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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 1045am Service 2014-07-24

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In last week’s sermon we learned that Christ’s death has turned our death into sleep, and thus we should not be afraid of death anymore. Sleep is a good thing when it brings a long-expected rest to us. But sleep can also be a bad thing – especially when we are not supposed to be asleep. Falling asleep during a lecture or a sermon results in wasted time. Falling asleep while working may cost an employee his job. Falling asleep while driving may result in a serious accident. Falling asleep while flying an airplane may result in the loss of many lives. In a survey of 500 British pilots that was done last year more than half of them said that they had fallen asleep while in charge of a plane. Of the 56% who admitted sleeping, 29% said they had woken up to find the co-pilot asleep as well!

We can see how important it is for those who perform critical tasks to stay awake and remain alert. This will help us now to understand our own need to watch and be sober as we live the Christian life in the last days. This is the critical task which God has given to us. “Watch and be sober” is the great exhortation that is given to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

I. Why We Need to Watch and Be Sober (vv.1-5)

A. Because of the Approaching Day of the Lord (vv.1-3)

In this passage Paul continued with the teaching he had been giving on the Return of Christ. You may remember from last week’s sermon that he had told the Thessalonians that Christ would “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (4:16) And then all believers who are alive when Christ returns will be “caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” (4:17) This glorious event is certainly something we should all look forward to. But what everyone would like to know is, “When? When will Christ return?” The answer that is given in the first two verses of our text is, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”

Paul had probably related these things to the Thessalonians at the time when he was with them. He had probably told them what Jesus had said in Matthew 24:36 & 42 – “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only… Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” And now in this epistle, Paul reminds them to watch, i.e. to be alert at all times for the Lord’s coming. For Christ will come when the world least expects Him to come, and many will be taken by surprise. It will be a real catastrophe for them!

Two illustrations are given in vv.2,3 to show the unexpected nature of Christ’s return. The first is that of a thief in the night. No thief would ever disclose to anyone the time when he will strike. This illustration was actually used by Christ Himself in Matthew 24:43-44 – “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” The second illustration is the onset of a mother’s labour pains. If you were to ask any expectant mother in her 9th month when her baby will come, she can only say,“Sometime this week or next week.” She will only know that it is coming when the contractions begin.

The fact is that we do not know the exact time when Christ will return to bring His raptured and resurrected saints up to heaven. Many have tried to predict the date of His return, but all without any success. One of them was an American radio broadcaster named Harold Camping. He predicted that Christ would return on 21 May 2011. This created quite a stir as it was advertised widely through radio stations, billboards and tracts translated into 75 languages. Many of his followers quit their jobs and sold all their possessions in anticipation of the great event. But when the day came, nothing happened. Camping then changed his prediction to 21 October 2011. When nothing happened again, he made a public apology, and said that no one knows the time of Christ’s return.

We will probably hear more predictions like this in the days to come from people who claim to know when Christ will return. The fact remains that we cannot know exactly when this will happen. All we know is what the Lord Jesus Himself had already revealed in Matthew 24 about certain signs that will precede His coming. By comparing this with current events we can tell that His return is imminent. With every passing day, we are brought one step closer to His return. The stage is already being set for it – There is a worldwide trend toward globalization. This may lead to a global super-currency and the formation of a one-world government. Every day we hear news of unending conflicts between Israel and Hamas – no peace settlement seems to be possible for them. This may set the stage for the Antichrist to gain the world’s admiration when he successfully mediates an effective peace settlement! Time does not permit me to list more of these signs of the times. But the point is this: As we see these events taking place we should realise that the return of Christ is near, and thus we need to watch and be sober.

However it is not easy to be watchful. Watching requires much concentration and endurance. Those of us who have been in NS may know what it is like to be on guard duty at night. In the first hour you may be very fresh and alert, looking out carefully for any movement or sounds that may betray the enemy’s presence. But in the second hour, your mind begins to wander. You become less careful because you are distracted from your duty. By the third hour, you begin to feel very bored, because of the inactivity and it becomes very difficult to concentrate. And unless someone comes to take over your guard duty by then, you will probably fall asleep.

A similar situation took place one night at the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ took three of his closest disciples with Him and told them to “watch with Him one hour.” But when He came to them, He found them all asleep and rebuked them sharply – “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40,41). Our Lord Jesus has also commanded us to be watchful until He returns. But unlike the disciples who only received a rebuke when they were found asleep, the consequences of being found asleep when Christ returns will be a lot greater.

 

B. Because of the Awful Danger of Being Found Asleep (vv.3-7)

 

Sleep is an activity associated with night and darkness. Therefore to be found asleep when Christ returns implies that one belongs to the darkness rather than the light. In the Bible, light and darkness are used as contrasting metaphors for Holiness and sin, Good and Evil; Knowledge and Ignorance, as well as Truth and Falsehood.

 

Paul now uses this sharp contrast between light and darkness in verses 4-7 to bring out the difference between believers and unbelievers –  “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.”

 

We notice that the ones who are called ‘brethren’ in these verses are those who are not in darkness, who are not of the night, and who are not asleep. The implication here is clear: If a person is found spiritually asleep when Christ returns, this reveals that he is of the night and of darkness. This means that he is not saved. Though he may profess to be a Christian, he does not possess Christ as his Lord and Saviour. When the saints are raptured he will be utterly shocked to find that he is left behind to suffer God’s awful wrath with all unbelievers! Will this happen to you?

 

Please take this scenario seriously and examine yourself: Are you still waiting and watching for the return of Christ? Or have you fallen asleep? How long will you remain asleep? Remaining asleep for too long may mean that one is in a coma. A comatose patient looks like he is just asleep. He is inactive and unconscious, but he is still alive, since his heart still beats and he is still breathing. But unlike a sleeping man, he does not wake up after a few hours. He remains unconscious for days or weeks, and in rare cases, even for years!

How does this apply to us? A Christian who is in a comatose state has lost consciousness of God in his life. He becomes spiritually inactive and is no longer growing in Christ nor having a close walk with Him. He may still attend church and have all the outward forms of religion, but he does not respond to the Word of God when he hears it. I have known Christians who remain in such a state for weeks, months and even years. But the worse part of it all is that they themselves do not know how serious their condition is. They do not feel that anything is wrong with them. And that is not a good sign at all. For just like a physically comatose patient, the spiritually comatose Christian is in a most dangerous condition and urgently needs help, but he is not aware of the awful state he is in.

Perhaps this may also be true of you. Please examine yourself to see if you are in a spiritual coma. Was there a time when you used to be more spiritually responsive, more conscious of God’s work in your life, and fervently serving the Lord than you are now? Was there a time when you lived your life more fully for the Lord Jesus Christ than you do now? Was there a time when you loved Him much more than now - with all you heart, soul and mind? Has your love grown cold because other things have crowded their way into your life and demanded your time and affections? Have you been slipping deeper and deeper into spiritual slumber?

When a doctor deals with an unconscious patient one of the first things he does is to make a quick assessment of the depth of his coma. Now in medical terminology there are four levels of coma. In coma one the patient is drowsy, but he can still speak and respond to external stimulus. In coma two, the patient is asleep, but he can still open his eyes when someone speaks to him or touches him. In coma three, the patient will not respond to sound or touch, but only to painful stimulus, such as pressing one of his nerves against a bone. The deepest type of coma is coma four, where nothing at all can arouse the patient from unconsciousness. The deeper the level of coma, the worse his condition is.

There are also different levels of spiritual coma. There are Christians who backslide for a time, but they respond well to a brother’s counsel and wake up from their spiritual coma. There are some who remain totally unresponsive to God’s Word until a painful trial jolts them back to life. But there are also some who have plunged so deep into spiritual coma that they never, never wake up even until the day they die. That shows that they were not saved at all to begin with. The Bible teaches us that the Lord knows those who are truly His (2 Timothy 2:19) – those who are truly saved and who are not saved. Those who are saved will eventually revive from their spiritual coma and will return to the Lord before they die, or before the return of Christ.

But the Bible also teaches that there are some who never wake up at all because they were never saved in the first place, even though earlier on they may have looked as if they were saved. Hebrews 6:4-6 refers to them as “those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” but all that avails nothing because of the end result – they have fallen away and cannot be renewed again unto repentance.

Let this therefore be a warning to us. If you realise that you have fallen asleep spiritually, then you must take immediate measures to come out of it. Verse 6 of our text says, “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others…” Seek for spiritual revival now, before you descend any further and reach the death-like condition from which there is no awakening. Please do not think that you can delay taking action a little longer, assuming that the Lord is always so patient with His children. It is true that the Lord is longsuffering toward us, but that does not mean we can try His patience, and expect Him to wait a little longer. What if Christ returns tomorrow? Will you be caught unprepared?

Brethren, this is not the time to be spiritually asleep, but the time to be fully awake and alert. The sense of His imminent return should fill us, both with a sense of gladness, as well as a sense of fear – gladness that He is coming soon to save us out of this wicked world, and fear that we might be found asleep and totally unprepared to meet Him. So let us therefore go on to now consider…

 

II. How to Watch and Be Sober (vv.8-11)

A. Keep Your Mind in Touch with Reality

The first thing you need to do is to keep your mind in touch with reality. This is mentioned in verse 8 – “But let us, who are of the day, be sober…” A sober mind is always in touch with reality. It is not clouded with distorted perceptions of life but is able to see all things as God sees them. In contrast to that, a person who gets himself drunk is not sober. His perception of things around him is entirely distorted. He lives in his own world, and is out of touch with reality. Alcohol is not the only thing that affects the mind like this.

Another thing that can distort our perception of life is overindulgence in today’s media. Much of what is found in the mass media and entertainment world is actually out of touch with reality. For instance, tabloid newspapers often thrive on reports of hideous crimes, scandals and accidents. On the other extreme, some publications thrive on stories that show only the good side of man. Beer adverts often show that drinking beer is a sign of manliness, social acceptance and status. What they never show are the terrible accidents, lawsuits and deaths caused by drunken driving! Therefore you should not believe everything you see or hear on the media. You need to exercise good discernment as much of it is deliberate misrepresentation, exaggeration and plain propaganda.

Many shows that are aired on TV and in movies are the creations of the script-writer’s fertile imagination. They are fictitious portrayals of life presented very convincingly by skilled actors and realistic computer graphics. But they can captivate the viewer’s mind so fully that he becomes totally engrossed with the storyline, and for a while his mind is lost in unreality.

Another thing that can distort one’s perception of reality is video game addiction. Research by two universities in 2011 revealed that some gamers involuntarily integrated elements of video game playing into real life with results that were quite bizarre, e.g. seeing health bars appear above other people's heads and instinctively pressing a controller button even when not playing games. Half of the study subjects said that they often use elements of game playing to help them solve real-life problems.

Since overindulgence of the media, entertainment and video games can shape the minds and thinking of people so powerfully, the Devil will sure exploit them to the fullest to keep people in darkness and to make them blind to the reality of sin and to their real need for salvation. Please do not let him do this to you. You need to resist these influences of the world so that you can always keep in touch with reality, and so that you can maintain a clear undistorted perception, seeing all things as God sees them. This is the first thing that you need to do in order to watch and be sober. The next thing you need to do is to…

B. Maintain Your Spiritual Readiness

The latter part of v.8 provides a picture of readiness – a picture of a soldier in protective armour –  “…putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” This spiritual armour will protect us from falling back into our old sinful habits, and lapsing into spiritual slumber again. An analogy can be found in Matthew 12:43-45, which describes how a man got rid of an unclean spirit, but because he did not fill the void left in his life with the things of God, the unclean spirit came back and found his heart so nicely swept and cleaned, that he brought 7 other spirits that were more wicked than him to live there.

What should we do then to prevent ourselves from falling back into our old ways? Put on the armour of God. Two pieces of the armour are mentioned here: The breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation. This is amplified in Ephesians 6:10-18 where it is called the “whole armour of God.

In a nutshell what all this means is that your old sinful habits must be replaced with good spiritual virtues such as faith, love and hope. Fill your time with things that help you to cultivate these virtues, like prayer and fellowship. Saturate your mind with the Word of God – attend Bible studies and read good Christian books. Above all, fill your life with the Lord Jesus Christ. Give Him the supreme place He deserves in your heart. Invest much time building a close walk with Him in your daily devotions. Walking with the Lord every day of your life is your most powerful safeguard against falling asleep spiritually. He will hold you fast to the end. This brings us to the next thing that we need to do in order to watch and be sober…

C. Trust in God’s Faithfulness

Our success ultimately depends not on how well we keep watching, but on God’s untiring efforts to watch over us. God is faithful. He never slumbers or sleeps. Verse 9 tells that,  “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ...” This means that the outcome is fully assured. He ensures that we will obtain salvation, no matter what happens. This assurance is a tremendous encouragement to us, especially at moments when we feel weak and weary of watching and waiting for the return of Christ.

Some of us may be following the Youth Olympics which started in Nanjing a week ago. Most of the long-distance athletics events are scheduled to take place today: The men’s 3,000 m race, the women’s 3,000 m race and the men’s 10 km race walk. Among all athletics events, these are the ones that require stamina, patience and endurance. The most difficult part of the race is not the start or the end but the middle, when the athlete begins to feel tired and exhausted. Despite that, he needs to maintain an even pace, and overcome the urge to slow down or to stop. One thing that can help him then, is to keep his mind focused on the end result – How good he will feel when he crosses the finish line and sees his loved ones cheering him on, and how exhilarating it will be to have the race medal placed around his neck.

The Christian life is like a long-distance race. You may begin well, but after some time, you get tired and become weary of living for Christ. Along the way you encounter distractions, you face difficulties and you get bogged down with discouragements. It gets harder and harder to keep up the pace, and you may feel too exhausted to carry on running. What should you do when this happens? Do the same thing that long-distance runners do – Keep your mind focused on the end result, as described in vv.9,10 – “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”

Let us think carefully on these things: Since God has been so merciful to spare us from wrath, shouldn’t we press on gratefully? Since He has appointed us to obtain salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ, will we not be able to reach the end? And since Christ has died for us, then no matter what happens, we will surely end up living together with Him when He returns. This is the outcome that God has appointed for our salvation, and it provides all the strength and encouragement that we need to keep on watching and being sober until Christ returns. We must make full use of it.

And as we are encouraged by God’s faithfulness to keep watching and being sober, we should use it to encourage others to do the same. This brings us to the fourth thing we need to do…

D. Help One Another to Press On

This is mentioned in v.11 –  “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”  As the day of Christ’s return draws nearer, the challenges we face will grow greater, and we will need more help from each other to watch and to be sober. The help is mutual. When you start to fall asleep I must care enough to wake you up. When I get tired and begin to lose alertness, I need your help to stay awake.

 That is why it is so important for us to maintain close fellowship with one another. As Hebrew 10:24,25 tells us – “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Dearly beloved, our Lord Jesus is returning soon! Let us do all that we can now to help one another to watch and be sober, as we patiently wait for His glorious return. 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25