|Volume 25 Number 6 June 2023
The Bible is one book, but within its pages, there are sixty-six different books. A uniting theme runs throughout the pages of Scripture: the salvation of man and the glorification of God. It is interesting to observe the variety that the Holy Spirit chose to include within the canon of Scripture. There are books with 150 chapters or divisions like the Psalms. One can read long prophetic discourses like Isaiah or historical books like Genesis that covers thousands of years. We encounter the four inspired biographies of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) when we turn our attention to the New Testament. Next, we read the historical book of Acts, followed by the epistles to churches and individuals.
While many of the epistles contain double-digit chapters, there are several books of shorter length. We should keep in mind that the length of a book in the Bible says nothing of the book’s importance. No book is in the Bible by accident. Every book that we have was breathed out by God and preserved through His amazing providence (Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is only one single-chapter book in the Old Testament, the book of Obadiah, but there are four in the New Testament. I want to briefly cover the shortest books in the New Testament and impress upon us why they are worthy of our attention and study.
Philemon: Forgiveness and Reconciliation
The book of Philemon contains just 25 verses. Paul wrote this letter to his brother, friend, fellow laborer and slave owner named Philemon (v. 1). When we consider the people Paul mentioned in the opening verses of Philemon and compare those verse with what Paul said elsewhere, it is clear that Philemon was a member of the church in Colosse (Colossians 4:17; Philemon 2). Paul praised Philemon for the good work he had already done and the righteous reputation he secured among the saints (vs. 4-7). Then, he addressed his main reason for writing. Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away and had come to Paul, but Paul was sending him back to Philemon (vs. 8-12). Onesimus found Paul, was converted to Jesus Christ, and now was a brother in Christ (vs. 10, 13-16). Paul petitioned Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother and vowed to pay any debt that Onesimus incurred (vs. 17-18). He gently reminded Philemon that he owed him his own life for what Paul had previously done for him (v. 19).
This short book shows us the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and we must learn to be reconciled to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). We cannot hold grudges against each other for previous wrongs done; we need to be quick to forgive if we want to receive forgiveness from God (Ephesians 4:32). Paul demonstrated how we should be peacemakers, not pot-stirrers (Matthew 5:9). This book can be read in minutes but must be meditated upon for years. People like Onesimus can change, and people like Philemon must forgive and receive those who have been forgiven. The entire message of the Gospel appears in this short epistle. Therein is sin, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation and fellowship. Do not skip Philemon in your Bible reading. It is packed with riches for the soul.
2 & 3 John: False Teachers,
Fellowship and Faithfulness
After Paul, John wrote the most books in the New Testament. We are probably more familiar with the Gospel of John, 1 John and Revelation. However, John is also the author of the two short books bearing his name at the back of our New Testament. The two books combined contain 27 verses (13 in 2 John and 14 in 3 John). Both books place a special emphasis on truth. The word appears five times in 2 John and six times in 3 John. Still, there are differences between the two letters.
Second John was written to the elect lady. Some believe this was an individual while others believe it is a figurative address to a congregation (2 John 1). I believe the letter written to a congregation designated as the elect lady makes more sense because Christians are often referred to in the New Testament collectively as the elect (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4). John wrote this letter to praise the church for its faithfulness and walking in the truth (2 John 4-6). The main thrust of the letter, however, is on the false teachers of whom John’s readers were aware (2 John 7). John cautioned his readers not to forfeit their reward by cozying up to those deceivers and endorsing their message (2 John 8-11). They were not to receive the false teachers into their homes because this would have signaled approval of their message (Acts 16:15). John had more to say, but he preferred to deliver the rest of his message face to face (2 John 12-13). In just 13 verses, we learn the importance of abiding in the truth (John 15:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We must also guard against religious error and not become contaminated by the error of others (Ephesians 5:11). Lastly, we can forfeit our souls by choosing to walk in darkness rather than in light (1 John 1:5-6).
Third John is a study of personalities. John wrote to a faithful Christian named Gaius (vs. 1-2). Gaius was to keep up the good work he had begun. John warned him of a wicked and arrogant man named Diotrephes (vs. 9-10). He concluded by commending Demetrius as a man with a good standing before all men (v. 12). The main theme taught in 3 John is to follow good examples and avoid evil (v. 11). We should note those who are living like Christ and duplicate their behavior. Likewise, those who are living in opposition to Jesus should be noted and their behavior must be avoided. Third John is a quick read, but we should read it and ask ourselves if our lives mimic Diotrephes more than they do the lives of Gaius or Demetrius.
Jude: Contend for the Faith
Jude drove his message home in just 25 verses. He wanted to write about the common salvation enjoyed by Christians, but he changed his focus to encourage his readers to contend for the faith (vs. 1-3). False teachers had stealthily crept in among the brethren, and Jude did not want his readers caught off guard (v. 4). He reminded them of wicked persons who had perished before, and Jude wanted them to know that the false teachers troubling them would enjoy a similar fate (vs. 5-16). The faithful were to keep themselves in the love of God while remembering that God would keep them from falling if they walked in His paths (vs. 17-25).
Jude’s words are forceful and filled with harsh warnings for those who are opposed to the Truth. Jude reminds us that false doctrine has consequences. Jude wanted Christians to know that no matter what the world does, we can be secure in our God. The faith has been once for all time delivered. There is not a new revelation coming. There is nothing that will change the Truth. We must contend for the faith that was given in the first century – until the Lord returns.
As you read the Bible, remember to read all of it. Just because certain books are shorter does not mean that the messages within their pages are any less impactful. The four one-chapter books in the New Testament have something to say to the church today. Be people of reconciliation and forgiveness, love the truth, avoid and expose false teachers. God put the books that are in our New Testament there on purpose. Let’s read them with that thought in mind.