Paul really respects, and appreciates, the people he writes to in Thessalonica. He planted the church on his second ministry trip, and it is obvious in reading, how deeply he cares about them. He reminds these fairly new believers (the church was probably 2-3 years old) about the essentials of following Jesus, resisting the temptations we all face, and then in chapter 5, gives them some strategic advice. He reminds them that “the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2) for two reasons: (1) so they won’t fall prey to the erroneous rumors that were being passed around saying Jesus already returned, and (2) so they will stay vigilant, knowing His return could happen at any time. The second point is particularly important for us.
During college, I worked a construction job for a summer, building a warehouse for Reynolds Metals in Richmond Virginia. Anytime the supervisor left the site, the majority of the workers became noticeably slow – actually most of them just completely stopped working and goofed off. This continued until they spotted the boss returning, and they would quickly resume working as if they never skipped a beat. It never happened, but if the boss had shown up while everyone was “relaxing” instead of doing their work, there would have been serious repercussions. This is what Paul wants his friends to keep in mind. We have a limited amount of time on Earth to be busy with the things that God wants us to do with our church, family, neighbors, co-workers and classmates. We will either die (I love that Paul refers to the death of believers as “falling asleep” – that was free) or be here when Jesus returns and history wraps up. Whichever happens first, is the end of our opportunity to accomplish the work He has for us. Paul is trying to instill a sense of urgency in these new believers so that they don’t become distracted, and we should feel that sense of urgency too! I want to be clear that even if we are distracted, we will not lose our relationship with God, but we will become ineffective, like my co-workers from my construction job.
Here is what Jesus says about it, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” John 9:4 (NLT)