The Agora
Bible Editorials

Previous Index Next

Sorrow not as others

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope" (1Th 4:13).
"I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren..." This is a common expression of Paul (Rom 1:13; 11:25; 1Co 10:1; 12:1; 2Co 1:8) when he wants to correct an erroneous idea, or to explain something that has caused perplexity. It is invariably accompanied by the address "brothers", revealing the affection and concern Paul feels for his charges.

The Greek "koimao" is the common word for sleep, from which we derive the English words "coma" and "cemetery" (a "sleeping-place"). In the NT death is often equated with sleep (Mat 9:24; 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1Co 15:6,18,20,51; 2Pe 3:4). (In 1Co 7:39, the same word for "sleep" is actually translated "dead" in the KJV.) Almost without exception, it is those who are in covenant relationship with God who are so characterized (cp v 14 here: those who "sleep in Jesus"). The OT also uses the same figure (Gen 47:30; Deu 31:16; Psa 13:3; 1Ki 22:40; etc), though not so frequently. It occasionally refers in similar fashion to those who will never be resurrected, as sleeping "a perpetual sleep" (Jer 51:39,57; cp Isa 26:13,14; Psa 76:5,6).

Saints, who are dead "in Christ" (1Th 4:14), are nevertheless so related to life by the surety of a resurrection that in God's eyes they are simply "asleep." It may even be said that to Him they are alive (Luke 20:38), on the principle that God may call those things "which be not as though they were" (Rom 4:17). He counts their deaths no more interruptions of life than we would consider sleep!

Sleep is a resting so as to awaken refreshed. It is no disadvantage to those who so pass their time, and may even be a gain (John 11:12). Those who are dead with Christ will also live with Christ (2Ti 2:11).

"Sorrow not... as others who have no hope."
Much of common humanity, who have no real hope of resurrection and eternal life, may see death for what it truly is -- an unremitting sadness and grief. But the assurance our hope gives us is that our dead ones, dying in the Lord, will be restored to life and to us (Tit 1:2; 3:7; Acts 23:6).

There is no room in this -- no matter the outward appearance -- for the inconsolable grief that the rest of mankind bows under because it has no hope. The world has no hope (Eph 2:12), because its ignorance alienates it from the life God promises (Eph 4:17,18). But, says Paul, we have knowledge -- true knowledge -- and this, when believed and acted upon, leads to a firm and lasting hope -- which no temporary circumstance can dim. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:17,18).

Loved ones in the faith may be taken from us, and we feel the loss deeply. But for believers the most profound grief, in this life, is -- by God's providential hand -- only a passing sorrow... a weeping for a brief night only; it will give way to the joy of the new "day" that will certainly dawn for all who trust in Him. Most assuredly, we miss those who have fallen asleep in hope, but with faith and courage we set our eyes upon the goal before us, our Father's Kingdom. The road stretches ahead of us still, and beckons us onward: we still have breath in our bodies, and so we must continue our journey.

One day -- may it not be long! -- we shall meet up with our loved ones again. They shall awaken renewed and refreshed from their sleep, and arm in arm we shall take the last steps of our journey together, and enter into the glorious city of our God.

"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev 7:17).
Previous Index Next