Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apostles. Show all posts

Building up our fellow Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 May

1 Thessalonians 5.12-18.

This is the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians, and we’re getting to the part where the apostles wrapped up the letter: They moved away from the specific concerns of this particular church, and gave the same general advice they’d give any Christians of any church. So of course these things apply to us as well.

1 Thessalonians 5.12-18 KWL
12 Fellow Christians, we ask you to get to know those who labor hardest among you,
who stand up for you in the Master, and correct you.
13 We ask you to be led by them, more in love than anything,
because of the work they do. Keep the peace with one another.
14 Fellow Christians, we urge you to correct the irreligious.
Share your story with those who keep messing up. Help the weak. Be patient with all.
15 Watch out lest anyone might pay back evil for evil;
instead always pursue good for one another, and everyone.
16 Always rejoice.
17 Pray without slacking.
18 Give thanks for everything,
for this is God’s will, in Christ Jesus, for you all.

In it, we see advice on how to treat Christian leaders, and how to treat the ἀτάκτους/atáktus (KJV “unruly”) and ὀλιγοψύχους/oliyopsýhus (KJV “feebleminded”) —two terms which Christians treat with a lot less charity than the apostles meant to express.

So, how to treat the good… and how to treat the sucky.

Stay on the lookout for the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11.

In the original text of 1 Thessalonians it was all one continuous stream. No punctuation, no sentences, no paragraphs. We had to figure these things out by their context. The sentences are easy enough to figure out, but naturally Christians are gonna disagree on the rest. Hence different Greek New Testaments disagree on where the paragraph breaks should go… and since I’ve been writing about this book a paragraph at a time, y’might notice I’m not precisely following any one GNT.

  • Textus Receptus and United Bible Societies’ edition: One big paragraph from 1-11.
  • Nestle-Aland: One big paragraph, but they capitalize the first word in the sentences which they think might be the start of a new subject, and therefore are debatably new paragraphs.
  • Tyndale House: Four paragraphs. 1-3, 4-5, 6-10, and 11 by itself.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Emphatic Diaglott has 1-4, and 5 all the way to the end of the chapter. But I don’t think its focus was on proper paragraph breaks. (Or on accuracy of translation either, but that’s another discussion.)

Anywho, today’s passage continues along the same theme as the previous: Be prepared for the second coming. ’Cause ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mt 24.44 KJV Anytime now.

1 Thessalonians 5.6-11 KWL
6 So then we shouldn’t be asleep like the others,
Instead we should be awake, and we should be sober:
7 Sleepers sleep at night, and drinkers get drunk at night.
8 We, being in the day, should be sober,
wearing a chestplate of faith and love, and a helmet of salvation hope,
9 so God doesn’t assign us to wrath, but get us saved
through our Master, Christ Jesus, 10 who died for us
so that whether we’re awake or sleeping, we might live together with him.
11 So help one another and build one another
into the one body—just like you’re doing.

The pagans of this world will do their thing. Pagans gonna pagan. They’ll ignore what Jesus is doing; they’ll get stoned and wasted, or distract themselves some other way. But we’re meant to be holy. We don’t do like they do. We aren’t to let the world pass us by. We’re to engage with it, be active in it, point others towards God’s kingdom—and practice a little self-control for once. Love our neighbors. Don’t be dicks.

Because supposedly, we’re living lives which follow the Holy Spirit. We’re choosing to love and trust God. We’re altering our mindsets to embrace the idea God wants to save us, not destroy us; wants to reform the wicked, not be forced to smite them. For it’s true. God loves humanity.

And whether we actively live godly lives, or suck as hard as dark Christians who only flinch at everything with fear and rage, God loves us, and intends to live forever with us. Let’s get ready for that—so it’s not so drastic of a culture shock when Jesus returns.

When Jesus catches us by surprise.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy just finished writing about the rapture at Jesus’s second coming in the previous paragraph, Christians read today’s paragraph (or paragraphs; the Tyndale House Greek New Testament is pretty sure this is two) as if they’re still talking about it. And they kinda are. Because the apostles didn’t know when Jesus is returning—none of us do!—and for all they knew, the next big disaster might end with the second coming. Which might still be true. You don’t know. Neither do I. All we know is Jesus can return at any time.

Which the Thessalonians shoulda learned fairly quickly after they first followed Jesus. The apostles even write they’ve known it perfectly well. 1Th 5.2 When he returns, it won’t be predictable—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” try to predict it. It won’t be at a time we expect—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” say we should definitely expect it. It comes like a thief at night, and as Jesus said, if you know when a thief is coming, you wait up and catch him. Mt 24.43 You won’t catch Jesus. He catches us.

But, like a thief in the daytime, when he catches us by surprise, we can rally quickly.

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5 KWL
1 About times and moments, fellow Christians,
you’ve no need for us to write you:
2 You’ve known perfectly well the Lord’s Day comes like a thief at night—
3 when people might say, “Safe and secure,” and suddenly ruin comes upon them,
like contractions upon someone with a baby in the womb,
and they might not flee in time.
4 You, fellow Christians, aren’t in the dark,
so the day to you is like when a thief reaches in:
5 All of you are “children of light” and “children of daytime.”
Don’t be night, nor dark.

Now yes, we Christians have been waiting for the past 20 centuries for Jesus to return, ever since the angels first told his gawking students he was returning. Ac 1.10-11 He’s got his reasons for taking so long, but the students back then expected he’d return in their lifetimes. (And he did—but for them individually, when they died.) Christians have been waiting for him ever since.

Despite Jesus saying even he doesn’t know when he’ll return, Mk 13.32 and that the timing is none of our business anyway, Ac 1.7 many a Christian has definitely become fixated on when it’ll be. Some prophecy scholars, whom we call date-setters, have even picked specific dates and times: Jesus will return next Monday, or in two months, or on the eve of the next election, or whenever. They’re so fixated on their obsession, they’ve abandoned bible, as well as sense.

Even so, it’s not wrong to wonder when Jesus is coming back. The Thessalonians were. They were under persecution, and wanted to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So… could he come back this week? The next? Next month? Next year?

For that matter, how prepared ought we be for his return? Should I sell my house? Quit my job? Cash in my 401(k) and give it to the needy? Ditch any future travel plans? Move to the desert, wear nothing but white robes, and wait atop a mesa? Or should I just give up hope he’s ever returning in my lifetime. What’s the deal?

The rapture. Yes, there is one.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18.

RAPTURE 'ræp.tʃər noun. Feeling of intense pleasure or joy.
2. Capture: The act of seizing and carrying off.
3. The transporting of Christian believers to meet with Christ Jesus [or, to heaven] at his second coming.
4. [verb.] Seizing and carrying off.
5. [verb.] To be taken up [to heaven] to meet with Christ.

A number of Christians don’t believe in the rapture—when the Son of Man appears in the clouds, and his followers meet him in midair. As is taught in today’s passage of scripture, in 1 Thessalonians 4. Yeah, it’s in the bible, but they still don’t believe in it; they don’t take this passage literally. Nor do they interpret it in any way where it loosely represents what’s gonna happen in future. They simply don’t believe in it.

Largely because their churches don’t teach it. Their favorite preachers proclaim an End Times scenario which doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days theory, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. (Or not.) There’s no rapture in that storyline. Maybe the near-death experience stories of “going towards the light” represents some kind of rapture… but they won’t say “rapture”; they don’t wanna give people the wrong idea.

Then there are the Christians who do believe in the rapture. I’m one of ’em.

Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. Most of us take our cues from the bible… but a number of us tweak that image after we pull it from the bible. Tweak it a lot.

Darbyists, fr’instance. Their “prophecy scholars” claim it’ll be secret. We won’t meet Jesus when “the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven,” Mt 24.30, Lk 21.27, Da 7.13 because his second coming happens at the very end of their timeline. But the rapture happens before the very end, at either the beginning or the middle of their timelines. At that point, years before Jesus returns, we Christians will quietly, immediately, mysteriously, vanish. That’s how they claim the rapture will work: It’s a secret rapture.

In the “Left Behind” novels, their depiction of this secret rapture gets downright stupid. All the Christians vanish… and leave behind their clothes, jewelry, and implants like pacemakers and saline breasts; apparently Jesus only wants us buck naked. (’Cause he’ll clothe us, Rv 6.11 but it still comes across as super creepy… and a little pervy.) Oh, and not just Christians: Every child below the age of accountability gets raptured too, ’cause Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Oh, and that includes unborn babies: He raptures ’em straight out of their mothers’ wombs—horrifying every pregnant pagan.

Most Christians consider this the looney-bin version of the End, and wanna distance ourselves from it. But some of us go too far in the other direction: Yeah, the Darbyist secret rapture idea is unbiblical, but they’ll claim the rapture itself is unbiblical too. But like I said, today’s passage teaches it, so that’s not so.

And finally there’s the ignorant category. About a decade ago I ran into some guy who claimed because the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, there’s no rapture. Following his reasoning, God’s not a trinity either, ’cause the word “trinity” likewise isn’t in the scriptures. But whether “rapture” is in the bible, entirely depends on how you translate the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/arpagisómetha. The KJV went with “shall be caught up,” and I went with “will be raptured.” ’Cause that’s what rapture means: Seized (by the Holy Spirit) and carried off. Or, in this case, up.

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18 KWL
15 We told you this in the Master’s teaching:
We who remain alive at the Master’s second coming should not precede the “sleepers.”
16 The Master himself, with a shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will be resurrected first.
17 Then we who remain alive, at the same time as they, will be raptured into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air: Thus we will always be with the Master.
18 So assist others with these teachings!

Rapture has the sense of a thief swiping a purse: We’ll be ripped from the earth like a waxer rips the hair off a pair of furry legs. From there we join our King’s invading army before he even touches down. We’re part of his procession, as he takes possession of the world he conquered centuries ago.

That’s the general idea. Of course different Christians believe different specifics.

Our dead won’t stay dead.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 April

1 Thessalonians 4.13-14.

The Greeks claimed when you died, you went to the netherworld. Specifically, you went to the god of the netherworld, Ἅ́δης/Ádis (or as the Romans called him, Pluto; or as well call him, Hades; no, he’s not a bad guy like the movies make him out to be, although he did kidnap Persephone) and he determined where you went.

  • Good people went to Ἠλύσιον/Ilýsion, a continent or island in the far west (you know, like where the Elves went in The Lord of the Rings), full of green fields.
  • Bad people went to Τάρταρος/Tártaros, a place as deep below Ádis as he was below earth, to be imprisoned with the Titans whom Zeus defeated when he took over the world.
  • Special cases, like Dionýsios and Iraklís (whom the Romans called Hercules) were turned into gods, and lived with them on Ὀλυμπος/Ólympos—a literal mountain near Thessaloniki, where the Greeks imagined the gods lived when they weren’t busy on adventures.
  • The rest stayed with Ádis as he determined what to do with them.

Other than Ólympos, all these places were spirit worlds: Once you died, you weren’t coming back. Not that people didn’t want ’em back; some Greek myths told of living people who went to Ádis and begged him for one of the spirits he kept. He rarely said yes—it’s why he was called Ádis the Adamant—and even when he did, the myth’s hero usually botched the rescue and lost the dead person forever. Dead stayed dead.

And really, claimed Greek philosophers, you didn’t wanna come back to life. Life meant decay. You were in an aging human body, which’d eventually succumb to entropy. But in the spirit world, there was no such thing as matter, and no matter means no decay. So being a spirit is way better than being alive and material.

This belief isn’t just a Greek one. Lots of religions teach it. The ancient Egyptians believed Osiris came back from the dead like Jesus… but not back to our physical world; he left to rule the netherworld. Buddhists aspire to escape the Hindu cycle of reincarnation and rebirth, and remain pure spirit, i.e. join the universe. Even Christians figure, “When I die I’m gonna live forever in a spirit body”—which they insist is most definitely not a material one.

In contrast the Pharisees insisted God’s plan is to bring people back to life. Material, physical life.

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.

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.

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 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!

Worries, faith, and confirmation.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 February

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5.

1 Thessalonians lists three authors: Paul, Silas, and Timothy. People presume Paul’s the one who really wrote it, and included those other guys as a courtesy, but that’s not how letters were composed back then. All three really did write it.

It was written by dictation. The reason you may not realize it’s dictation, is because we translators try our darnedest to make it sound like a coherent whole—and succeed. But in so doing, sometimes we lose a little bit of the sense of tag-team preaching.

The apostles spoke—sometimes Paul, sometimes Silas, sometimes Timothy. Maybe Paul spoke most often; then again maybe not. Sometimes they interrupted one another, which is why the original text is full of sentence fragments, and translators wind up tearing our hair out because we want complete sentences, dangit, with proper subjects and predicates. Other times we get big ol’ run-on sentences, with only one proper verb at the beginning of a 13-verse stretch.

So when the apostles begin chapter 3 with “We sent Timothy,” no it isn’t because Paul was the real author, and Timothy might not even have been in the room at the time. Timothy was there. He just didn’t speak this particular sentence though: “I, Timothy, was sent.” One of the other guys, Paul or Silas, said this.

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5 KWL
1 So we could no longer stand to stay in only Athens,
2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-laborer for God in Christ’s gospel,
for your support and assistance regarding your faith:
3 No one should be disturbed by these troubles,
for you yourselves know we’re meant to expect them.
4 When we were with you, we foretold you, “We’re about to suffer,”
and it happened just as we said, and you know it.
5 This is why I Paul could no longer stand it, and sent Timothy to know about your faith:
lest somehow the tempter tempt you, and our work might be wasted.

You remember Paul commented he couldn’t get to see the Thessalonians, no matter how much he wanted to. 1Th 2.18 Since the apostles used “we” to describe it, no doubt Silas was included. Timothy was not. He got to visit them, and return with the good news that they were holding steady. 1Th 3.6 The apostles hadn’t abandoned their fledgling church; they were just going through some suffering themselves.

What suffering? We’re not sure. The apostles weren’t specific. We can speculate, of course; many commentators have. Fr’instance Paul and Silas couldn’t visit them, but Timothy could; while all of them were Jews, Timothy was half Greek. Ac 16.1-3 So this mighta been a racist thing, where Jews were hindered from travel, but Timothy could pass for gentile and travel regardless. There was anti-Jewish persecution in the Roman Empire from time to time, and maybe that’s what was going on: People were on the lookout for Jews.

In any event, Timothy went to check on the Thessalonians, and strengthen their faith till it was tribulation-proof.

False accusations, false beliefs; you know, as the devil does.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20.

Added to the Thessalonians’ hardships was the fact the apostles couldn’t get to them. We don’t know the specifics; we only know Paul really wanted to, and tried, but couldn’t. Maybe it was logistics; they tried to find a boat headed for Thessaloniki and just couldn’t. Maybe they were officially banned from Thessaloniki. Or maybe they were unofficially banned, and warned that if they set foot in town they’d be murdered. I point out that a lot of foolhardy Christian missionaries nowadays will ignore death threats and go to such towns anyway; I’m not claiming they had more guts than Paul (which is why I call ’em foolhardy), but I am pointing out that Paul darn near got murdered, more than once, which tends to make you take death threats more seriously. The criminal justice system in the Roman Empire was a joke, so death threats weren’t always just talk.

And Paul did eventually get to see them—sorta. After Paul and Silas were rushed out of town, Ac 17.5-10 Paul and Timothy returned to Macedon some five years later, Ac 20.1-2 and if they couldn’t make it to Thessaloniki, they at least ran into two Thessalonians: Arístarhos and Sekúndos. Ac 20.4

Anywho here’s where they express that desire to return.

1 Thessalonians 2.17-20 KWL
17 Fellow Christians, being separated from you for a length of time—
out of sight, not out of mind—we all the more tried our best to see you in person.
It was our great desire 18 because I, Paul, wanted to come to you
and once or twice Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, joy, or crown—our boast, if not you?
which we make before our Master Jesus at his second coming,
20 for you are our glory and joy.

When Christians suffer… and those who make us suffer.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

1 Thessalonians 2.13-16.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy were very pleased with the Thessalonian church, and say as much throughout this letter. These folks didn’t just embrace the message, the λόγονlógon of God’s kingdom they heard from the apostles; it sparked faith in them, and got ’em to act upon what they heard and believed.

With consequences, ’cause they got persecuted for it almost immediately. While the apostles were still there preaching the gospel. Ac 17.5-9 Got people arrested for disturbing the peace, and if you know anything about Romans, you know they have the bad habit of crucifying everyone they can until they get peace again. It’s why they got the apostles out of town as quick as they could—and that concern for the apostles only goes to show what a compassionate relationship they had with one another.

1 Thessalonians 2.13-16 KWL
13 This relationship is also why we unceasingly praise God:
You who received the message of God you heard from us—
not a message of people, but just as it truly is,
a message of God which also activates your faith.
14 For, fellow Christians, you became imitators of God’s churches
of Christ Jesus in Judea, because you suffered their sufferings
you from your own countrymen, same as they by the Judeans.
15 They had also killed Master Jesus and the prophets, and attacked us,
displeasing God and opposing every person,
16 preventing us from speaking to gentiles so they might be saved.
Thus their sins are always full. The wrath takes them out in the end.

The message the apostles brought to Thessaloniki wasn’t just a human message, manufactured by humans by our own will. Not that human messages can’t have a mighty big impact. Popular conspiracy theories definitely do, and have devastating consequences. But those messages don’t produce fruit of the Spirit. They produce no evidence God’s at work in anyone’s life; just the opposite. Faith in God isn’t activated; fear is.

And that’s how the apostles knew God’s message had got through to the Thessalonians. They now had an Empire-wide reputation of great faith.

Thing is, you’re gonna get people who read this passage without looking at the context of the Thessalonians’ great faith, 1Th 1.6-10 and leap to the conclusion the evidence of God’s work in the Thessalonians was made evident by their suffering. Supposedly this is how you know the apostles’ message was a divine word instead of a human one: The Thessalonians suffered. Just like the prophets, just like the churches, just like Jesus himself. Pain gives weight.

Wrong. ’Cause plenty of heretics and false religions get persecuted. The government has to go after cults all the time—and rightly so, ’cause their cultish behavior is full of slavery and abuse. Even pagans can suffer. Doesn’t make ’em right; it makes them human. Everybody suffers; anybody who claims otherwise is trying to sell you the “cure” to suffering. And the only true cure is resurrection.

Plenty of Christians, same as plenty of humans, have a sob story about how we suffered. Maybe we overcame the suffering; maybe not and we’re still complaining about it. But pain doesn’t make our message mighty. God does. When we follow Jesus and produce the Spirit’s fruit regardless of our suffering, then we have a testimony worth sharing. Although I (and likely you) have heard plenty of testimonies where people haven’t grown any more fruitful at all; they simply overcame suffering, give God the credit, and figure that’s enough. I say those testimonies suck. Have we grown? Do we simply feel closer to God, or has his character actually rubbed off on us any? If you’re not more like Jesus as a result of your experiences, do shut up and sit down. First work on being a better example. Imitate better Christians. Imitate Christ.

How the apostles approached the Thessalonians.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 January

1 Thessalonians 2.1-12.

When a salesman shows up to pitch something, how do they usually look? Most of the time—unless they’re trying out a clever new tactic—they try to look successful. They try to give off the vibe that what they’re selling made them a success, and if you buy it you’ll be a success. They figure successful-looking people are attractive… and they’re not wrong. So they dress nice. They try to appear classy and stylish. They bring in plenty of resources, plenty of helpers. They look like a big deal.

Contrast that with how Paul and Silas first appeared in Thessaloniki, Macedon. It was right after they left Macedon’s biggest city, Philippi—right after having been been arrested, caned, jailed, then thrown out of town. Ac 16.12-40 They didn’t look successful; just the opposite. Even if they had a miraculous getting-out-of-jail story, they sure didn’t look like success stories.

That’s the condition the Thessalonians found ’em in, and how they appeared when the Thessalonians first heard the gospel. If you assume, as many Americans do, that one God’s on your side it’s Easy Street from now on, these guys were not poster children for that theology. They looked beaten and broken.

So the apostles chose a different tack: They played the sympathy card. They didn’t come to butter up the Thessalonians, or sell them a gospel of “Come to Jesus and he’ll erase all your worries.” Nor did they play the victim, and beg to be cared for, instead of doing for themselves. They were honest and frank with the Thessalonians—and won ’em over with thoughtfulness and truth.

1 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 For you fellow Christians have known when we came to you, it wasn’t for nothing.
2 Instead we had suffered and were treated badly, as you know.
In Philippi we bluntly spoke of our God, speaking of God’s gospel with you in every meeting.
3 For our encouragement wasn’t delusional, nor unclean, nor deceptive,
4 but we speak as those who were disciplined by God to believe the gospel.
Not to please people, but to please God, who disciplines our thinking.
5 For we never once came to you with a flattering message, as you know.
Nor ever with a greedy motive, as God is our witness.
6 Nor seeking glory from people, neither from you nor from anyone.
7 We apostles of Christ are able to be such a burden,
but we became like innocent babies in your midst,
like when a nursing mother cuddles her own child.
8 Thus we were happy to long for you, to share with you, not just God’s gospel
but our own souls as well, because we fell in love with you.
9 For you remember, fellow Christians, our pains and toil:
Night and day, working at not being an expense to any of you,
we proclaimed God’s gospel to you.
10 You and God are witness to how sacredly, fairly,
and faultlessly we behaved towards you believers.
11 As you know, like every one of you, like a father to his own child,
12 we were urging you, encouraging, and testifying
for you to walk rightly with God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

The Thessalonians’ reputation. And ours.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

1 Thessalonians 1.6-10.

In a few of the apostles’ other letters, the churches they were writing to had gone wrong, so they seriously needed to correct ’em. (I’m looking at you, 1 Corinthians and Revelation.) In the letters to Thessaloniki, Macedon, the locals needed a few pointers and minor corrections, but for the most part they were good. Better than good: They had a reputation for being amazing Christians. Not just in cranking out the good works, good fruit, and miracles: They were known for being a bunch of reformed pagans who eagerly pursued Jesus. And that’s a reputation you want. Certainly the reputation I want; certainly the reputation we all should have.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy continue to recap their experiences with the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 1.6-10 KWL
6 You became imitators of both us and the Master,
accepting the message in great persecution, yet joy in the Holy Spirit.
7 Thus you became an example to all the believers in Macedon and Achaea:
8 The Master’s message echoed out from you.
Not only into Macedon and Achaea,
but your faith in God has gone out everywhere.
Hence we’ve no need to speak of it:
9 Other people proclaim to us what impact we had upon you:
How you turned away from the idols you were enslaved to,
back to the true and living God,
10 to await his Son from the skies, whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, our rescuer from the coming wrath.

When revival breaks out in a church, you’re gonna see some responses. That’s a given. There’s definitely gonna be an outpouring of emotion—turning from darkness to light is a really emotional experience! Plus when the Holy Spirit really starts to do stuff, it tends to freak people out. Y’know how you might think you’re in a room by yourself, and it turns out someone else is in there, and they move or make a noise or otherwise make themselves known, and you jump? “Whoa!—I didn’t know you were there.” When God does this, multiply this minor freakout by a thousand. Because he’s always here. Always been here.

And yeah, we’re gonna see some negative stuff. We’ll see hypocrisy from Christians who think they oughta pretend to have the same level of zeal as the newbies. We’ll see profiteers trying to manipulate the newbies for their own gain. We’ll see naysayers, ’cause they’ll jealously insist the Spirit only behaves the way they claim he does, or that he only endorses their group. Y’know, like we saw in Acts when the Thessalonian synagogue leaders were outraged at how people were more interested in Jesus than in them. Ac 17.1-10

But let’s set aside the emotion, the fear, the noise, the distractions, the weirdos, the weepy, and the outraged. Look for the Spirit’s fruit. Can you find any? If it’s there, so’s the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit’s power in a new church.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 January

1 Thessalonians 1.1-5.

This letter, which we traditionally call 1 Thessalonians, was a team effort. Most commentators, myself included, usually talk about it as if Paul of Tarsus did all the writing, and gave co-authorship to his team members out of courtesy. Timothy gets a mention in 1 Thessalonians 3.6, and since he’s spoken of in third person whereas Paul is always “I,” y’gotta wonder how much authoring Timothy really did.

But the giant run-on Greek sentences are a dead giveaway: This letter, same as probably all Paul’s letters, was dictated, spoken aloud to a scribe. Probably Paul doing most of the talking; possibly the other guys added a sentence or two. We don’t know the level of their contributions. We do know they’re listed as co-authors, so it wasn’t nothing.

Still, for convenience, I’ll refer to 1 Thessalonians’s authors as “Paul.” Here they go.

1 Thessalonians 1.1-5 KWL
1 Paul and Silas and Timothy. To the Thessalonian church, in Father God and Master Christ Jesus: Greetings. Shalom.
2 We always praise God for our every memory of you,
mentioning you in our prayers,
unceasingly 3 remembering your faith-works, love-labors,
and enduring hope in our master Christ Jesus, before God our Father.
4 We know, beloved fellow Christians, you were selected by God:
5 Our gospel didn’t come only to you in words but in power,
in the Holy Sprit, and in absolute certainty—
just like we demonstrated to you, when you saw us among you.

Paul and Silas were the apostles who helped found the church of Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedon (a Greco-Roman province which is not the same as present-day Macedonia). They first proclaimed Jesus in a Thessalonian synagogue, Ac 17.1-4 but the local Jews “became jealous” of their following and rioted, eventually hauling Paul’s relative Jason before the city leaders. Ac 17.6-9

Because the story in Acts is so brief, we don’t know how long Paul and Silas spent there developing the church. Obviously it was long enough to really get to know the people, and see what sort of Christians they became. Seems the Thessalonians made an impact on the apostles. Paul listed three things he particularly noticed in them: Faith-works, love-labors, and hope in Jesus. I could make a three-point sermon of it, but nah. I’ll leave that to the amateur preachers.

Satan’s excuses precede lawless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

1 John 3.7-12.

Many of the verses from today’s passage tend to be yanked out of context.

  • “Let no one deceive you” 1Jn 3.7 —used to refer to anything which might trick or mislead Christians, from heresy to the latest internet conspiracy theories.
  • “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” 1Jn 3.8 —treated as though it’s the only reason Jesus came to earth, so certain dark Christians use it to justify their fixation on demonology instead of good news.
  • “Everyone borne of God doesn’t sin” 1Jn 3.9 —used to condemn Christians who do sin, instead of encouraging them (really, all of us) to go back into the light.
  • And of course those folks who wanna interpret the Cain and Abel story to make Cain an irredeemably evil person… instead of recognizing the LORD and Cain had a conversational relationship, Ge 4.9-15 and God obviously wanted to redeem Cain, not destroy him. (Otherwise he’d have destroyed him!)

All right, best I jump into the text before unpacking it.

1 John 3.7-12 KWL
7 Children, let no one deceive you: Doing what’s proper is right, just like Christ is right.
8 Doing sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the very start.
This is why God’s Son appeared: To undo the devil’s works.
9 Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin, for God’s seed remains in them.
They can’t sin, because they’ve been reborn by God.
10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are identified:
Everyone who doesn’t act properly, who doesn’t love their fellow Christian, isn’t of God.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
12 Not like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel out of evil.
Why did Cain murder him? Because Cain’s works were evil.
The works of his brother Abel were proper.

John wrote this right after he defined sin as violating the Law. Parts of the Law are still totally valid. (The ritual sacrifice and ritual cleanliness parts are redundant, and the rules for native Israelis and Israel’s descendants don’t apply to nonresidents and gentiles.) Following those valid parts is still what God expects of a saved people: Now that we belong to Jesus, be like Jesus. He didn’t sin; we shouldn’t sin.

So John went on to say his readers shouldn’t let themselves get tricked into thinking otherwise. ’Cause plenty of us have been deceiving ourselves for years. Like the Christians who are anti-Law, who think Jesus nullified God’s Old Testament commands and therefore nothing’s a sin anymore. John cuts right through this rubbish: If you don’t resist sin, if you don’t behave as God’s children ought, you’re not one of his children. “Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin.” 1Jn 3.9 He doesn’t, so we shouldn’t.

No, this doesn’t mean Christians never ever sin. Of course we do. Hence grace. The proper idea, reflected in some translations, is N.T. Wright’s “Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning.” 1Jn 3.8 NTE We don’t continue in a lifestyle of sin; we don’t wanna live that way. We want to follow Jesus!

And people who legitimately wanna follow Jesus, crack open their bibles and find out what Jesus taught so we can follow him. What they’ll invariably find is Jesus took the Law, expounded upon it, and closed all the Pharisee loopholes. We’re not to follow the letter of the Law, like any lawyer, politician, or activist judge; we don’t twist it till it suits us. We’re to follow the original intent of the Law, “the spirit of the Law,” the will of the One who gave it. How does Jesus interpret it? ’Cause we do that.

Those who don’t really wanna follow Jesus, but only look like they do: They prefer loopholes. The bigger the better. They like to quote “Christ is the end of the Law,” Ro 10.4 but they don’t mean, as Paul does, that Christ expresses it better than the Law does itself; they mean Christ ended it. Or “He taketh away the first [Law], that he may establish the second [Law],” He 10.9 not just updating the old covenant with the new, but abolishing it altogether, so that breaking the Law is no longer sin, 1 John 3.4—

1 John 3.4 KWL
Everyone who commits sin also commits an act against the Law.

—notwithstanding.

No, this passage isn’t about perfectionism either. John isn’t claiming Christians don’t sin anymore. He already objected to that idea in chapter 1. What he’s stating, is real Christians try not to sin. We no longer consider a lifestyle of sin to be acceptable. “Not perfect, just forgiven” simply isn’t good enough! We have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit within us, leading us away from sin and selfishness, and towards Jesus. If we’re following him, we recognize sin is the opposite direction. We don’t make excuses for it any longer!

And if we do make excuses for it… well we’re not God’s children. Really we’re Satan’s.

Children of the devil.

I translated John a bit literally: Ἀπ̓ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει/ap arhís o diávolos amartánei, “from [the] start, the devil sins.” John used present tense, not past; not aorist. The devil sins now.

Yeah, this isn’t how this verse has been traditionally interpreted. Most translators tend to put it in past tense:

  • KJV “…for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
  • CSB, NKJV “…for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”
  • ESV, ISV, NIV, NRSV “…because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
  • GNT “…because the Devil has sinned from the very beginning.”
  • NLT “…who has been sinning since the beginning.”

This is one of those instances where Christian theology has bent our interpretation of the bible, rather than reading the text itself and beginning from there. John clearly wrote in present tense, but translators keep throwing it into past tense because they keep fixating on the story of the Fall: At the beginning of history, either before Adam was created or shortly after, Satan must’ve revolted against God and got thrown to earth, Rv 12.7-9 because here he is in paradise, in the form of a serpent, tempting Eve. Ge 3.1-5

So when your average translator reads ap arhís/“from [the] start,” their brains immediately leap to that start, and adjust the verb tense accordingly. And incorrectly. They get us to miss an important truth about how temptation works.

Don’t get the wrong idea: When we humans sin, that’s on us. We make the decision to do wrong. Blaming the devil doesn’t cut it. Eve tried it, Ge 3.13 and it didn’t work then either. We have free will; we never have to sin. God always provides his kids a sin-free option.

But when we sin, we usually adopt an excuse. Whatever loophole justifies us, excuses us, blames someone else, makes us feel we’re an exception to the rule, makes us feel like the good guy in the story. “Jesus did away with the Law,” or “I simply didn’t see any other option; I had to choose the lesser evil,” or “I’m not trying to achieve salvation by works,” or “I’m not a legalist,” or whatever. None of these excuses are new; they’ve been around forever. They predate John.

Guess where every last one of ’em originated? Duh; Satan.

Satan doesn’t have to actually be there, at the moment of temptation, nudging us to do evil. (Nor any other devil. Satan’s not omnipresent, remember? If you’re tempted by a devil, it’s not necessarily the devil—who’s probably tempting somebody more important.) But Satan set up all the common human arguments for why we’re not all that bad. Those arguments do its job for it. Once we humans embed the excuses in our heads, we can pretty much sin on autopilot. Satan sins first; we sin thereafter.

The bulk of the devil’s followers aren’t Satanists. They’re dupes, suckers, marks, the easily confused, the heavily prejudiced, the inattentive, the apathetic, the shallow thinkers, the gullible, the irrationally angry. They’re not using a lot of brainpower. They don’t need to. And they think their knee-jerk reactions, their gut instincts, are the right responses. Some of ’em even claim God put these reactions in ’em.

The devil ropes these suckers into believing there’s some sort of Christian foundation for the evil they do in Jesus’s name. Next, the sucker sins. Both bear responsibility for the sin. But here, John forewarns the Christian: Don’t let anyone deceive you. Proper Christians follow Jesus and his Law. False Christians, the devil’s unwitting followers, don’t.

Loving one another, as opposed to murdering one another.

When people read the Cain and Abel story, where the first murder took place between the first brothers, Ge 4.1-16 they constantly skip over the fact Cain heard God. And talked with him. And heard God’s answers. Cain heard God better than many Christians nowadays hear God. And no, this isn’t because these were prehistoric bible times, when just anybody could hear God: This is because Cain and God were much closer than, sad to say, many Christians and our God. Yeah, Cain murdered his brother. That was evil. Even so. Moses and David were murderers; Paul got people killed. Nobody’s irredeemable. Not even Cain.

John pointed to the story of the first murder, ’cause the writers of the scriptures regularly liked to point out hate leads to murder. Mk 7.21, Ro 1.29, Jm 2.11, 4.2 In our day murder is illegal, and prosecuted by the state… unless cops do it, but that’s a tangent let’s not go down today. In John’s day murder was also illegal, but there were no prosecutors: If you wanted a murderer dealt with, the victim’s family had to have influence with the government. Otherwise they’d get away with it—and a lot of murderers did. Some of those murderers were even right there in the church.

Murder’s a heinous crime, and for that reason murderers go out of their way to justify themselves. Nowadays it’s self-defense, or the victim “got what’s coming to them,” or otherwise karmically deserved it. The murderer was simply restoring balance to the universe. Life for a life, Dt 19.21 or something they consider just as valuable as life… like their honor, or their personal code of ethics, which assigns the death penalty to all sorts of offenses.

Because of how often murder took place in the first century, the bible’s various statements against murder aren’t just hypothetical worst-case scenarios. They aren’t just subtle reminders of how hate and murder are connected. Mt 5.21-22 The two are connected. People back then murdered their enemies. In some countries people still murder their enemies. Warlords and dictators do. Even criminals in our country do. And think they’re right to… and need to be reminded they’re not. Especially when they consider themselves Christian, as (believe it or not) some ganglords do.

Sheltered American Christians tend to reinterpret the anti-murder sentiments in the bible, to reflect their world where murder seldom happens. Hence “don’t murder them in your heart”—don’t hate anyone so much, it’s like they’re dead to you. Yeah, that’s one way to look at it too. We shouldn’t hate anyone that much. But John wrote to a culture where murder isn’t a metaphor, murder isn’t hypothetical. People murdered Christians for being Christian. And in a heat of passion, anybody might murder someone else, exactly like Cain had. We all have it in us to do something just as extreme, just as regrettable. Don’t delude yourself.

’Cause it’s the self-deluded who usually wind up becoming—to their great surprise and horror—murderers. If you know you have a temper, no matter how successful you’ve been thus far at keeping it under control, take steps to make sure it never escapes you. Those who tell themselves, “No; I never would; people are naturally good” never take such steps… and sometimes become the folks who “snap,” of whom everybody later says, “I never knew she had it in her.”

We should love one another, and reject hate in all its forms. Hate’s typically the product of sin. Cain’s works were evil because he refused to recognize the danger in him, even though God warned him his sin “has stretched out for you.” Ge 4.7 He was in denial, and the consequences of his denial were terrible. It could happen to us too. Sin stretches out for all of us.

If you think it’s okay to dismiss the Law, you clearly don’t know Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 June

1 John 3.4-6.

Here we get to the parts of 1 John which bug Christians.

1 John 3.4-6 KWL
4 Everyone who commits sin also violates the Law. Sin’s against the Law.
5 You knew Jesus was revealed so he could take away our sins, and there’s no sin in him.
6 Everyone who remains in Jesus doesn’t sin:
Everyone who sins has neither seen him, nor knows him.

“Violates the Law” is my translation of τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ/tin anomían piheí, literally “does the anti-Law.” (KJV has “transgresseth… the law”; NIV “breaks the law.”) I capitalize Law because John wasn’t writing about Roman law; plenty of Roman laws encouraged if not committed sin. John meant the Law of Moses, the Hebrew Law, the תּוֹרָה/Toráh. The stuff God commanded the Hebrews at Sinai and thereafter. It’s the formal part of the relationship between the LORD and Israel, the backbone of Hebrew culture, the foundation of the Old Testament, the basis of the commands and interpretations Jesus himself presented to his students, and the backdrop of the Christian religion we practice to facilitate our own relationship with the LORD through Jesus.

The Law warned the Hebrews if they didn’t stick to it, the LORD would remove his hand and their enemies would have at ’em. And history has recorded they really didn’t stick to it. Time and again the LORD had to let Israel’s enemies crap all over them; then when they finally returned to him, he rescued them. The whole point of the Pharisee denomination was to break this cycle once and for all: Create schools which taught the Law to every Hebrew in every generation, make ’em experts in it, and they’d never break it again.

Problem is, some Pharisees missed the point, and thought following the Law saved them. After all, it broke the cycle and kept their enemies back! But that’s not how salvation works. The LORD already saved his people; that’s what the Exodus is about. And now that you’re a saved people, how ought you live? Good question; the Law is the LORD’s answer. Live like this.

But I should point out, same as other comparative religion scholars have pointed out, most Pharisees knew better. Paul was a Pharisee, Pp 3.5, Ac 23.6 and properly articulated the Pharisee view: Nobody’s saved by the Law. That’s not its purpose. That makes people think we’re saved by good deeds and good karma—and unsaved by bad deeds and bad karma. The Law doesn’t save; God does. His grace does. And grace forgives when we slip up and break the Law from time to time. Don’t break the Law; but when we do, we have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Our relationship with the LORD is more than merely the Law. It’s not contractual obligations: “I did such-and-so, and now you owe me salvation.” No he doesn’t. But he wants to save us.

So what was Jesus’s beef with Pharisees? Cherry-picking which commands they wanted to enforce, and which ones they’d create loopholes to slip through. Inconsistency. Hypocrisy. You know, all the stuff we Christians commit too.

And contrary to what the scriptures teach, many a Christian claims a giant loophole in the Law: They claim Jesus did away with it. The New Covenant wholly cancels out the old one. Because we’re saved by grace not Law, it’s okay to ignore the Law; even willfully break it.

So when John writes stuff like “Sin’s against the Law,” such Christians’ visceral reaction is to ignore John. Or explain him away, till he means nothing—same as they figure the Law means. They don’t wanna follow the Law. They don’t wanna quit sinning. Much easier to claim nothing’s a sin, or claim God’s reduced all the commands to the ten… plus abortion, homosexuality, and anything else which bugs them personally. Funny how their idea of God only hates the things they do.

Christians against the Law.

It’s not accurate to say Christians reject the Law because it doesn’t save. Christians reject the Law because we’re sinners. We don’t wanna follow the Law. We wanna sin. We want to take advantage of God’s grace regardless of our laziness and selfishness.

Well, one of the Law’s purposes is to make our laziness and hedonism super obvious—so we’d realize we massively need God, and turn to him for salvation. But one of its other purposes is this is how we oughta live. It still needs to be followed. We may not do it perfectly or well. But we’re expected to at least make the effort. It’s God’s minimum expectations for humanity.

And despite what people claim about the Law being impossible to follow: Once you subtract the commands which don’t (and can’t really) apply to Christians—

  • Ritual sacrifice, wholly superseded by Jesus’s self-sacrifice.
  • Temple practices, wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Ritual cleanliness, likewise wholly superseded by Christians becoming the Holy Spirit’s temple.
  • Laws specific to the descendants of Israel (which Jewish Christians should probably still follow).
  • Laws specific to the land of Israel (which residents should still follow).

—the Law’s not as hard as most people make it out to be. Read it sometime. Its difficulty has been exaggerated so people could point at that, and claim it’s impossible. Christians keep quoting Simon Peter,

Acts 15.10 KJV
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

and claim he rejected the Law. No; he rejected legalism. He rejected the idea certain Pharisees put to the Jerusalem Council—that gentiles gotta follow the Law before they could be saved. Nope; wrong; we’re not saved by Law. But now that we are saved, what’re we gonna do? Good works. Ep 2.10 Which good works? Well, there’s the Law.

John was at that council. He knows what James ruled; Ac 15.19-21 he agreed with it. He still wrote this letter years after that council. It’s not inconsistent with James’s ruling: You don’t have to be sinless to have a relationship with God, but you should strive to stop sinning. You shouldn’t be lawless!

And yet lawless Christians have accused 1 John and its author of gnosticism, or ignored this passage altogether. Others, who recognize they can’t ignore bible, try to twist its meaning away: “It’s about how impossibly high God’s standards are. If we don’t have grace, we’d have to follow the Law, perfectly. And we can’t. Therefore grace.” No; John already said there’s grace. But at the same time, in the same verse, 1Jn 2.1 he told his readers to stop sinning. And here he defines sin: “Sin’s against the Law.”

This is why I’ve known Christians to be simply horrified when I read 1 John 3 to them. They wait for me to offer an explanation which means 1 John 3 doesn’t count. They wanna hear we don’t really have to strive for sinlessness; that “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven.” That we don’t really need to obey the Law. But God’s grace isn’t a loophole: He honestly does want us to obey him. Those who don’t, may make it into his kingdom anyway… but they’ll be the very lowest of the people in it. Mt 5.19

One common excuse of lawless Christians is this one: “All have sinned. Ro 3.23 So there’s no point in trying to not sin; we’ve already sinned. It’s too late. Our sins have condemned us.” True, if you were hoping to achieve salvation through sinlessness, it’s much too late. But John’s not writing about that. This is about those who abide in Jesus. If we’re actively following Jesus, truly following Jesus, we’re not gonna sin. Right now we’re not gonna sin. Like I tell my students all the time, “Are you sinning right this minute?… No? Good. Keep it up.”

So if we’re in Christ, continually in Christ, we’re gonna fight our tendency to sin, and not sin. No it’s not easy. That’s why we gotta remain in Christ: When we stay in the light it’s easier to stay away from sin.

So this becomes our litmus test. When we sin, clearly we’re not living in the light right now. And when we claim to have a relationship with God, but break the Law—no matter what excuses we use for doing so—it makes no bloody difference. We’re lying to ourselves and others. We’re not following God. And Christians who have an entire lifestyle of Law-breaking and loopholes and excuses, arguably aren’t even Christian.

So let’s cut the crap and follow Jesus. Repent! Repent daily, or hourly, or a minute at a time; but repent, stay in the light, and resist temptation instead of embracing it with lazy excuses.

Making us Christians like God.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

1 John 3.2-3.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote that we’re gonna get raptured at Jesus’s second coming: Dead Christians will be resurrected, living Christians will be transformed into our resurrected selves, and all of us will meet Jesus in the air. 1Th 4.15-18

These sinful sacks of meat we currently carry around: They get swapped for something eternal, to match the eternal life God always meant for us to have. They no longer have the same self-preservation instincts we currently do, ’cause they last forever… and therefore these instincts won’t go overboard and become self-centered and depraved. Our first impulse won’t be to do the selfish, sinful thing; it’ll be to do as Jesus does. Christians call this “the new nature.” Human nature is considered selfish and fallible, but this’ll become the new human nature: Selfless and Spirit-led.

Plus we can finally see Jesus as he really is. Without freaking out, Mk 9.2-8 passing out, Rv 1.17 or going blind. Ac 9.4-9

This is what John refers to in today’s 1 John snippet:

1 John 3.2-3 KWL
2 Beloved, we’re now God’s children—and God’s not yet revealed what we will be.
We’ve known once he reveals it, we will be like God: We will see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope in God, he cleans them like he is clean.

Now the bit about becoming like God: This tends to weird out certain Christians. Partly ’cause a number of us misinterpret it and think we’re gonna become gods. Lowercase-G gods; we certainly won’t be the God, like Jesus is. But uppercase or lowercase, the idea of us having any form of divinity strikes em as disturbing.

Lesser gods.

Humans define God in two ways:

  1. As the Almighty, the mightiest being in the cosmos.
  2. As the Creator, the first cause, the origin of the cosmos.

If you’re those two things, you’re God. If you’re not, you’re not. The pagan gods, which claimed to rule the universe but never created it, aren’t really gods; either they’re mythical people which never really existed, or powerful spirits which appropriated the titles (and myths), and got worshiped as gods, but were frauds.

But that’s actually a western idea of God, developed under centuries of Christian philosophy. Other cultures define a god as a mighty and long-lived spirit, with a certain amount of power over nature. All the pagan cultures surrounding the ancient Hebrews defined gods that way. And arguably the bible describes lowercase-G gods that way; that the One God, YHWH, the LORD, created lesser gods subordinate to him, and put ’em in charge of certain things—in precisely the same way he put us humans in charge of the earth. Ge 1.28

And if we’re in charge of the earth, doesn’t that kinda make us humans lowercase-G gods? I would argue that’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said so.

John 10.34-36 KWL
34 Jesus answered them, “Isn’t this written in your Law, ‘I say you’re gods’?
35 If God’s word came to the one who said those people are gods
(and the scripture can’t be dismissed),
36 now for the one the Father sanctified and sent to the world:
Do you say, ‘You slander God!’ because I say I’m God’s son?”

Then again, the psalmist says God made us humans lower than the אֱלֹהִ֑ים/elohím, “gods” Ps 8.5 (KJV “angels,” ESV “heavenly beings”); we’re not at the level of gods yet. We might have glory and honor, Ps 8.5 but we’re not quite that mighty.

But yep, there are such beings as lowercase-G lesser gods. These’d be the “sons of God” Ge 6.2, Jb 1.6 which are mighty beings which work for God… or not, in which case he has to judge them. Ps 82 In the Lucifer myth, Satan is one of those beings, gone horribly wrong; since Satan’s a dirty liar, I suspect it’s padding its résumé a lot. Regardless, God has plenty of mighty spirits working for him, and whether we call ’em gods or not, we don’t prioritize ’em over the LORD. Ex 20.3 We only worship the One God. He was really explicit about that.

The idea of other gods or multiple gods, tends to weird out western Christians: If there are multiple gods, doesn’t this diminish the One God? Absolutely not. There might be other mighty beings, but none of ’em are all-mighty. It’s the difference between a Matchbox car and a monster truck: Yeah, we call ’em both cars, but they’re way different from one another. The LORD isn’t really the same species.

So if God’s goal is to make us Christians into lowercase-G gods, no it doesn’t make us equal to him. Not in power, not in rank. Jesus is still the uppercase-G God; he’s still king.

Ancient Christians recognized this. They were familiar with pagan ideas about the gods, and whenever they talked about “how God became human so that humans could become gods,” that’s the idea they had in mind. Not that we were evolving into cosmic beings, not that we were gonna eventually become the divinity over a new planet, like Mormons believe. We were gonna become mighty, like Apollo or Athena; not almighty.

And, unlike Apollo or Athena, good. ’Cause pagan gods were awful. They sinned as much as humans!—and got away with it most of the time. Whereas we Christians are gonna be like Jesus: We’re not gonna sin any longer. We’ll have a good nature, a godly nature, instead of a corrupt one. We’ll be led by the Spirit, ruled by Jesus. We’ll continue to rule the world—but Jesus will rule us, and that’s as it should be.

Western culture has conditioned a lot of us Christians to be extremely uncomfortable with this talk about becoming lowercase-G gods. Feels like blasphemy, doesn’t it? Relax; it’s not. God’ll make us ready for it. We’re so not ready yet. But he’ll get us there.

God’s goal is to make us like Jesus. Not in rank, ’cause he’ll still be our king, but in species. We’ll have a perfect human body like his. As to what “perfect human body” means, we first need to get out of our heads this idea of bodybuilders or fitness instructors; or even perfect skin, ’cause Jesus has scars. Jn 20.27 Perfection comes from having a body that’s not instinctively sinful. Corruption won’t be built-in. There might still be a bit of corruption in our minds, and this may need to be purged from us a bit more; I won’t get into that right now. I’ll just say there will no longer be any physical limitations keeping us from doing God’s will. We’ll physically be like Jesus.

We’ll be clean, as John said. God’ll cleanse us. Cleaner than ritual cleansing does. God’s children will no longer sin, and we’ll be perfect like he is. Able to see him, and be with him face-to-face, just as he’s always dreamed of.

Society doesn’t know what to make of Christ-followers.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

1 John 3.1.

John didn’t write any of his books and letters with chapters and verses. Medieval Christians did it: They gave every line in the bible an address, so we could more easily find it. It’s great for that. But every so often, it splits a sentence, paragraph, or train of thought, right where it ought not. As a result Christians tend to lose the train of thought, if not miss it altogether.

  • Don’t love society, which is passing away. 1Jn 2.15-17
  • Don’t be misled by antichrists; you know better. 1Jn 2.18-23
  • Hold on to what you learned in the beginning. 1Jn 2.24-29
  • After all, society doesn’t understand us, or God, anyway. 1Jn 3.1
  • Meanwhile clean yourselves up. Jesus is coming! 1Jn 3.2-3
  • And stop sinning, wouldya? 1Jn 3.4-6

And so on. But today’s bit is gonna zero in on that bit about society not understanding us Christians.

The word I translate “society” is κόσμος/kósmos, and I already explained why I’m interpreting it that way: The KJV renders it “world,” but that’s imprecise. It means the social order—which ideally would be harmonious, but you know how society gets.

1 John 3.1 KWL
Look at the kind of love the Father gives us: We can be called God’s children! And we are!
This is why society doesn’t understand us: It doesn’t understand God.

The Textus Receptus left out καί ἐσμεν/ké ésmen, “and we are.” (Somehow John Wycliffe, who translated the Textus, learned these words oughta be included, and rendered them, “and be [his] sons.” 1Jn 3.1 WYC But the Geneva Bible dropped ’em, as did the King James.) John included it ’cause it makes clear we’re not merely called God’s kids, as if it’s an honorary title: He adopted us. We’re legitimately his kids, and he’s legitimately our Father.

Yeah. We are. Us scumbags. Well, many Christians are in utter denial about being scumbags, but the cold hard truth is we totally don’t merit adoption by God; we merit hell. But God loves us so much, he graciously offers us a route out of hell, a place in his family, a room in his kingdom, his presence (he himself!) to live within us and empower us to do mighty things in his name. It’s a hugely disproportionate response to humanity. It’s a massive act of love.

And society doesn’t get it at all. Because society doesn’t do grace. It does karma. If we get anything approaching this level of grace from our fellow human beings and our governments, society insists there be some level of merit and reciprocity as part of the package. We should only give vast fortunes to deserving people. And if they don’t deserve it right this moment, they’d better bloody well earn it, by spending the rest of their lives making themselves worthy.

The only exception society recognizes, is inheritance: If a billionaire begets a kid, the kid inherits the billions. Doesn’t matter how utterly useless and stupid this kid might grow up to be, or how dangerous it might be to put such a mighty estate into the hands of an imbecile. He might hire immoral managers for his companies, and create poisonous products instead of healthy ones. Or he might implode the companies, destroy jobs, and ruin lives. Even so, inheritance is largely accepted by society; if a rich mother wishes to indulge her prodigal daughter, people shrug and say, “Well it’s her money.” But if that same woman wishes to adopt some ill-behaved stranger, make her a daughter, and enrich her? Society will figure she’s lost her mind.

Well, our heavenly Father is lost-his-mind gracious to us. And likewise, society doesn’t get it. They think any religion with sense should make us earn our spots in the kingdom, not just get ’em free. (And the gnostic groups of John’s day didn’t just make their followers earn heaven: They had to pay out the yin-yang for it too.) Free, unlimited grace?—you gotta be nuts. Buncha liberals.

Having God in the family.

Y’may not be aware of this: In the first century, when John wrote his letter, Greco-Roman pagans believed certain individuals were literally the children or grandchildren of the gods. ’Cause you remember their myths: Zeus was super horny and didn’t care that humans were a whole different species. Heck, he’d disguise himself as bulls or geese, and get freaky with humans that way.

Zeus wasn’t the only randy god. His daughter Aphrodite had sex with a Trojan prince named Ankhísis, and five years later brought him their son Aeneas. Julius Caesar claimed his family was descended from Aeneas, so this made him part god—and after he died, Julius’s adoptive son Augustus additionally had the Roman senate officially declare Julius a god himself. Which meant Augustus could include Divi filius/“son of god” in his official name. Many in the Roman Empire could claim to be related to gods… and be believed, by most people.

Today we’d consider such claims to be ridiculous. But not all of us. Some Hindu sects believe people can achieve godhood; you can have gods in the family. And of course pantheists believe everything in the universe is collectively God, so they’d say everyone has gods in the family.

Thing is, if ancient Greco-Roman pagans wanted people to believe they had gods in the family, they needed proof. So what they pointed to was their achievements. The Caesars were rich and powerful; isn’t that a sign of divine favor from their great-great-granddaddy Zeus? Isn’t it a sign the goddess Fortuna is smiling on them? And yeah, people assume Fortuna is the god of luck—namely dumb luck—but that’s not what the Romans believed. Fortuna only blessed people of good and noble character. If you had good luck, it was only because you merited it.

Yep, it all comes down to good karma. You were prosperous because you were worthy. Social Darwinism teaches much the same thing: Work smarter and harder, and the universe will reward you with wealth.

It’s not how the LORD works at all.

Christians aren’t identified as God’s kids because of our personal success. In fact ancient Christians had the worst of circumstances: Persecution, poverty, misery, disaster, death. Our Lord Jesus got crucified, remember? To pagans, this stuff didn’t identify God’s children at all. It identified someone who must’ve royally pissed off the gods. Someone worthy of being an outcast, not inheriting a kingdom.

God identifies his kids through our faith. If we trust him to save us, God considers us in right standing with him, and graciously does save us. It’s not by…

  • Our noble character: Our character might suck at the time we first turn to God. Stands to reason; we haven’t grown the Spirit’s fruit yet. But he’ll fix that.
  • Our wealth and success: The good news is primarily for the needy and poor, ’cause the wealthy and comfortable really don’t consider it any better than where they are.
  • Dumb luck, chance, or God’s mysterious whims. Determinists believe we’re not saved by grace; we’re saved by decree. God made some of us for saving, and the rest of us for destroying. We don’t deserve saving, which is why determinists claim it is so salvation by grace. But they themselves insist God’s sovereign determination comes before everything else. That’d include grace, right? His will alone would be his motive for saving us. Not his grace.
  • Our potential: God doesn’t save people because he foresees all the great stuff he can do through us. Some of us won’t achieve anything, ’cause we get saved on our deathbed. (Or our cross.) God isn’t a capitalist, who sees us as potential investments; he already owns everything, needs nothing, and saves us solely out of love.

All the things which’d make us merit salvation in society’s eyes? God ignores ’em and does his own thing.

Karmic Christians.

Not only does pagan society not understand this way of thinking, way too many Christians don’t appear to understand it either. ’Cause they don’t understand God. Whether that’s because they’re only going through the motions to fit in, or because the culture’s insistence on karma has overridden anything the Spirit’s trying to teach us, is debatable. (I’d like to optimistically think it’s the second thing. I might be wrong though.)

Hence many Americans think God’s kids are likewise identified by success, social standing, wealth, health, and other material blessings. It isn’t an idea which comes from Jesus, who shocked his students when he said it’s hard for the wealthy to enter his kingdom. Mt 19.23-26 But worship of wealth doesn’t just make it easy for some to ignore such scriptures; we’ve even invented a “prosperity gospel” which full-on swaps Jesus for Mammon. Follow Jesus and he’ll shower you with wealth. And the kingdom; but for now, wealth’ll have to do.

We need to watch out for such warped teachings. If God’s love isn’t at the center of everything we do, we’re not walking in light. We’re following a fake god, whether we call it Mammon or Fortuna or whatever. The rich use it to justify hoarding their resources instead of being as generous as God. The powerful use it much the same way. For the needy aren’t deserving; don’t have the proper karma. “If they only trusted God more,” or otherwise proved themselves worthy in some way, maybe their gods would enrich the needy too… though y’notice it’ll never be at their expense.

Such people’s churches don’t preach the good news, but libertarianism and social Darwinism. The needy get cursed for being a drain on society. The love of God is nowhere to be found among them. How sad for them: They’re not God’s kids, and despite their apparent riches they’re full of trouble, worthy of pity, fearful, blind, and naked. Rv 3.17

God’s love overcomes such things, and such delusions. If we’re walking in it, we’ll see the reality. If not, we’ll wonder why, despite our wealth, we lack peace. We’ll wonder about that nagging, in the back of our spirits, which warns us we’re not really God’s children. We’ll wonder if there’s something to it… but we’ll probably just try to drown it out by buying some Christian music and the latest devotional book. But I hope not.

Needing not that any man teach you.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

1 John 2.26-29.

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s an idea y’find in some Evangelical circles; it means there’s a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse, but one they kinda consider their personal mission statement. They base their life on it.

Heck, a number of these “life verses” are all found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians:

  • “Always rejoice” 1Th 5.16 for people who are big on joy.
  • “Pray without ceasing” 1Th 5.17 for people who are big on prayer.
  • “Give thanks for everything” 1Th 5.18 for those who definitely do.
  • “Don’t quench the Spirit” 1Th 5.19 for those who love to listen to the Spirit.
  • “Don’t dismiss prophecy” 1Th 5.20 for prophecy (or prophecy scholar) fans.
  • “Test everything” 1Th 5.21 for big skeptics.
  • “Abstain from every form of evil” 1Th 5.22 for big legalists.

Anyway. I once worked with this woman whom I’m gonna call Eustacia. Her “life verse” was clearly this one:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Not just ’cause Eustacia quoted the “ye need not that any man teach you” part all the time. Really, nobody could teach her anything. She wouldn’t let ’em. She had “the anointing,” the Holy Spirit abiding in her, teaching her. So we weren’t allowed to.

Eustacia isn’t alone in this interpretation. 1 John 2.27 is the favorite proof text of the go-it-alone Christian. They’re all over Christendom; they’re the folks who won’t go to church lest the pastor and elders try to teach ’em. And since I teach, I run into this type all the time. Paradoxically enough, they even attend my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, or never heard before and really don’t like, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Eustacia did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if her pastor dared cross her, expect her to immediately find another church and take her family with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, and especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Eustacia, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em. If someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to 1 John 2.27 and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Independence from logic, reason, context, and the Spirit’s fruit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I hear someone quote 1 John 2.27, it’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say whatever they want, and declare we’re not allowed to correct ’em; we have zero authority. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Eustacia. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and watched her blast her “life verse” at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might be useful as their life verse, spun the bible in a way she objected to, and quoted her favorite verse right back at her. Never did find out. Had to happen eventually. Bet it was epic.

This is the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some go-it-alone Christians never notice this, and try to become everybody else’s teacher. But like I said, misinterpreting 1 John 2.27 means you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Remember we’re to encourage one another to do good, discourage one another from going astray, and love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do when we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another impossible. And yeah I got a list:

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure. 1Jn 2.1 This verse also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be this level of stupid. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. This is how iron can sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stand back.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about go-it-alone Christians. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

But whatever you do, don’t put such people in leadership. Eustacia was a schoolteacher, and that’s one of the worst places to put an unteachable person. Thankfully she didn’t stay in that job long.

The context.

Now if you’re actually willing to be taught, here’s what John actually meant by this scritpure.

John’s church was beset by gnostics, religions which claimed they know all the answers to all the universe’s secrets. Yep, gnostics and gnostic religions totally still exist: Y’know how people come up with theories about how God works, turn those theories into Pinterest memes, and spread ’em all over the internet? Very same thing. Especially how they try to make a profit off their “spiritual wellness” by starting a lifestyle blog, selling tchotchkes, writing books, hosting seminars, and so forth. They wanna sell you their “secrets”—because who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject these false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know God. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from Christianity—God doesn’t even do darkness.

1 John 2.26-29 KWL
26 I write you these things about those who mislead you.
27 As for you, the anointing you received remains on you.
You have no need for a certain new instructor who might teach you about everything;
instead it’s like the anointing itself teaches you about everything.
It’s true, isn’t false, and just as it teaches you, remain in it.
28 Now children, remain in the anointing so when it’s made known,
you can have enthusiasm and not be ashamed of it, at its coming.
29 When you recognize it’s righteous, you also know
everything it does is begotten by God and is also righteous.

John wasn’t rejecting teachers. At all. He was a teacher, remember? This letter is all about teaching his church. Teaching them they aren’t wrong about Jesus, they do know him, they do have the Holy Spirit within them, and they don’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t saying this. They point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about escaping accountability. They don’t wanna answer to anyone. They don’t wanna love one another.

Yes we already do have the Holy Spirit within us, steering us right. He anointed us when we first became Christian; no he didn’t literally pour ointment on us, but he did what anointing represents in the bible, i.e. gave us a mission. We’re to follow Jesus, and share him with the world. And not get sidetracked by weird gnostic bulls---… as far too many Christians will.

There are various Christians who confound the anointing with the Spirit. After all he teaches and reminds us of everything Jesus teaches. Jn 14.26 So when John wrote “the anointing itself teaches you about everything,” people leap to the conclusion the anointing is the Spirit and the Spirit is the anointing… and that’s not correct. If you’re in the military and your sergeant sends you an email with your mission spelled out in it, the email and your sergeant are two different things. Your sergeant might even misunderstand the mission and unintentionally mislead you—which is why you gotta keep referring back to the mission. The Spirit won’t ever make mistakes like that, but the same idea applies: He and his anointing are still two different things. They’re on the same page, same as Jesus and the Father, but we’d never say Jesus is the Father; same principle here.

Jesus’s church doesn’t have a shortage of teachers. (Some Christians claim it does, but that’s only because these particular Christians have trust issues.) Gnostics will claim otherwise: “They can’t teach you; they don’t know everything; we do, so follow us.” Gnostics aren’t the only people who do this; a number of churches and religions likewise try to grab our attention and lead sheep away from the flock.

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs—assuming we listen to him—is to guide us away from them, and towards truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, or go wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss every teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to fact-check us: Test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.