For you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
I Thessalonians 5:5-8
I think he was the first person I ever saw needing to get sober. I saw him as my mother and I were in downtown Phoenix waiting for my father to exit a meeting. We watched the man careening, staggering, and lurching side to side down a city sidewalk. Then, with the welcome support of a parking meter, he clung to it searching pocket to pocket for something. Finding his wallet he took out a dollar bill, folding it this way and that, trying furiously to slip it into the parking meter’s coin slot. To my young eyes he was a sad comic picture of a man needing to get sober.
I’m thinking of that man right now in pondering today’s Scripture, as twice the apostle Paul exhorts, “be sober”. Just as someone physically intoxicated can’t walk straight, think straight, or speak clearly, so the Christians at Thessalonica are in danger of spiritual intoxication. They are in danger of living ‘under the influence’ of spirits of cynicism, hopelessness, and self-indulgence poisoning their city. Paul wants them to remember that as “children of the light” they have a responsibility not to live under their culture’s influence of darkness and despair. Significantly, Paul includes himself with all his readers as he says, “Let us be sober.”
The Greek word nepho, translated as “sober”, means to be free from any mental and spiritual intoxication keeping us from right thinking and right living. It means a way of life that we associate with sobriety, i.e. sound judgment, clear-headed, self-control, discretion, and studied decision. To be sober is “a calm, steady state of mind that evaluates things correctly, so that it is not thrown off balance…Such ‘level headedness’ is a constant Christian need.” (D. Edmod Hiebert, Commentary on First Peter)
The little colony of Christians residing in Thessalonica could have easily been thrown off balance by the troubles surrounding them. It was, after all, a church birthed in persecution and suffering. Their first converts were attacked by mobs, forcing Paul to flee in the middle of the night (Acts 17:5-9; I Thessalonians 1:6).
But Paul urges them, and himself, to be clear-headed, and not to be thrown off balance by persecution and hardship. They must guard against being intoxicated by fear, hatred, and despair. As “children of the light” they must remain calm, collected, and circumspect. They are to avail themselves of “the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” As Christians they have faith, love, and hope as their mainstay, their anchor in tumultuous times.
Just as I have a responsibility to God, to others, and myself, not to drive while ‘under the influence’, so I have a responsibility not to live ‘under the influence’ of my culture’s cynicism and despair. It is dangerous. You and I are, after all, “children of the light”, called by our Lord Jesus to let our lives shine in a dark and very troubled world (Matthew 5:14-16).
God’s call for us to “be sober” means that we make a clear-headed decision not to look at world events the same way others do. We look at the news and make a decision to respond with sound judgment and self-control. By God’s grace we will not react with cynicism and despair. We will not react intoxicated, or, under the influence of hatred and bitterness. Yes, “let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Grace and peace,
P.S. Recently my son Rhett and I recorded a podcast in which we discussed life transitions. Rhett is a marriage and family therapist, and author of books “The Anxious Christian”, and “What It Means to Be A Man”. I think you might enjoy and be helped by Rhett’s and my discussion on navigating life’s transitions. Check out the podcast.
photo by pix click