We grieve, but not as the world grieves

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

Read: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Consider: Some Christians misunderstand what Paul is saying about grieving in his first letter to the Thessalonians.  Because of this they feel that, if they grieve at the death of someone they love, God will be disappointed with them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Look carefully at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13.  He does not say:  … do not grieve …’ but: ‘… do not grieve like the rest of mankind …’. 

Grief is a natural process that every human being goes through at the loss of someone close to them.  In fact, we would find it strange if a person bottles up their feelings and does not reveal to others that they are grieving.  Paul recognises that believers will grieve, but in a markedly different way to the rest of mankind.  Let us be clear about this – it is normal to grieve and God does not expect us to pretend to the world that we are not grieving.

Although we can and should grieve at someone’s death, as believers we recognise that it is not the end.  Paul tells us our grief is different to ‘… the rest of mankind, who have no hope’ (1Thessalonians 4:1).  So what is the hope that believers have?  Firstly, we must understand that the word hope does not mean that we think something will happen against all the odds.  Rather, it means that our hope is certain and is based upon the character of God, what Jesus achieved on the cross and what God has promised in the Bible.  In Hebrews we read: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Later in today’s passage, Paul tells us that our hope (confidence) of eternal life is based upon:

  • the certainty of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Because Jesus died and rose again, we can have confidence that God will raise and bring to himself all who fall asleep in death (1 Thessalonians 4:14);
  • the dependability of what Jesus himself said; that any believer alive at his return will be raised, but after all those who precede them in death (4:15);
  • the certainty of Jesus’ return; that at his return the dead in Christ will rise first and then those who are alive will be taken up to be with him (4:16-17).

Let me repeat – grief and grieving are a natural and normal part of being human and also of being a Christian.  The world might think that death is final and nothing exists thereafter, but we know that our earthly life is only a preparation for eternal life.  We also know that death (falling asleep) is not to be feared, as it is a stepping stone between  our physical existence and our final spiritual existence.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Pray: Father, we thank you that our hope of eternal life is based upon certainty, not on some vain hope against all the odds.  Help us to show the world that although we grieve the loss of loved ones, our grief is tempered by our knowledge of eternity and what you have promised in the Bible.  Amen

Every blessing

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