Encourage One Another! 1 Thessalonians 5:2-11,
Do you believe that Jesus will one day come back from sitting at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe that there is actually going to be a point of time when God will intervene again in the flow of history? Do you believes in the second coming of Jesus?
Let me ask you another question: Do you believe that Jesus could actually return during your lifetime? Who of you believes, that we could actually witness the second coming of Jesus while we are still alive?
One more question, and then you can sit back and relax. If you believe that Jesus is coming back and that that could be any time soon, how does that affect your feelings, emotions, your choices, and your behavior: the way you use your time, money, and your resources? Think of that for a while: Does the thought of Jesus coming back have any impact on your life as you live it today? Christians react very differently to the idea of Jesus’ second coming.
There have always been people with a strong sense of urgency about this. Many revival movements throughout the history of the church have brought this urgency to the surface. Their message has been pretty much the same as that of John the Baptist and Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the more than two billion Christians in the world do not believe or expect that Jesus would come again any time soon—during their lifetime. They like to think of the prophecies concerning the end times and the return of Jesus as figurative. They don’t take them literally.
Some even suggest that Jesus came back in his Spirit on the feast of Pentecost—you know, the birthday of the Church when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul calls the Church the “body of Christ”. So in a sense, it is not so far-fetched to think that Jesus’ return has already happened, and that Jesus lives among us and in us through the Holy Spirit.
When the Bible speaks about the end times and about Jesus coming again, there is always that tremendous sense of urgency. Jesus says that he will come “like a thief in the night […] at an hour when we do not expect him”. Paul echoes that view in almost exactly the same wording: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” So the question arises, “How can we be prepared for that moment?”
The fact is that, ever since Jesus was taken up into heaven, forty days after he rose from the dead, we have lived in the end times and need to expect his return. Just as John the Baptist said that “the kingdom of God is at hand,” so it is at hand today.
All of us need to make sure that we are ready, even though we have no clue when to expect him. It is about 24/7 vigilance. When Jesus tells us to keep watch, he doesn’t tell us to have sleepless nights, fearing and panicking that Jesus might come back tonight. He tells us to make sure that our lives are ready to receive him when he comes. “You must be ready,” Jesus reminds us. Of course, we should be ready to meet our Lord at any time. Even if Jesus were not to return today, we might be taken unexpectantly to be with the Lord. We must be ready for our encounter with Christ, who is both our King and our Judge.
But the truth is that many of us procrastinate. We easily become sloppy in the way we conduct our lives. We know that there are things in our lives that God is most certainly not happy about. Things we do or fail to do. Decisions that we postpone because we dread the effort they will demand from us or the change that they will bring to our lives. Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I will start doing this or that. Tomorrow! Let me enjoy my messy life still today. Tomorrow I will get my act together. The problem is that tomorrow never comes.
When you wake up after a good night’s sleep, you will find that it is again “today”. Think about it that more than two billion people on earth claim to be Christ followers. When you add that up, wouldn’t you expect the world to be quite a different place? Why have the Christian faith and the Christian Church made so little impact on the world?
Is it not because so many of us procrastinate when it comes to giving up our comfort and our self-serving ambitions? We wait for the right moment. We wait for others to move first. We give it a try, but the force of gravity or the friction inertia is too strong. If we just wait for tomorrow to get it done, or for others to make the first move, we will never be ready. That is when the thought of Jesus coming again, or of us facing death any time soon, can send us occasionally into a fit of fear or panic. But we need not fear or panic. We can be at peace, if only we give the control over our lives over to God. If we do so, we can even look forward with a good conscience, and with joy and anticipation, at his return.
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul echoes the message that Jesus delivers in Matthew 24: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” And like Jesus, he tells us to be ready: to be awake and sober. “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” Paul tells us that we should not conform to the norms and practices of the world in which we live. On the contrary: we should stand out from the crowds. In these ten verses, Paul uses many dichotomies—pairs of words that express sharp contrasts. In verse 3, false security is contrasted with destruction. And he goes on: light and darkness; day and night; awake and asleep; sober and drunk; salvation and wrath; life and death.
What Paul is saying here is this: Don’t go on living as if nothing has happened to you when you became a disciple of Jesus Christ. Make a difference! You are children of the light and children of the day. You should be an example to others. Your conduct and your integrity should make others jealous. They should make others want to have what you have—peace in Christ Jesus.
Paul does not try to cause panic when he talks about the day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night. His approach is positive. It is an approach of encouragement. “Encourage one another and build each other up.” It is easy enough to criticize one another and find fault with one another. I have seen Christians turn away from the faith, not because they were disappointed with Jesus, but because they were constantly criticized or put down by other church members. But that is not what we are instructed to do here. On the contrary, we must be positive and encourage one another and build one another up instead of tearing one another down. How? By reminding one another that “our Lord Jesus Christ died for us so that we may live together with him.”
The Christian life is like a journey. We are on that journey together. We are a community of sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ. In that community, we can and must support one another, encourage one another, and build one another up. But we can only do that when we recognize and admit our own weakness and failure, our own blindness—and often, our own reluctance to change—to let God’s Spirit transform us. What truly brings encouragement, and what truly builds up, is the recognition that Jesus, in his mercy and by his death, raises us from death to life. That should be our testimony. And in that awareness, not of our own superiority but of God’s boundless mercy, we can face the prospect of meeting our Lord and Judge any time, whether it be after our death or when he comes back as he promised. Amen.