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Wake up!

February 8, 2014

Wake Up! – 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 -15

Paul opens by talking about the labour pains of a pregnant woman. I wonder how many of us can cast our minds back to that experience – for some there’s a lot more casting back to be done. For others it’s just like yesterday. As you get to within about a month of the expected date of delivery the anticipation is thick. Someday soon it’s going to happen. You’ve been to the classes and you’ve been taught what to expect, but nothing quite prepares you. You know that babies can come early so you start looking for the signs. And then it happens. Your moment has come. You phone your parents put the bags in the car and it’s off to hospital. A few hours later it’s back home with your tails between your legs. Embarrassment all round. False alarm no 1, no 2 etc.

By the time you’ve reached nearly 9 ½ months the strangest thing happens. The ridiculous thought actually crosses your mind that this baby is never going to arrive. It’s all been a big con, but inevitably it happens – and the baby is born – a culmination of all that waiting – and now they are just finishing degree and ‘A’ levels.

But it’s a good analogy. The Christians that Paul wrote to thought Jesus would be coming back any moment. Let’s just sit back and wait for it to happen – no point going to the office today. Perhaps even they with time wondered if they’d got it wrong. And as the centuries have passed, people may ask “so when is this Jesus coming back?”

When I was younger the return of the Lord Jesus was the invariable focal point of the evening service. You needed to make a decision to follow Jesus because he was almost certainly going to be back by 7.30. With some preachers even earlier than that would have been great!

Of course we still believe that Jesus will return but do we live as though we believe it or do we just get on with what we are doing, preoccupied with all the things we can see and touch? Perhaps we’ve reached that point where we are at 9 ½ months and we actually think it’s never going to happen – or at least it looks that way.

Paul does not bombard his readers with facts and figures, a timetable of what is to happen but he actually concentrates on how we should live in the light of Jesus’ coming – in such a way that we should not be surprised. Everything builds up to this. How we live tells you everything. People can tell the difference.

Paul draws a distinction between those in the dark – and those in the light. As Christians he describes us as sons of the day. The differences are plain. This is very black and white.

In darkness

Sons of light & sons of the day

Surprised like a thief

Not belonging to the darkness


Not asleep

Asleep and drunk

Alert and self controlled


Paul goes on to describe three particular characteristics which mark us out. We will recognise these things as old friends from 1 Corinthians 13 – “These three remain: faith, hope and love”. And here they are again, “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a breastplate”. 3 graces to mark you out as a believer in Jesus. Trust in him, showing his love, living with the certain hope that he came to save us and one day will come back to complete that. There is a reminder that we are in a battle and these things will be our defence.

And Paul reminds us that this salvation is real. Whist for some the return of Jesus is something to be feared, that is not so for us. We are reminded that “He died for us”. He did not come to this world and die in vain, but he did it so that whether or not we are still alive at his return, we may live together with him – forever. So the day of his return for us is the culmination of all our living.

But again the emphasis with Paul is on how we live, not for a series of signs in the sky. And he turns to the relationships that we have within the church. Being ready for his return is not just an individual thing – it is a hope that needs to drive us all on in the church and we all have a part to play in that. He encourages the Thessalonians (and us) to encourage one another and build each other up, qualities that in fact were clearly visible at Thessalonica and hopefully too in our churches.

Firstly he looks at our relationship with our church leaders, the ones who are working hard among you, who are over you, who admonish you – warn you against wrong behaviour. We don’t naturally enjoy being warned or even disciplined about our behaviour. And it’s all too easy to shoot those who put themselves up there, not out of a desire for glory but because of a call to serve Jesus and his church. It’s easy to criticise people when they are visible, and even make mistakes – being human after all. But Paul’s call to the church is to respect. To recognise their work and to hold in the highest regard in love. That is what hard workers deserve. That is what we owe to our Leaders as they wrestle with the decisions that need to be made .

Then Paul turns to the rest of us. Humanly speaking church can be frustrating. Some of the people just don’t seem to be doing what we think they should be doing.

Paul identifies three particular types of church member:

  1. Billy Idle.
  2. Shakin’ Stevens.
  3. Johnny Rotten.

Three people that you might think are too much trouble, but in the light of Jesus’ return the call is to “encourage one another and build each other up”. So we are told to warn those who are idle. Perhaps in Thessalonica the people thought that Jesus’ soon return gave them an excuse to sit around waiting. No need for work. We need to encourage Billy that Jesus return is the hope that we live for and there is work to be done.

Then there’s the timid. Shaky might be like that foot in Corinth who said “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body. Shaky needs to be reminded that the body is made up of many parts. There is no need for false modesty. It is a nonsense to say that one member of the church is more important than another. He needs to be encouraged.

Then there’s the weak. The word here denotes moral weakness, someone who perhaps falls too readily into old sins. Johnny is not to be given up on either. He is to be helped to conquer his temptations. The picture given by the church sometimes is that you need to be the finished article before we are allowed to Join, but Paul’s word’s acknowledge that for some more than others following Jesus is an on-going battle – which is not to be fought alone.

The picture is of a body that looks out for one another. Supporting leadership, helping one another to be effective so that as a body of believers we live in the light. We are not asleep, but are striving constantly and will not be surprised when that day finally comes, as we are promised it surely will.

Finally Paul exhorts us not to pay back wrong for wrong, but to be kind to one another and to everyone else. As  we get those relationships right with God and our brothers and sisters there will be that overflow to those around us.

Jesus has promised he will return. Return for us who are the sons and daughters of the light and the day. That is not a day that we have to fear, but it does call for us to live, to be alert and to be prepared as individual believers and as a church. We all have work to do ready for that day.







From → Christianity

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