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

Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

1 Corinthians 12.28-31.

Part of the reason Paul and Sosthenes raised the subject of supernatural gifts was so we Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 Too many are—both those who recognize God still empowers them, and those who insist he doesn’t. I, like the apostles, am only addressing that first group. That second group can just ignore me, same as they do the apostles.

There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity. But do we see all Christians using these gifts to energize their various ministries? Do we see all Christians seeking and practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers?

I wish. And I’m pretty sure Jesus, and plenty of my fellow Christians, wish so too.

What we see instead, for the most part, are people who are far more interested in using the power of politics than the power of the Holy Spirit. Who look to what money can do, rather than what the Spirit can do. Whose vision is based on developing and capitalizing on their own natural talents, rather than trusting the Spirit to do the heavy lifting. And yeah, there are cessationists who think God turned off the miracles, but they aren’t the real problem; they’re just a loud but tiny minority. It’s Christians who do believe in miracles, but don’t act on this belief any.

Same as the cessationists, they read this passage and reduce it to job titles. And sometimes adopt these titles, and remind everyone within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. Mostly it’s just their own little fiefdoms. It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent.

1 Corinthians 12.28-31 KWL
28 This is who God put in the church:
First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
Then supernatural healing. Support. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.
29 Not everyone’s an apostle. Not everyone’s a prophet.
Not everyone’s a teacher. Not everyone works acts of power.
30 Not everyone has supernatural healing. Not everyone speaks in tongues.
Not everyone interprets tongues. Right?
31 Strive for greater supernatural gifts!
And I’ll show you how—by an outstanding way.

This is what we oughta see in our churches: Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, the sick getting cured, the needy getting helped, the lost getting led, and loads of prayer. And if we don’t, we need to strive to see more: They need to become a greater part of our churches and Christian life.

One Spirit for the one body of Christ.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

1 Corinthians 12.4-27.

The way first-century pagans understood the supernatural, there were many supernatural abilities… but each of ’em was produced by a different spirit.

  • If you wanted healing power, you prayed to Apollo.
  • For wisdom, Athena.
  • For speaking in tongues, Dionysius.
  • For mighty acts of power, Zeus.

The Greek pantheon included a lot of gods, so if Apollo got ’em nowhere, they could also pray to Asklipiós, Panákia, and Ygihía. And frequently Greeks didn’t limit themselves to only Greek gods: If they got word the Egyptian or Persian or Arabian or Norse gods actually got stuff done, they’d try ’em out. Or if they figured the big gods were too busy, they’d try out lesser gods, personal gods, helper gods, known as δαιμόνια/demónia, from which we get our word demon. But nope, they’re not capital-G gods. Just unclean spirits.

Today’s pagans still think this way. If sick, they might try western medicine: They’ll grab some painkillers at the pharmacy, and maybe visit the doctor (unless they live in the United States and can’t afford it, so they Google their symptoms and try to diagnose themselves). If the doctor’s no help, they seek a second opinion. If no doctor can help, they look up researchers who are testing experimental cures—some legitimate, some very much not. Or they check out non-western medicine, like traditional Chinese or American Indian methods. Or psychic healers, medicine men, witch doctors. Whatever it takes to get well!

But Christians properly understand regardless of the method, there’s only one source of our life and well-being: God.

1 Corinthians 12.4-6 KWL
4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.

The doctors at the hospital, the faith healers, the herbalists: They can only cure you if God grants ’em the knowledge to diagnose your ailment, the scientific technique to treat you, or the supernatural power to heal you. If they don’t depend on any of those things, you’re not getting cured. At best, you’ll heal up naturally and think your quack cured you. At worst, you’ll get tricked into thinking you were cured, and die anyway.

Same with any other supernatural thing you encounter. It was all done by God. Otherwise it was a trick. Devilish trick or human trick; doesn’t matter. ’Cause there’s only one Holy Spirit who dispenses the power. There are no others.

Some of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September

1 Corinthians 12.4-11.

When the apostles Paul and Sosthenes corrected the church of Corinth regarding the supernatural—in particular about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes to his church—the apostles listed a few of these gifts. Didn’t define ’em; just listed ’em.

Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is cessationists, those Christians who believe God turned off the miracles once the New Testament was complete. So what do they do with Paul and Sosthenes’s list of supernatural gifts? They redefined every last one of them: They’re no longer supernatural, but natural. They’re the same sort of gifts any “gifted person,” any talented individual, any genius, might happen to have. Like perfect pitch, or instant recall, or the ability to do rapid math in your head, or amazing physical coordination. Hey, it’s not like the Creator doesn’t grant natural gifts!

So in a cessationist’s mind, the 1 Corinthians passages aren’t at all about supernatural gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit, but how God’s blessed his church with really talented people. Great preachers, musicians, artists, handymen. You know, like when the LORD instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, and “gifted” this one particular craftsman to do it just the way the LORD wanted it.

Exodus 31.1-5 KJV
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

Even gave Betsalél (KJV “Bezaleel”) a Spirit-empowered assistant, Oholiáv ben Akhisamákh. Ex 31.6 and together they could make anything. And did. Ex 38.22

But no, 1 Corinthians isn’t about getting way-better-than-average earthly abilities from God. It’s about getting unearthly abilities. Stuff nobody can naturally do. Stuff which proves the Holy Spirit is living and active among us, ’cause skeptical pagans can’t just brush these things off as the talented acts of clever people. They’re forced into a dilemma: Either God’s really among us, or it’s deception or self-delusion. Either he’s real or fake.

So here’s the list the apostles gave in 1 Corinthians—and the rubbish redefinitions which cessationists made up for ’em.

1 Corinthians 12.4-11 KWL
4 There are a diversity of supernatural things, and the same Holy Spirit.
5 A diversity of ministries, and the same Lord.
6 A diversity of activities, and the same God activating all in all.
7 Each individual is given a different revelation of the Spirit—to bring us together.
8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
9 By the same Spirit, to someone else, faith.
By the one Spirit, to another, healing gifts.
10 To another, powerful activity.
To another, prophecy.
To another, judgment of spiritual things.
To someone else, families of tongues.
To another, interpretation of tongues.
11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.

It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s not meant to be; there are plenty of precedents for other supernatural behaviors elsewhere in the bible. But this’ll get us started.

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

1 Corinthians 12.1-7.

SUPERNATURAL su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl noun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws.

If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural. It’s supernatural.

Fr’instance if I install plastic pink flamingos in my front yard. Clearly they aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, and painted it to resemble a living flamingo. Somebody else—i.e. me—lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, put ’em in the lawn, and got all the neighbors to seriously consider banding together in a homeowner’s association just to ban ’em. Other than the outrage, none of this happened naturally.

But we tend to call this behavior unnatural, not supernatural. We save the term “supernatural” for stuff which, we suspect, wasn’t done by humans, nor done by our robots. If a sasquatch started leaving pink flamingos around town, or space aliens, or spirits, vampires, inexplicably hyper-intelligent raccoons… well we’d be weirded out by the very idea of non-human intelligences, and call ’em supernatural. ’Cause they’re not natural!

But y’notice all these “supernatural” beings are creatures most people don’t believe in, or won’t admit to believing in, or insist no reasonable person would believe in. So “supernatural” tends to have a sense of ridiculousness attached to it. No sane person should believe in the supernatural, right? Those things aren’t real. Con artists claim to believe in them, but they’re just trying to dupe people into giving them money.

And I get that; I don’t believe in sasquatches either. But just because frauds and the defrauded use a word, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid word. There’s real supernatural in the universe.

Namely God.

When God creates something from scratch, fixes what’s broken, cures the sick, shares unknowable things through his prophets, or otherwise does stuff we can’t adequately explain through science and physics, “supernatural” is the proper term for it. Miracles are supernatural.

Now certainly God can, and does, use physics to do as he does. When he parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrews, he didn’t do it as shown in The Ten Commandments; a wind blew all night and blew back the water. Ex 14.21 Skeptics like to point to this natural-sounding description in Exodus, and claim it suggests maybe God wasn’t involved, and like to “debunk” the bible’s miracles by trying to explain the physics behind ’em. But some miracles just plain defy explanation. Like when God made an axehead float, 2Ki 6.1-7 when Jesus and Peter walked on water, and certainly every time someone got raptured. Natural explanations or not, these events don’t have a natural cause. They’re supernatural.

Quenching the Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21.

More farewell stuff from the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians; general advice which can apply to Christians of any and every church. Each of these one-verse or one-line instructions have turned into entire sermons, lessons, and even doctrines. And in fact today I’m only gonna deal with three short verses, mainly because of what’s been taught about them… and of course what’s been mistaught.

1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Don’t extinguish the Spirit: 20 Don’t void prophecies.
21 Examine everything: Hold onto what’s good.

In the King James Version this becomes “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” That’s the version I memorized as a child.

Back in the 11th century, Margaret Atheling of Wessex (later, St. Margaret) was an English princess who grew up in exile in Hungary. She went to Scotland to marry King Malcolm Canmore, third of his name. The story has it she nearly drowned while crossing a river. One of the Hungarians who accompanied her, named Bartolf, saved her life by fishing her out, or carrying her across. The story varies, but all of them have him tell her to “grip fast” to him, or a rope, or his horse; whichever. Bartolf was given some land in reward, including a town called Lesselyn… which evolved into Bartolf’s family name, Leslie, and Clan Leslie’s motto is “grip fast.” This is, more or less, the story we Leslies tell of its origin. Maybe it’s true. Doubt it, ’cause it’s far more likely Bartolf and Margaret spoke Magyar with one another.

I didn’t necessarily have this “grip fast” idea in mind when I first read verse 21 as a kid. It just so happens I’m a big fan of examining everything to see whether it’s so. But in context verse 21 isn’t about testing everything; it’s about testing prophecy. It’s just I happen to test everything else too. Just being careful.

So verse 21 has kinda become a “life verse” for me… even though I don’t always stick to the proper context of the verse when testing everything. The more important thing is to hold onto what’s good. Hold tight to it. Abide in Jesus and what he teaches; let everything else go. But like I said, the context of this verse is to hold onto valid prophecies. And if they’re not valid, stop clinging to them as if we can wish them into being if we believe hard enough. That’s not how prophecy works; that’s how magic works, and magic’s not real.

Okay, enough about me and misquoted life verses. Let’s step back to verse 19 and “Quench not the Spirit.”

What does quenching mean?

You might already know when the ancients first came up with the idea of elements—basic building blocks of the universe—they didn’t imagine ’em as atoms, nor as the 118 elements we currently have on our periodic table, from hydrogen to oganesson. They figured there were just the four: Air, earth, fire, and water.

Sometimes the ancients speculated a quinta essentia/“fifth element,” or quintessence; something we don’t have on earth and therefore can’t study. (That’s why scientists have adopted the term to describe dark energy.) Various Christian philosophers have speculated spirits are made of this quintessence, and that’s why we can’t study spirits with our sciences. But the ancients were pretty sure spirits were made of the four basic elements. Oddly, not air, even though πνεῦμα/néfma literally means “wind.” But because spirits are dynamic and moving and powerful and mighty, they can’t be made from merely still, unmoving air. So, they deduced, spirits are made of fire.

Yep. This is why we see so many fire metaphors for spirits in ancient literature. Especially ancient Christian and Muslim literature. And obviously there are fire metaphors for the Holy Spirit in our scriptures.

Acts 2.2-4 KJV
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

So when Christians talk about fire, we either mean God’s refining fire which purges evil out of us, Ml 3.2 or the fires of hell… or the fire of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we mix the metaphors, and talk about the Spirit’s fire as if it’s come to purge evil out of us. (And that’s not always a good thing!) But more often, especially among Pentecostals, we’re talking about the Spirit’s power. His fire’s gonna make us able to cure the sick and prophesy and otherwise perform miracles.

So when Pentecostals talk about quenching the Spirit—and especially about not quenching the Spirit—we usually mean the Spirit wants to do something mighty and supernatural through us Christians. But we won’t let him.

I know. This idea is dumbfounding to deterministic Christians. We won’t let God do something? How on earth can a clay pot tell the potter, “Nope, I’m not gonna hold oil like you intended; I wanna hold beer!” He made us, so we do as he wants. It’s ridiculous to imagine otherwise.

And yeah, they’d have a point if we were simply inert pottery. We’re not. Paul’s pottery metaphor Ro 9.20-21 doesn’t apply to everything in our lives; its point is to explain God’s the creator and we’re the creation, and he knows best what we’re made for. Nonetheless he imbues his creation with free will, and while it’s unwise for “the thing formed to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” the fact remains “the thing formed” can still ask this question. And sometimes rebel against the creator’s intentions. Humans sin, y’know.

So yeah, if the Spirit wants to do something in his churches, but the people of his churches don’t wanna do that thing, we can resist him. We shouldn’t; it’s stupid. But we do.

And there are gonna be consequences.

Revelation 2.5 KJV
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

If a church is resisting the Spirit, it’s not following Jesus; and if it’s defying Jesus, it’s not his church anymore. It’s heretic. It’s its own thing. That’s a scary place to be—and if you’ve visited such churches, they can be scary places to visit.

But do not get the false idea that the ability to resist the Spirit and do our own thing, makes humanity sovereign, or in any way more mighty than God, or that the Spirit has in any way debased himself by letting us humans do our own thing. Insurgency doesn’t mean the insurgents are in charge now. It only means they think they’re in charge, for now. The hammer’s gonna come down later… when they don’t expect it.

Quenching the Spirit, or quenching immature Christians?

Whenever Christians talk about quenching the Spirit, we have a bad habit of presenting it as a worst-case scenario—a church that’s gone very, very wrong, and cut themselves off from God himself. We Pentecostals in particular have the bad habit of claiming any resistance to any spiritual thing whatsoever is “quenching.” Specifically, spiritual things we wanna do.

Fr’instance a prophet who stands up in the middle of a service, even right in the middle of the sermon, to declare, “Thus says the LORD,” and give out a prophecy. There’s a time and place for this, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to do it right now, and interrupt others. Don’t get me wrong; it might be a legitimate message from the Holy Spirit. But by picking the wrong time to give the prophecy, the prophet’s being a dick, and fruitless prophecy tends to nullify the prophecy. People aren’t gonna remember what we prophesied so much as the interruption, disruption, and rudeness.

If the Spirit gives us a message mid-sermon, the fact something else is going on which it’s rude to interrupt, should be our tipoff that we need to sit on this message for a bit. Meditate on it. Ask the Spirit questions: “What’d you mean by this?” And after the service, talk it over with a few other prophets for confirmation. Blurting it out in mid-sermon means you lack patience—or are more interested in getting attention than sharing God’s message, and prophets are supposed to be humble.

So when someone disrupts a church service, and is told to sit down and shut up: No, nobody’s quenching the Spirit. They’re quenching a jerk. Hopefully kindly. Because when the Spirit disrupts stuff, he does it kindly. He’s being helpful and constructive, or preventing evil. Unkind prophets are doing it wrong. They’re being selfish, unloving, out-of-control, and fleshly.

A lot of the things churches and Christian leaders are accused of “quenching,” are precisely this sort of behavior. Christians who wanna sing for the entire service, even though a preacher has spent all week listening to the Spirit and studying the scriptures to prepare a message: They don’t wanna hear a sermon. They wanna sing! They love that hook in their favorite worship song, and wanna sing it 50 times in a row. It makes ’em feel stuff, and since they don’t know the difference between emotion and the Spirit, they’re convinced it’s totally the Spirit—therefore stopping the music is “quenching the Spirit.” But no it’s not. Your euphoria isn’t producing fruit. Don’t kid yourself.

Likewise Christians who wanna pray in loud tongues during a prayer service, and won’t hear it when people tell ’em to not be so noisy. Or Christians who wanna have a special time of prophecy, not because they wanna share God, but because they want people to listen to them for once, as they prophesy. Really, anybody who wants to hijack a church service and turn it into their thing—and claim it’s really the Spirit’s thing.

Is it the Spirit’s thing? Look at the fruit. No fruit? Quench away.

What if you’re not sure? Well first of all, relax: The Holy Spirit is gracious. If we ever mistakenly stop him from doing his thing, but we are still trying to follow and pursue him, he’s gonna inform us we were mistaken. “I really do want you to hold a healing service for the sick. Do it next Sunday.” And we’ll apologize to him for putting the brakes on him, and apologize to everybody else, and do as the Spirit wants. It’s never too late to repent and try again; don’t let any immature, impatient Christians tell you different. (Because they’ll definitely tell you different: “You’re quenching the Spirit! You’re ruining an opportunity! It has to be done right now!” Hogslop. If it really had to be done right now, the Spirit would’ve forewarned a lot more of the people in charge.)

But pretty much every time we tell an angry, impatient person, “No no, we’re not doing that right now,” it’s not quenching the Spirit. If they produced better fruit, they might have a case to make. But they aren’t, so they don’t.

Quenching the Spirit is not stopping a noisy Christian. Properly it’s intentionally, deliberately, consciously defying the Spirit. It’s deciding, “We don’t do prophecy.” It’s making our official church position a cessationist one: The Holy Spirit stopped talking in bible times, and we don’t recognize anything he has to say unless he only speaks in bible quotes. It’s putting him on mute, because now we get to interpret bible on our own, and promote our doctrines instead of God’s kingdom.

Don’t void prophecies!

The primary way God reveals himself to people, and speaks to us, is through prophecy.

Yeah, even though we have a bible. The bible is prophecy too, y’know: Old prophecies, breathed by God for our benefit, 1Ti 3.16 which are still relevant ’cause it’s the same God, and humanity hasn’t changed any. Anything the Spirit tells us today, isn’t gonna contradict and nullify what he has in the bible, ’cause again: Same God.

When we cut off God’s voice by claiming he doesn’t speak to anyone anymore, we’ve cut off the Holy Spirit. We’ve cut off the one Jesus sent us to make sure we stay true to him. Jn 16.13 We’ve cut off the one who builds up, directs, and explains things to the church, his followers. 1Co 14.3 We might claim, “Yeah, but we have bible”—but we’ve cut off the person who makes sure we interpret his bible correctly!

When Christians claim prophecy’s not for the church anymore, y’notice they now have to rule their churches with an iron fist. Because if the Spirit doesn’t provide them direction and purpose, somebody’s gotta do it. Without the Spirit they’re gonna be fruitless, and get into dozens of disagreements about little, stupid, nitpicky stuff. The whole group is gonna be led astray—not by evil practices nor false doctrines, but simply by the fact nobody knows where they’re going. And nobody’s gonna admit it. And certainly not accept correction about it.

This is what we see all the time in cessationist churches: They don’t follow God, and despise the Spirit’s prophecies. So they become little cults which follow a pastor who’s treated as inerrant. Or, on the other extreme, they turn into benign, powerless groups which squabble over trivia and get nothing done.

Test everything.

If we’re gonna embrace a lifestyle of prophecy, we have to test prophecies and prophets. There are a lot of fakes 1Jn 4.1 —either frauds who want to exploit us, or fools who don’t know what they’re doing; both of whom will lead us astray. We can’t accept just any self-anointed prophet who sounds inspiring, who appeals to our greed, our prejudices, our patriotism, our sense of propriety, or whatever floats our boat.

Jesus warned us to watch out for phonies, so we gotta test prophets. Much as the con artists insist we test nothing, and just trust ’em, because shouldn’t we have faith? And yes we should—but faith in Jesus, not them, and Jesus tells us to test prophets! If their message legitimately comes from the Holy Spirit, it can stand the scrutiny, and if it’s not, it won’t. So test everything. EVERYTHING. Including all the stuff you’ve been taking for granted so far. You’ll be surprised how much of it turns out to be crap. I regularly am.

And once it stands up to testing, you grip fast to it. It’s from God.

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.