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Awake and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Falling asleep

Have you ever found yourself falling asleep when you ought to be staying awake?

New year’s eve

Maybe you’ve waited up to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks on TV only to find yourself struggling to stay awake. You want to stay up, but your eyes become heavy and every so often you find yourself closing them. You open them again, but it gets harder and harder. You begin to drift in and out of sleep until you eventually either give up and just go to sleep there on the lounge or you do the sensible thing and take yourself off to bed. Either way you miss the whole thing.

At the wheel

While missing the fireworks might be a little disappointing falling asleep at other times can have much more serious consequences. I regularly travel up to Newcastle to visit my mum. When I’m driving, I must be careful because I often find myself struggling to stay awake. I have patches where I don’t sleep well at night and at those times, I have to be very careful to not fall asleep behind the wheel. On several occasions I’ve had to pull over on the side of the road and go for a walk or sometimes I’ll just have a short 20 minute nap which is enough to refresh me so that I can keep going.

Falling asleep while driving can have very serious consequences. A 2022 study by Monash University had some alarming statistics. It reported that “one Australian dies every day on the road after falling asleep at the wheel with drowsy driving estimated to contribute to 20% of Australian car accidents annually.”[1]

For the coming of the Lord Jesus

In the passage today that we are looking at from the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, Paul warned the believers there about the dangers of falling asleep. He wrote that they were not to be like those who belong to the night who were asleep, but they were to be awake and sober.

1 Thessalonians 5:6

6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober[2].

What they needed to be awake and sober for was the coming of the Lord. In the previous chapter Paul had reassured the believers in Thessalonica that those who had fallen asleep in the Lord (in that they had died) would not miss out when the Lord came again. In this passage when he refers to those who are asleep, except on one occasion he isn’t referring to the dead in Christ but those who aren’t prepared for the coming of the Lord. In this passage the Thessalonians are reminded that if they were to be ready and prepared for the coming of Jesus (the Day of the Lord) then they weren’t to be like those who belong to the night who sleep (unbelievers who are ignorant and dead in their sin) but they were to stay awake and sober.

2. The day of the Lord

This morning, we want to understand how we are to remain awake and sober so that we are prepared for the coming of the Lord.

Like a thief in the night

In verses 1 to 3 the apostle Paul has reminded the believers what they needed to remember about the day of the Lord. He said that he didn’t need to write to them about these things because they already knew about the day of the Lord. The fact that he does remind them of these things is perhaps indicative of just how important it is to remember these things and just how quickly we can also forget them. The thing that we need to remember about the coming of the Lord is that he will come like a thief in the night.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

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 labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

It will catch many unprepared

The coming of the Lord Jesus will catch many by surprise for as the Lord Jesus said, he will come at an hour “when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). It was the Lord himself who first likened his coming to that of a thief in the night. He said to the disciple that they need to understand that …

Matthew 24:43-44

If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready…

Kylie and I have had our home broken into twice in our life. The first time it was while we were both at work, but the second time the thief came at night while we were there, asleep in the house. We were fast asleep. We must have been completely out to it because the thief came into our bedroom and took our wallets from our bedside tables. Of course, if we had known the thief was coming you could bet your bottom dollar, we would have been awake and ready for them. All the lights would have been on in the house, and we would have been up and about and not caught by surprise.

But with the coming of the Lord, Paul makes it clear that there will be many who will be unprepared or surprised by his appearance. People will have a false sense of security. They will think that they are secure with nothing to worry about, and it will be while they are talking of their “peace and security” that suddenly destruction will come on them like the labour pains of a pregnant woman. They will not escape the judgment coming on this world.

The Lord Jesus said that his coming will be just like it was in the days of Noah before the flood. People will be just getting on with life, eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage not aware of what was just around the corner, until it happened, and the flood came and took them all away. He said that this would be how it would be at the coming of Son of Man (see Matthew 24:36-41). People will be unprepared for the day of judgment coming on the world.

It ought not catch us by surprise

But Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica that it ought not catch them by surprise because they don’t belong to the night or the darkness but are children of the light and the day.

1 Thessalonians 5:4-5

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.

It’s those who belong to the night or the darkness who will be surprised on that day. But we belong to that new day. We no longer belong to the night which is coming to an end. The light of the gospel has shone into our hearts and woken us up out of our slumber ahead of the new day that is about to dawn (2 Cor. 4:4-6). We are now children of the light, who belong to the day and who are now eagerly awaiting its arrival. We don’t know exactly when it will be but because this is what we are looking forward to and are waiting for it ought not surprise us.  We ought not to belong to the night.

We are to be awake and sober

As children of the light and the day we are to stay awake and be sober as we wait for the new day to dawn in all its fullness.

1 Thessalonians 5:6-7

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.

Paul has explained that those who sleep and get drunk do so at night. They sleep or get drunk because they belong to the night. But that is not who we are, and we are not to be like them. We therefore need to be awake and sober so that we might be ready for his coming.

We are to put on the armour of light

But how do we remain awake and sober so that we are ready for the Lord when he returns? Paul told the Thessalonians that they needed to put on two pieces of armour, a breastplate, and a helmet. These were protective pieces of a soldier’s kit that were worn to protect the most important parts of their body. This isn’t the only time Paul has used the image of a soldier’s body armour to encourage believers to stand firm. Paul told the Ephesians to put on the full armour of God so that they can stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11). He also told the Romans that the night is nearly over, and the day is almost here. They were to discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light behaving decently as in the daytime (see Romans 13:11-12).

Here in this letter, Paul has reminded the Thessalonians that they are children of the day and light and that they were put on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For the apostle it is putting on this armour that will enable the believer to stand firm and to hold our ground while waiting for the coming of the Lord. It’s being clothed in these things that will protect us from the evil one and his schemes that are all about lulling us back to sleep so that we aren’t ready for the coming of the Lord.

The breastplate of faith and love

Paul firstly says that they are to put on faith and love as a breastplate. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:6). In a world in which believer will face trials and temptation we need to learn to walk by faith in the Lord. We need to grow in faith and Paul rejoiced when he saw believers growing in faith and love (see 2 Thess. 1:3 & 1 Thess 1:3).

We need faith as a breastplate because it is what protects us from the evil one and his schemes. In the letter to the Ephesians Paul referred to faith as a shield by which the believer can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (see Ephesians 6:16).

We must learn to trust the Lord Jesus and what he has done for us in the face of opposition and hardship. We need to trust his wisdom and not the wisdom of this world or our own wisdom. We need to trust in his promises when we are going through trials and the tempter is there tempting us to give up and just go back to sleep like the rest of humanity or to just give ourselves over to those sinful desires. We must trust the Lord Jesus so that we can stand against the schemes of the evil one.

Love also protects us. For the apostle Paul love is the outworking of genuine faith (see Galatians 5:6). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that even if someone had faith to move mountains, that without love it would be nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1). It was hearing the good news of the Thessalonians’ faith and love that encouraged the apostle, because he knew that they were standing firm in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8). In the letter to the Ephesians Paul talks about the believers being rooted and firmly established in love (Eph.3:17). We are to grow in love. This is what Paul often prayed for and urged believers to do. We are to love God and others and not the things of this world.

The helmet of the hope of salvation

Lastly, we need to put on the hope of salvation for it’s the hope of our salvation that strengthen us so that we can stand firm in the face of opposition and hardship. It’s by knowing that the night is nearly over, and that the day is near that we are encouraged to stand firm and wait patiently in hope for the coming of the Lord. Paul wrote in chapter 1 that their endurance was inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3). The believer stands firm in their faith despite the hardships that they might have to face while waiting for Jesus to return by holding on to the hope of salvation. We must put our hope in what is to come and not just what we can have now.

When trust in Jesus and love of God and the hope of salvation are lacking then we are in great danger of giving up waiting for the coming of the Lord and not being awake and ready for his return.

It will be the day of our salvation

Lastly Paul assured the believers that waiting for the day to dawn is worth the wait. While the Lord will come like a thief in the night, and there will be many who won’t escape the coming judgment, for the children of light that day won’t be day of darkness but the day of our salvation. We will receive everything that we have been waiting for.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

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.

By believing in Christ, we have been appointed to receive salvation, not to suffer wrath and judgment.  While not going into detail Paul makes it clear that such a salvation is ours through the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us. It through the Lord Jesus and his death for us that we have been forgiven and saved from the wrath of God coming on the world. But more than just escaping the judgment coming on the world, because he died for us, we will live with him.

We will live with Lord forever

Paul wrote at the end of the previous chapter that we will be with the Lord forever (4:17). Here he reassures the believers that whether we are awake or asleep (dead or alive at the return of Christ) the children of the light get to live together with the Lord Jesus Christ. We will not only be rescued from the coming judgment on the world, but we get to live together with the Lord Jesus forever. That’s what we have been appointed to receive and we can’t forget this. This is the hope of our salvation. It is to be part of the new heavens and new earth where God will dwell with his people forever.

3. Encourage one another

Paul wrote these words to encourage the Thessalonians to remain awake and alert ready for the coming of the Lord.  But he also wrote them so that they (and we) might take these words and encourage and build one another with them so that we might stand firm and be ready for the coming of the Lord.

Remember who we are

We need to keep on reminding one another that the Day of the Lord is coming, and the Lord will come like a thief in the night, and he will surprise many. But the children of light won’t be unprepared because we don’t belong to the night or the darkness, we already belong to the day.

Remain awake and sober

We are therefore not to behave like the people around us who asleep or drunk having become intoxicated with this world. We need to be on our guard against the evil one and his schemes so that we stand firm in these times. He wants to give you a false of security and peace so that you forget that the day is coming and are lulled back to sleep. But we need to be on our guard.  We need to be awake and sober not walking around in our pyjamas but people who are putting on the armour of light.

Put on the armour of light

We are to be encouraging one another to grow in faith and love and to wear these virtues as breastplate. Walking in faith and love will protect us from the schemes of the evil one and will extinguish his flaming arrows. We need to learn to trust the Lord Jesus and his wisdom not ours or this world’s. We need to grow in our love for God and others, loving as we have been loved rather than just loving the things of this world. We need to also put our hopes in what is to come and not what we can just have here.

 For what you are hoping for will chart the course of your life. We are prone to put our hope in the wrong things – our achievements or our wealth or our family and ourselves. But our hope is not to be found here and now, in things that we might achieve or manage to acquire for ourselves. These things don’t last. Our hope is to be in Christ and we are to be looking forward to the day when he will come, and we will be with him forever.

We need others

But also reminds us that staying awake and sober isn’t something best done by yourself. God has given us others to help, to give us a nudge when we need it, to give a shake when we are looking drowsy. This is why Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. It was why he sent Timothy to Thessalonica when he was unable to go himself. And it was why he told them in verse 11 that they were to encourage one another these words.

We need one another to stay. We stand firm often by standing together. We need to realise that we need others alongside nudging us to stay awake, reminding us of what’s important and who we are and what we are to be waiting for.

We need others around us and to be there for us and we need to be there for them. We need to be reminded that we belong to the day, not the night and that we can’t be like the people around us. We need to be awake and sober for the night is nearly over and the day is almost here (Romans 13:12).


[1] https://www.drive.com.au/news/one-in-six-sleep-at-the-wheel-study/

[2] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references have been taken from the New International Version (2011). Zondervan.