1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1. Two Poles
Attitudes in life are often poles apart.
There are those who are full of the joys of life, who get on with living and who refuse to allow anything to get them down. They want to be part of every minute of their existence; they don’t want to miss out on any single moment.
And there are those who are mournful, who seem to get little joy out of life. They seem to have this sour disposition about them and seem to be in a constant state of “dying” (and I mean that in more than just a physical way).
And, then of course there are plenty of people in between, with all the people who swing from one extreme to the other.
And the members of the church are no different. Which is odd really. Because as Christians, we’re not supposed to be mournful, and we’re not supposed be even those people in between. We’re supposed to be people full of life and full of joy. But is that what we really experience?
2. The Thessalonian Experience
Now to give an example of exactly what I mean, I want to refer to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Because, on the one hand, we should have a picture of a church that was full of life and full of joy. But the reality is that we have a picture of a group of people who were the exact opposite.
And the reason for that, was that Paul and others had taught the people about the Second Coming of Christ. And specifically about how they needed to be ready for his coming again. The trouble was the people had given his teaching a twist and had got it all wrong.
Because when the teaching about the Second Coming had sunk in, they became convinced the event was imminent. Many gave up work, many gave up meeting together, and consequently many gave up caring for one another. Indeed, many believed that if the Second Coming was imminent then to continue to do all those things was pointless. If Jesus was going to appear any day then there was no point in putting in more crops, or even meeting together. As a consequence, many just sat around their homes waiting for Jesus to appear. And so a group within the Thessalonians church had become lazy and uncaring. They had given up “living” and had taken on “dying”.
And, of course, when the Second Coming didn’t come as quickly as they’d hoped, many also became sad and down. They became concerned about the fate of those who had died, and would die, before the Second Coming arrived. And they were concerned that the dead would miss out on eternal life.
Talk about people giving up on “life”. For a church that should have been very much alive, there was a group within it who were the exact opposite. They’d twisted the whole teaching about the Second Coming around. And the really sad thing was, that this group probably thought they were doing the right thing. However, the result of their actions was that the situation was far from ideal, and they were dragging the rest of the church down with them.
B. PAUL’S TEACHING
Now obviously this was not a healthy situation for the church. But, fortunately, Paul in Corinth heard what was going on. And as a consequence, he wrote to the Thessalonians and tried to help them with their negative attitudes.
And in regard to the subject of Jesus coming again, Paul didn’t have anything new to say on the subject. So instead he repeated the teaching he had given them when he had been present with them.
1. Aspects of the Second Coming (2-3)
And bearing in mind the circumstances, he did not water the message down; he did not trivialise the importance of the Second Coming. Rather he confirmed everything they had previously been taught: That Jesus would come again; that Jesus would be coming to judge the world; that Jesus would be coming to gather his people to himself; and that when he came, he would bring with him those who had already died (4:14).
Furthermore, Paul continued, people would still be taken by surprise. Because there were some who didn’t believe it would happen. While the others would be surprised at its unpredictable timing.
Nevertheless, Paul said, Jesus’s coming again was inevitable and they needed to be prepared for it.
2. The Importance of Living (4-11)
And having briefly restated the very thing that the Thessalonians were concerned about, Paul then moved on to challenge the attitudes of the members of the church—contrasting a “living” attitude to a “dying” one. And he challenged them to live the faith.
a). A Thief in the Night (2-3)
In other words, they could live like a thief, like someone who went around at night and took things that belonged to others—thieving at times they thought no one was watching and living in false hopes that they would not be caught. Or they could live lives which were more transparent and open—giving and not taking; being concerned for others rather than maintaining a selfish attitude; and where peace and security were genuine options, and not false hopes.
b). Sons of the Light (4-5)
They could continue to behave as people who didn’t care for anyone else. They could continue to do as they pleased separated from the concerns of others—an attitude that was far from loving and terribly destructive. Or they could behave as though pleasing God was the most important thing in life—upholding God’s laws and standards; living as people who have been adopted by God as his own children.
c). Being Alert and Self-Controlled (6-7)
They could continue to live life having lost the plot, not really having any control in their own lives—even at times losing self-control. Or they could be awake and alert, mindful of what was happening around them, and being aware of the need to practice God’s standards at all times.
d). Belonging to the Day (8)
They could live their lives as though tomorrow didn’t matter, as though living life had little meaning. And if it did have meaning, it was only what they could get out of it for themselves. Or they could live knowing that being a Christian was the most important thing in life; that the Second Coming was an event to look forward to; and that faith, love, and salvation were not just ideas on a piece of paper but were things that were to be lived and experienced too.
e). Living with Jesus (9-10)
And they could live as though “faith” didn’t matter; that religion was an optional extra; or that there were limits that need to be placed on religion and beliefs. After which there was no need to go any further. Or they could live the Christian faith as more than just an intellectual acknowledgement of the Resurrection event. And that included a commitment to live with Jesus, and to follow his example in everything that they said and did.
f). Encouraging One Another (11)
And having contrasted those “dying” kinds of attitude to the more Christian concepts of “living”, Paul then concluded that the appropriate action for the church members, was to stop doing their own thing; to stop the practice of not meeting together; to stop being so mournful and negative, pulling the rest of the church down with them; and to re-engage the idea of meeting together, with the purpose of encouraging and building up one another, as a few had continued to do.
The church at Thessalonica, then, was a great example of the way churches were not supposed to be. It included a group of people who should have been full of “life” but, in reality, lived a very “death-like” existence.
And Paul’s response, was not to deny the Second Coming but to repeat its inevitability. And he followed that up by encouraging its members to “live” the Christian life. And if they did that, yes, they might still be surprised at the timing of the Second Coming, but they wouldn’t be caught short or caught unawares when it happened.
Now for me the teaching of Paul on this particular issue is an extremely valuable part of the Bible. In less than a chapter he summed up what the attitude of all Christians—and what the attitude of all churches—was meant to be. Because it’s not just the Thessalonian church that needed to be ready and willing to “live” the Christian life, we need to be ready and “live” the Christian life too.
Because no matter how long it is before the Second Coming—and indeed we may all be dead before that happens—the challenge is that we should all be “living” life as Paul described. And we should be putting behind us any “dying” attitude that we may have.
More specifically that means:
a). A Thief in the Night
Instead of having an attitude of taking and keeping, holding on to things for ourselves, and keeping hold of the things that we love, we need to pursue an attitude of giving and helping. And that may mean giving up some of the things that we treasure in order to make God more accessible to people.
In addition, things shouldn’t be done in secret or behind closed doors, or in small groups or little enclaves. But everything should be done in the open for everyone to see.
b). Sons of the Light
Instead of having a don’t care attitude, where we have no idea what others are facing and where prejudice abounds, we need to pursue a life style very much in the model that Jesus gave us. We need to model our lives on the kind of person that Jesus was, and we need to copy him in everything that we say and do.
Yes, that may make some of us very uncomfortable. But I’m not sure how else you can really care for people unless you’re prepared to stand alongside them and in their shoes.
c). Being Alert and Self-Controlled
Instead of being unaware or only mildly interested in what goes on around us, we need to go out of our way to be aware—and be involved in the solutions that may arise.
We need to mindful, not only of the things that affect us, but the things that affect other people too. And we need to be part of the solution too.
d). Belonging Belong to the Day
Instead of being people who only think about today and what we have to do, we need to be people whose minds are constantly focussed on the Second Coming of Christ, and how, faith, hope, and love not only affect us as we travel on our journey of faith but how that Day will affect others too.
We need to be willing and able to share it with others. And not keep our faith and hopes to ourselves.
e). Living with Jesus
Instead of people following different role models or even people doing our own thing, we need to be people who have one role model only—Jesus.
We need to examine his life, his concerns, his motivations, and his relationship with God, and we need to walk side by side with him every minute of every day.
f). Encouraging One Another
And instead of people who come to church only when they like it—and sometimes tell ourselves that have more important things to do—we need to be people who meet together regularly, and who see meeting together, caring for each other, and building each other up as more important than any of the excuses that we hear used regularly why people don’t come.
It’s not just the Thessalonian church, then, that needed to learn the lesson about “living” life, we need to learn it too. And Paul has given us a number of basic pointers on how to begin.
Paul’s teaching concentrates on being positive, not negative. It emphasises the need to “live” life.
Because no one knows whether the world will last another thousand years, one hundred years, or ten years. No one knows when Jesus will come again. And no one knows whether they will even be alive at the end of the day.
But what we can know is whether we are ready to meet our maker, whether the Second Coming should come first or whether we will die before it comes. And how we can know that we are ready, is whether we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and whether we are actually “living” life too.
In one sense the Thessalonian experience may seem to have been very extreme, but the reality is that many people—even in our churches—live more of a “dying” type of existence rather than “living” life.
Now it’s probably not how they intended it to be, and they may have good motives and began by believing they were doing the right thing. But the end result for the Thessalonians was that they were a group of people who lived a far from positive existence. And as a result they were dragging the whole church down with them. And the same is true in many of our churches today.
So, today, we are faced with a challenge: What will we do with Paul’s teaching on the Second Coming? Will we embrace it and “live” life? Or will we twist it and adopt a more “dying” kind of approach?
When the Second Coming comes, we may all be surprised at its timing. But let us not be unprepared. Let us make “living” the Christian life our number one priority.
Posted: 21st February 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11