“Stay woke” is a common phrase these days, a cultural call to arms designed to galvanize people’s attention to social and political issues. Wikipedia traces its etymology to African American vernacular English, but while that is true of its current popularization, followers of Christ recognize its scriptural heritage. “Stay awake,” Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, warning them against being lulled into a false sense of peace and security.
Thessalonica was part of the Roman Empire. It was not a large city, but it was a hub for business and travel. Its wealth was heavily tied to Roman beneficence, and it had the status of a free city, giving it some tax privileges and other benefits. The people of Thessalonica, including the religious leaders, wanted to keep that relationship strong. They regularly courted Roman favor through displays of political and religious patriotism. They mistook privilege and prosperity for peace and security.
“Stay awake and stay sober,” Paul warns the fledgling church in Thessalonica. The followers of Christ were not to be intoxicated by privilege, prosperity, and patriotism. Nor were they supposed to seek peace and security by cozying up to political and civic authorities. Instead, their eyes were supposed to be focused on the imminent return of Christ. With apocalyptic hope, they were to wait and watch for the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom. And they had to do this while resisting the pressure to cater to the culture of privilege, prosperity, and patriotism that surrounded them.
While the passage of two thousand years has tempered the expectation that Christ’s return will happen in our lifetime, Christians today must still heed Paul’s charge: Stay woke, stay ready, and stay resistant.
God of grace, help us stay awake and alert in a world that tries to lull us to sleep with promises of privilege and prosperity. Help us see signs of your kin-dom. Amen.
This article is excerpted from The Upper Room Disciplines 2023. Used with permission of Upper Room Books.