But since we belong to the day, let us be sober,
and put on the breastplate of faith and love,
and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
I Thessalonians 5:5-8
Imagine being a boxer down for the count, then wobbly struggling to your feet and wham! Knocked down by another body blow! That’s what I’m feeling for our country today as I read headlines, “Violence Exploding”, “Total Chaos”, and “Riot Across America”. Just when it felt like we might be getting back on our feet after COVID-19, Wham! Here comes another blow! So I am wondering what to think and how to respond as we see a civilization’s thin veneer exposed.
This brings me to Scripture where I see that all of this is not the church’s first rodeo. Christians have been here before, with good instruction on how best to think and to respond. In today’s scripture text the apostle Paul writes to a small circle of new Christians in Thessalonica who might have been frightened and thrown off balance by things happening around them. They were an infant church born in the fires of persecution and suffering. Read their story and it will sound a lot like today’s news. There were “ruffians in the market-places who formed a mob and set the city in an uproar” (Acts 17:5). The ruffians stormed the little house church, dragging Christians into the street (Acts 17:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). What are those Christians to think? How can they best respond?
First, Paul starts with the basics reminding Christians who they are: they “belong to the day.” By that Paul is saying that Christians have a new identity as “children of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:6), delivered from the conduct and lifestyle of a dark world. They are in the vanguard of God’s new creation, redeeming the world from sin and death. They are different from the surrounding culture, accused by the ruffians of being members of the Christ-movement “who have been turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Then, after reminding Christians of their identity, Paul urges them to be “sober”. With the Greek word “nepho” (“sober”) Paul is pleading for Christians to be clear-headed and calm, not intoxicated by the passions and hatred of a dark world. Paul has in mind a way of life we associate with sobriety, that is, sound judgment, self-control, and clear-headedness.
Having reminded Christians who they are, and urging them to be clear-headed and calm, Paul turns to his favorite triad, the Christians mainstay and anchor in times of trouble: faith, love, and hope. For defense against a dark world, Paul wants Christians to “put on the breastplate of FAITH and LOVE and for a helmet the HOPE of salvation.” This triad of grace has always marked Christians as God’s “children of light” and helped them to be clear-headed and calm in a world wrong side up. That is faith in God, love for others, and certain hope for the future. This threesome of graces is to be the Christian’s defensive armament against the darkness. Faith and love are the “breastplate” to protect our hearts and longings, and hope Is the helmet for guarding our heads and the way we think about the future.
As our country struggles, let believers be reminded of who we are: called to be different, shining as “children of light” in a dark world. In the midst of fear and uncertainty God wants us to be clear-headed and calm, always facing life with faith, with hope, and with love. For, as Paul says elsewhere, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
A Fellow Traveler,