Four aspects of Galatians, Thessalonians and Corinthians applicable today  

Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians1, Thessalonians2 and Corinthians3 deal with numerous specific issues underpinning Christian living, many of which are applicable today. These include the following:  

Unity in Christ4  

Paul says that through faith in Christ we are all one5 and, without distinction, receive the promises given to Abraham6. This is set against the background that the Galatians, mainly Gentile converts, were turning to a different Gospel7, wanting to be under the law8, were no longer obeying the truth9 and were turning back to weak principles10.  

To them, Paul’s message that Christ’s redemption means all might receive the same blessing as Abraham, that Gentiles can receive the promise of the spirit through faith11, must have been uplifting. Emphasising that the different gospel the Galatians were turning to is no gospel at all12, Paul affirms that the true Gospel offers grace and peace and is centred on Jesus Christ13.  

The practical implications of this have not diminished down the centuries. It still today means that all are equal in the sight of God. To Him, whatever our backgrounds, ethnicity, gender or social status, there are no second class citizens. We are all, like the Galatians, accepted as God’s children with all the concomitant rights and privileges14.  

Pastoral Concerns  

The Thessalonian Christians faced persecution on account of their faith. To encourage their perseverance in a hostile environment, Paul sets out a number of pastoral concerns. He prays for the Thessalonians15 in specific areas16 and expects them to pray constantly, giving thanks and seeking the spread of God’s word17. He encourages them, saying “God has chosen you”18 and is thankful for their increasing faith, love and steadfastness19. Paul asks the Thessalonians to remember what God had done for them20 and gives clear exhortations for Christian living21 and explanations22 regarding the parousia23. Underpinning all these, Paul expresses the depth of his love for the Thessalonians24.  

These matters are strikingly relevant for Christians in today’s increasingly secular and hostile world as they cry out for encouragement and strength. Paul’s prayers that the Thessalonians may know God’s love and Christ’s perseverance25, for the peace and presence of God26, for encouragement and strength27 and for thankfulness28 give enormous comfort to Christians struggling now. His method of asking the Thessalonians to remember what God had done, exhorting them to Christian living and teaching them about the parousia is a threefold model of instruction which today’s believers can implement to great personal effect29.  

Comfort in suffering  

In Corinthians particularly30, Paul lists the various situations and types of suffering he has endured31. Indeed, suffering is one of the main themes of 2 Corinthians. He appears to write frankly not to seek sympathy or even empathy but to allow him to expound the comfort, good and reward which comes from suffering.  

These are messages which we need to grasp firmly in today’s broken and embittered world as they bring direct assurance of God’s grace working in all kinds of detrimental contemporary situations. Paul reminds us that the Lord is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”32 and that He will “continue to deliver us”33. Paul’s faith, as stated in Romans34, is that nothing will be able to “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” and we need to remember this continually today.  

Those in present distress can gain tangible strength from knowing that, through suffering, we receive God’s comfort and, importantly, can pass that comfort on to others35. Additional positive results of suffering we can apply today are Paul’s assertions that power comes from God not ourselves36 and not to lose heart because, as he clearly explains37, present suffering brings future reward38.  

Sexual matters  

Of all Paul’s writings, perhaps his teachings on sex are some of the most applicable in today’s society where permissiveness, promiscuity, pre-marital intercourse and post-marital infidelity are so rife.  

The Thessalonians were Greek converts to Christianity from paganism and extra-marital sex was standard practice in first century Greek society. Accordingly, given their previous, generally accepted, way of living, sexual matters were high on Paul’s agenda to address39.  

However, it is in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians that he deals with specific issues, primarily as a result of questions addressed to him40. Paul’s reaction to an act of incest41 is not only against the act but, importantly, against the Corinthian’s blazé and arrogant, almost proud, attitude to it: they seem totally unconcerned42, It is an attitude similar to that seen today. Paul’s solution is clear: disciplinary action is required43, a necessity for the good of the whole community and the individual, because the sin of one affects the whole fellowship44.  

Paul reminds the Corinthians, many of whom formerly worshipped the goddess Aphrodite, whose temple rites encouraged sexual immorality, that - again with a resounding reminder for today - their bodies are bought with the price of Christ’s death and are “the temple of the Holy Spirit”45.  

Paul writes at some length about sexual intercourse (even within marriage), marriage itself46, abstinence and viginity47. Lest anyone today should feel none of this is relevant, Paul makes it clear he understands the potency of the sex drive48 and the difficulties of self control49. He says sexual relations are normal within marriage50 and act as a safeguard against immorality51. Although Paul states quite clearly his own feeling that it is better to be single than married52, he also says it is better to be married than to be burning with sexual passion53.  

If Paul’s practical guidelines in all these matters54 were practiced today, the world would undoubtedly be a healthier (in all senses) and more wholesome place55.  


Paul never set out to write a systematic theology; each of his letters is written for particular churches regarding the specific issues they were facing. What is striking is that so many of today’s issues are no different to those faced by our forebears. This makes Paul’s words absolutely relevant and appropriate in the 21st century as a foundation for Christian Living and as a rock to which Christians and others can - or at least should - hold fast.  


1 Which may be the earliest letter of Paul in the New Testament, written cAD48 or cAD54  

2 Probably, with Galatians, the earliest of the New Testament letters, written cAD50  

3 The surviving two Epistles of four original letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, probably dating from circa AD57  

4 Gal 3.26-29 which, as pointed out by Jung Hoon Kim in “ The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus”, constitutes a concluding part of Paul’s long discussion on believers becoming the heirs of “the blessing that was promised, the Kingdom of God”.  

5 Gal 3.28  

6 Gal 3.29, i.e. righteousness as children of Abraham (the Father of all God’s people). The Abraham/Sarah promise is expounded by Paul in Gal 4.21-31  

7 Gal 1.6  

8 Gal 4.21  

9 Gal 5.7  

10 Gal 4.9  

11 Gal 3.14  

12 Gal 1.6-7  

13 As New Testament Scholar and Retired Anglican Bishop The Rt Revd Tom Wright explains in “ The Letter to the Galatians: Exegesis and Theology”, “For Paul, Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, in whom the promises made to the patriarchs have finally come true. The Messiah represents his people, so that what is true of him becomes true of them. His death becomes their death and they find their new life within his. Israel’s Messiah is the world’s Lord”.  

14 Elisabeth Johnson in her “Commentary on Galatians” points out that the categories which divide us today may be different to those in Paul's day but divisions do persist along lines of ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, ideology, political affiliation and many other factors. She powerfully asserts “Paul reminds us that whatever human categories may describe us, they do not define us. All human categories are subordinate and ultimately irrelevant to our primary identity as members of the body of Christ”.  

15 1 Thes 1.2, 3.10 and 2 The s 1.11  

16 1 Thes 3.10-13, 5.23 and 2 The s 2.17, 3.5, 3.16  

17 1 Thes 5.17-18, 5.25 and 2 The s 3.1-2  

18 1 Thes 1.4 and 2 The s 2.13  

19 1 Thes 1.3 and 2 The s 1.3  

20 1 Thes 1.5-10  

21 1 Thes 4.1-12, 5.12-22, 2 The s 3.6-15  

22 1 Thes 4.13 to 5.3, 2 The s 2.1-12  

23 The second coming of Christ, from the ancient Greek word παρουσία meaning arrival, coming, presence.  

24 e.g 1 Thes 2.7-8, 17-20 and 1 The s 3.9-10  

25 2 Thes 3.5. As Ian Mackervoy explains in “ The Lord has not come yet”, the Thessalonians “need the help of the Lord to live as they should. They need to realise the love that God has for them. Jesus showed the love of God when he came to this earth. His whole life displayed patience and strength. The prayer is that this character may be in them as well, so then they may be able to live right, even through all the troubles that they may have to suffer”. That position and prayer has not changed for us today.  

26 2 Thes 3.16  

27 2 Thes 2.17  

28 1 Thes 5.18  

29 Wayne Slusser in “An Examination of the Structural and Pastoral Implications of Paul’s Prayer” powerfully states “The pastoral implications provide today’s church with a model of what and how to shape their own prayers”.  

30 e.g. 2 Cor 1.8-9, 2.2-4, 7.5, 11.23-29  

31 Donald Guthrie in “The Pauline Epistles” makes a striking point: “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the writer of these priceless Christian letters is no arm-chair theologian but a missionary hearted apostle who encountered and survived more than his fair share of the punishing rigours of life. The letters themselves must be set against such a background if they are to be rightly appreciated”.  

32 2 Cor 1.3  

33 2 Cor 1.10  

34 Rom 8.39  

35 2 Cor 1.4-5  

36 2 Cor 4.7  

37 2 Cor 4.16-18  

38 Jeff Guinan in “Paul’s Theology on Suffering” summarises Paul’s position succinctly when he says “Paul understands that suffering is ultimately a blessing from God given to Christians in order to glorify Himself and promote their sanctification; therefore, the Christian response to suffering should be one of joy, hope, and love”.  

39 Which Paul does in 1 The s 4.3-8  

40 It is also interesting to note, as William Barclay points out in “ The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians”, that in Paul’s day even Judaism reverenced neither women nor marriage  

41 1 Cor 5.1  

42 1 Cor 5.2 This attitude may be linked to the Corinthian’s over-realised eschatology and antinomianism/libertarianism  

43 1 Cor 5.5  

44 1 Cor 5.6-8. See also Achan’s sin in Joshua Ch 7  

45 1 Cor 6.19-20  

46 In Genesis 2:18 we read that God said “It is not good for the man to be alone: I will make him a helper suitable for him”. Robert Diffenbaugh, in “Sex and the Spiritual Christian”, says “Being single was not good, so God created a wife to be his companion and counterpart. From the Book of Proverbs, we know that God designed marriage and sex not only as a means for bringing children into this world but also as God’s appointed means for a man to find pleasure in his wife”.  

47 All in 1 Cor 7.1-40  

48 Without which there would be no continuity of the human race!  

49 e.g. in 1 Cor 7.5, 7.9  

50 1 Cor 7.3-5  

51 1 Cor 7.2  

52 1 Cor 7.1, 78  

53 1 Cor 7.9  

54 Edward Welch, in “The Apostle Paul: On Sex”, says “Paul’s comments sound restrictive but, remember, Paul is not simply trying to shackle out-of-control lust. He sees new humanity in the Corinthian Christians. They are new creatures with new hearts. He reveals how we are intended to live. As such, while it feels like a battle to us, Paul points out a way that is right, true, good, and natural”.  

55 A further extension of applicability today of Paul’s general principles might be seen in the modern condemnation of ritual female genital mutilation, which is of no benefit to a woman but is imposed as an attempt to control her sexuality.

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire December 2016