October 2, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture—1 Thessalonians 4:13
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
When someone we love dies, we grieve. That’s part of being fully and freely human. Yet, as Christians, we also rejoice over that person’s eternal destiny and we celebrate the salvation we have in Christ. In an unexpected way, Christian hope can actually set us free to feel our sadness even as it gives us deeper and sustaining gladness.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
When I was young, I loved the Hardy Boys. There were over forty of these mystery books back then and I read every single one at least once. For the record, I also read most of the Nancy Drew mysteries as well. One of the best things about all of those books was their intriguing titles, such as The Mystery of Cabin Island, The Clue in the Diary, or The Secret Panel. I was desperate to learn the mystery or follow up on the clue or uncover the secret. (Photo: A few years ago I was pleased to see that one of Harvard’s libraries includes a collection of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books.)
In honor of my beloved mystery books, I’m calling today’s devotion “The Secret of the Missing Comma.” Admittedly, that’s not as enticing as The Secret of the Old Clock or The Secret of the Caves. But I’m hoping it causes you to wonder what comma might be missing and why it matters.
Today’s devotion focuses on 1 Thessalonians 4:13. In the classic King James translation it reads, “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.” In this version you’ll notice a comma between “sorrow not” and “even as others.” The existence of that comma leads the reader to understand that Christians should not grieve when someone dies. You and I should “sorrow not.” Only those who have no hope will grieve.
Putting aside the KJV for a moment, you’ll see that the NRSV has, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, _about those who have died, _so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” There is no comma between “may not grieve” and “as others do.” This is the missing comma!
So what is the secret of the missing comma? The KJV would seem to say that we mustn’t ever grieve. The NRSV, however, without the comma, implies that Christians may grieve, but not in the manner of others who have no hope. Grieving is understood to be something we do as human beings, but in a distinctive way. We grieve, yes, but as people who have hope. That’s the secret of the missing comma.
The original Greek of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 could be translated either way. But most recent commentators and translations go along with this secret. They do not see Paul and his colleagues as telling the Thessalonians never to grieve over the death of loved ones. Rather, this passage allows for grief while qualifying the kind of grief Christians should experience. Yes, we are sad to have lost those we love. Yet we are also filled with hope, knowing that they are with the Lord and that one day we will see them again.
As a pastor, I’ve officiated at dozens of memorial services. Time and again I have watched Christians grieve freely, yet with hope. We openly share how much we miss the one who has died. Yet we also rejoice over that person’s eternal destiny even as we celebrate the salvation we have in Christ. In an unexpected way, the hope we have as Christians can actually set us free to feel our sadness even as it gives us deeper and sustaining gladness.
What books did you love reading when you were young? Why?
How did your family of origin deal with grief?
What difference does it make to grieve with hope?What books did you love reading when you were young? Why?
If you are grieving over the loss of a loved one, ask the Lord to help you grieve with hope. If you are not grieving these days, pray for someone you know who is.
Gracious God, thank you for the hope we have in you, for the assurance that our lives do not end with physical death. Thank you for the hope that is so much bigger than we are. We look forward, not merely to our own resurrection, but to the time when you will make all things right on earth and in heaven.
Thank you also, Lord, for creating us as fully emotional beings. Grief is something built into us, a natural response to loss. So we are grateful for permission to grieve. Yet, we are able to grieve with hope. Our sadness is mixed with gladness, our sorrow with joy.
Thank you, gracious God, for being with us in all of life and in all we experience. How good it is to know your presence in our grief and in our celebration. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Hopeful Grief: Personal Examples.
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.