The Constant Pull of Pragmatism

Monday Sermon Reflection

(For the message from Sunday, May 23, 2021: “Living in Light of the End” You can view this sermon HERE.)

Yesterday at Westwood I had the privilege of leading our faith family in opening the Scriptures together. It was our Sunday to recognize and celebrate with our 2021 graduates so we took a brief departure from our study through the book of Revelation as a church, but I wanted to stay tied to the theme of eschatology. Specifically I sought to underscore the biblical intention of eschatological emphasis for the expressed purpose of encouraging God’s people in the here and now. In order to do that we briefly walked through 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

[1] Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. [2] For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. [3] While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. [4] But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. [5] For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. [6] So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. [7] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. [8] 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. [9] For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, [10] who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. [11] Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

I shared about how the cultural context of the Pax Romana is so important for our understanding of what Paul is getting at in this passage–and really throughout this whole epistle written to the Thessalonian church. Rome had promised both peace and security to all those who would bow their knee to their empire. They backed this promise up with military security and modernization. In many ways God would use this period in history to set the stage for the advance of the gospel in the days of Jesus’ life as well as the early church. However, the offering of peace by Rome was a facade. Ultimately, as we reflect on history, it did not last. But even in its midst Rome was about anything but peace as it sought to take over the world and expand its empires across the world. But the pragmatic thing for people to do was to simply surrender to it.

In a stark contrast, the people living in a place like Thessaloniki, the decision to bend the knee to Jesus as Lord and live as a Christian resulted not in short-term peace, but profound danger, threat, loss, and persecution. Rome demanded complete loyalty, and any deviation of that loyalty was perceived as a real threat to eliminate. Rome didn’t play around with threats. And so, because of this knowledge by those living under the guise of this Pax Romana, they certainly weren’t tolerate of such threats either. So those who chose to follow the way of Christ faced severe suffering and loss.

Paul understood this. He understood this when he first introduced the gospel to them and watched as they “received the Word in much affliction” (1:6). They did so despite the suffering because the gospel had come to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:5), but also because they had received the Word they “accepted it not as the word of men, but what it really is, the Word of God” (2:13).

The choice that confronted these brothers and sisters is the same one that confronts believers in our own day. Will we choose pragmatism or will be believe? This choice is profound because it OFTEN runs directly against our natural inclinations, including our emotions, and what our flesh compels us to do. For these believers, the pragmatic choice would have provided an off-ramp from the suffering they endured, but it would have only provided the appearance of peace and a forfeiture experiencing true life in Christ.

Christianity is not a call to pragmatism.

The reality is, Jesus offered great clarity into the truth that the way of Christ would include suffering. But he was also clear in that his way was the only way to true and lasting peace. And this is the consistent juxtaposition of those who follow Jesus in this broken world: The way of (true and lasting) peace is wrought with difficulty, suffering, and hardship.

Paul alludes to this when he speaks of the posture of those outside of Christ toward the coming day of the Lord when he writes, “While people are saying ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them…and they will not escape” (5:3). Many in Paul’s day in Thessaloniki were crying “peace and security” due to their pragmatic choice of bending their knee to Rome as their savior and authority. Many in our own day are crying the same refrain in regard to their career, their 401k, their health & wellness, their political affiliation, etc. But brothers and sisters make no mistake, the facade of peace found in those things are just as hollow and empty as the Pax Romana.

Notice the sudden and tragic end to this sleepwalking: “then sudden destruction will come upon them.”

True peace and security cannot be found within this broken world. Period. So we are faced with the choice. Will we choose pragmatism or will we believe in God’s Word and in his promises?

The problem is that too often we make one choice with our lips and another with our actions. True belief, however, is the layout out of our lives on the certainty of God’s promises. That is faith. That is belief. It is laying our lives out in the truth that, as one commentator has written, “Christians are those who are destined for afflictions now, but not for wrath in eternity.” What a promise!

When we follow Paul’s exhortation to “be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (5:8), we focus our lives on the eternal reality that is ours through Christ Jesus. We know that God has given us everything we need in order to remain sober and endure through the present difficulties of this life. We remain sober to the reality that the choice of pragmatism is really a laying out of our lives through the flimsy and deceptive facade of peace that only offers curb appeal to the road that leads to destruction.

Notice that the armor that Paul exhorts believers to wear is that which guards the heart and the head. We need to cover our hearts with faith that focuses our whole lives on the beautiful realities and promises of the gospel. We need his love to compel our hearts to love, desire, and pursue what is excellent and accords with his character and will. And we need hope to cover our minds to persevere through and even lean into temporary suffering and hardship because we know that any that we face will not have the last word and that he is using it all to conform us to the image of Christ and bring us back to himself!

So, what are you looking to for peace today? How does the immanent reality of the coming day of Lord effect your life today? Will you choose pragmatism or will you believe the gospel?

Praying Through This Text

  • We should thank God for piercing the darkness of our fallen hearts with the light of his Word.
  • We should thank God for the salvation that is ours through Jesus Christ.
  • We should thank God for the gospel reality that in Christ we are not destined for wrath, but to obtain the salvation!
  • We should pray asking God to help us to grow in confidence toward that reality as we abide in that truth through his Word.
  • We should ask God to help us to remain sober, to keep us from choosing what is pragmatic in order to avoid short-term suffering and hardship resulting from following him as his people.
  • We should ask the Lord to help us to live as people of the day, people of light, as the Spirit works to illuminate the eyes of our heart so that we can see reality as we grow in the knowledge of God.
  • We should ask the Lord to help us to develop this breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope as we pursue knowing him through his Word.
  • We should ask the Lord to focus our hearts by faith, to compel our hearts by his love, and to fix our hope in the anchor of who he is and in his promises.
  • We should pray asking the Lord to help us to put on display a better Way for all of those who have given themselves over to the pragmatism and deception of invitations to peace and security by our culture.
  • We should ask God to help us to rest in his faithfulness as to the future, and not be riddled with anxiety about what we can’t know about it.
  • We should ask God to develop a deep compassion within us toward those who are outside of Christ and who are left exposed and unsafe outside of him.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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