Dear Paul

What is your most scandalous opinion?  Well, it’s not really scandalous; it is just treating a serious subject lightly, but sometimes that is necessary. I could always elicit gasps and chuckles by saying “The Apostle Paul is just the best advice columnist of all time.”  And then by defending the statement.  Of course with the demise of papers and reading in general, the advice columnist has kinda disappeared. Ann Landers and Dear Abby are long gone along with their upper-middle-class striver pragmatism. I think Dead Prudie still writes over at but it feels so 200X. And her questions and advice always left me muttering “sheep without a shepherd.”  You were better off taking advice from blast from the past Dan Savage who wasn’t as insulated from the craters Prudie’s advice would create. He might still give you the same terrible advice, but he’s also leaven it with reality.  I see that Tucker Carlson, as part of his new media adventure, has created an “ask Tucker” forum. His first answer to the Father who is worried about his daughter starting an Only Fans, oh my.  But I promised to get around to the Apostle Paul.

We all know that Paul wrote letters. And if we have read those letters, we realize that Paul was in almost constant contact with his fledgling congregations. It wasn’t the USPS, but letters in the Roman world would get to their destination on good Roman roads. Most of Paul’s letters are not theological treatises that he made up.  Maybe Romans is that.  Romans is also a prospectus for investment in a missionary endeavor.  “I preach the gospel, I want to go to Spain, please support me (Romans 15:24).” But most of Paul’s letters are responses to multiple letters asking “Dear Paul.”

Paul would answer at length two or three big questions.  For example, in 1 First Thessalonians – probably the first book of the New Testament written – Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the Work of the Lord in their midst and how the Thessalonians are now the example for those around them (chapters 1-3).  He then reminds them what that looks like and reinforces the hope of the resurrection (Chapter 4).  You can imagine the questions.  “Paul, how do we go about evangelism?”  “Paul, what about those who have died?”

But then Paul has this stack of other questions and the letter is already feeling long.  So what does he do?  He does things like our short Epistle reading this week – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.  The world’s first lighting round of rapid fire advice answers. 

Paul, what does Jesus really want from us anyway? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul, my brother is always babbling about the Spirit this and the Spirit that.  I’ve seen a vision brother.  Please tell him to stop!  “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

Paul, to get ahead at work I occasionally have to do things that you probably wouldn’t approve of.  Is there a way to get a dispensation or an indulgence?  “Abstain from every form of evil.”

And like all good advice columnists, Paul’s missives are occasionally shocking.  They are probably not the advice you want to hear.  But they are good.  They are good in the deep sense of that word.  Paul wants the best for you.  As he says in his sign off.  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” That is what Paul’s advice wants for you.  God has called, gathered and enlightened you.  Keep running.  God will also sanctify you and on That Day glorify you.  It is Good advice.

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