A WAKEUP CALL FOR CHRISTIANS
August 13, 2006
In life sometimes crucial things happen while people are asleep. A driver, for example, who is not paying attention at all may do serious injury or cause loss to himself or to other people. In sports, a player who is not alert to his responsibility or to his position may lose the game for his team. In individual lives, temptations often sneak up on us while we are not aware of what is happening to us. Sometimes they overcome us. With leaders, when those who are in places of authority are not diligent and vigilant about their responsibility, sometimes turning points happen in history.
Burton Coffman, for example, recalled the story of something that happened on the night of September 2, 1757. The soldiers of the Marquis de Montcalm, who was the commandant of the French Army at Quebec, all retired to their tents and slept the sleep of insecurity, as someone called it. Only a very few sentries were left to guard the heights overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River. But while that army slept, the soldiers of the British General Wolfe scaled the heights of the river and defeated the French the next morning on the plain that was nearby. And as Coffman put it, “The Dominion of North America changed hands while men slept!”
It is no wonder that also in scripture we discover that often important turning points happen while people are unaware and not alert. For example, Jesus told the story in Matthew 13 that we call the parable of the tares or the parable of the weeds. A man went out and sowed wheat in his field, but while his men slept and enemy came in and sowed weeds among them and caused great financial loss and difficulty to that farmer. In Matthew 25 Jesus told another story about the ten maidens who were supposed to be awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom to start the wedding celebration. But he tarried and while they slumbered, he came and some of them were not prepared for his arrival.
In Matthew 26 while Jesus prayed so fervently in the garden, his weary friends, James and John and Peter, could not keep their eyelids open and they slept. While they slept, the mob which would arrest Jesus and take him away made their arrival. There are other illustrations of this same principle, but you see what we are thinking of.
Because of that it seems especially appropriate that in a context in which Paul is talking about our responsibilities as Christians in view of God’s grace toward us which we remembered this morning, that he would close what he has to say by issuing a wakeup call for Christians. I am thinking of the great text which begins at Romans 13:11. Notice that the apostle who has been talking about our debt to love each other says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
We might approach that call from the apostle by just noticing first that he emphasizes the necessity of understanding the time. I thought of this this week when I was listening to some of the same news accounts that you all undoubtedly heard. People were being interviewed in airports in the wake of the plot of terrorists which had been uncovered by British authorities. One of the ladies who was interviewed made the comment, “I am just so afraid of these times. You never know what is going to happen.” That kind of statement makes Paul’s appeal here perhaps even more urgent for us. If you were to try to describe the times in which we find ourselves, you might describe it at various levels. Individually, various ones of us in this room are going through times that are not particularly easy for us. Some of them involve illness or loss or other concerns. As a nation, we certainly are experiencing times that are unsettling. We have thousands of our people in other lands who are involved in daily threats. Now we have to be concerned about some of those threats within our own land. As a brotherhood, the church faces times which are uneasy. There are many now who maybe have an identity crisis and have not focused very much attention on the great and desirable goal of pursuing undenominational Christianity and of seeking to try to please the Lord first, to respect his authority, and to love each other in view of his great authority. As a congregation, we are trying to make choices that may have a big impact on our future in terms of where we are or even where we meet. I am saying that these are times which call for alertness, watchfulness, awareness, responsibility, and sincerity on the part of each one of us.
Paul drives this point home in our text by making three observations about the time or the hour. “It is a crucial time,” he says, “a moment of decision.” First, because he says, “it is time for you to awake from sleep.” It is always time for Christians to wake from sleep. In Mark 13, Jesus illustrated the point with a great statement beginning at verse 32. He said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” By the way, that is a severe blow to people who try to look at the signs of the time and suggest that they can tell when the Lord will come or when the end will be. If he didn’t even know it, I would be afraid to make that kind of claim. Verse 33 says, “Be on guard; keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge each with his work, and commands the door keeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: ‘Stay awake.’” Obviously he is not just talking about physically staying awake. He is talking about spiritual vigilance and alertness and having something on our minds that consumes our attention as Christians.
Secondly he explains, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Statements like this occasion all kinds of discussion and debate. Some even go so far as to suggest that Paul thought that Jesus would come right away and that he was wrong when he made this statement. Don’t fall for that kind of thinking. The apostle Paul knew the statements I just read from Mark 13 that the Lord had made, that no one knows. Paul knew that he would be suffering before the Lord came, according to II Timothy 4. He knew that there would be a falling away and times of difficulty to the church, according to II Thess. 2 and passages like that. Paul is simply making the point here that every day we live brings us that much closer to our destination and to the deliverance that God has in mind for all of us. And not knowing when that is, we should be impressed with the opportunity that passes with each day of our lives and be aware that we are that much nearer home.
In I Peter 1:5 you see this thought. He speaks here of those who “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Ready to be revealed! You and I live in the last time. We are people upon whom the end of the ages has come, according to I Cor. 10:11. The apostle leaves the timing a little bit vague here. First, because no one knows and secondly, because it is necessary for us to pay attention. I think of the words of the old song, “One sweetly solemn tho’t comes to me o’er and o’er: today I’m nearer to my home than e’er I’ve been before. Nearer my Father’s house where many mansions be; and nearer to the great white throne, nearer the crystal sea. Nearer the bound of life where falls my burden down; nearer to where I leave my cross, and where I gain my crown.” Every one of us are nearer now than we were.
Thirdly, notice that Paul explains that the night is far gone; the day is at hand. The night may stand for a day of ignorance and superstition before the bright light of the gospel shines. The night may stand for the darkness of evil and sin when it holds sway before there is forgiveness and new life. The darkness may stand for this present life in which there is suffering and loss before the day of hope is finally fulfilled and when none of that kind of thing exists anymore. Whichever way it is taken, Paul’s point is that the night is way along. It is the time when the light shows around your window shades early in the morning to tell you that dawn is here. It is time to wake up; it is time to be doing; it is time to take action in our lives. That is the point that the apostle is emphasizing in this text. We should understand the time.
The last part of it, though, becomes exceedingly practical. Next, he says that understanding the time, we should consider what is appropriate in our lives. The New Testament often teaches Christian ethics and Christian morality in very much this way. Instead of trying merely to lay down rules, what it does is to say to us, “Consider what has been done for you and then behave appropriately.” Often the terms that are used are very vivid terms. Paul will say to do what is worthy of the gospel. The word “worthy” is a word that had to do with an old set of scales when there is a weight on one side and then there are goods on the other side that balances it out. Our way of life should balance out the thought that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Sometimes the Bible uses words like “what is fitting.” What fits with what has been done for us? Or “what is proper” or “appropriate.” Those are the thoughts in the apostle’s mind as he makes the three applications that he does in this passage.
The last part of verse 12 is the first one. “So then (or therefore, in view of what he has been saying about the time) let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That makes sense, doesn’t it? If it is time to wake up and get up, then it is time to dress for the daytime. “So then cast off (throw off, get rid of) the garments of darkness,” which consists of the works of the flesh, with all the ugliness and all the immorality that they include. Lay aside all of that as Christians and then “put on the armor of light.” Notice that he is not just talking about any kind of clothing. His first admonition has to do with how we clothe ourselves. But we clothe ourselves, not with leisure clothing but with an armor of light. That is the thought. Being awake and alert, we clothe ourselves with an armor of light. In I Thess. 5, there is one of the several passages in Paul’s writings which have to do with the armor. This is one of my favorites. Beginning in verse 4 it says, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise 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. 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 (that is, having good sense about us), having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That is what he means by the armor of light. Given the time, we are not prepared to live until we have clothed ourselves with the armor of light. The great old song, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” is talking about this very thought. It is not talking about the battle. It is talking about the need for us to cast off the works of darkness and clothe ourselves with the armor of light.
Sing “Soldiers of Christ, Arise.”
If the first appropriate thing we should understand has to do with our clothing, the second one has to do with our conduct. Notice in verse 13, the apostle says, “Let us walk properly.” That word is sometimes translated even “beautifully, attractively.” The idea is that if we are going to be people who realize that as folks who live in the daytime, we should do what we are glad for anybody to see in t he bright light of the day. Walking in the daytime means that we seek to live for God’s presence, that we realize that we are the objects of his attention being his children, and that we therefore do things that we are not ashamed for God to see. We may have our weaknesses and our flaws, but our lifestyle is such that it can be called “living in the daytime.”
Now this kind of lifestyle excludes three pairs of behavior that are wrong. First, not in orgies and drunkenness. The word that is translated “orgies” in this version is probably more commonly translated “revelings” in other versions. My English word for it would be “partyings.” I am not talking here about the kind of parties that we have to celebrate occasions or to enjoy good fellowship, but the kinds of parties that involve groups of people who are in pursuit of wildness who have no kinds of moral guidelines at all for the behavior that goes on. These are places where thoughtfulness is laid aside, restraint is ignored. People begin to act more like animals than people. That is not the way a Christian lives in the daytime. The root for drunkenness in the original language is theft. If you think about what those kinds of foreign substances may do to an individual’s life, then you can see why the New Testament regards it as shameful.
Secondly, he says not in sexual immorality and sensuality. The first term is sometimes translated “chambering.” It is a word which literally means “beddings,” and it involves the kind of sexual immorality or looseness which left off all guidance of decency and honor and which is intent on merely using other people to get what one wants for himself. It is a denial of godliness, and no matter how common this type of living together or relationships before marriage, or outside of marriage becomes, it is still regarded by people who walk in the day as being completely inappropriate to godliness. Sensuality is a word which William Barclay calls the ugliest term in the Greek language. It is sometimes translated “ungodliness” or “lasciviousness” or “vice.” “It is the spirit,” he says “of the person who has stopped even caring what other people may think when they see his conduct.” He not only has no hesitation privately about what he does, he doesn’t care what kind of impression might be left on anybody else either.
Thirdly, not in quarreling and jealously. We sometimes forget that these latter two characteristics are works of the flesh, too. Some of us who would condemn sexual immorality don’t hesitate a bit to be jealous of how other people’s abilities equip them or the successes that other people have in their lives. We are not hindered at all about fussing and fighting and quarreling with each other over the smallest and most insignificant matters. We, too, need to understand that some things are not fit for the daytime and are not proper as Christians.
These three pairs of behaviors may be seen as things that are a natural succession to each other. There is first the party spirit, where restraint is thrown aside. There is secondly the immorality which uses other people. There is thirdly the fussing which results in that kind of treatment of each other.
Notice in the third place that the apostle makes the point that it is appropriate now for us to be careful about what preoccupies our attention in life. What our spiritual clothing is, then what our behavior is like, and then our preoccupation. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, “and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is something that takes place in a spiritual sense at baptism. Galatians 3:26 and following shows that one who is baptized puts on Christ. But I don’t think that is what he is talking about here. This is for people who made that beginning, and now, people who have put on Christ, need to put on Christ. Their baptism and what it meant needs to have its effect in real life, everyday. This is the putting on the Lord that Paul describes in Col. 3 as putting on the new man, being remade in the image of Christ, being preoccupied with him and not being preoccupied with how to provide for the flesh. Listen, if you don’t want to be caught up in the partying spirit, don’t go where that spirit is practiced. Don’t make provision for it. If you don’t want to get involved in sexual immorality and sensuality, don’t sit down at your computer and turn it on to a site where that is the focus. Don’t make provision for that kind of thing in your life. If you don’t want to be involved in jealousy and quarreling, don’t take up the phone and begin to listen to gossip about someone else or things that puts the worst possible construction on what someone else has said or done. That is the challenge that the apostle is laying down in this passage, and that is what he means by waking up. We should understand the time, and then we should understand what is appropriate for the time.
In working on this study, I noticed something that I think provides an instructive contrast in life with regard to the conditions in which people may sleep. On the one hand, there is the case of Jonah in the Old Testament. You remember in Jonah 1 that Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to preach to them. He didn’t want to go because he didn’t want them to repent and be spared. So he ran in the other direction. He got on board a ship on the way to Tarsus and went down into the lower deck and went sound asleep (Jonah 1:5). There was the sleep of irresponsibility, the sleep of ignoring obligations to the Lord, the sleep of trying to run away from reality in life.
On the other hand in Mark 4, there is the picture of Jesus at the end of a very busy day in service to God, his Father. He has been doing what he was sent to do. He has been preaching the gospel of the kingdom. He has been healing and helping people, teaching them how to live their lives. They are on board a ship going to the other side, and Jesus is in the back of that ship asleep. There is the sleep of having met responsibility, of having pursued the Father’s will, of resting in his will for life.
So many of us are sleeping in one or the other of those two kinds of sleep. The message to us is “wake up.” Let’s clothe ourselves with the armor of light. Let’s walk in the daytime, and let’s become like our Lord Jesus Christ. It begins with obedience to the gospel. Perhaps today you are ready to repent and to be baptized into Christ. It continues as we do what we sang about right before the lesson – “walking in the light.” We can live in the Lord in the daytime or in the darkness of the world. This morning would be a good time to choose. If we can help you, won’t you come while we stand and sing together?