1 Thessalonians 4:13
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not…
One of the lessons which our Master enforced was that there should be a marked contrast between His disciples and worldly men. If a Christian differs in no important respect from a man without Christian faith, wherein is he better? Christians were not to be saved from the casualties of men, but there was expected to be in them, under the influence of God's Spirit, something that should enable them to endure the various experiences of life in a way that common men could not. They were to regard life and death with a marked difference from the world. It was in this spirit that Paul wrote these words. There is to be a difference between death in the Christian and death in the unchristian household. If you bow your head or are overborne as others, how are you any better? If in anything one might be left to his own way we should suppose it would be in the sorrows of bereavement. But no: even here we are to be Christians.
I. IT IS NO PART OF CHRISTIAN TEACHING THAT MEN SHOULD NOT SORROW; BUT IT IS A PART OF CHRISTIAN TEACHING THAT MEN SHOULD NOT SORROW AS OTHERS WHO HAVE NO HOPE. Christ suffered and shed tears; but both stood in the reflected light of the other world. The apostles suffered, but they gloried in the fact that if they suffered they would reign. Suffering is good if it arouses in men their divine rather than their lower human nature; it is to be such as does not exclude joy and is in the light of joy.
II. NEITHER IS IT THE TEACHING OF CHRIST THAT HE AFFECTIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS OF MEN ARE TRIVIAL AND UNWORTHY OF REGARD. Indeed, we have no guides to go by except these. Who would know the love of God if we did not know the love of man? To say that human affections are nothing, and that to love one another is to love dust, is to destroy the potency and value and use of those very ordinances of the household and friendship by which God means to develop our spiritual nature. Some teach that we are to let all the relationships of life seem so little in comparison with Christ that it will make no difference to us whether they go or stay. I could not respect a religion which made love a mere currency for good in this world alone. The spirit of Christianity sanctifies the love of husband and wife, parent and child, etc.; so that we may be sure if we love right here we shall love forever.
III. LEAST OF ALL DOES CHRIST TEACH THAT PAIN IS UNWORTHY OF MANHOOD AND IS TO BE STRANGLED. Any such violence is to destroy what He elaborately created. The teachings of the Bible, and the example of Christ and of His apostles and saints has inculcated anything but the stoical doctrine. The Christian idea is the great power of victory over suffering, the bush burning but unconsumed.
IV. BUT CHRIST DID REQUIRE THAT WE SHOULD LOOK UPON OUR SORROW AS SURROUNDED BY CONSIDERATIONS DERIVABLE FROM HIS LIFE AND TRUTH.
1. A wanton and ungovernable sorrow is a violation of Christian duty. It acts as if there were no God or Christ. There is a great difference, of course, between the first burst of sorrows and a continuous state. When one has been worn out physically, the gracious God finds no fault with the uncontrollable sweep of anguish. Let the cloud burst, but do not let the waters become a deep flowing river. When the first rush of feeling is over there should be that in the believer which will bring him back to Christ.
2. It is not right sorrow that seeks every aggravation, employing memory as a dragnet to bring back refuse experiences, to create unhappiness, and recount miseries as if proud of them. Blessed are they who can shut the door on the past and not open it again unless to bring some fairer joy and better hope.
3. A true Christian bereavement ought not to narrow the disposition and take men away from active affairs. The same Christian instinct which seeks consecration to the Master's service should find in it an antidote to sorrow. If you suffer you will often find comfort in ministering to some one's affliction. Dr. Spurzheim used to say that no woman was fit to be wife and mother till she had been educated in suffering. I say that no man or woman is fit for the highest offices of friendship and life without it.
4. Every man that suffers bereavement ought to make it manifest that it is grace not nature that heals. It is true that grace employs nature, and that time is a good nurse; but a Christian ought to be ashamed if nothing can cure him but time. How many there are who wait until their griefs are worn out before they get over them. But the man who knows how to apply the promise and realize the presence at the right time, has not only comfort in himself, but is a living and powerful witness to the power of Christ such as refutes infidelity as nothing else can, and wins to the Gospel as no preaching can do.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.