On violently resisting Jesus’s arrest.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 March

Mark 14.47, Matthew 26.51-54, Luke 22.49-51, John 18.10-11.

After sundown Thursday, Jesus and his students had a Passover meal, which Christians call “the Last Supper.” After it, Jesus had some things to tell them, and in that discussion there’s this:

Luke 22.35-38 KWL
35 Jesus told them, “When I sent you out without a wallet, bag, or extra sandals,
you didn’t lack anything, did you? They told him, “Nothing.”
36 Jesus told them, “But now those who have a wallet: Take it. Your bag too.
Those who don’t have one: Sell your coat and buy a machete.
37 For I tell you this scripture has to be fulfilled in me:
‘He was counted among the lawless.’ Is 53.12
For the scriptures about me have an endpoint.”
38 The students said, “Master, look!—two machetes here.”
Jesus told them, “That’s plenty.”

This passage confuses people—usually because of the way it’s typically translated.

Luke 22.36, 38 NIV
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” […]
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.

Typically the way Christians interpret it is Jesus (for whatever their favorite reasons might be) told ’em to sell their coats and buy swords—but he meant it metaphorically. He was telling ’em some sort of parable. He didn’t literally want them to buy swords; he wasn’t trying to start an armed uprising or anything. We misunderstand. And the students likewise misunderstood, and were quick to point out to Jesus, “Oh no problem, Master, we’ve already got two swords!”—to which Jesus had to angrily respond, “Wait, what’re you actually doing with swords? You homicidal numbskulls, stop it. You’re missing my point again.”

I won’t get into all the possible interpretations of what Jesus’s “metaphor” supposedly is. Because Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He really did want his students to go get themselves machetes. Because there’s a big difference between the purpose of a machete and a sword. A machete is a work knife. Not a Roman gladius, a double-sided short sword. This is a μάχαιραν/máheran, a long, broad, single-edged work knife. I’m not translating it “machete” to be different: That’s what it is. That’s all it is.

Despite what Danny Trejo action movies might have you believe, a machete is not meant for battle or fighting. It kinda sucks for fighting; a trained soldier with a gladius will easily take out anybody who’s only carrying a máheran. But it can stab, cut, and kill; it can do damage. Machetes have been historically used for warfare—same as pitchforks, axes, hammers, and tomahawks—’cause when the poor had to fight and didn’t have access to proper weapons, you work with what you have.

So when Jesus tells ’em to sell their coats and buy machetes, he’s properly telling them to give up their comforts and get tools. It’s time to get to work and help him build his kingdom.

But of course if you’re an ivory-tower revolutionary and haven’t worked with your hands in years, y’might miss that little nuance of reality. And think Jesus really is talking about swords—but not really talking about swords, because God’s kingdom doesn’t come through violent human revolutions, right? I mean, most of us get this… even though Jesus’s students clearly didn’t.

Got all that? Now let’s jump forward a few hours to when Jesus got arrested… where, it turns out, Simon Peter had taken one of those two machetes with him.

Jesus’s arrest, and his abuse begins.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 March

Mark 14.45-52, Matthew 26.50-56, Luke 22.49-54, John 18.4-12.

The second station, in John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, is where Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. Same station for both. But different forms of suffering: Judas was about when your friends or confidants turn on you, and the rest was about the pain and dread people feel when their enemies have ’em right where they want ’em.

Let’s go to the gospels.

Mark 14.45-52 KWL
45 Immediately going to Jesus, he told him, “Rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
46 So they grabbed and arrested him.
47 One of the bystanders, pulling out a machete,
struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.
48 In reply, Jesus told them, “You come out with machetes and sticks
to snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.
49 Daytime, I was with you in the temple, teaching. You didn’t arrest me then.
But this—it’ll fulfill the scriptures.”
50 Abandoning Jesus, everyone fled.
51 There was some teenager following him who was naked, wearing a toga.
They arrested him, 52 but he abandoned his toga and fled naked.
 
Matthew 26.50-56 KWL
50 Jesus told Judas, “Who’d you come for, lad?”
Then those who’d come, grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
51 Look, one of Jesus’s followers stretched out his hand, drew his machete,
struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.
52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your machete back where it goes:
Everybody who takes up arms will be destroyed by them.
53 You think I can’t call my Father, who’ll immediately give me more than 12 legions of angels?
54 But then how will the scriptures be fulfilled? So this has to happen.”
55 At that time, Jesus told the crowd, “You come out with machetes and sticks
to snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.
Daytime, I was sitting in the temple, teaching. You didn’t arrest me then.
56 This is all happening so the prophets’ writings can be fulfilled.”
Then all the students abandoned him and ran.
 
Luke 22.49-54 KWL
49 Seeing what those round them intended to do,
the students said, “Master, should we strike with a machete?”
50 One hit a certain one of them—the head priest’s slave—and cut off his right ear.
51 In response Jesus said, “That’s enough!” and touching the ear, Jesus cured him.
52 Jesus told those who came for him—head priests, temple guards, and elders—
“You come out with machetes and sticks like I’m an insurgent.
53 Daytime, I was with you in the temple. You didn’t grab me then.
But this is your hour—the power of darkness.”
54 They arrested him, led him away, and brought him to the head priest’s house.
Simon Peter was following at a distance.
 
John 18.4-12 KWL
4 Jesus, who’d known everything that was coming to him,
came forward and told them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He told them, “I’m him.”
Judas, who was turning him in, stood with them.
6 When Jesus told them, “I’m him,” they went backward and fell to the ground.
7 So he asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 Jesus replied, “I tell you, I’m him.
So if you’re seeking me, let these others go away.”
9 Thus fulfilling his word which said,
“Those you gave me: I lost none of them.” Jn 17.12
10 Simon Peter, having a machete, drew it and struck the head priest’s slave;
he sliced off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.
11 So Jesus told Peter, “Sheath your machete.
This is the cup the Father gave me. Shouldn’t I drink it?”
12 So the 200 men, the general, and the Judean servants arrested Jesus and tied him up.

What became of Judas Iscariot.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 March

Matthew 27.3-10, Acts 1.15-26.

Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether we’re using St. Francis or St. John Paul’s list, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of meditation. Although we should study Judas some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we really don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.

Judas came up when he handed Jesus over to the authorities… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we ever hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the Holy Spirit and apostles started Jesus’s church. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.

Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest to sync them up, and I’ll get to how they’ve tried it. But first things first: The passages.

Matthew 27.3-10 KWL
3 Then Judas, who turned Jesus in, seeing the Senate condemned him,
feeling greatly sorry, returned the 30 silver coins to the head priest and elders,
4 saying, “I sinned; I turned in innocent blood.”
They said, “What’s that to us? Look out for yourself.”
5 He threw the silver back into the shrine, left, and hanged himself.
6 The head priests took the silver, saying, “It’s wrong to put it in the offering,
since it’s a payment for blood.”
7 Taking it, the Senate bought a field with it from a potter, for the burial of foreigners.
8 Thus this field was called Bloodfield to this day.
9 This fulfilled the prophet Jeremiah’s word, saying, “They took 30 silvers.
The penalty payment which they paid for Israel’s children.
10 They gave it for the potter’s field, as the Lord instructed me.”
 
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
15 In those days Simon Peter stood in the middle of the family.
He said, “The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
16 Men, family: We have to fulfill the scriptures the Holy Spirit foretold through David’s mouth
about Judas, who became the guide of those who arrested Jesus.
17 Judas was counted among us.
He received a place in this ministry.
18 He thus got himself a plot of land from his unrighteous reward,
and was found face-down, burst open, his innards all spilled out.
19 All Jerusalem’s dwellers came to know it,
so the plot’s called in their dialect Khaqal-Dema” (i.e. Bloodfield).
20 “It’s written in the book of Psalms: ‘Make his house desert, and don’t let settlers in it.’ Ps 69.25
And ‘Another person: Take his office.’” Ps 109.8

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re entirely right not to.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 March

Back in 2017 an acquaintance of mine started an “apologetics ministry.” It’s kinda defunct now.

Initially it consisted of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. (You know, like TXAB—except I don’t do apologetics.) Except he also created a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, got some friends to be his board members, and solicited donations. He was hoping to turn it into a full-time job… and got really irritated at me for calling it “getting paid to sit in his pajamas all day and argue with strangers on the internet.” But that is what he was doing.

In his mind, he was doing it for Jesus. He figured apologetics is a vital, necessary ministry, and there simply aren’t enough Christians out there… arguing with strangers on the internet, whether they spend all day in their jammies or not.

Like I said, his “ministry” is defunct now. He’s taken to arguing politics. Political organizations aren’t allowed under the 501(c)3 tax code, so I’m pretty sure he’s either no longer accepting donations, or totally breaking the law. As for apologetics, I guess he’s left that to all the other folks who continue to do the very same thing. Many have actually made a career of it. There’s like an army of pajama-clad Christian warriors, armed with the “sword of the Spirit”—and stabbing away at flesh and blood. Ep 6.12-17

Every so often these “ministries” beg me for money. I don’t sign up for their mailing lists. I get put on them ’cause they figure a Christian blogger should be sympathetic to their “plights,” i.e. a salary so they no longer have to work their day job at Kroger. One group has an office in the back of their church building, and (I kid you not) asked everybody on their mailing list for a donation ’cause they wanted to buy an espresso machine. Nope; no $40 Mr. Coffee device with bonus frothing pitcher; they wanted a commercial machine and a full-on coffee bar. Ostensibly so people could come to the office, have a cappuccino or two with them, and debate Jesus. Really because maybe their readers are suckers generous enough to free them from having to hit the Starbucks drive-thru twice a day. Google Maps revealed their office was in an out-of-the-way office park, so I’m entirely sure the only ones partaking of donor-supported espresso would be them. I unsubscribed from their mailing list with extreme prejudice.

Entitled first-worlders aside, if you’re getting the idea I’m not jazzed about such “ministries,” you’d be so right.

Why? ’Cause argumentativeness is a work of the flesh.

Galatians 4.19-21 NRSV
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“Quarrels,” in verse 20, translates ἐριθεῖαι/eritheíe, “picking fights” or “starting intrigues.” Its root is the word ἔρις/éris, “strife.” In Greek mythology, Eris was the goddess who started a fight between the ruling goddesses over who was the prettiest, and their bickering escalated into the Trojan War. So this word is entirely about picking fights.

But of course argumentative Christians—some of whom translate bibles—have muted this word, or translated it as things they personally don’t think they’re tempted by. The KJV’s “strife” makes it sound like full-on war, and they’re not doing that! The NASB, NIV, and NLT prefer “selfish ambition”—and yeah, we get into pretty heavy denial about how selfish our ambitions are, but that’s still not the best translation. Neither is the ESV’s “rivalries,” nor the MEV and RSV’s simple “selfishness.”

Argumentative Christians wanna fight. And the only fight they can justify to themselves, outside of misbegotten ideas about “spiritual warfare,” is arguing people into God’s kingdom. Not just sharing Jesus like an evangelist; shoving people towards him, like a bully. Proselytism.

In such people’s hands, the gospel is no longer good news. It’s bad. The fruit of such tactics are people who flinch at the gospel, and think all Christians are likewise jerks. If they actually succeed in winning people over, we just wind up with more argumentative Christians: More people who think it’s okay to be a dick to all people, that they might by all means save some.

I’m gonna take a break to throw things, then be right back to rebuke this idea further.

Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 March

Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50, Luke 22.47-48, John 18.1-3.

In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical.

So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened:

Mark 14.41-46 KWL
41 Jesus came back a third time and told his students, “Now you’re sleeping,
and resting—and that’s enough. The hour’s come.
Look, the Son of Man is getting handed over to sinful hands.
42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
43 Next, while Jesus was yet speaking, Judas Iscariot approached the Twelve.
With him was a crowd carrying machetes and sticks, sent by the head priests, scribes, and elders.
44 The one who handed over Jesus had given the crowd a signal,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him and take him away carefully.”
45 Next, coming to Jesus, he told him, “Rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
46 So the crowd laid their hands on Jesus and arrested him.
 
Matthew 26.45-50 KWL
45 Then Jesus came back to the students and told them, “Now you’re sleeping,
and resting—and look, the hour has come near.
The Son of Man is getting handed over to sinful hands.
46 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
47 While Jesus was yet speaking, look: Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, came.
With him was a great crowd carrying machetes and sticks, sent by the head priests, elders, and people.
48 The one who handed over Jesus gave them a sign,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him.”
49 Immediately coming to Jesus, he said, “Hello, rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
50 Jesus told Judas, “For whom did you come, friend?”
Then those who came, grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
 
Luke 22.47-48 KWL
45 Getting up from the prayer, Jesus went to the students
He found them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus told them, “Why are you asleep?
Get up and pray, or else you might enter temptation!”
47 While Jesus yet spoke, look: A crowd,
and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, leading them.
He went to Jesus to kiss him hello,
48 and Jesus told him, “Judas, to kiss the Son of Man, you turn him in.”
 
John 18.1-3 KWL
1 When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine, where there was a garden.
He and his students entered it.
2 Judas Iscariot, who was selling him out, had known of the place,
because Jesus often gathered there with his students.
3 So Judas, bringing 200 men, plus servants of the head priests and Pharisees,
came there with torches, lamps… and arms.

Encouragement to a persecuted church.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 March

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12.

Though the Thessalonians appeared to be doing just fine, behaving themselves and living a holy lifestyle, Paul, Silas, and Timothy just wanted to reiterate a few things for their encouragement. It needed repeating.

Likewise we need to be reminded of such things, from time to time. Even though we may not suffering to any persecution remotely like that of the Thessalonians—and therefore have even less of a justification for not loving one another, loving our neighbors, and not living uprightly towards outsiders. (Not that suffering is any justification anyway.)

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12 KWL
9 As for loving one’s Christian family, we needn’t write you:
You yourselves are taught by God himself to love one another,
10 and you do it throughout the Christian family,
throughout the whole of Macedon.
We wish to help you, fellow Christians, so you can abound more—
11 to love the value of rest,
to do your own work with your own hands,
just as we commanded you.
12 Thus you might honestly walk to help those outside,
and none of you might be needy.

Under any pressure, people’s tempers get shortened, and we tend to turn on one another. Mostly that’s because people don’t love one another; we’re only looking out for ourselves. Even in families which supposedly care about one another, our self-centeredness, our self-preservation instinct, too often comes first.

But when we do love one another, persecution gets us to rely on one another, and care for one another, all the more. Self-preservation turns into group self-preservation: We recognize the other parts of Christ’s body likewise need to be cared for, and the weaker members all the more.

The apostles didn’t have to teach the Thessalonians this. God already had. They were θεοδίδακτοί/theo-dídaktí, “God-taught,” or as I put it, “taught by God himself.” We can’t deduce from the text how God taught it; was it a product of the Spirit’s fruit, or did the Holy Spirit have to tell one of his prophets to tell the rest? Maybe a little of both.

In any event it’s a good teaching, and the apostles didn’t feel the need to add to it. The Thessalonians had a good handle on how to love one another. Something we all need to do, whether times are tough or not. While times are easy, let’s develop it; when times get tough, we’ll absolutely need it.

“The spirit of…”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 March
SPIRIT OF… 'spɪ.rɪt əv noun, genitive. A quality considered the defining or typical element in the character of a person, people, or institution.
2. A supernatural being creating or facilitating that element.

Pagans don’t know what spirit is, and their best guess is emotion: Spirit is the feeling you get when a speaker talks about stuff you care about—or stuff that terrifies you. Spirit is the emotions stirred up by a great piece of music or a great work of art. Spirit is the mood in the room when you enter it, and it’ll either make you want to stick around or flee. Spirit is the vibes you feel from a really positive or really negative person. Spirit is the feels.

No surprise, this false definition is all over Christianity. So much so, people think the way you detect the Holy Spirit, or some other evil spirit, is by our feelings. If the spirit of a room is all dark and creepy, it means there’s an evil spirit in there, trying to tempt or mislead you; your feelings are how you supernaturally discerned this. Conversely if the spirit of a room is all bright and cheerful, it’s the Holy Spirit, or some ministering angel, or maybe even Jesus making an appearance, visible or not.

To be fair, your emotions are a clue… that something’s affecting your emotions. But it’s naïve to assume the effector is always a spirit. It might just be you had a really good lunch. Or you had a bad day, you’re now in a place you don’t wanna be, and you’re looking for any excuse to leave. Or there’s something about a person’s behavior that really bugs you, and you can’t put your finger on it… and it’s his cologne, but you don’t currently remember your least favorite gym teacher used to reek of it, and your “bad vibes” are really just part of a bad memory. This is where natural discernment has to be practiced.

But it’s much easier to practice no discernment whatsoever, and leap to the conclusion, “I feel funny—because the room is haunted.” Yeah, you don’t know that.

Anyway this is where we come up with the Christianese meaning of “the spirit of” anything: They read the emotion in a room—or project their own emotions on the entire room—and conclude there’s a spirit causing the room to feel this way. Could be Jesus; could be Satan.

Can God’s word “return void”?

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March

Isaiah 55.11.

So one night I and my friend Jason (not his real name, and you’ll soon see why) were walking from the car to the coffeehouse. Enroute some vagrant asked us for spare change. Jason got it into his head this was a “divine opportunity”: It’s time to proclaim the gospel to this person! It’s time to get him saved.

That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yep, wasted. Because the vagrant was. Either he was drunk, or off his meds, or had recently suffered a head injury, or otherwise had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason asked him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel… and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context, so I had to bring it up at some point.)

Jason kinda had this poor guy cornered in a doorway, pressuring him for some sorta confession of faith. Finally, after he extracted something he considered satisfactory, we went and got that coffee. And debated whether the interaction did the poor vagrant any good.

“He’s not gonna remember any of that in the morning,” I commented.

“He will so!” Jason insisted. “That’s the word of God in him now. It won’t return void.”

If you’re not familiar with Christianese you may not understand the “return void“ bit. I once had a pastor try to explain it this way: “It’s like you send someone a check, but they don’t cash it and send it back to you with ‘void’ written on the front of it.” Why anyone would do this, I don’t know. But no, it’s not what the verse means. Here’s the verse:

Isaiah 55.11 KJV
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Here’s what Jason, and plenty of Christians like him, believes: Let’s say we share Jesus with someone, but the someone won’t believe what we tell them, no matter what. Well, take comfort in the fact God’s word—which is what we shared with them, ’cause it’s either based on bible, or contains a whole lot of bible quotes—doesn’t “return void.” It does exactly what it’s meant to, and puts the gospel in ’em. Even though it totally doesn’t appear to, ’cause the person resists it for years, it eventually worms into their soul and does something to ’em. It just does.

Why’s this? ’Cause it’s God’s word. So it’s been infused with supernatural divine power.

Redeemer: Somebody like Jesus who bails us out. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 March
REDEEM rə'dim verb. Compensate for the flaws, deficiencies, or evil of something or someone.
2. Save someone from sin, error, or evil.
3. Gain or regain something, in exchange for payment; repay, or clear a debt.
4. Fulfill a promise.
[Redemption rə'dɛm(p).ʃən noun, redeemer rə'dim.ər noun, redeemable rə'di.mə.bəl adjective.]

When people talk about redeeming or redemption, if they’re not Christian they’re usually talking about recycling cans and bottles. In California when you buy something in a recyclable container, you’re charged an extra fee (the California redemption value, or CRV) which we’re meant to get back when we take the container to a recycling center. Although not everybody bothers to get their CRV back; they toss it in a recycling bin. Or even the trash—and then someone else will go digging through the trash looking for recyclables, hoping for that sweet, sweet CRV money.

Christian redemption isn’t quite like that… although I have actually heard a sermon or two about Jesus recycling sinners. Supposedly God created us with an inherent value, but by sinning, we’re throwing ourselves in the trash… and I guess Jesus is gonna be the guy who fishes us out of the trash and gets our full value. Meh; it’s a shaky simile.

The Christianese term has to do with saving someone from sin, error, or evil. And properly, it has to do with debt. In the bible, the LORD ordered the Hebrews to not just abandon family members to circumstances, to debt, and to poverty: They were to help them.

Leviticus 25.25 NASB
“&thinsp‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor that he sells part of his property, then his closest redeemer is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’ ”

The “closest redeemer” (Hebrew גֹֽאֲלוֹ֙ הַקָּרֹ֣ב/gohélo ha-qaróv) actually means “next-of-kin redeemer.” It’s not automatically your closest male relative; not every man had the wherewithal to actually redeem anyone. It’s your closest relative who’s a patriarch, the head of a significant family. It’s the closest relative who can afford to help you.

This redeemer bought back the property. If you sold your oxen—and these weren’t really oxen you could spare; you kinda needed them to plow your field—your redeemer bought ’em back and returned them to you. If you sold your home, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. If you sold your farm, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. Getting the idea? If you were destitute, and even had to sell yourself into slavery, your redeemer bought you back and freed you.

Your redeemer didn’t buy back your property so he could retain possession of it, and let you live on his farm, in his house, plowing with his oxen, with him as your lord and you his serf. Nope, he gave them back to you. Because you’re family, and God had made your redeemer wealthy enough to do for family.

Yeah, it’s not a mindset we find at all among most Americans. Even Christians.

Now called to a holy lifestyle.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 March

1 Thessalonians 4.1-8.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy now know the Thessalonians haven’t fallen away from Christ Jesus, they wanted to encourage them: Good job. Keep it up.

And do more. Remember, God’s called us Christians to be uniquely holy. That’s more than just being good, ’cause just about anybody can be good, with effort… plus a fear of bad karma. God isn’t interested in that. He doesn’t just want us to be pagans saved by grace who happen to hold better beliefs than average. He wants us to stand out from the rest of the world. Like Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4.1-8 KWL
1 So from now on fellow Christians, we ask you—
we wish to help, in Master Jesus’s name so,
same as you received from us information on how one has to walk and please God,
same as you already do walk—so you can abound more:
2 You know which mandates we gave you through Master Jesus:
3 This is God’s will: Your holiness.
To keep yourselves away from porn.
4 For each of you to know your own baggage.
To acquire that baggage through holiness and honor—
5 not through a desire to suffer, like a people who doesn’t know God.
6 Not through violating and exploiting the acts of your fellow Christians,
because the Master avenges everything, just as we foretold and witnessed to you.
7 For God doesn’t call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.
8 Consequently one who ignores this isn’t ignoring a mere human,
but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you all.

God’s goal for his followers, is for us to be holy like him. Lv 28.7 To be unlike everybody else. The other verses get specific about ways the Thessalonians in particular could be holier, and naturally there’s a lot of overlap between their culture and ours. Christians oughta have certain distinctives which indicate we’re following God’s expectations, not the world’s; not popular culture’s. Sadly we don’t always live up to what God wants for us.

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

Matthew 15.12-14, Luke 6.39-40, John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

Jesus actually doesn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriately comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL
12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

Humility.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit.

Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help.

Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, sometimes humility involves those things. It can be embarrassing to admit our failings. But once we start, we break that fear pretty quickly. Plus, notice all the stand-up comedians who make a really good living at it.

But properly, humility is when we don’t lord our advantages over others. Or lord over anyone. We Christians are meant to love and serve one another. We have no business closing ourselves off, or hiding behind gatekeepers, secretaries, “armor-bearers,” or other functionaries who keep everyone “unimportant” away. Way too many bishops and pastors get that way, and are obviously not humble. Contrast that with our Lord, who angrily told his students to stop keeping the kids away.

Matthew 19.13-15 KJV
13 Then were there brought unto [Jesus] little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

“Suffer” as in “put up with,” not “make them suffer.” Y’all need to get up to speed on King James Version vocabulary.

Still: Jesus is an infinitely important guy, but he makes time to meet with people, and bless ’em with any resources he has. So should we.

I am not the baseline. (Neither are you.)

by K.W. Leslie, 10 March

Whenever I have a God-experience—i.e. when he tells me stuff during prayer time, when he confirms stuff through one of his prophets, when he cures the sick right in front of me—my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God, y’know. As much as I interact with him, I can’t imagine growing indifferent or jaded to the fact God’s doing stuff. He’s still awesome, and it’s incredibly gracious of him to let me be around, or even get involved in, anything he does.

Of course, I say stuff like this and various other Christians respond, “Excuse me, God does what around you?”

Um… well, yeah. I’m Pentecostal, which means we aren’t just continuationist, i.e. recognize God still talks to people and does miracles. We don’t treat God-experiences like something that might potentially or theoretically happen; we treat ’em as part and parcel of the active Christian life. It’s much like the difference between saying, “Y’know we could go visit Grandma in the retirement home” and never doing it, or calling Grandma every day and planning frequent visits. And sometimes she drops by our house and brings brownies; the homemade stuff, made with the very best medical-grade cannabis. Aw yeah.

Kidding; I don’t do weed. But y’see, depending on one’s expectations, one’s Christian life in practice is gonna look mighty different. So I’m fully aware my experiences aren’t necessarily your experiences. I wasn’t always Pentecostal.

Sometimes the differences are based on higher or lower, strict or loose, iffy or false, expectations. Sometimes sin and fruitlessness. Sometimes a combination of the above. I know dark Christians whose unkind, judgmental, fearful, and ungracious practices turn Christianity into something terrifying, and God into someone to hate. I know unscrupulous Christians who bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate the scriptures so they can justify their desires and excesses. Their response to God is far from humble: If anything, they act as if why wouldn’t God endorse them. They remind me of the spoiled kids of rich people; trust fund babies who were born on third base and act as if they hit a triple. In this case their father is God, whom they totally take for granted. Humility never occurs to them.

Yeah, on TXAB I bring up these people a lot. Otherwise I very seldom dwell on them. I have better things to do. But of course they exist.

And because I seldom dwell on these guys, a few years back I found myself in a bible study, very nearly saying, “When we experience God like that, our usual response is humility…” I had to back up and correct myself: My usual response is humility.

Plenty of other Christians I know, likewise have a good sense of our relationship with God, and likewise respond with humility. But yeah, there are Christian jerks out there who aren’t humble at all. They figure God better come through for them. I can’t relate. But neither should I go around talking about my experience as if it’s the norm. I have no proof of that.

And this, folks, is how we’re supposed to do theology: Don’t go round declaring our experiences, our norms, our preferences, are true for everyone. Unless we’ve done a scientific study or have a properly-interpreted passage of scripture to back us up, we’ve no leg to stand on. We’re claiming a subjective experience is universal.

This is precisely the reason so many people automatically doubt “absolute truths”: Far too often, it turns out they’re not absolutes. They’re just the old prejudices of lazy lecturers—and there are a lot of lazy lecturers out there. Heck, I get lazy sometimes.

But it’s because people like to imagine we’re normal! We don’t wanna be unusual; many of us even fear being weird. So we try our darnedest to find a crowd which is most like us, then claim what we think and like is what everybody thinks and likes. Or what everybody oughta think and like. Our worldview oughta be everyone’s worldview—because we’re “normal” and they’re “not.”

The truth.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March
TRUE tru adjective. In accordance with fact or reality. Genuine, real, actual, correct.
2. Precisely correct; exact.
3. Loyal, faithful, honest.
[Truer 'tru.ər adjective, truth truθ noun, truly 'tru.li adverb, truthful 'truθ.fəl adjective]

True and false are such basic, foundational concepts, most people never bother to define them; we’re just expected to know what they mean. We’ve known what true and false are ever since we were first exposed to true-or-false quizzes. True is the way things legitimately are in the universe, and false is the way things aren’t; i.e. not true. Trying to pass off a false thing as true, is lying.

You might remember (and if you don’t, your memory will be jogged when your own young children start taking these true-or-false quizzes) “truth” and “falseness” are sometimes harder to figure out than people suppose. There’s a whole branch of philosophy, called epistemology because why not give it a hard-to-remember name, which is particularly interested in whether what we know is true. Because way too many things we think we know, aren’t so. People’s opinions, or best guesses, were handed down to us as “facts,” and they’re rubbish. Conversely, people’s facts were handed down to us… and we rejected them because rubbish suits our worldview far better.

Obviously truth is very important in theology: We’re trying to get to know God as he actually is. We believe, for good reason, Christ Jesus knows God best; therefore we’re trying to understand him as Jesus describes him. Fellow Christians claim they understand where Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets meant. Sometimes we listen to them, and sometimes we don’t; sometimes we really should, and sometimes they’re not trustworthy at all. Throw into this mix the devil, who’s happy to corrupt everything we believe, the better to get us out of its way. And don’t forget the many humans who likewise distort Christianity for selfish ulterior reasons. There’s a lot of rubbish out there!

But don’t get the idea there’s so much rubbish, we’ll never find truth at all. True, plenty of pagans claim so, and have given up in despair. But there’s an infinitely powerful resource they’ve dismissed.

John 16.13-15 ESV
13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Yep, we got the Holy Spirit. Who will guide us into all the truth Jesus has—provided we actually follow him, and not just assume because he’s rattling around in us somewhere, we’re gonna naturally gravitate towards truth. You should know by now there are plenty of confused Christians out there (just look at politics!) who clearly aren’t following the Spirit towards truth. Let’s not be like them.

The starting point of theology is to recognize we’re wrong. But Christ Jesus is truth. Jn 14.6 We don’t have it; we gotta follow it and point to it. Not “Follow me; I know the way,” but “Follow me as I follow Christ.” 1Co 11.1

Getting ready for the second coming?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13.

If you read 1 Thessalonians 3 in its entirety—and maybe read the whole book like the letter it is, instead of breaking it up into paragraphs, then analyzing the crap out of each paragraph, much like preachers in a sermon series, or me in these articles—you notice how Paul, Silas, and Timothy went on and on and on about how they missed the Thessalonians, fretted about the Thessalonians, wanted so very badly to visit the Thessalonians (well not so much Timothy; he was just there), and were thrilled to pieces about how well the Thessalonians were doing.

So in today’s paragraph, they finally wrap all that up.

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13 KWL
11 God himself, and our Father, and our Master Jesus,
has hopefully directed our path to you.
12 The Master hopefully provided more than enough for you,
in love for one another and for all, just as we also have for you.
13 All to strengthen your blameless minds in holiness before God our Father.
Namely at the second coming of our Master Jesus with all his saints. Amen.

And y’notice they start to move to the next subject-area of the letter: The second coming.

The word the apostles used is παρουσίᾳ/parusía, “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus’s first coming is the time from his birth to his rapture. His second is when he takes over the world. Yes, he makes various visits to individual Christians, like Paul Ac 9.3-6 and Ananias Ac 9.10 and John. Rv 1.12-13 But those aren’t proper comings, ’cause they’re not appearances to everyone. In the second coming, Jesus comes back the same way he left Ac 1.11 —in the clouds with great power. Mk 13.26

Yeah, there are various weird interpretations of what the second coming consists of. No doubt you know one or two. So did the Thessalonians.

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

Matthew 7.21-23, Luke 6.46, 13.23-27.

Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

Luke 13.23-27 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

Satan’s fall.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

Revelation 12.

One of the popular myths about the devil is how Satan used to be an angel. Not that it pretends to be one, 2Co 11.14 but straight-up was one—the mightiest angel in the heavens, named Lucifer. Got deposed, but it used to be a big, big deal.

I’ve challenged many a Christian to actually read their bibles and prove any of this theory from scripture. And I gotta give ’em credit; they do try. But they don’t succeed. It says nowhere in the scriptures Satan used to be an angel. Doesn’t even say Satan was a heavenly being; we just presume so because Satan appeared before God in Job, and we’re kinda assuming they were all in heaven, or thereabouts, at the time. (Job never says where they were.)

Satan’s species is never once identified. Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin, like the Lucifer story, which try to make Satan look like it was a big deal at one time.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan claimed to be master of the world’s kingdoms, which it then offered to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians actually take this statement at face value. Doesn’t it look like the devil rules the world?—though really that’s because humanity lets the devil successfully tempt us into wrecking it. But Jesus’s response was “Get thee hence,” Mt 4.10 KJV i.e. “Get out of here with that nonsense.” Jesus didn’t recognize Satan’s authority at all. The kingdoms of this world belong to him, Jn 12.31, 14.30 not the devil.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18

And about 40 years after his temptation, Jesus presented John of Patmos with a vision of when Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever the devil used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Well, worse than us. Every human has the potential to tap into God’s grace and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent. Never gonna avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10 Willingly.

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

Lucifer: The myth the devil used to be a big deal.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 March

Since the bible doesn’t include an origin story for the devil, Christians just made one up.

Isaiah 14.12-15

Where’d the devil come from? Bible doesn’t say.

No it doesn’t. I know; popular Christian culture insists the devil’s origins are totally spelled out in the bible. When I ask ’em to point me to chapter and verse, they gotta track it down—really, they gotta Google the word “Lucifer”—but that’s where they invariably point me. Here, they insist, is where the devil went wrong.

Isaiah 14.12-15 KJV
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell,
to the sides of the pit.

You gotta quote it in King James Version, because most other translations don’t bother to keep it “Lucifer.” They insist on translating it as other things: “Morning star” (NIV, The Voice), “bright morning star” (GNT), “Day Star” (ISV, ESV, NRSV, NJB, The Message), “star of the morning,” (NASB), “shining star” (NLT), “shining morning star” (HCSB), “shining one” (NET), and so forth.

Y’ever wonder why these bibles insist on translating it other ways? Not, like KJV-worshipers claim, because they’re trying to conceal the devil. ’Cause if that was the plan, it failed. People quote this passage at me in plenty of other translations, and still claim it’s about Satan.

The reason other bibles render it differently is ’cause it’s not a proper name. It looks like a proper name: Heylél ben Šakhár, “Heylel son of Sakhar.” But neither Heylel nor Sakhar are names. It means “shining one, son of dawn.” It’s poetry—and it refers to the morning star, the planet Venus when it’s visible around sunrise. Heylél was what the ancient Hebrews called it.

In the Septuagint it’s translated eosfóros/“morning-bringer,” another word for fosfóros/“light-bringer,” the morning star. And in the Vulgate it’s translated lucifer/“light-bringer,” which is what Latin-speakers called it.

But like I said, it’s poetry. It’s not directly addressed to the morning star. It’s addressed to the guy Isaiah was calling the morning star in this prophecy, which he prefaced with the following statement:

Isaiah 14.3-4 KWL
3 On the day the LORD gives you rest from your pain, dread, the hard service you worked,
4A take up this saying to the king of Babylon.

This king didn’t exist yet. Isaiah’s instructions were for future generations of Hebrews, who were gonna grow up in Babylon after Nabú-kudúrri-usúr (NIV “Nebuchadnezzar”) dragged their ancestors there. But once the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539BC, it’d be whichever king was still in charge. Possibly Nabú-naïd (Latin Nabonidus), but really this prophecy applies to the arrogance of just about all Babylon’s kings. Nebuchadnezzar as well.

So yeah, “lucifer” is meant to describe the king of Babylon. As some translations make it obvious:

Isaiah 14.12 GNT
King of Babylon, bright morning star, you have fallen from heaven! In the past you conquered nations, but now you have been thrown to the ground.

But good luck telling that to some Christians. They grew up believing this verse is about Satan. They’re not giving up this idea without a fight.

Our ancient foe, the devil.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 March

Yes, Satan exists.

But in both popular and Christian culture, Satan has been profoundly misrepresented. It’s intentional. Like Sunzi said in The Art of War, all warfare is based on deception. True of spiritual warfare as well. The devil gets a leg up on us humans by making us believe all sorts of disinformation.

Like the popular rubbish that it used to be the highest angel in heaven, second to God himself. There’s no evidence at all for this in the scriptures; it’s entirely taken from Paradise Lost. Yet people still claim it’s in the bible somewhere, and come up with the darnedest proof texts as “evidence.” Talk about lying on your résumé; in fact if you were hiring Satan at your business and found absolutely nothing in a background check, you’d be far more likely to believe your applicant’s a dirty liar, than people do Satan—who’s a known dirty liar.

But a mighty successful one. Which is why Christians still think it’s an angel of light, instead of how Paul and Timothy actually described it: Only appearing to be one. 2Co 11.14 Like how it rules this world Lk 4.5-6 as the prince of the power of the air, Ep 2.2 and never imagine these are titles it usurps, ’cause Jesus has conquered the world. Like how it appears to be everywhere, almost like God… or that it’s not almighty, but it’s still pretty darned mighty.

And other such things which intimidate Christians against resisting or fighting it. Or make us so wary of it, we never refer to it by name. Various Christians never refer to it as the devil or Satan; they’ll only call it “the enemy.” Lest saying its name or title might get its attention or conjure it up, like Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels.

Or on the opposite extreme, people might consider Satan laughable. Pagans especially. They imagine it a red creature with horns, goat legs, a tail, and a trident. It sits on your shoulder, opposite an angel on your other shoulder, and goads you into doing what’s fun while the shoulder angel convinces you to do what’s right. It tortures people in the underworld, and sometimes ventures to the surface to tempt musicians with awesome heavy metal songs. It’s an imaginary being, like fairies and gnomes and Smurfs and mermaids. It’s a representation of evil, but it’s not a literal being. It’s silly.

We Christians believe there’s an actual devil. Jesus taught us it exists, Lk 8.12 and told his students it actually came to test him once. (How else do you think Matthew and Luke contain that story?—Jesus told it.)

But contrary to the paranoid fantasies of dark Christians, it’s not a mighty being. It’s a defeated foe. Jesus beat it, 1Jn 3.8 and someday will destroy it. Rv 20.10 Meanwhile he gave his followers—us—power over it. Lk 10.19 If we submit to God and resist it, it’ll flee. Jm 4.7

Yeah, that’s correct: Flee. It can’t withstand us. The only reason we think it can, is because we won’t submit to God. We’re more likely submit to Satan. We fold like a desk lamp. We capitulate.

Our situation is like a trained elephant on a leash. Why don’t elephants snap the leash, or take off and drag their handlers wherever they please? Because they were trained all their lives to obey humans. Frighten an elephant badly enough and then you’ll see ’em snap leashes, drag people behind them, even maul their handlers. The devil has humans on a very similar leash, hoping we never, ever notice how thin it is. How easy it is to fight back. Especially with the weapons the Holy Spirit offers us.

Various new Christians wanna know why God doesn’t just put a stop to the devil. He doesn’t have to! He empowered us to. We can.

Whenever Christians get off our apathetic backsides, or quit being scared for no good reason, we easily overthrow Satan. It’s so quickly defeated, people get surprised: “You mean the fight’s over?” No knock-down, drag-out, end-of-the-TV-season battle with the Big Bad where anything can happen (and come on; on most TV shows you know the good guy’s gonna win). Satan flees like a cockroach when the lights turn on.

Humans (and our fears) are way harder to fight off.

When a church holds firm. Or doesn’t.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10.

The biggest worry for any apostle, for any ministry leader or missionary or evangelist, is their work might be for nothing.

That everybody they’ve worked with were only running high on emotion: They were excited about this new thing they were trying out, were feeding off the adrenalin and other people’s zeal, were feeling their own endorphins instead of the Holy Spirit… or were faking it because everybody else seemed to be so into it. That as soon as the apostle leaves, everything they built just collapses, because nothing else was holding things together.

Because this happens. Has happened before to a lot of apostles. No doubt happened to Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

Acts records the places Paul went, and the churches he either found there, or started there… or didn’t. It doesn’t mention the churches he started which flopped. Sometimes that’s because Luke simply didn’t have the data. But if failed churches weren’t a real thing, the apostles who 1 Thessalonians wouldn’t have this worry! If they had nothing but success everywhere, they’d presume the Holy Spirit would guarantee more of the same.

So they were worried about Thessaloniki, Macedon. They didn’t get a lot of time there before they were driven out of town. They were anxious to return, but none of ’em went back but Timothy. But when he came back, he had good news—as it comes out in the letter.

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10 KWL
6 Timothy came to us from you just now, bringing good news of you—
your faith and love, and that you always have good memories of us,
greatly desiring to see us, same as we you.
7 This is why we’re aided by you, fellow Christians,
in all our distress and and trouble; we’re aided by your faith.
8 So now we live, when you stand firm in our Master:
9 Why are we able to repay you by giving thanks to God for you,
for all the joy which we rejoice because of you before our God?
10 Night and day, begging God all the more to see you in person,
to restore whatever’s lacking in your faith.

Timothy reported the Thessalonians were still together, and were still fruitful in the way Christians ought to be. And they fondly remembered Paul and Silas, and wanted to see them too. And that empowered them.

The word in verse 7, παρεκλήθημεν/pareklíthimen, “we’re aided,” tends to be translated “we were comforted” (KJV, NASB) or “we were encouraged” (NIV) because its word-root is παράκλητος/paráklitos, “paraclete,” a word used to describe both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and usually translated “comforter” or “advocate.” Jn 14.16 Properly it refers to a partner who comes alongside to assist us, and that’s what Jesus and the Spirit do—when we let ’em. The apostles aren’t expressing, “Aw, you’re praying for us too; that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s “You’re praying for us too; that helps!