Here is a draft of a brief message on 1 Thes 5:1-11:
1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
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. 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.
What is the difference between good teams and great teams? The best teams know the winning formula. In soccer, Manchester United is world renowned for coming up with huge goals late in games when lesser sides would have folded and accepted defeat. In the NFL, the New England Patriots have demonstrated consistently for more than a decade the ability to win the biggest games often by the slimmest of margins. In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers led by superstar Kobe Bryant have won championship after championship. All of these teams across the sports spectrum share a key trait that undergirds their success: they all expect to win. They play confidently. They know that they will experience challenges and adversity, but they face such times with the assumption that they will prevail. Basketball legend and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan has said, “I felt that I had that winner mentality instilled in me….”
The key to courageous living for Christ is cultivating a deep-seated confidence that in the end love wins. God’s mission to establish his eternal reign of healing, hope, reconciliation, justice, and mercy is a done deal. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has secured the future for good. But hardships and tribulations remain for the present. Paul’s message today is simple. We are destined to win. We need to believe this. We need to embrace this. We need to live this out before a watching world.
In our Scripture lesson, Paul moves to wrap up his First Letter to the Thessalonians by affirming our hope in Jesus Christ. Paul writes to remind the earliest Christians in Thessalonica that the future is securely in God’s hands. This truth is the grounding for living fully for God in our daily lives.
The future is absolutely secure. God will bring human history to a decisive and just end. The biblical promises and metaphors of an eternal era of peace and righteousness will come to fruition. God’s victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection has paved the way for the future of God’s dreams. Paul’s teaching in our Scripture lesson assumes this.
Perhaps surprisingly Paul opens his exhortations with a stern warning against the temptation to focus on trying to figure the time and season of God’s climactic actions. History has proven Paul’s words to be necessary and applicable throughout the ages. The security of the future is good news. But knowing the day and hour is unnecessary and irrelevant. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (24:36). Yet rather than reflecting deep on the security of knowing that the God’s ultimate victory is a done deal, many focus instead on trying to figure out when the end will occur. The obsession with figuring out the times and seasons leads to disappointment when human predictions prove wrong and loss of focus on doings God’s work in the world today. It is enough for us as followers of Christ to know that human history is moving toward a remarkably good and just future.
So what is the purpose of Paul’s focus on the coming of Jesus at the end of days? Paul desires for us to live profound and courageous lives as his people before a watching world. The message of our secure future is meant for encouraging and building us up so that we can serve as vital witnesses to the power of the Gospel in the presnt. To this end he gives a two-fold positive exhortation.
First, in light of our secure future, Paul says, “Be ready.” Rather than working to figure out when the end will arrive, Paul suggests a different approach. We are to live each day with the assumption that Christ may come. How would our lives be different if we truly thought that today might be the last day of the present age? How would our priorities be different? How would we spend our resources? How would we divide up our time? Paul declares that our lives must be lived with a sense of urgency. Now is not the time for complacency or resting on our laurels. The Gospel is humanity’s only true hope. Each of us has a role to play in advancing God’s mission of extending his blessing, grace, and mercy to all. To be ready is to live each day with no regrets because we gave our all for the sake of the Gospel. Paul uses the metaphors of light/darkness and sobriety/drunkenness to capture the mood.
Second, Paul says, “Live well.” This is not a prosperity message. Paul is not calling us to affluence and security in the present. Paul is calling us to a life lived well for the sake of the Gospel. We are children of the day. Therefore Paul deploys the familiar triad of faith, love, and hope. In verse 8, Paul describes these as armor. Paul is under no illusion that the Christian life is easy. Yes, our future is absolutely secure¬—Jesus died for us so that we may abide with him now and forever. But we will continue to face hardships, persecution, and challenges. Such times serve as opportunities for offering a profound witness for the Gospel. We are not to shrink back in fear but to shine like stars on a dark night (Phil 2:15).
No matter the score, by the end of the fourth quarter, God’s love will prevail. This is the hope that Paul announces. Now is no time for clock watching or for computing how much time is left. Rather we are to be ready daily and live fully for God’s mission in our day. Let us live courageously by faith, be known to the world by love, and serve tangibly as voices of hope to others who desperately need what only the Gospel can provide. Amen.