In the last part of chapter 4, Paul the apostle writes concerning the coming of the Lord. This subject was most likely the purpose of the letter. In the section before us, Paul deals with the date of the second coming, v1-3, and then goes on to encourage his readers to live lives which reflect their hope in eternity, v4-11.
v1. The Thessalonians were unsure of what happens at the coming of Christ to believers who had already died. Paul answers this concern in 4:13-18. As for the actual date of Christ's return, Paul feels that he doesn't need to say much on this issue as he has already instructed them fully. They know all about the "times" and the "seasons".
v2. The Thessalonians know that the Lord will return, and that his return will be when least expected. Paul uses the Old Testament term "day of the Lord" to describe the event. This is the language of the prophet Amos, cf., Am.5:18ff. This day is a terrible and unexpected one, so be warned!
v3. "When all is well and all is safe are on the lips of men", James Moffatt. The false prophets of Israel claimed that "all is well" just before the destruction of Jerusalem; they were caught out! The coming disaster is described as "destruction"; its coming as sudden, like the onset of labor pains for a pregnant woman. The meaning of "destruction" here is "banishment from the living presence of the Lord", Leon Morris, cf. 2Thess.1:9.
v4. Paul now moves into a be what you are type of exhortation. His argument is simple, if we are children of light, rather than children of darkness, then let us live in a way that images what we are and will be in Christ. Paul affirms that the Thessalonians are children of light and will therefore not be surprised at the coming day.
v5. The lives of the Thessalonian believers can be characterized as "light", "sons of the day." This description evidences their standing in the coming day, an inheritance which shapes them.
v6. Paul therefore calls on his readers to live as children who are awake rather than "asleep" - asleep in the sense of insensitive to righteousness. They must be "alert and self-controlled", in "a state untouched by any slumberous or beclouding influences", Grimm-Thayer. Paul is calling on his readers to be wary of evil influences.
v7. "Sleep", spiritual dullness and its inevitable consequence of moral indifference, is the business of darkness, of night. By implication, this is not the behavior of those who are "awake" and who walk in the light of the coming day.
v8. So, as children of the "day, let us.....". Paul calls for soberness, in the sense of "self-control". He calls for the great Christian qualities of faith, hope and love. We are to put them on as if pieces of armor; put them on decisively as defensive armor against "sleep". The word "hope" here expresses a hope for the ultimate consummation of all things.
v9. For those who believe, God's intention is not that they suffer his anger in the last day, but that they possess eternal life and all that this entails, and that they possess this in and through Christ.
v10. Paul goes on to outline the basis of salvation, namely, the atonement - Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. The consequence of Christ's work for us is that whether we are living, or deceased, we remain in an eternal relationship with Christ. Even in death we are still with Jesus. We may not be aware of this state, as we are unaware of our being with Jesus now, but in the day of resurrection we will certainly be aware of our standing in Christ.
v11. Paul concludes with two exhortations. The first is "encourage one another" - "go on cheering and strengthening each other with thoughts like these", Phillips; "strengthen each other with truth." The second imperative is "build each other up." Paul likes this phrase and uses it of being built up, strengthened, grown spiritually, .... and this through Spirit-inspired truth.
In the face of powerful management and marketing methodologies, the church is increasingly tempted to turn toward secular systems for survival and growth. Yet, Christ's "kingdom is not of this world". Christ uses another methodology to strengthen his people and build his church; it is the teaching of Biblical truth.
The church of Christ stands eternally secure in his presence. We are saved through his death and resurrection. Although we "belong to the day" in that we belong to the light of eternity, we still live in the present. Living as "sons of the light" comes by the encouragement of eternal truth, of Biblical truth, taught and proclaimed by ministers of the word and inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
So, as we await the coming day of Christ's appearing, let us study God's revealed truth, let us believe it and pray for it to be realized in our lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What helps us live as children of light and what practical aids could be used to this end in your church fellowship?