“Let us watch and be sober.” 1 Thess. 5:6.
1. The Mood of the Age. We live in days in which no subject is considered sacred. Men and women go flippantly through life and into eternity. To gain a hearing, the teacher, and lecturer and, in some quarters, even the preacher must entertain. Seriousness itself is mocked. The Church of Jesus Christ always needs to be aware of the prevailing mood of the age: and individual Christians need to be on their guard also. The pressure on the Church and on us individually is towards lightness.
2. Mock Solemnity. Few things are perhaps so transparent and distasteful, in reaction to this among some Christian people, as mock solemnity. The Scriptures make it clear that God hates affectation. An unreal solemnity always results in double standards. It amounts to a denial of our personality, and it is manward rather than Godward. It is highly to be regretted if our strong conformist instinct results in an attempt to contort the God-given and infinitely interesting differences of disposition among us into an ill-conceived mould. Often, of course, this has the opposite effect of creating amusement. A voice or mannerism which sits genuinely upon one person does not necessarily do so upon another.
3. Sobriety: a state of mind and heart. Biblically, sobriety is not to do primarily with our mood or with the image of ourselves which we project. Certainly it will affect our demeanour: but our demeanour is not of its essence. Sobriety is rather a state of heart and mind. A real Christian is a person made real by God. To use an old expression, the heart and mind has been solemnized. This means that the reality and urgency and seriousness of the things of God has made a lasting impression on us in the very centre of our being. Christians are the only realists in the world. They are people who have begun to see things as they really are. They have stood upon the threshold of eternity: and although their knowledge is limited they have been transformed by the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit. They will begin to exhibit a new soundness of thought and insight and judgment. A sober person, then, is essentially a person whose thinking and feeling reflects a correct and true and Biblical appraisal of the facts, and who endeavours to behave accordingly.
The emphasis in the Word of God on sober living resulting from sober thinking is striking. For instance, the Apostle Peter makes it clear that sobriety is to do first of all with mental and spiritual appreciation and effort when he exhorts: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1.13). Similarly Paul, writing about the renewing of the mind, shows that sobriety extends to a realistic self-appraisal: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12.3). The attempt to impose sobriety from outside is bound to fail. It is easy to wear the right demeanour and yet have an inflated, not a sober, opinion of oneself. The fear of the Lord will make us aware of our own fallenness: we will be serious about the issues of time and eternity, serious about the needs of others. We will not be able to join in the dismissive, frivolous, careless ways of the world.
4. Sobriety a state of watchfulness. The most obvious association of the concept of sobriety is with its opposite – drunkenness. The point about a person who is drunk is that he is under another influence. He thinks he is in control, but in fact he is not. To be sober, in this narrow sense, is to be free of any intoxicant and thus to be alert and in control. The comparison is brought out forcefully in 1 Thess. 5.5-8: “. . let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” Sobriety is thus linked with a state of spiritual readiness, alertness. The Word of God presents us with sobering facts which are as beacons to watchfulness. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4.7). And again: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5.8).
5. Sobriety: applicable to all age-groups. The pastoral epistles make it clear that pastors and elders and deacons of churches are to be Â“grave” (1 Tim. 3.8,11). They are to command respect. This does not mean that they may never relax, never laugh: rather in Church, in family life and in leisure pursuits they should always try to reflect this Biblical realism of outlook and practice. It is notable, however, that in Titus 2.1-8 each age-group in the Church – aged men, aged women, young women, young men – is specifically exhorted to be sober. Sobriety is not only for some offices in the Church but for all
believers. This can be understood when we realize that sobriety is not young men trying to be old men, nor lively personalities trying to become withdrawn ones.
6. Sobriety will affect our attitude to worship. Where there is a right sense of the urgency and reality of the things of God, there will be a deep respect for the Word of God and reverence in private, family and public worship. It is surely vital in these days to maintain the quietness, the seriousness, the carefulness with which sinners, without affectation, should seek to worship God. Those practices which assist preparation before worship, attentiveness and concentration during it, and reflection and application to our lives after it should be safeguarded among the people of God. There should be a sober appreciation of what is involved whenever the gospel is proclaimed or when we draw near to God in prayer.
7. Sobriety will affect our testimony in the world. True sobriety will, it follows, be detectable in outward behaviour. It is bound to affect our speech, our dress, our social life. There will be times when the reality and seriousness of the Christian will stand in sharp contrast to the superficiality and insincerity of the world. There was an occasion in Paul’s life when, called to give his defence before Festus, he was labelled “mad”. He answered in these terms: “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness” (Acts 26.25). The believer will thus find himself with God-given opportunities to “speak forth words of truth and soberness”. Often he will excel in his secular calling because he is willing to apply his mind and energies seriously to his work. He will come to the attention of others not because he seeks it, but because it is evident that he is different: not in a stand-offish, holier-than-thou stance: but because, like Enoch so many centuries ago, he has, by the grace of God, learned just a little of what it means to walk with his God.
P. G. Watts