I was struck this week as I studied 1 Peter 4:7-11 as part of our Exiles series at church. I was struck particularly by this phrase: “Be self-controlled and sober-minded.” (v 4 ESV). There are differing ways translators have translated this. HCSB says “Be serious and disciplined.” NASB: “of sound judgement and sober spirit.” NLT: “Be earnest and disciplined.” KJV: “Be sober and watch.”
You get the idea. Christians are to be level-headed. Sober. Balanced. Mature. Of sound judgement. Wise. In control. These virtues should characterize our life, both in our speech, in our online engagement, in our beliefs. And yet there are times, many times, when virtues like this, such as balance, sound judgement, and sobriety are looked at by some as a lack of courage. Or we excuse them with things like, “I’m just speaking my mind.” Or we post half-baked conspiracy theories online or fire them off via email. We buy into ponzi schemes or weird ideas. An election doesn’t go our way and we freak out. We scan the negative headlines and we cower in fear or make goofy, doomsday predictions (or read the latest Christian bestsellers that posit them). But Peter says, “Be sober. Keep your cool. Pray.”
This phrasing is not original to Peter. In fact, in the New Testament you will find three types of Christians who the Bible says should always keep their cool:
1) Anyone looking for Jesus to Return. 1 Peter 4:1: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Peter says the end is at hand. In my view this means two things: First it means the end of the age is upon us. It was upon the first century Christians and it us upon us. It was coming soon for them and coming soon for us. So, knowing that the end of the age is upon us, how should we act? Should we create newer charts? Should we try to figure out who the anti-Christ is? Should we say historically innacurate things like, “Its as bad as its ever been!.” Should we hide in the basement? No. In light of the end, Peter says, “be sober, be watchful, and pray.” When the headlines turn sour, Christians should be the last people gripped by irrational fear. The second thing this means is that the end is at hand in the sense that the end of the reign of Satan is at hand. The end is the beginning. Christ has defeated sin, death and the curse. The kingdom is here and is coming. So, rather than fear, rejoice. Be watchful. Be serious. Be balanced. And pray. Christians, of all people should not be fear-mongering conspiracy nuts. We should be joyful readers of the news, because we know the end is here and a new beginning is dawning. We know the story. We know a King is coming.
So, really, Peter here is referring to every kind of Christian. Because every serious disciple should be watchful and sober. Every follower of Christ should be joyfully looking for the return of the King. Not with colored charts, but with prayerful, sober hearts. (I honestly didn’t intend for that to rhyme!).
2) Pastors 1 Timothy 3:2 says that one of the qualities for pastors should be “self control and sobriety” (1 Timothy 3:2). And this makes sense. If we are to lead God’s people to do as God says and live as if the end is near, we have to model it in our own lives, don’t we? There is something about leadership that says if the leader is freaked out and scared, the people will be even more freaked out and scared. Leaders set the tone. Especially pastors who are looked upon, by their people, as having a word from God. That’s why one of our main jobs is to calm people during a crisis, to give them the reassurance that God is in control, that the end is near and the King is coming, despite what is happening right now. That’s why I cringe a bit when I see pastors write and publish doomsday scenario books or make outlandish public statements about America, etc. There is a place for prophetic preaching, but it must be given with a sober, self-controlled tone–is that not what Paul tells Timothy here? We are to point people to the Word and say, “God is sovereign over history, over what is happening today and what will happen tomorrow. Live by faith, not by fear.” Sadly, fear sells more books than faith, but good pastors lead their people with a cool head.
3) Church members Titus 2:1-6 gives instruction four kinds of church members: Old men, young men, old women, young women. This pretty much covers all kinds of people you’d find in a church. And what undergirds all of his instruction is the same idea used by Peter in 1 Peter 4: Sobriety. Self-control. Maturity. It seems that one of the signs of a growing believer is this very underrated trait.
At times I will hear Christians say things like, “Well, Dan, you have to think that way because you are the pastor.” And by 1 Timothy 3:2 standards, yes, they are right. I must be sober, etc. But according to Paul’s words to Titus, the church members are not exempt from displaying spiritual maturity either. So, therefore, it does matter when you send that half-truth conspiracy email or you post some outlandish thing on Facebook or when you live every day by fear of the headlines. Apparently that’s wrong for the church members as well as the pastor.
Summary: The point of all this is in the inspired Words of God as written by the Apostle Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” 1 Peter 4:7 (ESV). How do you live in view of the end? Keep your cool. Be sober. Pray.