[You are encouraged to read the original post at Dr Shogren’s blog.]
Before we begin…
Note: this post is the 13th in a series that I gave at San Pedro Christian Fellowship, a small congregation of English-speaking believers in Costa Rica. Those who live in the Valle Central are more than welcome to visit us, Sundays at 10:30am. This expository series is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks – warning: it’s written at a technical level. These posts in 1 Thess are Sermon Notes, not polished messages.
1 Thess 5:4-11
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
If you asked a Greek person of Paul’s day, how might we divide people into groups, one answer is: Greeks and barbarians; someone else might offer, men and women; someone else, slave and free person
If you asked a Jewish rabbi in Paul’s day, how can we divide people into groups, the typical answer would be, Easy – Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles, or Greeks)
What Paul is saying is that there are two groups of people in the world: people in Christ, who also walk in the light; the rest
Col 3:9b-11 – “you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Gal 3:28 – in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is what he says here in 1 Thess 5 – you are in darkness or in light; you are drunk or sober; you are dozing or you are alert; you are going to face God’s wrath or live with Christ
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
Light and darkness
Isa 9:2 – “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”
Psalm 27:1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation”
Acts 26:17–18: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”
Again, let’s carefully look at the grammar of v. 5: he doesn’t say “try to be children of light” but “you are all children of light and children of the day”. This is the act of God to make us his people, he has already done this work.
Col 1:12-13 – “giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
You are already children of the light, therefore, act accordingly.
6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
First of all, he is using symbols: fall asleep, get drunk; although “get drunk” is also literal.
Sleep in 5:6–7 it clearly refers to a way of life.
“Waking up” means to live alert, because the Lord is coming:
Romans 13:11-12 -And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Don’t be caught napping! Like the world is. (?? How is the world napping?)
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
The armor of God is something we might remember from Ephesians 6, and we just read from Rom 13; but in fact Paul borrowed the idea from Isaiah, who anticipated the coming wrath of God against injustice: “[Jehovah] put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” (Isa 59:17).
But when Paul speaks of the armor, it’s always the believer who puts it on.
The Thessalonians lived under the Roman Empire, which promised Pax et securitas, but they maintained those benefits of the Pax romana with vicious militaristic force.
Says Paul, the Christian cannot take up literal arms, be they the weapons of the imperialist or the revolutionary zealot. They ready themselves with supernatural virtues such as faith and love. Despite the tribulation in which they find themselves, they are supernaturally enabled to bear the Spirit’s fruit for which they are already well-known (1:3).
9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We Christians, not the world, have a hope, the blessed hope, Titus 2:13 – “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”. Christ will come to save us and get us through judgment day.
10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
In so much prophecy teaching, there are distractions about dates and details, but we should focus on the main thing: Jesus died and rose to save us, and we should focus on that. What keeps us alert? A life focused on the cross and the empty tomb.
This is what Paul said in 4:14 – For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
“Whether we are asleep or awake” is a little tricky, since in this letter Paul has used the word “asleep” in two ways: 1. People who fall asleep in physical death; 2. People who are alive but live careless and thoughtless lives
So there are two ways of interpreting this verse, although the NIV leaves it open to interpretation:
Whether we are alert or dozing, we may live together with him. [sleep as careless living]
Whether we are alive or have already died, we may live together with him. [sleep as death]
I take the second one to be correct, for two reasons: first option seems to make Paul say that it doesn’t matter if you are alert or not; this is what he was talking about in 1 Thess 4:15 – Christians who have fallen asleep in death; Christians who are still alive
The GNB has a good rendering: “who died for us in order that we might live together with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes.”
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
We should actively promote the growth and strength of one’s fellow Christians. This will arise out of the love we have one for another; and it keeps us safe from one of the sins of the End Times – “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matth 24:12-13)
Let’s think about how to live this:
According to an old legend, a man Damocles was invited to sit on the king’s throne for a day. “Be king for a day!” Of course he accepted. But on making himself comfortable, he looked up and noticed that a huge and terrifying sword was suspended over his head, hanging by a horse’s hair. Damocles fled, unable to keep himself fixed on the spot, no matter what the benefits of being “king.”
The world lives with this impending destruction, “and they will by no means escape” (v. 3). But people don’t take steps to avoid their doom.
Squirrels store away nuts for the future, but that is just instinct. We human beings can prepare for the future on what they reason to be true. But we are surrounded by people who aren’t getting ready for the Second Coming.
‘According to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, resurfaced by the think tank last week in anticipation of Easter Sunday, nearly half of U.S. Christians believe that Christ will “definitely” (27 percent) or “probably” (20 percent) return to Earth in or before the year 2050.’ That’s almost half the population of the US – but do you think half of the population is living every day, getting ready to meet their maker?
I have met a few people who knew that I was a Christian, who said, “Man, don’t bother praying for me, I’m going to hell.”
Do they really believe that?
It’s one thing to say you believe in a thing; but if you don’t take action, I wonder how deeply you believe that.
If you knew Christ was coming this week, what would you change?
Sleepiness takes many forms; from 1 Thessalonians alone we might mention these: drunkenness, which is not merely the overconsumption of alcohol or drugs but insensitivity toward God; idolatrous reliance on the government for peace and security; blocking the spread of the gospel or even not actively participating in its spread; sins of speech such as lying, trickery, or hypocrisy; greed and egotism; a poor work ethic; apostasy or even stunted spiritual growth; lack of sexual self-control; taking advantage of others in any way; taking God’s truth lightly; being a troublemaker; being impatient or vengeful; making light of God’s word; or any other failure of full holiness (read 5:23).
God summons every believer to watchfulness, since every human being has a deficit of attention when it comes to holiness. Yet in Christ, as we have seen, God’s people have the ability to remain watchful. If they drift off, it’s not God’s fault; if they don’t live ready for the Second coming, it’s not because they can’t, it’s because they won’t.
Visit Dr Shogren’s blog to comment on his article.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/cmc-gary-shogren-sm.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica[/author_info] [/author]