I have only sleepwalked once in my life. Obviously, I don’t remember it, but the event was hysterically reported to me the next morning. I’m sure we can all think of close friends or family members whose sleep antics have been reported to us (sleepwalking, driving, eating, talking, etc.). Such acts are funny because sleep is supposed to be the time that our body shuts down and we stop all activity (other than that necessary for life, of course). But, some people are living their entire lives asleep. Yes, they’re sleep-living. Now that might sound like some kind of medical oddity or horribly written horror film, but it’s not. There are people all around us who are living their lives spiritually and morally asleep—estranged from the precious blood of Jesus, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Paul begins First Thessalonians 5 telling those Christians, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1-2). Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that Jesus’ return will be unexpected and is impossible to predict. In fact, no one knows when Jesus will return (Mt. 24:36). Paul goes on to tell the Christians in Thessalonica that because Jesus will be coming unexpectedly, they must be prepared for his coming. This preparation does not come by stockpiling canned goods and furnishing a nuclear blowout bunker, or by scheming some kind of sacred arithmetic problem to determine the exact millisecond of Jesus’ return. The only way to be prepared for Christ’s coming is to live a life of obedience to God (1 Thess. 5:4-11 cf. Mt. 24:36ff; 25).
Paul encourages the Thessalonians, telling them, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:4-6). Christians are children of light (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7- 2:2)! This means that when Jesus does return, it will not surprise the Christian who will be standing ready, abiding in the love of God (Jude 21). Christians are to stay awake. This is not a commandment to never sleep, rather Paul is using such language as a metaphor for moral/spiritual awareness. Those who are awake are alert and ready. We should be morally alert, and spiritually ready, not neglecting our duties to God, and not becoming so morally apathetic that we no longer care about the evil in the world, or even in our own hearts. If we should find ourselves morally asleep, our spiritual laxity may cause us to be cast into outer darkness at the return of Christ. Christians aren’t sleep-living, they’re wide awake, living a life aware of God’s will, and seeking to grow closer to Him.
Paul then makes a contrast between those who are sleep-living and the Christian: “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:7-10). There are millions, if not billions, in the world today who are living their spiritual lives sleeping drunk in the night. In other words, they are going through life morally lax and spiritually unprepared. Such are the ones who Christians should be zealous to shake awake, snatching them out of the fire (Jude 23), telling them the good news of Jesus Christ. The Christian’s fate is different from those who are drunk with moral apathy and spiritual sleepiness. God has destined all who would obey his gospel to eternal life, while those who stay spiritually asleep until Jesus’ return face a different fate (2 Thess. 1:6-9). Jesus Christ died for the entire world, so that those who are in him (via baptism, Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-7) will live with him for eternity at his return, whether they are alive or have died (“asleep” is used as a euphemism for death in 1 Thess. 5:10).
If you are in Christ, I would encourage you to stay awake! “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Don’t be spiritually sleepy, brethren, for the one who stays awake will be rewarded (Mt. 24:42-44)! If you are reading this and have yet to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, wake up! Believe that Jesus is God’s son, repent of your sins, confess your faith in Jesus, and be immersed in water in order to be forgiven of your sins, then you will become a child of the day (Heb. 11:6; Jn. 8:24; 2 Cor. 7:10; Rom. 10:10; Acts 2:36-47; Mk. 16:16). When Jesus returns, you’ll be glad you did!