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
What do you imagine it was like for a young David growing up amidst a pagan Philistine culture? Or, what do you think it was like for Daniel to be exiled to far off Babylon, or to live as a Christian in Rome under crazed Emperor Nero? That’s on my mind today as I think about the countless number of God’s people who have had to swim against the tide of culture.
This is why I am drawn to today’s scripture in which the apostle Paul addresses that tiny outpost of Christians in first century Thessalonica. They are part of an infant church born amidst persecution and mob violence. The apostle Paul had just arrived in Thessalonica where he was immediately charged with “turning the world upside down” and “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Vested interests opposed to the Gospel message “formed a mob and set the city in an uproar” (Acts 17:5), forcing Paul to go on to the next city under the cover of darkness (Acts 17:10).
Thus, Paul is writing to newborn Thessalonian believers urgently concerned about the hostile culture pressing hard on them. Strikingly, Paul’s advice to them, as well as to himself, is, “let us be sober.” The Greek word nepho, translated “be sober”, is a word, like in English, that can have two meanings. To be sober can be sober in a physical sense, as free from the intoxication of alcohol; and to be sober in a spiritual sense, as free from the intoxication of a culture’s attitudes and values.
Paul’s concern here is for Christians to live “as children of light”, having “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. Edmond Hiebert, Commentary on First Peter) Paul’s concern is akin to poet Rudyard Kipling’s call to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” (Poem, “If”) Notably, both apostles Paul and Peter are much concerned for Christians to live free from the culture’s intoxicating values and attitudes (1 Thessalonians 5:6; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7).
Then, in today’s scripture the apostle Paul defines the spiritually sober life: “let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Let us meet the bad news of the day of with faith in God; hope for the future; and love even for those who fight against us! It is a big assignment, but “greater is He who is in us that he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Christ is alive in us!
A fellow traveler,