Fighting To Stay Awake
Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,
I Thessalonians 5:1-11
We have this phrase in modern culture, “Fighting to stay awake.” It’s often used about children who resist sleep when there’s something they don’t want to miss. Paul can claim to be the first to utilize this image as he brings two unlikely themes together in the fifth chapter of I Thessalonians, wakefulness and fighting. Notice the teaching Paul provides to the church in Thessalonica as they are advised to remain on alert for silent threats of evil. Most of the time, when we think of evil, we tend to associate it with something loud, obvious, and easy to identify. For Paul, although some forms of evil might strike this way, the most dangerous varieties are a quiet assault. It ambushes us from behind, and we hardly even know it’s happened. As “children of the day,” Paul counsels believers to remain aware of the hazards of false security. Observe the message the Thessalonians were hearing. “There is peace and security!” Rewind to Jeremiah’s message in the Old Testament, and it’s very similar. The prophet denounces those who speak peace, where there is no peace. For both Paul and Jeremiah, we don’t establish security merely by avoiding problems. Our only real security is found through a heart rightly related to God. Sometimes a person may have immediate consequence from unrighteous action, but not always. A person doesn’t determine right and wrong by immediate consequences, but by God’s revealed truth, even when trouble is absent.
Paul is convinced that a person may not experience the shattering fallout of unrighteousness for years. The temptation is to conclude because there are no direct correlating problems with my behavior at this moment, that’s a sign it’s acceptable. If I feel good about it and my society feels good about it, then that’s enough to make it consistent with God’s expectations. Thessalonica was a beautiful city that attracted numerous tourists and Roman visitors. It was a diverse place with beliefs and behaviors across the vast spectrum. Paul knew the Thessalonians would hear contradictory messages, different strokes for different folks, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, just live and let live. Unfortunately, with all these points of view, the mindset approaches life as if all truth claims are inherently equal. Paul was clear that the believer’s message was unique and required uncompromising faith and a warrior’s conviction to maintain. It’s at this point where Paul compares the seductions with getting lulled into a spiritual sleep. False messengers insist we should view ideas contrary to pure doctrine as harmless and even beneficial. For a believer to live as a child of the light won’t come easy, and it won’t come naturally. Wakefulness requires resistance. There is a determination involved, and the only images Paul finds fitting are military images. Those who intend to stay on the alert must put on the breastplate of faith and a helmet of hopeful salvation.
The message is vivid. If our spiritual wakefulness does not strike as a relentless battle, then we need to reevaluate. One of the most curious and unexpected images of God in the New Testament is a thief. It’s a term that reoccurs in numerous places. Paul shows accountability is assured. Those who are wise will prepare. When problems are absent, one can falsely conclude that outward security correlates with inward security. If we adopt this mindset, then we are at risk of drifting into a spiritual sleep. God’s desire is that all obtain salvation and enjoy eternal enrichment. The privileges which are associated with this relationship require unwavering loyalty and uncompromising honor. Our risk isn’t giving in to pressures that are loud and obvious. People don’t drift into sleep when cannonballs are firing. Sleep is a risk when things are seductively quiet and giving the false impression everything is harmless. The only real security is a heart rightly aligned with God. To remain in this condition requires a mindset ready to fight to stay on the alert.