Be Nice – Live Longer, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, November 13, 2011
This might be an unusual way to begin a sermon, but let’s face it, jerks are everywhere.
They come in different shapes and sizes.
There are the painfully annoying and unaware jerks -- like the guy who cuts you off because he’s trying to text while driving; or your second cousin twice removed who manages to show up at every family event and disrupts every conversation with endless stories about himself and his weird friends.
There are the downright rude and disrespectful jerks. They're the worst. You know, it's the girl who knowingly cuts in front of you at McDonalds only to order something for everyone in her office. No apology. No recognition of her rudeness.
And, of course, there's the guy who rides your bumper on the way to work only to blow past you later, honking his horn and shaking a fist, then slowing down to make a right turn in front of you.
Jerks come in different shapes and sizes. Some are annoying and others rude. But the long and the short of it is they’re all jerks at that particular moment. Not only that, but the world is full of them. At times, we may even be one of them!
But not only do jerks, otherwise known as rude, socially challenged, thoughtless, offensive, or bad-mannered people make life less enjoyable for others, being a jerk is actually a detriment to one's own health.
According to one scientific study, if you talk back to your supervisor or run around the freeway like a NASCAR driver today, it may just hinder your health and keep you from living longer tomorrow.
So if you'd like to live longer, at the very least you should stop being a jerk. Otherwise stated, be nice and live longer.
The journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, asserts that those whose personalities could be summarized as boorish or rude tend to acquire more diseases. They die at earlier ages than those with other, more socially pleasing personality traits.
According to Harvard Medical Studies Publications, heart patients with Type D personalities -- people who are prone to chronic irritability and emotional distress-- are at a substantially greater risk of heart-related death. By contrast, people who are open to new experiences, exhibit more flexibility in their temperament and can more easily "go with the flow." They are at a lower risk.
While this may make for interesting conversation at a dinner party, Christians don’t need the lure of longer living to keep them from being socially inept.
In fact, in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul gives us three truths about our life in Christ that should be more than enough to keep us kind and be nice to one another; even to those obnoxiously rude people in Wal-Mart.
The three Truths Paul give us are “The gift of a grand perspective,” “The confidence of knowing we are armed and equipped for any battle in life,” and “Knowing that we are destined for salvation.”
For the first Truth, Paul reminds us that followers of Jesus have been given the gift of a grand perspective. Much of what makes for a sour approach to everyday living is a myopic view of one's own existence.
Annoying habits grow out of a lack of social awareness -- that is, one's view of the world fails to include the sensitivities of others. Likewise, anger and frustration spewed at others over small things shows ignorance for what constitutes a truly big issue.
In verse 5, Paul reminds us that we are "... children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or the darkness." In other words, while the rest of the world lives in panic and worry over inconsequential things we have the light of truth shining upon us. The light of our victory tomorrow shines upon us, adding perspective and clarity for today.
Think about it. By faith, we grasp that the death of Christ has covered over our sin and shame. By faith, we grasp that the resurrection of Christ has crushed our enemy called "death," and, by faith, we grasp that the return of Christ will usher in unending peace.
Such clarity allows us to live in the light seeing things as they truly are: annoying but inconsequential, painful but not permanent, difficult but not determinate of our destiny.
This is one reason why a life that's regularly engaging God's Word, has knowledge of the creeds and interacts with Christian community is so essential.
Doing such things allows for the light of reality to shine on our situation and keeps things in perspective. Apart from it, the victory of Christ gets smaller, our problems seem bigger, and the likelihood of acting a fool gets higher.
The second Truth: not only do followers of Christ have the gift of living in the light, of a grand perspective, but when the realities of this broken world come crashing in on us we have the confidence of knowing we are armed and equipped for any battle.
Paul writes, "... 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" (1 Thessalonians 5:8). In techno-lingo, this would be like having up firewalls on your PC, a good surge-protector, and anti-virus program with spyware protection.
Scriptures tell us that through our belief and baptism we have an effective protection. We've been covered in faith, hope and love, which can better defend us against the attacks of this life than any self-protective retort. The light of God’s truth sobers us up and calls us to lay hold of these greater gifts, which protect us from real harm.
What if next time, rather than sitting and stewing over the thousand things you could say to the girl who cut in front of you, you recited the Apostles' Creed, or the Lord's Prayer or Psalm 23, under your breath, until your attitude changed? It may sound trite, but it's a simple way to activate your spiritual firewall and regain your perspective.
Or, what if rather than seethe in frustration over the guy whose personality traits irritate you to no end, you went out of your way to show love to him and be kind to him? In other words, do for him what Christ has done for you: Show him a little undeserved kindness and love.
Difficult, yes, but just wait and see how your sense of entitled retribution and self-preservation fade whenever you choose to see another person (including the jerks) through Christ like lenses and serve him despite his faults.
This doesn’t come naturally to us, but in Christ we can do all things. What is impossible with humankind is possible with God.
Paul's point is that through faith in Christ, the hope of the resurrection and the confidence of our right relationship with God, we have nothing to fear, no harm can truly befall us. Run to this truth. Find rest in this truth. Sober up and lighten up!
We are protected by these truths. Take them to heart.
For the last Truth, Paul tells us that we not only have the light of truth to grant us a greater perspective and an effective armor protecting us from lasting harm, but Christians have the unshakable truth that we're destined for salvation, … shaping our perception of every moment. This, according to Paul, should be an incredible source of encouragement.
Think about it. We’re on the road to glory. That’s not just an old-timey-concept, but is the perspective from which Paul is writing and tells us that we can live from.
"Remember your destiny," he tells the Thessalonians. When the rest of the world is going crazy -- remember your destiny. When everyone else has a short temper -- remember your destiny. When everything from minor details is missed to major tragedies that occur, remember your destiny.
In the end -- which is all that ultimately matters -- you will "live with Him" (verse 10). In other words, the one who possesses blessing in the final hour need not get too worked up about this present moment. Live your life with quality and significance. Remember your destiny.
The end result of living in the light of truth, embracing your armor and resting in salvation is a people who are less prone to fussing over petty issues and more concerned with building one another up.
In fact, having outlined these things Paul closes out his letter to the Thessalonians with a series of imperatives that are as far from overly touchy living as one can possibly get. He says, "Respect [others] .... Be at peace with each other.... admonish each other with God’s promises ... encourage and help one another... be patient .... Rejoice ... pray ... give thanks .... hold fast to what is good" (5:12-21).
It may seem like a daunting list, but the implications are clear. If being a jerk can shorten your life, God's people are called to be the exact opposite. We're to be so overwhelmed with the work of Christ that we respond with actions and attitudes that add blessing to this life. So, how are you doing with that?
In case you haven't noticed, jerks are everywhere. Whether or not being one actually shortens your life is up for debate. But does it really matter?
God's word teaches us that the number of one's days is ultimately in God's hands.
It is the quality of days that is in our hands.
Paul concludes his letter with a blessing for the readers, the same blessing I pass on to you now:
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.