1 Thess 5:1-11
Things hadn’t gone as Paul had wanted at Thessalonica. We learn in the book of Acts that when he had just begun to preach Christ and found the congregation in that northern Greek city, he was driven out by Jews who were hostile to the Gospel. The new Christians took Paul to Athens in southern Greece.
Paul was deeply concerned about the Christians in Thessalonica. Earlier in the letter we learn that while Paul was in Athens, he sent Timothy to find out about how things were going. He says, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”
Timothy had now returned, and he had brought good news. Paul wrote, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you--for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”
In this letter, Paul has just dealt with one concern that had been reported by Timothy. The return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day was a key part of the Gospel Paul had proclaimed to them. However, some time had now passed. Apparently Christians had died, and this raised concerns for the Thessalonians. Would these brothers and sisters in Christ miss out on the salvation Jesus was going to bring if they weren’t alive when he returned?
Paul assured the, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The resurrection of the body was an idea that was completely foreign to the Greco-Roman world – it was found only among the Jews. The Thessalonians had apparently not really understood what Jesus would do. And so Paul told them, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
The Thessalonians may have needed more instruction about what would happen when Jesus returned. But they didn’t need any reminding that this was the goal. They were looking for Jesus’ return. They knew that it would be sudden and unexpected. The apostle says in our text this morning, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
There would be no warning – no signal that you had better get ready. Instead, people would be going along like everything was great, even as they lived in sin and rejected God’s will. Paul says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
The Thessalonians knew this. They knew the truth. Paul says, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.”
The challenge for us is twofold. First, the Thessalonians knew that Jesus Christ would return. They were expecting it. Do you? Is this a thought that ever crosses your mind during the week: “Jesus could return today”? If it doesn’t, then you need to listen up this morning. Because the apostle Paul doesn’t just think that it is something that is a basic truth of Christianity. He also thinks that it should guide the way we live.
The second challenge is the way the world thinks – and the influence it has upon us. “Things aren’t black and white.” That’s a summary of the way our culture now approaches life. This of course means that there is no right and wrong. There is no truth and error. There is just what you think is true and what I think is true. And you had better not tell me that your right and wrong is right. Are you being sucked in by this? Is it affecting the way you think about topics like sex and marriage?
Yet listen to what Paul says today: “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” Light and darkness; day and night – that is how Paul describes the world. Either Jesus Christ is your Lord, or Satan is your Lord. You are either thinking in the way of God’s truth, or you are in the dark. It is so easy today for us to be lured into that darkness. Our senses are assaulted all the time by images, sounds and music emerging from our smart phones, tablets, computers and wide screen televisions that tell us the world’s lies.
But Paul reminds us today about the way things really are. There is God’s truth and there are the lies of the world. There is light and there is darkness. And he reminds us about what God has made us to be as he says, “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” Through baptism the Holy Spirit has caused you to be born again. The Spirit of the risen Lord is at work within you. You are children of light; children of the day.
And this determines how we are to live. Pauls says in our text, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Paul tells us not to join a sleep walking world, drunk on its own delusions. I mean, this is a world that can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman any more. Are you really going to let it guide the way you think?
Instead, Paul tells us that we must be awake. The word Paul uses here is one that is regularly applied to expectation of Christ’s return. We need to be sober - a word that describes being self-controlled. The apostle is calling us to live lives the are shaped by the expectation of Jesus’ return – lives that are therefore lived with goal of walking in the truth.
To do this, Paul says that we need to live as those who have “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Drawing on language from the prophet Isaiah, the apostle describes the Christian life using the metaphor of battle armor. To protect us from the world we need to live in faith and love. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way we can remain in the light. It is only his death and resurrection that that gives the status of being children of the day; children of light. It is only his love for us that enables us to love. In the midst of a selfish world, Jesus’ Spirit leads us to love and serve others.
Paul describes the helmet as the “hope of salvation.” Pauls speaks of “hope” because he refers to the final and complete salvation – the salvation that will be ours when Jesus Christ returns on the Last Day; when as we heard least week in Philippians, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body. Hope is one of the most powerful forces you will ever encounter. When people have hope they are able to persevere and keep going.
We have such a hope – a living hope – because it is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says that this hope for the future was founded before the world began. The apostle says at the end of our text: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” By grace, God elected you to obtain this salvation. What had been planned from eternity, he carried out when the incarnate Son of God died for you on the cross.
He died to give you salvation. His resurrection is the guarantee that this salvation gives life. Paul says that whether we are awake or asleep we will live with Jesus. Death cannot change that fact because Jesus Christ defeated death on Easter. We will live with him because he is the risen and ascended Lord who will return on the Last Day. And so we have hope – the hope of salvation – that protects us in the midst of life’s challenges.
Paul concludes our text this morning by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Certainly the encouragement he has in mind are the very things he has just been saying. And so Paul has given us something to do. Not only are his words to guide and encourage you, they are also something that we are to share with each other.
This means that we speak to one another about the hope of salvation that we have in Jesus who gave himself for us on the cross and rose from the dead. We remind one another that through baptism we are children of light; children of the day. We know how things really are, and we know that Jesus Christ will return in a sudden and unexpected way. And so we are to live as those who keep watch – those who are ready as we live in sober and self-controlled ways.
Most of all as we are looking for the return of Jesus Christ we need to wear the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation. Living by faith in Jesus Christ we have the certainty of God’s forgiveness and love for us. Because we have received this love, we now live as those who love others in word and deed. And because we know the risen and ascended Lord, he have the sustaining hope of the salvation Jesus will give us when he returns.