Sober and Alert Living

September 3, 2023 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: Jesus Christ Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11

We are back in Thessalonians today. We’ll be talking about the return of Jesus, again. AND how we are to be alert, vigilant, and sober as we wait for Him. 

The big question people have about the coming of the Lord is, of course, when will it happen? And that’s a question we are NOT given an answer to.  We ARE given some signs that immediately precede His coming. But the day and the hour is not VITAL for us to know, because we are ALWAYS ready. Or supposed to be!  We keep our lamps trimmed and burning. We stay close to Jesus as a way of life! John said, “Little children abide in Him so that when He appears we may not shrink from Him in shame at His coming.” 1 John 2:28  

The Lord Jesus WILL come like a thief in the night, shocking and terrifying the unbelieving world.  But He does NOT surprise believers like a thief.  And that’s NOT because we’ve figured out all the signs and got our prophecy charts right!  BUT because of HOW we live!  We live in the light; we do not walk in darkness. 

Verse 4 “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”  We’re not living in ignorance and blindness and moral darkness.  Verse 5 “For you are all children of light, children of the day.” We know what’s going on. We know how the story ends. We believe in Jesus, we love Him, we’ve read the promise, “I will come again”.  We’re awake and watching. Our heart’s cry “Come Lord Jesus!” So that day will NOT come upon us like a thief.   

BECAUSE we ARE children of the day, we are urged to NOT to live like we are asleep or drunk.  We’re to be spiritually alert, vigilant and ready.  We’re to put on our spiritual armor: the shield of faith and love, and the helmet of hope.  Now let’s get into the details of all that..

Verse 1 “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.” They had no need for Paul to WRITE them because Paul had already TAUGHT them about the coming of the Lord right after they were saved!  Every new believer should be taught that the Lord Jesus WILL come again!  In 2 Thessalonians 2:5 Paul “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” 

They were young Christians but Paul said, “You turned from idols to serve the living God and to WAIT for His Son from heaven.” That summed up their purpose in life!  And that is OUR present mission: to SERVE God and to eagerly look for His Son to come from heaven. 

Paul goes on, “you have no need to have anything written to you about the time of His return, FOR you yourselves are fully aware that the DAY OF THE LORD will come like a thief in the night.” He made them “fully aware” that the day or general season is NOT revealed to us. This is the same thing Jesus said when His disciples asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.  

The “Day of the Lord” is a phrase used a lot in the Bible.  In the OT it refers to that future day when God will set things right with His creation. It is a day of destruction for sinners and a day of salvation for God’s people.  What Paul means by this phrase is defined for us in 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2.  Paul wrote, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you not to be alarmed by any spirit or message alleging that the Day of the Lord has come.”  

He equates “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him” WITH the Day of the Lord. The big story of that Day for believers, is resurrection and going to be with the Lord. But many other things will happen in that Day, including judgment and the destruction which Paul refers to. But first..  

Paul said, “THAT DAY will be like being robbed in the middle of the night.” This tells us two things about the Lord’s return: First we don’t know when it will happen. Believers don’t know and the unbelieving world certainly doesn’t know. No one knows when they will be robbed.  No one plans for that. It’s not on your calendar. My dad had a small grocery store in Martensdale, one night a thief broke in, and drilled open the safe and stole all the store’s cash. The thief didn’t tell us when he was coming!  

This unknown and unexpected timing of the Lord’s return is emphasized in most of the parables Jesus taught about his coming. Paul surely taught the Thessalonians these same parables. Jesus said, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  

In another parable Jesus said 10 virgins or bridesmaids were waiting for the groom so the wedding feast could begin. 5 brought enough oil to keep their lamps burning. 5 brought their lamps but no extra oil.  The coming of the groom was delayed and their lamps burned out.  So 5 left and went to get more oil. But by the time they came back, the groom had come, the wedding feast had already begun, the door was shut and they were excluded from the celebration. 

Jesus began this parable “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning”. He ended the parable saying, “You must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Jesus requires readiness, vigilance, and faithfulness to our duties right up to the moment of his return, because we don’t know when that will be. And that’s Paul’s message too.

Secondly: The idea of a thief coming in the middle of the night, ALSO communicates something unwanted, shocking, and terrifying. This IS what is will be like for unbelievers, “for those in darkness”.  

Verse 3 “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 unbelieving world is not expecting Jesus to return. They have no fear of God. They scoff at the idea of God’s wrath. Yet while while they think they have nothing to worry about, ESPECIALLY from Jesus Christ, then sudden destruction will come upon them.  Bob Dylan wrote:

Are you ready? Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, "Depart from me?"

Are you ready? When destruction comes swiftly
And there's no time to say a fare-thee-well
Have you decided whether you want to be
In Heaven or in Hell?

Are you ready? Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Paul said MANY won’t be. Destruction will come on them

like labor pains. His point is that labor pains can’t be escaped.  Birth pains come, whether you want them or not.  You can’t turn them off. Destruction will come LIKE THAT!  There’s a day coming when the opportunity of salvation WILL be over!  Before that day comes listen to the invitation of Jesus.  

Then in verse 4 Paul turns his attention back to us. “But you are NOT in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”  

DARKNESS means spiritual ignorance and blindness that leads to evil, careless, foolish living.  Believers in Jesus have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness. You are NOT in darkness brothers! Verse 5 “FOR you are all children of light, children of the day.” The light of God has shown into our hearts. We’ve been enlightened, illuminated by the message of Jesus Christ. So His coming will not be a bad surprise for us, but a glorious one, something we’ve longed for.

An urgent word: Verse 6 “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”  “Let us NOT sleep!” What a command! Please hear that. The Christian life LOOKS like being AWAKE! No one should be able to describe us as being asleep spiritually. 

Let us not sleep “AS OTHERS DO”. MOST people ARE spiritually asleep. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re complacent, unconcerned about spiritual things.  They have no energy or drive to please the Lord.  DO NOT be like them. Be wide awake, alert, actively serving Jesus and ready for Him to come. 

Verse 7 “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.” Paul adds the state of drunkenness to help us understand how we are NOT to live.    A person who is drunk is foolish, irresponsible, they can’t walk straight. They can’t carry out responsibilities. You can’t count on them. Verse 8 “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober.”  

The doesn’t mean we never laugh or smile. It means clear minded, NOT drunk, but alert, ready for action. It’s an attitude, a frame of mind. Got Questions said sober means, “Eliminating foolishness, frivolity, and mind-numbing silliness from our lives, and to focus on what is real, eternal.” 

We are serious about serving Jesus.  We’re to be responsible and clear minded.  We know what’s going on!  We know creation is groaning under the misery and curse of sin, and we eagerly hope and wait for that final redemption. We know the Lord Jesus Christ will come again and we are living like we believe that!  Sober, watching and waiting. 

Verse 8 “Be sober, having “PUT ON the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  Or let us be sober, BY putting on faith, love and hope. 

Paul switched to military terms to communicate how we are to live because we are in a battle.  That battle will be over someday. But for now you’d better, “FIGHT the good fight”.  Christianity is a street fight. That’s not all it is, but that IS a part of it.  There’s a lot of teaching out there that makes the Christian life all about success and ease and personal fulfillment. That ultimately leaves people disillusioned when they walk through a valley of deep darkness.  The Christian life is NOT a cake-walk. It’s war! So get your breastplate and your helmet on! 

This fight is so real, and deadly, that Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica “for fear that Satan had tempted them through suffering, and that his work among them had been “useless” or a waste.  He was afraid they’d been wiped out.  That can happen. If you’ve done well for a few months or maybe for several years DO NOT become overconfident.  Do not withdraw from fellowship. Do not become careless how you walk.  But be sober and vigilant clear to the end. 

It’s a fight so we’re commanded to put on the breastplate of faith and love. Faith protects you! Just let your faith down for a moment and you will see how badly beaten up you can get.  Ephesians  “Take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the evil one.” Satan is NOT playing around! We should not be playing around. Keep doing the things that build up your faith! Paul said, “Stand firm in the faith.  Act like men, or Be men of courage. Be strong. 1 Cor 16:13  

And put on the breastplate of love.  Love is a shield for the church and for each one of us.  Just stop walking in love for a little bit and see how much damage it causes the church, and  your relationships and your own soul!  Sow a sharp word or an outburst of anger and see what a foothold is given to the devil. 1Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Our love for one another defeats the work of sin and Satan.  John Gill “love to the saints...knits us together, preserves our unity and peace, and fortifies us against our common enemy.”    

And for a helmet, put on the hope of salvation.” We need hope to fight the good fight! Hope is joy and optimism that comes from what we KNOW about our future. Our hope is defined for us in verse 9 “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.”   

We are bound for glory and safety, not wrath.  When our Lord Jesus Christ comes for us, He comes as OUR Savior. But our hope is much more than safety from wrath and ruin. Our hope is to live together with Him. Verse 10 “He died for us SO THAT whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him. We will reign with him, worship Him and enjoy Him. 

He’s NOT talking about being awake of asleep spiritually here.  He’s saying whether we are physically alive when Jesus comes or if we are already dead, we WILL live with Jesus.  To be with Him is the answer to everything! Jesus is the bread of life, He is living water, the one who satisfies our hungers and our thirsts. In HIS presence is fullness of joy! He is Heaven! 

This is why Paul said, “I do not consider the sufferings of this present time worthy of being compared to the glory to be revealed to us.”  Our pains and disappointments feel SO big to us now.  Paul said our future glory is so awesome so massive it can’t even be compared to our suffering.  

Paul also described the present creation as being in bondage, but our future is “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  We don’t know all life with the Lord Jesus will be but it will be like total freedom as God’s children.  That phrase made me think about Grayson running free around our yard, picking flowers, skipping, jumping so happy and free.  Life with the Lord, will be like glorious freedom as the children of God.  Freedom from the corruption, pain and tears of this present life and totally free in God’s presence as His children.  

We are people who live by this promise!  We hope in things we do not YET see. Our hope is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, the completion of our salvation, gaining our resurrected bodies and being with Jesus always and forever.  If you are not willing to live under the influence and expectation of things you cannot see, the Christian life will not be very exciting.  But if you place your hope in our glorious future, your heart and life will become saturated with an unshakable optimism.     

Verse 11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  This is a command for ALL of us to take to heart! Paul didn’t write this to the elders or pastors. He began the letter: “We are writing to the church in Thessalonica!”  

We ALL have a responsibility to care for each other, to encourage and build up each other.   So we come back to the same application we had at the end of chapter 4. Let’s ask God to open our mouths, to be able to talk about these things freely with one another.  Amen.   

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