Six Marks of an Excellent Ministry
Like a Thief in the Night
“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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
It’s far too easy to turn this passage into something it isn’t. The temptation is to major on the glorious future event of which Paul speaks. The day of the Lord, when Christ returns, when he descends with a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, will be nothing short of mind-blowing. That will be a major event. In fact, it is, I am convinced, the next big event in redemptive history. But I need not tell you of how many are preoccupied with the sequence of events leading up to that. All kinds of folks get so wrapped up in all kinds of labels and positions, defining themselves in terms of when they think the Bible says Christ will come back. Pre, post, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-trib, preterist, historical pre, pre-wrath, non-premil, and so on: obviously, much thought has gone into the subject, and much ink spilled debating the subject.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it can be a dangerous thing. It becomes dangerous when preoccupation with the timing of the thing shrouds and clouds the thing itself. Surely, what is of primary importance is not so much the timing of his return, but the fact of his return. Christ is coming back. This is beyond question. It’s bound to happen. Both Testaments speak of it. The apostle himself had already begun to speak of it in relation to those dead in Christ, in the previous verses. And the apostle Peter writes with undeniable confidence when he inks these words:
“…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.“
There we have it, you see. Peter spoke from God. He was ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’ unlike any man today. His voice joins the others, giving testimony to that great and awesome and fearful and glorious and joyful day when Christ returns to take his beloved home. That is the plain thing here. It’s the main thing here. He’s coming back. In view of it, this passage is not reason for eschatological chart making, but rather presses action in view of Christ’s return.
Two Kinds of People in the World
When Christ comes back, He will enter into a world in which there are two kinds of people: those who share Paul’s faith, and those who don’t. Look at how Paul describes those who share his faith: In verse 5, he calls them ‘children of light, children of the day,’ ‘not of the night or of the darkness.’ In verse 8, Paul describes them as belonging to the day, and ‘having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’ These are those united to Christ by faith.
Those who do not share Paul’s faith is everybody else. They are children of darkness, of the night, and belong to the night.
So, we must mark this and mark it well: the difference between true believers and unbelievers is the difference between day and night. Believers are children of light. Unbelievers are children of the night. There could be no greater contrast. To say both kinds of people look the same, that there’s no great and obvious difference between them is therefore a lie from the pit of hell. We must not believe that lie. You must not believe it. There is a great distinction, a great division between night and day, is there not? There’s also a great division and distinction between believers and unbelievers. There is no dawn or dusk. We are either of the day or night; there’s no in-between position, as if one blends into another. In fact, God separates light from darkness. That’s what he did when, at the beginning of all things, he made day and night. We must be clear on this. This is a life and death issue. There are distinctions, clear distinctions, sharply defined distinctions and separations and even divisions God designed and makes. But such distinction and separation sinful man abhors. He would do away with all such things. He delights in no distinction whatsoever. He likes to blend things into one, as if everything was equal and the same in every sense of the term.
So, men dress like women and women men. People mistakenly assume Mormons and Catholics are Christians. In fact, all religion, and each every denomination, is viewed as if no real difference existed among them. After all, we’re told, division is bad. Distinctions cause bad feelings and ultimately wars. And so, the thinking goes, let’s just be the same. That way everybody is affirmed and there is ‘peace.’ Or so the theory goes. But it’s a bad theory, bad because it doesn’t reflect the way God made things. When He made the heavens and the earth, He separated light from darkness. He made a division. He created them male and female; He made a distinction, a division. He creates light, and separates it from the darkness. The one has no sharing in, no fellowship with, the other.
Children of Light
But what exactly is it to be a child, or son, of light? I must press this upon you. This is a thing of who real believers are, not what they do. Paul writes these believers and says (v.5) ‘you are children of light.’ Like all children, children of light are marked by their parents; like father, like son. “Chips off the old block.” That’s who they are. That’s their identity. ‘Who’s that?’ says one. ‘O that’s Todd, son of Don, son of Uriah. Kind of funny looking isn’t he? He surely resembles his father, especially from the eyebrows up.’
And so it is with the sons of light. God is light. To be a child of light, then, is to be a child of God. His children are of Him, and not of that which so marks the world, i.e. darkness. How one becomes a child of light has nothing to do whatsoever with what a person does – like pray a prayer or make a decision – O how I wish all would truly grasp this! So many, maybe even some of you, think that because a prayer was prayed, or a decision was made, they are children of light and of God. What a damnable and dreadful and terribly sad thing! Many on that day will say to him ‘Lord, Lord’ because they did things in his name, even. But they will be turned away. Forever! Gnashing of teeth will be their end. Don’t let that be you! Get your Bible and test your profession by it and by it alone lest you be thrown into the Lake of Eternal Fire.
Why read our Bibles? Because life and death depend on it. How should we read our Bibles? We read them as if life and death depended on it. But back to the question of the moment. How does one become a child of light? One verse tells all. 2 Corinthians 4. 5-6:
“For what we (i.e., Paul & Timothy with him) proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (Why do they proclaim Christ?) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Amazing. This is far greater than decision. Decision is mere easy believe-ism. You know what that is. Someone says a prayer or decides for Christ and accepts him as Lord and Savior. But his life!?? There’s no affection for Christ! There’s no transformation, no power for godliness! How does one become a child of light, and thus of Him who is light? God shines in the darkness of his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! That’s how! A child of light knows deep in his soul the greatness of God in Christ’s face! And that changes everything. It creates a division, a separation, between him and the rest, with everybody else, with those of the darkness, who are children of the darkness. There is no mistaking it. When one believes, when he truly believes in the True Light who is Christ, he becomes a child of the Light, walking in all that is good and right and true, entranced by God’s glory in Christ’s face.
TWO EXHORTATIONS TO BELIEVERS
BE WHO YOU ARE (verses 4-8)
It is to the children of light that Paul gives two exhortations. The first may be paraphrased as ‘be who you are.’ Be who you are. Verse 6: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Evidently, the church wondered about the timing of very last things and Christ’s return, about ‘the times and the seasons.’ But he tells them they had no need for an answer from him, since they already knew it. “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” he writes, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Why this is the case, why they were fully aware, and knew what they knew, is simple. When Paul was with them for the short period he was, when he was proclaiming the gospel to them, when he was really and truly evangelizing, his method wasn’t build relationship, then gradually give truth in nibbles and bits. Not at all! Paul spoke much! And when he spoke, he spoke of many things surrounding Christ. What he proclaimed would in no way fit on one of our measly tracts.
I’m not dissing the use of tracts here. They have their usefulness, especially the good ones. But I’m just saying: There is simply no comparison between a small pamphlet and the apostle’s greater preaching and teaching. Why did they know? They knew because Paul told them beforehand, when he was with them. Paul was thorough. He covered all the basics, including the day of the Lord, including the return of Christ, the ‘day of judgment’, the ‘day of God’s wrath’, the ‘day of redemption,’ ‘the day of destruction.’ What he told them was very simple. The day will come like a thief in the night. What does that mean? Does it mean it will come when everyone’s asleep and no one will know of it, save a few? Does it mean it will be a secret, silent thing? No, it doesn’t.
What it means is that it will come unexpectedly, when least expected. Just look at it (Paul himself tells us beginning with the 3rd verse): “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them.” There’s the unexpected surprise; no one thinks destruction when he’s thinking, and saying, peace, peace, all is well and safe! No one thought destruction when 9-11 dawned. No one thinks destruction the day before a tsunami. And here, the unredeemed world of men, those of the darkness, will in their utter folly and complete blindness, sing ‘all is well’ right up to the very moment. There will be no alarms. The lips of those on CNN and CBC and the like will be empty of warning. Nothing! Quite the opposite actually: Dow Jones up. TSX up. Job starts up. Everything looks good. Let’s party on! All’s well! They will not have a clue about what’s about to go down.
The Day of the Lord!
It will come at an unexpected moment, even as labor pains come upon one bearing a child. That’s how it will come. And when it comes it will be inescapable. It will be a complete surprise, and they will not escape it. They will be trapped. They will not be able to flee from it. They will try. O will they ever try! They will try to hide! They will even call upon the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the “wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
But then there’s a big ‘but.’ Mark it! Look at it! Verse 4. In verse 4 Paul makes this cutting, discriminatory, defining, dividing statement. He reminds them of who they are! “But you are not in darkness, brothers…”! Why not? Because they were transferred out of darkness. They lived in a far different realm. They were sons of light. They belonged to the day! That’s who they are. “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.” Translation: Because you are not of darkness, because you are children of the day, that day will not surprise you like a thief in the night. Because of who you are in Christ! That brings us back to verse 6. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
Because of who you are, and who you’re not, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, don’t sleep, stay awake, and keep sober. Don’t sleep. Stay awake. Keep sober. In other words, be who you are. Live who you are. Behave in a way consistent with deeds of the light and not of darkness. Sleep and drunkenness do not characterize daytime. Those who sleep do so at night. Those who get drunk do so at night. But you’re not that. So, stay awake and keep sober. Sobriety and wakefulness are of the day. And you are of the day. So, be who you are!
Believers: Live as Believers!
This means believers are to live as believers, in a way consistent with who they are. That’s what Paul’s getting at here. Stay awake. Keep sober. Be spiritually and morally diligent, in other words. “This is the moral state of having all systems “on” and functioning,” one writes. Don’t be marked by the deeds of darkness. ‘Light’ is a full and rich term. It has moral connotations. The fruit of light, says Paul elsewhere, ‘is found in all that is good, and right and true‘ (Ephesians 5:9 ). Light is righteousness. It’s Christ himself. And all who are sons of light and thus of righteousness must live righteously. To stay awake in this vein is to not have our spiritual sensitivities dimmed, dulled, or distorted by the darkness of sin. It’s to stand apart from and live in stark contrast, in a radical contrast to this present darkness, to the filth which so marks our neighbors who abuse our Lord’s name with their lips, and though they might be nice people otherwise, they dwell in darkness.
“Wicked men do all things as in the night, escaping the notice of all, and enclosing themselves in darkness,” writes one. “For tell me, does not the adulterer watch for the evening, and the thief for the night? Does not the violator of the tombs carry on all his trade in the night?” Don’t drink darkness and get drunk with sin. Don’t go down that road. Stay awake. Live like believers. Be who you are. That’s what Paul presses here. Pursue, with all your might, the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. We must be ready. How are we believers to live in light of his coming? Are we to busy ourselves, and be concerned about, getting our end time theology correct? There’s a place for that. But here’s the thing: Many will have it all figured out only to go to hell. Being prepared means living as believers, not deceivers, or idolaters, consumed with ourselves, but being who we are in Christ. And that will put us at odds with many, even the people we live with, even, at times, with people we go to church with.
I must stop here and press this upon you. Are you awake? Or are you indifferent? Are you, ‘Christian,’ living like a believer? Or do your deeds betray and deny your profession? You must take stock of your life. It’s imperative you do so. Don’t put it off. You cannot afford that. Stay awake! You play with fire if you don’t. Believer, live like you believe. If you’re not a believer, start believing!
Believers: Live as Soldiers
I look at the rest, and basically I see much for encouragement. We shall make only passing mention of it. In verse 8, Paul is quick to contrast the ones to whom he writes, i.e. believers, and unbelievers. “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.” Believers are further described as those who have donned themselves with a certain attire. And so, they’re described in military terms. Believers are soldiers. We’re soldiers in a spiritual war. If we’re truly believers, we wear a breastplate. That protects our vital organs – our hearts and lungs. Without it, arrows from the enemy easily pierce. The helmet protects our head. Without it, any blow to the head on the battlefield means game over. Confusion, dizziness, loss of balance, haze, blurred and distorted vision, stumbling about, whatever – such a soldier is a sitting duck for the final blow. But that’s not the believer.
The believer wears his gear. He’s protected for the fight in the spiritual realm. How? Listen carefully – With the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope for salvation. Faith, love, hope. Faith working through love. And what is love? Let me remind you. Love – Christ’s love, holy love, true love, that which actually and truly has the eternal good and joy for another in view, and not that crappy, sappy, ‘feel good for the moment,’ sin-distorted, sin-indulgent, sin-excusing and affirming, self-seeking excuse for love (and I don’t mean pre-marital sex here; what I mean is far more pervasive and exists everywhere like homes and even churches – true, Christ-exalting, sin-rebuking and correcting, sacrificial, other-centered, steadfast and godly love is inextricably tied to holiness, and thus light! Just listen to what Paul said in the 3rd chapter verses 12 and 13. It’s remarkable how it all fits together! “…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, [WHY?] so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, [WHEN?] at the coming of our Lord Jesus …’! Remarkable, is it not? Stay awake in these things, beloved. Keep your heads!
God Has not Destined us for Wrath
To buttress us in these things, he adds a further encouragement for believers/sons of the day. Keep sober, stay awake, live as soldiers, wearing your armor in the fight on the battlefield, believing, loving, hoping, why? Because (v.9) “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (10) who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” God has not destined us for wrath. Who is ‘us’? ‘Us’ is them. ‘Us’ is him and the ones to whom he writes, namely, now get this, the ones who received the word of God for what it is, and not as if it were a Christmas card from Hallmark – open, read, that’s nice, close. And you carry on. He’s not writing to the likes of them. But to the ones who received the Word as the Word of God, he says ‘God has not destined you for wrath.’ In fact, your destiny, your ordained, divinely appointed destiny, is salvation from wrath. Yours is absolute salvation and rescue from the wrath which is yet to come on that day when Christ returns and judges all men without exception. So, whether dead or alive when He comes (like a thief!) every child of light will live with Him!
KEEP ON ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER IN TRUTH (verse 11)
Finally, the second exhortation. The first was ‘Be who you are.’ The second is ‘Encourage each other in truth, in these things.’ Verse 11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” This is how we get prepared for that day. There’s so much discouragement going around. And it’s dreadful. Beloved, don’t forget: the day is coming. The Day IS coming! In light of that fact, what shall we be doing as a church? What should we be doing to each other? I’ll tell you what we shouldn’t be doing. We shouldn’t be discouraging one another. Let’s build each other up with the truth of these things, with the truth of these things. Why? So that that day will not surprise any of us like a thief in the night…!
Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta