THE MEANING OF WATCHFULNESS
Now we come to the crucial matter of understanding what it means to be watchful and sober. Watchfulness here is related to a battle, a fighting. Some versions use the word vigilant, a word related to warfare. Soldiers in a battle need to be watchful, vigilant. The fact that watchfulness is related to fighting is confirmed by Paul’s mention of the breastplate and helmet in verse 8. A breastplate and helmet are not ordinary items of dress. They are, of course, part of the armor used by soldiers in fighting. Paul’s concept of being watchful and sober, therefore, is related to fighting, to warfare. In these verses Paul is talking about some kind of battle.
There are sugar-coated teachings about the Lord’s coming and the rapture revealed in chapter four, but these teachings do not prepare believers for fighting. Instead, they cause them to be drugged and in a stupor. It is important for us to see that watchfulness refers to a proper spirit in fighting a battle. If we grasp this thought, we shall have in large measure the proper understanding of what it means to be watchful.
To be watchful is to continue fighting. Soldiers in a battle do not merely look around. That is not to be watchful. They are watchful because they are fighting. When they stop fighting, they are no longer watchful. According to our understanding, to be watchful is simply to look out for something, for example, to watch our step as we are walking. But this is not the meaning here. In these verses to be watchful is to remember that we are in a battle, that we are fighting and are surrounded by enemies. This is the reason we need a helmet and also a breastplate.
Again and again we have emphasized the fact that 1 Thessalonians is an epistle written to new believers. This book contains many basic concepts regarding the Christian life. In each of the five chapters certain basic principles, certain elementary teachings, are covered. But even in a book concerned with elementary teachings, Paul includes the matter of spiritual warfare. Paul does not explicitly tell the believers that they are on a battlefield and need to fight. But what he says in 5:1-11 implies spiritual fighting.
SALVATION FROM THE COMING DESTRUCTION
In verse 3 the word destruction is used: “Whenever they say, Peace and security, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as birth pangs to a woman with child, and they shall by no means escape.” What is this destruction? It is related to the salvation mentioned in verses 8 and 9. Salvation in these verses is salvation from the coming destruction through the Lord’s coming back, not salvation from eternal perdition through the Lord’s death. Fallen man will perish for eternity. That is eternal perdition. We who have believed in the Lord Jesus will be saved from eternal perdition. We have already obtained salvation in this respect. We have been saved from eternal perdition, and we shall never perish.
Biblical salvation from eternal perdition is eternal salvation. Once we are saved, we are saved for eternity. Contrary to the teaching of the Arminian school of theology, we cannot lose our salvation. Salvation is once for all. But here Paul is speaking about salvation in another respect, that is, salvation from the coming destruction.
Furthermore, in the light of Romans 8:21-25, we shall also be saved from the slavery of corruption of the old creation. All created things are today subject to the slavery of corruption. The entire old creation is enslaved to corruption. Everything, including our physical body, is decaying. Do you know what it means to get old? To get old is to decay. We all are in the process of decaying. The slavery of corruption in the old creation is controlling us, and we are subject to it. But when the Lord Jesus comes and we are raptured, we shall be saved from the slavery of corruption of the old creation. Therefore, the Lord’s coming and our rapture will save us from two things: destruction and the slavery of corruption. This is the salvation mentioned in verses 8 and 9. However, the primary meaning is the salvation from the coming destruction.
Now we must go on to find out what this coming destruction is. This destruction is related to the battle that is raging between God and Satan. Near to the time of the Lord’s coming, destruction will take place suddenly. That destruction will come primarily from God, but a portion of it will be caused by Satan. God will judge this rebellious world, and Satan will fight back. The result of the intense battle raging between God and Satan will be sudden destruction. It will be when people say, “Peace and security,” that this destruction will come suddenly.
We need to be saved from this sudden destruction. The way to be saved from it is to be watchful and sober. As God is fighting, we must take sides with Him and fight for His interests. Since He is fighting, we should be fighting also.
Actually, to fight is to be watchful. Only those who are fighting are truly watchful. The more we are fighting, the more watchful we shall be. As long as you are fighting, you need not try to be watchful, for you will be watchful automatically. Sometimes soldiers in an army go for days without sleep. The battle does not allow them time to sleep. This illustrates the fact that to fight is to be watchful. The Christian life, a holy life for the church life, is a life of fighting. We are on the battlefield, and we need to be alert, watchful, vigilant.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 17, by Witness Lee)