. In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul explains how believers in Christ are to live in relationship with God and others as we wait for the fullness of God’s kingdom to be revealed. These letters also show how Paul himself lived out his love for God and for the Thessalonians.

REFLECTION

Describe someone you know who brings you joy. Why do you think they make you feel this way?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • Paul and the Thessalonians suffered together for their faith (Acts 17:5-9). Have you ever suffered or gone through something really difficult with another person or group (not necessarily for your faith)? If so, how did that experience affect your relationship?
  • Summarize Paul’s message to the Thessalonians regarding their election and conversion.
  • How can Paul’s perspective about the Thessalonians’ salvation encourage believers who are suffering or being persecuted?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Bold, Gentle Love

Jesus Christ, whom Paul sought to imitate, was on the one hand, bold and unwavering (Matthew 21:12-15), and on the other hand gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). These character traits might seem contradictory but they are consistent with the character of God who is gracious and compassionate but also does not let the guilty go unpunished (Exodus 34:6, 7).

In Paul’s relationship with the Galatians we see his bold, unwavering commitment to truth. In his relationship with the Thessalonians we see his gentle side. Paul says the Thessalonians knew what kind of men he and his friends were when they were with them (1 Thessalonians 1:5): “gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). And this love and concern for them did not diminish when Paul moved on. Instead, as Thirdmill’s video Paul and the Thessalonians says:

Paul explained that he constantly prayed for the Thessalonians and that they were not alone in their struggles. He, Timothy, and Silas prayed day in and day out that God would work powerfully in them to make sure that they were faithful and fruitful in their service to Christ.
  • Note what the following verses tell us about how Paul related to the Thessalonians:
    • 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:8
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:9
  • What stands out to you about Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians?
  • What do the following verses tell us about how the Thessalonians related to Paul:
    • 1 Thessalonians 1:6
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:13
  • How does the relationship between Paul and the believers in Thessalonica confirm or expand the way you see the apostle Paul?

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?
  • Where do you need “boldness in our God to declare … the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:2)?
  • Who can you ask to pray for you to boldly proclaim the gospel, as Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him? (Ephesians 6:19, 20)
  • What do you see in Paul’s model of relationships that you could apply to a specific relationship of yours?
  • How else might you apply something that you have seen in Paul’s model of relationships?

Session 7 Handout

Word  PDF

Session 8

Clearing up Confusion over Christ’s Return

READ

1 Thessalonians 3:1-10; 4:13-18; 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 1, 2

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Every worldview has a belief about how to be saved, how to be good, and how the world will end. As societies around the world become more and more secular, they focus more on human’s role in the end of the world than on God’s. During the Cold War, many people focused their concern and activism on the threat of nuclear war. More recently, people have focused on the “Climate Emergency.” The problems in the church at Thessalonica highlight the fact that what we believe about when and how our world will end impacts us in important ways.

REFLECTION

If you could choose where you would be at the end of the world, where would you like to be and why?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something that stood out to you from the video?
  • Jesus’ teaching about the end times was clearly in Paul’s mind as he wrote to the Thessalonians. List some of the signs Jesus gave to his disciples in the following verses from Matthew 24 that will point to his coming and the end of this age:
    • vv. 9-10
    • vv. 11, 24
    • v. 14
    • vv. 30-31
    • vv. 36, 42
  • How are contemporary beliefs about the end of the world similar to and different from the historical perspective on Christ’s return as presented by Jesus and in the video?
  • Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “test everything” they were taught. How do you decide if something you are reading or hearing is true or not?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Comfort and Encouragement

In Paul’s teaching about the end times, he instructs the Thessalonians to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Paul’s desire for believers in Christ to be encouraged and comforted in the midst of suffering and persecution is central to his writings. The Greek word translated here “encourage” (parakaleo) shows up ten times in his two short letters to the Thessalonians. Sometimes, Paul speaks of encouragement in the emotional sense as he writes about someone’s heart being comforted. Other times, Paul is encouraging people to do something.

Read the following verses and note what Paul does to encourage the persecuted and confused believers in Thessalonica:

  • 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:11-12
  • 1 Thess. 1:3, 7; 2 Thess. 1:4
  • 2 Thess. 1:5-10
  • 1 Thess. 3:1-3
  • 1 Thess. 4:13; 2 Thess. 2:1-3, 5

What are some things Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do?

  • 1 Thess. 2:12
  • 1 Thess. 5:11
  • 2 Thess. 3:13

Comforting someone and urging them to do something may seem like two different things, especially in a therapeutic culture where supporting someone and challenging their actions or beliefs are often seen as contradictory. But Scripture and experience show that the kind of comfort that brings peace and even joy is a result of a correct understanding of what is true and of right living. As Dr. Dan Lacich explains in Thirdmill’s video Paul and the Thessalonians:

At the end of chapter 3 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul gives what almost seems like a benediction to the Thessalonians of his desire for them to grow in holiness in Christ and to live a blameless life in Christ. Because he wants them to succeed. He wants them to be a great witness for Christ. And he wants them to enjoy all of the blessings that come with being a follower of Christ. And so, I think you see the real love that Paul has for them poured out in those words because it shows what he ultimately wants them to become and how he wants them to succeed. And all the problems that they may be having in the moment, that’s not going to deflect that love at all. In fact, if anything, I think it stirs it up even more that he yearns for them to really be conformed into holiness and Christ-likeness for their own well-being and their own joy.

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • How can what Jesus and Paul taught about the end of the world encourage your heart?
  • What actions might Paul’s teaching about the end of the world encourage you to do now?
  • Think of someone you know who needs their spirits lifted. Review what Paul did to encourage the Thessalonians. Considering this, what practical things could you do to encourage them this week?

Session 8 Handout

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Session 9

Encouragement to Live Well

READ

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; 4:1-12; 5:4-28; 2 Thessalonians 3

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Discouragement hung over the Thessalonian believers. They were being persecuted. Jesus had not come back, and in his delay, loved ones had already died. Additionally, members of the community were struggling to provide for their own families as well as for other needy believers, some of whom had stopped working.

REFLECTION

When have you felt discouraged?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • Paul directed his instructions about responsible living to the community of believers (2 Thess. 3:6, 11). Have you ever seen a good example of a church addressing difficult issues that arise in the community? If so, how did they do it?
  • In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Paul encouraged believers with these words:

    Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

    • Individually, underline all of the words and phrases in this passage that encourage you.
    • Discuss as a group what you underlined.
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 records Paul’s prayer for the church at Thessalonica. Write or pray this prayer in your own words for your local church.

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Imitate Me

One of Paul’s most startling claims is “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This might sound prideful or dangerous. Many people have been disappointed by people we once looked up to and, as a result, have become skeptical of those who set themselves up as models to follow. But through his life and his letters, Paul invites us to take seriously our responsibility to be an example for others.

  • Identify in the verses below specific ways that Paul saw himself as a model to be followed:
    • Philippians 3:3
    • Philippians 3:9
    • Philippians 3:12-14
  • According to 2 Corinthians 3:18, what does Paul believe about the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer?

We, like Paul, may be acutely aware of the fact that we have not yet become perfect. But he reminds us not to underestimate the transformative power of Christ in us. As Dr. Reggie Kidd reminds us in the Thirdmill video Paul and the Thessalonians:

Although we never want to lose sight of the wonder of the return of Christ in glory, we should always remember how much God has already done for us and realize how much he continues to do for us.

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • How has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Read the following passage and answer the questions below:

    1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

    Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

    Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.


    • What in these verses is stirring your heart today?
    • What are you going to do about it?

Session 9 Handout

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Session 10

Weakness as Strength

READ

Acts 17:16–19:22; 1 Corinthians 1–4; 2 Corinthians 4; 12:1-10

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Paul spent a year and a half in the city of Corinth. His letters to the believers there contain some of his most personal writings. In them, he speaks more about himself, especially about his struggles, than in any of his other letters.

REFLECTION

What is something you were good at and something you definitely were not good at growing up?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something you learned from the video?
  • Why do you think God allowed two of the letters that Paul wrote to the Corinthians to disappear? What does this mean about the two letters we still have?
  • Early in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he begged them to agree with each other, not to be divided but to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment”(1:10). Throughout this series we’ve seen that the unity among believers is central to Paul’s theology. How can the following passages address roots of disunity in your church today?
    • 1 Cor. 3:5-8
    • 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 12
  • In what ways does being aware of Christ as our Lord and Christ as our Savior strike a blow at our sinful pride?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

True Power

In the Thirdmill video Paul and the Corinthians, Dr. Donald Cobb says:

In the church in Corinth, when Paul writes, there are actually divisions in the church based on Paul and Apollos, and maybe others as well. Apollos, in particular, was a fine public speaker… And what Paul says is that we cannot look to those human qualities. Paul isn’t placing himself in the forefront. Paul is placing Jesus Christ in the forefront. That’s what's central. Along with that, Paul is actually turning on its head the perspective that is prevalent in the church as the church latches on to those capabilities, the oratory skills of Apollos and others. The Corinthians are looking to human gifts. They're looking to things that catch the eye, that are displays of power. But the cross is the opposite of that. And the cross is God’s way of bringing about salvation in such a way as to show that it is not man’s power that's important, it's his grace.
  • In 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 Paul writes about the power of the cross. What does it mean that “to us who are being saved [the cross] is the power of God”?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Have you known anyone personally who showed the power of God in their lives despite their weakness? If so, describe what that looked like.
  • Throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul shared a wide variety of weaknesses. He wasn’t a polished orator. He anguished over the people he loved and his relationship with them. He talked openly about being afflicted, perplexed, struck down (2 Cor. 4:8-9), and even tormented by Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). What is an area of your life where you feel weak and would like to experience God’s power made perfect in that weakness?

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • In 2 Corinthians 3:4-5 Paul wrote, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
    • How does this verse comfort you?
    • In what areas of your life does this verse invite you to rethink your confidence in your own abilities?
  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 10 Handout

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Session 11

Addressing the Controversies among the Corinthians

READ

1 Corinthians 5–7; 15; 2 Corinthians 5–7; 10–11; 12:11-21; 13

CONNECT (10 minutes)

The church at Corinth sent Paul a series of questions, and when Paul heard what was going on in Corinth, he had some questions of his own. Some of the issues came from the fact that the Corinthians were looking at life through the lenses of their culture and their fleshly desires instead of from God’s perspective. Paul invited them to grow up and stop living like spiritual infants.

REFLECTION

What is something you believed when you were a child that you later found out was not true?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • What is something you learned from the video?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 6:7.
    • What do you think Paul meant when he said that to have a lawsuit with another Christian is already a defeat?
    • If someone were trying to convince you that it is better to be wronged than to take a believer to court, which of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:2-11 would be most convincing to you?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 6:13-20.
    • What do you think Paul meant when he said, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (v.18b)?
    • What can you do to flee from sexual immorality?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Revelation 22:14-15.
    • Pray together as a group that God’s Spirit would free people in your circle of influence from deceptions about the eternal results of their sins.

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

An Eternal Perspective

Paul drew on basic principles about life in the age after Christ’s first coming to formulate his responses to the specific issues and questions that had arisen in the Corinthian church.

Summarize Paul’s teaching in each of the following passages to see the eternal perspective that puts our life here in proper perspective:

  • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
  • 2 Corinthians 5:9; 7:1
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
  • 2 Corinthians 5:1
One of the great things that we Christians have to look forward to is the resurrection of the body. … And our ultimate resurrection is grounded in and guaranteed by the resurrection of Christ. This is the great argument Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits. The image here is not only of Christ’s resurrection being the first in a sequence, but also being that which guarantees everything else to come. Because he has been raised, we will definitely be raised in and with him, giving us an absolutely incredibly certain hope for the future.

— Dr. Douglas Moo (from Thirdmill’s video, Paul and the Corinthians)

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Think through each of the following aspects of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [those] who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Now consider v. 11:

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.
  • How has God washed, sanctified and justified you?
  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 11 Handout

Word  PDF

Session 12

The Greatest of These Is Love

READ

1 Corinthians 8-14; 16; 2 Corinthians 1-3; 8; 9

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Congratulations for reaching the final session of The Heart of Paul’s Theology. Through these twelve lessons you’ve explored background and overarching theology of the apostle Paul, you’ve seen how he applied his theology to the specific needs of the Christians in Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth, and we hope you’ve also discovered the relevance of Paul’s theology for your own life and community today.

REFLECTION

What is something new you have learned about Paul and his theology as a result of this Study at Home series?

WATCH (20 minutes)

DISCUSS (10 minutes)

  • Read 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. How does this perspective address the relational problems in the Corinthian church?
  • Dr. Reggie Kidd says, “Christian love now is our greatest participation in the blessings of the age to come.” What activities or events have allowed you to participate in Christian love?
  • Speaking about the Lord’s Supper, Rev. Dan Hendley says, “We are seated at the table of the Father, partaking of the riches of his grace together as the family of God. And to do that worthily, we do it with grateful hearts, with humble hearts, with an acceptance and embrace of one another.” In a few minutes of silent reflection, choose a word, phrase, image, or object you can use to remind yourself of this perspective next time you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Share this with the group.
  • Which spiritual gifts are held in highest esteem in your community? Why do you think that is?

Straight from the Heart (15 minutes)

Love Expressed

In Galatians 5:6 Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” In his two existing letters to the Corinthian believers, Paul talks about an opportunity they have to express their faith through practical love.

As the Thirdmill video Paul and the Corinthians explains, “The Christians in Jerusalem were in great need at this time because of a famine in Judea. In response to this crisis, the Corinthian church, along with many other churches, had committed to sending aid to them. But the Corinthians had failed to finish collecting their contribution.”

  • Summarize what we learn about “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) from the way Paul exhorted the Corinthians in the following verses:
    • 1 Corinthians 6:1-4
    • 2 Corinthians 9:1-2
    • 2 Corinthians 9:3-7
    • 2 Corinthians 9:8-11
    • 2 Corinthians 9:12-15
  • Which of these principles could you use in your own life and in your sphere of influence? How?

APPLY

Take some time to consider the following questions:

  • What are some situations where you need God’s help to live out 1 Corinthians 10:23-24: “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”
  • Where has this study encouraged you in your faith?
  • Where has it challenged you? What do you want to do as a result?

Session 12 Handout

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