THE SAFEGUARD OF FAITH, LOVE, AND HOPE
In verses 4 through 11 we see the safeguard of faith, love, and hope. In verse 4 Paul reminds us that we are not in darkness that the day should overtake us as a thief, and in verse 5 he points out that we are sons of light and of the day, and thus are not of the night nor of darkness. Then in verse 6 he exhorts us to watch and be sober: “So then, let us not sleep as the rest, but let us watch and be sober.” To sleep here is to be unwatchful. Watch is versus sleep (see v. 7), and sober is versus drunk. In verse 7 Paul says, “For those who sleep, sleep in the night, and those who are drunk, are drunk in the night.” Here to be drunk is to be in a stupor.
Christians are familiar with the word watchful. However, we probably do not know the real meaning of this word. What does it mean to be watchful? Our answer will be too vague if we merely say that to be watchful is not to sleep. In this case, as with many other things, we may take for granted that we understand what the Bible says, when actually we do not understand the matter at all. The same is true about what it means to be sober.
To be watchful and to be sober are related to safeguarding the three basic structures of the holy life for the church life: faith, love, and hope. Verse 8 indicates this: “But we who are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and a helmet, the hope of salvation.” The words breastplate and helmet both indicate spiritual warfare. The breastplate is of faith and love, covering and protecting our heart and spirit according to God’s righteousness (Eph. 6:14). The helmet is the hope of salvation (Eph. 6:17), covering and protecting our mentality, the mind. Faith, love, and hope are the three basic structures of the genuine Christian life as depicted in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Faith is related to our will—a part of our heart (Rom. 10:9)—and to our conscience—a part of our spirit (1 Tim. 1:19). Love is related to our emotion, another part of our heart (Matt. 22:37); and hope is related to our understanding—a function of our mind. All of these need to be protected that a genuine Christian life may be maintained. Such a life is watchful and sober. At the beginning of this Epistle, the apostle praised the believers’ work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope (1:3). Here, at the conclusion of the Epistle, he exhorts them to keep these spiritual virtues covered and protected by fighting for them.
HOPE IN THE LORD’S COMING BACK
The hope spoken of in verse 8 is the hope of our Lord’s coming back, which will be our salvation from both the coming destruction and from the slavery of corruption of the old creation (Rom. 8:21-25). Salvation in verses 8 and 9 is not salvation from eternal perdition through the Lord’s death, but salvation from the coming destruction through the Lord’s coming back.
According to verse 8, we need armor to safeguard our faith, love, and hope. If we would protect these aspects of the basic structure of a holy life for the church life, we need to be watchful and sober. Therefore, being watchful and sober is part of the living we should have as we hope in the Lord’s coming back.
We have pointed out that in chapter four Paul comforts us with this hope, telling us that at the Lord’s coming we shall be raptured. We shall be transported into a state of ecstasy to meet with the Lord in the air. However, this hope requires a living of watchfulness and soberness. We need a life of watchfulness and soberness in order to wait for the Lord’s coming. In other words, as we exercise our hope in the Lord’s coming back, we need a watching life and a sober life. If we are watchful and sober, we shall protect, safeguard, the basic structure of our Christian life.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 17, by Witness Lee)