“. . .but let us watch and be sober.”
I like it that Paul says let us, not excluding himself from the exhortation to soberness and watchfulness. No one is immune to becoming weary in well-doing; we are all flesh, therefore all susceptible to letting down our guard and falling into carelessness in our spiritual walk. The only One Who is exempt is Jesus Himself; and His exhortations were never inclusive but always imperative. For those of you who have forgotten your grammar, imperative often omits the understood subject you; as in Philippians 4:4, (You) rejoice in the Lord always. . .and that’s the end of today’s grammar exercise. I promise not to do that very often, but I just have to say that a good understanding of basic grammar is a great help to understanding the Bible. Just sayin.’
Now, back to our verse for today. In the first part of the verse, sleep is used to describe the spiritual condition of unbelievers. They may be wide awake in their business or personal dealings, but they are asleep when it comes to spiritual awareness. We who claim the Name of Jesus must not be as those who sleep. That means that our spiritual awareness must be wide awake, alert, and watchful all the time, because Satan never rests or relaxes in his attempts to derail us.
To be awake, morally and spiritually, is not meant to keep us from living a joyful, happy life. To be sober is not to wear dull, boring clothing and avoid any semblance of fun. Have you noticed that people who interpret scripture in that direction are also usually very worried that everyone else is dressing/behaving inappropriately, according to their standards? Hector the Inspector is, unfortunately, alive and well in too many of us. So what is Paul saying when he says we are to be sober?
First, this watchfulness is strongly connected to the return of the Lord. We are told over and over again in scripture that we are to be watching (prepared, alert, waiting) for this event (I Co. 1:7; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; 2 Pet. 3:12). “And be sober” is to be rational, self-possessed, in perfect control of self. Simply exegeted, this phrase means we must stay free from the dulling effects of sin and self-indulgence.
I had a young man in my office the other day who is now four months into being drug-and alcohol-free after three years of being in a constant haze. He shared with me how he’s finding his way again spiritually after being dulled by substances that he thought would bring him peace and happiness. Of course, part of the spiritual restoration is to confront his personal demons, which is why he’s seeing me. But the point here is that satisfying his fleshly appetites resulted in his being spiritually shut down and, ultimately, miserably unhappy. What a perfect object lesson for this study today. Without sobriety, true vigilance is impossible.