“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
The Lord is coming again!
Of this indubitable fact it was not necessary that the apostle write, for the church was thoroughly knowledgeable of it. Even of the times and seasons that surround and precede His coming it was not for him to write. As to the second coming of Christ, His glorious Parousia, the church had been thoroughly indoctrinated. Fact of the matter is, the church is wholly aware of the truth that “the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” This cannot mean that the church had come to believe that Christ’s return would be literally in the night time, but as the coming of a thief whom men are not expecting and for whom they will be wholly unprepared. The church was fully cognizant of the fact that when the Lord comes again the world of the ungodly will be assuming the lackadaisical attitude that all is “peace and safety,” while sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child.
But the church is not in that darkness that that day of Christ should overtake her as a thief.
She has been thoroughly instructed as to the precursory signs, those harbingers, that forewarn the church that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. The Lord Himself had described in detail what the expectant church must look for before He will make His glorious appearance. He told them to look for signs in creation, such as, floods, earthquakes, and pestilences, all signs of the coming judgment. He told them there would be wars and rumors of wars. He instructed them that before He returns the gospel will have been proclaimed in all the world. Then there is the sign of the great tribulation of the church, brought on, no doubt, by the other signs of the great apostasy, and the coming of Antichrist. These and many other warning signals proclaiming loudly the speedy approach of the exalted Lord and Judge are what the expectant church is to anticipate.
But of the day and the hour of His actual appearance knoweth no man.
And the reason for this omission in the revelation concerning the return of the Lord, is this, that the church may always be vigilant!
Spiritual vigilance is the watchword!
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others! The others, that is, the ungodly in the world, and the ungodly who manifest themselves in the organic development of the church in the world, are the children of darkness who sleep in the night.
Of course, sleep in the literal sense of the word, and even sleep in the night, is a most natural phenomenon which God has added to our creation, according to which in a most natural way we become oblivious to the busy world about us, and find physical and mental refreshment for body and mind, so that at the light of a new day we may be enabled to realize more efficiently our vocation in the world. That sleep is a perfectly good creation of God. And for that reason the Scriptures teach, “the sleep of the laboring man is sweet.”
But the apostle has in mind another sleep, the spiritual sleep of death of the natural man, apart from Christ. Relative to that sleep we must be reminded that from the dawn of history, when our first father Adam sinned, the light was extinguished, and it has been night ever since. In this night of darkness all men, all the children of Adam, are conceived and born. Also we were by nature children of darkness and of wrath, incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all evil. In that darkness the ungodly, apart from Christ, remain. In that darkness they sleep, oblivious of their calling to be actively loving and serving God. They hate the light, and revel in the darkness. In that spiritual night they even talk aloud in their sleep, imagining that all is peace and safety about them, never realizing that they lie in the midst of death, never fearing that they shall have to meet the Lord, in His day; and like the sudden birth-pangs that come to a woman with child, sudden destruction comes upon them.
Thanks be to God, for, whereas we were like unto them by nature, we are no longer children of darkness; but we are by the grace of God become the sons (not “children,” as the translation has it), the sons of light and sons of the day. Indeed, we were by nature children of darkness, born out of darkness; but by grace we are adopted into God’s family and are become sons of light, in whom God not only purposes to reflect His light image, but who are legally appointed and adopted heirs of all that the light stands for.
Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober!
The others are spiritually intoxicated, having no sense of true values. So inebriated are they that they know not who they are, where they are going, nor how they will get there.
Not so are the sons of light and of the day!
They have all their spiritual senses, and know how to use them. They know who they are, where they are and where they are going, and they know how to get there.
All this because they are by the grace of God sons of light and sons of the day.
And all this they are and have with a view to the coming of the Lord. Therefore that day of Christ cannot and will not overtake them as a thief.
But, you ask, if this is so, how is it to be explained that the apostle exhorts us not to sleep, not to be drunken as the rest, but to be sober and vigilant?
In answer, we point out, first of all, that, though we are the sons of light, we still dwell in the darkness of this present time. The night which settled upon the earth with the fall of our first parents is still with us, and we dwell in that night. The day, the eternal day, which dawns with the return of our Lord, has not yet arrived. And secondly, though we have been transformed from children of darkness into sons of light, we possess this grace only in principle. We still dwell in the flesh, in a corrupt nature, which is no different from the flesh of the children of darkness. If we followed the inclinations of that flesh and old nature, then we would also sleep in the night, and become intoxicated in the night. Therefore we need to be exhorted to vigilance. Were we already in heaven, where there will be no night, we would need no such exhortation. But we dwell in the flesh which never willeth any good thing, which always imitates the world, and seeks the vain things below even to the point that we become intoxicated with them.
Why must we be exhorted to spiritual vigilance? Because in the darkness of this present time it is our calling to be sons of the light and of the day.
This means, first of all, that we live antithetically. And that means negatively, that we oppose the darkness, not only in the world, but in our sinful flesh, that we mortify the deeds of the flesh and bring it into subjection to the will of Christ. Positively, it means that we live out of the principle of regeneration, with all our spiritual senses tempered by the life of Christ which is within us. So we will reveal, not only to God but also to the world about us, that we indeed are the sons of light and of the day.
Shall we be constantly, spiritually vigilant, looking for the coming of the Lord, it follows that we be constantly clothed with spiritual armaments.
We must be putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
You will note, first of all, that the apostle here does not describe the armaments in detail as he had done in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:14-17). There he enumerates all the parts of the complete panoply of God wherewith He prepares His people for and preserves them in the great battle of faith they are required to fight in the midst of the world. There the armaments are both for defensive as well as for offensive warfare. That the apostle mentions here only two aspects of the defensive armaments, breastplate and helmet, must not be construed to mean that it is perfectly safe to neglect the other aspects so long as we have these. Indeed, in the battle of faith every part of the panoply is extremely necessary, and every part must be put on if we are to stand in that battle. It must be observed, therefore that in our text the apostle is not referring, specifically to the battle of faith we must fight, but he is referring to the exhortation to spiritual vigilance. Consequently he infers that even our spiritual vigilance must be guarded. Breastplate and helmet are protective armaments. Let us be clothing ourselves with the breastplate of faith and love; and let us be putting on our helmet which is the hope of salvation.
In the literal sense the breastplate was that part of the Roman armor that covered the warrior from his hips to his shoulders in front and in back. It protected his heart from the spear thrust in immediate combat, and from the flying arrow that might be shot at him from afar. The helmet was that part of the armor that protected his head. Together heart and head are those vital parts of the body which if pierced or shot through would most likely mean death. As the heart and head of the Roman soldier must be protected, so must our spiritual vigilance be constantly intact.
The breastplate which consists of faith and love, and the helmet which consists of the hope of salvation, these are the armaments wherewith we must clothe ourselves, shall we remain vigilant, and wherewith we shall be able to withstand the strong urgings of the flesh to become sleepy and drunken. Our flesh has in it the power to deny our faith, to dampen our love, and to weaken our hope.
You must note, in the second place, the trilogy of which the apostle speaks: faith, love, and hope.
Of this trilogy the apostle had written to the church of Corinth, and then in a different order. (I Cor. 13). There he spoke of faith, hope, and love. And there also he stressed the point that of these three love was the greatest.
Here, however, the order is faith, love, and hope. Hope is mentioned last, not because it is the greatest, but because it stands most intimately connected to the coming of the Lord. When hope reaches its object, then our salvation will be complete. Now we are saved in hope, that is, we have it in principle; but when the Lord shall appear, then in body and soul we shall be saved completely.
Moreover, all three, faith, love, and hope, must be intact, and guarded, shall we be truly vigilant. Your faith which is the bond that ties you to Christ, is the grace through which you receive all the benefits of salvation from Him. Your love which the Lord has shed abroad in your heart is the grace whereby you taste in principle the perfection He has wrought in you, and which desires the perfection He will give when, He comes. Your hope of salvation which also you possess now in principle, characteristically stretches out in longing and expectation for its perfection in the day of His coming.
These spiritual armaments we do not have of ourselves. They are of God, given to us of grace, to be conscientiously and constantly appropriated and put on, to guard and protect us from the powers of the flesh—the flesh that does not want to go to heaven, that does not want Christ, nor does it look for Him in His Parousia.
If we are constantly and conscientiously putting on these spiritual armaments, this spiritual activity will never allow us to fall asleep or be drunken.
So shall we be spiritually vigilant!
So shall we be watching and sober!
So shall we be waiting and ready for His appearance!
And praying the prayer the exalted Lord Himself taught us in the Revelation: “Come Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly!”