1 Th. 5:4-8 - Let Us Be Sober PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 0
News - Sermons
Written by Tim Black   
Monday, 12 March 2007 10:00

1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
"Let Us Be Sober"
NAS text
Tim Black

  1. Introduction

    1. Context. In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, Paul told us about the Day of the Lord, the day when Christ will return. He said that it will come at a secret time, that it will be a surprise threat to the unbeliever, and on unbelievers it will bring a sudden trauma. And from these verses we gathered that we are not to try to discover the times or seasons of Christ’s return. That is not the right way to prepare for Christ’s return, and it could easily lead us to live irresponsibly. How then should we prepare for Christ’s coming?

    2. Text. So now in vv. 4-8, Paul tells us how we should prepare for Christ’s second coming. In a nutshell, it is this: “let us be sober.” We’re going to spend our time today coming to understand what Paul means by that one phrase.

    3. Metaphors

      1. Some clear, some obscure. We have to introduce this passage today by making a few comments about the big-picture metaphors Paul employs. He fixes our minds on these grand realities of immense importance—day and night, light and darkness. The great and awesome and glorious Day of the Lord, the evil and ominous and terrifying darkness of this sinful world. It is only in regard to their greatness that these grand metaphors are difficult to grasp. But in this passage Paul also fixes our attention on metaphors that are more obscure and inscrutableawake, asleep, sober, and drunk. And in fact Paul’s exhortations in this passage focus our greatest concern on these more difficult metaphors: in v. 6: “let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober,” and in v. 8, even more narrowly-focused, “let us be sober,” which is the title of this sermon.

      2. Problem. How do all these metaphors fit together? And especially, how are we to connect Paul’s biggest big-picture metaphor here, the “Day,” with Paul’s most focused, practical, detail-oriented metaphor of being “sober?” Paul exhorts us to make that connection in v. 8, where he says: “But since we are of the day, let us be sober.

        1. Answer.

          1. Context and contents. The hardest thing to catch on to in these metaphors is the way they speak first of a context, and then of the contents which fill that context. This passage tells us what each context is, and what it is filled with. And this passage tells us who you are, and what you are filled with.

          2. (This chart shows some of the relationships, but needs to be more clear:)

            Outside you


            Filled with

            Inside you


            Filled with
















            Inside you






          3. Broadest distinction: There are two contexts: day and night. Those contexts are filled with two respective contents: light and darkness.

            • The day is full of light

            • The night is full of darkness.

          4. Your connection with that context (basic): You are in one of those two contexts, and your context affects you.

            • If you are of the day, then you are awake to it. You can see your surroundings (John 3), and you keep watch (Matt. 23-24; Mark 13-14).

            • If you are of the night, then you are asleep. You can’t see your surroundings, and you don’t keep watch.

          5. Your progress within that context: What fills your context will increasingly fill you.

            • If you are of the darkness, that darkness will fill you, and you will become drunk—not just unaware of your surroundings, but unaware of the great evil within you.

            • If you are of the light, your privilege and duty is for that light to fill you, and to make you more sober.

          6. Conclusion: If you’re of the day, you’re already awake. If you’re a Christian, you’ve got to be sober.

          7. Outline. So Paul tells us our identity in vv. 4-5, and the lifestyle which accords with that identity in vv. 6-8. In each section he first makes the point in summary, then second gives us detail about the two sides: light and darkness, day and night.

  1. Body

    1. Identity (v. 4). So, to get Paul’s point here you first need to know your identity. Who are you? Are you in the darkness, or in the light? Paul shows us our identity in vv. 4-5, first in summary and then in detail. In summary,

      1. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;

      2. Darkness. Now of what sort is this darkness? It is the kind which would allow the Day of the Lord to overtake you like a thief.

        1. Why do thieves come in the night, in the darkness? Now certainly sometimes they come in the day. But in this passage, they come in the night because you cannot see a thief coming at night. The darkness hides the thief from your view. In the dark you are effectively blind. The darkness blinds you.

        2. This darkness is the “dominion of sin that characterizes the life of the unconverted.”1 This darkness is found throughout the whole world:

          • John 3:19 19 "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

        3. It soaks into men’s hearts:

          • Romans 1:18-21

            • 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

            • 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

        4. This darkness makes men’s minds futile, and darkens their understanding, and it cuts them off from the life of God:

          • Ephesians 4:17-19 17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

        5. If you are in this darkness, then the Day when Christ returns will come as a big surprise to you. It will “overtake you like a thief in the night,” (v. 4) and “there will be no escape!” (v. 3) Your sins will be found out on that day, and you will be charged as a criminal, tried, justly condemned for your sins, and sent to suffer the tormented agony of Hell...forever.

      3. But if you have come to Jesus Christ, in whom is life, who is the light of the world, whose light shines in the darkness of this world, though the darkness neither comprehends nor overcomes His light, if His light has shone in your heart, enlightening your minds in the knowledge of Christ, then you are not in darkness, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. This “Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth....16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.John 1:14-16

    2. Detail (v. 5) If you have received His grace and truth, this light, this everlasting life through trusting on Jesus Christ as your Savior, then Paul tells you in v. 5:

      1. 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;

      2. Here we see your true identity in fuller detail. And in this detail Paul is giving us the big picture of a Christian worldview.

      3. Antithesis. First, we see the full contrast between light and darkness, night and day. This contrast is absolute. “What fellowship hath light with darkness?” There is an utter antithesis between the darkness, and the light. Between the evil of this world—with its demons, spiritual forces, false religions and philosophies, occultism, corrupt governments and social structures, evil leaders and evil followers, temptations of wealth and power, fame and fortune, greed and pleasure—and the moral perfection of Christ and His kingdom—His righteousness, His holiness, His peace, His grace, His truth, His wisdom, His strength to obey, the fruit and gifts of His Spirit as they are lived out in the life of His church in His world. This contrast between moral darkness and moral light is absolute.

      4. Already / not-yet. Second, we see that this light is the light of the Day of the Lord, and this darkness is the darkness of the night of this world. This Day and this night are comprehensive states of affairs encompassing the whole creation. And this Day has in fact already begun. We see this in the expression “sons of light,” “sons of the day.2 This day has already begun its influence upon you. The Day of the Lord predicted by the OT prophets came when Jesus Christ, Isaiah 60’s “glory of the Lord” who would be “risen upon you,Malachi 4:2’s “Sun of Righteousness,John 1:4’s “Light of men,” shone upon this dark world in His incarnation, life, and ministry. He told us in John 12:36, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” And so also in His exalted state in heaven, Christ shone His light down from heaven on the Damascus road, blinding Paul, and sending Paul to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” And so you have become sons of God, and Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8 that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” You see, by uniting you by faith to Jesus Christ God the Father “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:12-13) Christ’s kingdom has already begun in His first coming, and its fullness is yet to come at His second. In this sense, the Day of the Lord prophesied in the OT and spoken about in the New has already come, but not yet in complete fullness.

      5. Participation. Third, we see in v. 5 that we are “sons of the day,” “sons of the light.” This means that we have begun to participate in the blessings of salvation, in the Day of the Lord, in the Light of the Christ. So we are identified with the Day, with Christ’s coming, with Christ’s presence, with Christ’s kingdom. You have in fact been irreversibly changed, irreversibly conveyed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Ultimately there is no turning back. Your identity cannot be changed. Just as much as you cannot change who your earthly father is, so you cannot change the fact that you are a son of God.

    3. Lifestyle (vv. 6-8) Now if this is our identity, how ought we to live? Paul tells us what our lifestyle must be in vv. 6-8, first in summary, then in detail.

      1. Summary. First in summary in v. 6:

        1. 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

        2. Summary. Just as there are two all-comprehensive identities—you are either a son of the day, or a son of the night—so there are two all-comprehensive lifestyles—you either sleep and get drunk, or you are alert and sober.

        3. Metaphors. Here in v. 6, the words “sleep” and “alert” are opposites. When you are asleep, you can’t see what is going on around you. You don’t know what is outside waiting to attack you. When you are awake, you do see what is going on around you, and you’re able to watch out for dangers and avoid them, or watch out for Christ, and welcome Him when He comes. This word “alert,” or “watch,” calls to mind Christ’s own use of this word in the central places where He speaks about His second coming—His “Olivet Discourse” delivered on the Mount of Olives and recorded in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. There He tells us to “35 "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning -- 36 "lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:35-36) Here we see that we should watch for Christ’s second coming. But the way in which He tells us to watch is by living a holy life when He returns, which Luke 21:34-36 tells us: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 "For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." In fact, we must not only watch for the big-picture event of Christ’s second coming, but we must also watch out for the moment-by-moment temptations that Satan throws our way—in Mark 14:38 Christ said: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

        4. Let us be alert, let us watch out for temptation. Now why should we do that?

      2. Detail (vv. 7-8) The reason is that we are of the day, not of the night. Our identity must influence our lifestyle. It even must flow out into our lifestyle.

        1. Night life (v. 7)

          • This is what happens with unbelievers who are of the night. Hear v. 7, which gives us more detail about the difference between our lifestyle and the lifestyle of those who sleep:

            • 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.

          • It is natural to sleep at night, and it is common for people to get drunk at night. People don’t normally sleep or get drunk during the day. But here these are metaphors—sleep, and getting drunk. What do they stand for?

            • Sleep. Well, we already know what sleeping is—it is the guilty darkness, hardness, ignorance, and deadness of a man’s heart who does not have the light of Christ in him. Such a man is unaware of any danger that awaits him on the judgment day. This sleep is the opposite of being awake to the Day of the Lord, to being alert and watching for that Day.

            • Drunk. But what then is drunkenness? It is the opposite of being “sober” in v. 6. We are not to be asleep and drunk, but awake and sober. This drunkenness is the opposite of spiritual, moral sobriety and self-control. When you’re awake, you’re thinking; when you are asleep, you are not thinking, and that comes with its own problems. But when you are drunk, you are not only not thinking correctly, you are out of control and acting improperly. When you are sober, you are self-controlled and acting properly. Not only do you not know what unseen dangers may lurk outside of you, but you have a deep problem on the inside of you, within your heart, your mind, your body.

          • The night of sin, the night of this world, is trying to drag you into its flood of sin, its “carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life,” in Christ’s words. And I tell you, this is a “night life” of the most dangerous kind. Be warned, if you are living in darkness, you are not safe. Turn to Christ now, or He will give you over to even greater depths of evil.

        2. Day life (v. 8) But if you are of the day of Christ’s first coming, if you are of the day of Christ’s second coming, then that darkness does not fill your heart and life. No! “The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, ...has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) “We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) You are children of light! And so Paul exhorts us in v. 8:

          • 8 But since we are of the Day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.

          • Encouragement. Let us be sober!” Let the proverb be fulfilled in us that “The path of the righteous is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.” (Prov. 4:18) “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) For you “who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; [you] who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon [you] a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3)

          • Sober. Let us then be sober. Some of your translations translate this word as “self-controlled.” Let us be self-controlled.

            • Definition.

              • Positive. The word refers to sound judgment that flows out into wise actions, and in the NT this word always keeps Christ’s second coming in view.3

                • 2 Timothy 4:5-6 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.

                • 1 Peter 1:13 13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

                • 1 Peter 4:7 7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.

                • 1 Peter 5:8-9 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

              • Negative. Being sober contrasts with getting drunk, with giving in to the lusts of the flesh, the evil thoughts, intents, and desires that war in our members, tempting us to sin. Being sober is exerting the strength to resist the devil so that He will flee from us, it is being able to stand in the evil day. Are you resisting temptation?

              • Ground. The ground of our spiritual sobriety is ultimately the Day of the Lord. We live in the Day that has already begun, the Day of our Lord’s resurrected and exalted Messianic reign in heaven, the day of this reign which surrounds us by the light of His gospel revealed to us in His word, by His redemptive work in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, by His dwelling in us and even seating us with Him on His throne today in the heavenly places, by His making us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints in light. Do you root yourself in the solid ground of the Day of the Lord, of His Kingdom in your life?

              • Wellspring. The wellspring of our spiritual sobriety is the Light of Christ, the Light of His Day. Zechariah told us in Luke 1:78-79 about the spiritually renovating influence that Christ’s light has on us: “78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace." And so we say with David, “With you is the fountain of life, and in Your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:9) The wellspring of our knowledge, of our walking in the way of peace, is the light of God’s grace and mercy in Christ. Do you drink deeply from this wellspring of spiritual sobriety?

              • Receptive instrument. And so the receptive instrument of our spiritual sobriety is faith, believing on Christ in His Person, Offices, and Work of death and resurrection, humiliation and exaltation, as the sole substitutionary atonement, as the full sacrifice for the payment of our sins, as the living God who alone provides the strength to mortify the deeds of our flesh, and as the One who will come again to judge the earth, and to claim those who long for His appearing. It is this faith that is at the heart of Paul’s command to be awake, to watch, to be awake to the Christ who has come, and to watch for Him to come again. Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven, but now that God has given you a new heart in regeneration, though the world does not see Christ, you see Him. So then, do you watch and pray to Him, lest you fall into temptation? Do you watch for His return?

              • Substance. So our spiritual sobriety has its ground in the Day of the Lord, its wellspring in the Light of Christ, its receptive instrument is to keep watch by faith, but what then is its substance? The substance of spiritual sobriety is maintaining, enduring, growing, and conquering in our faith, love, and hope, in Paul’s summary of the whole Christian life. It is spiritual maturity. Spiritual sobriety is having not just faith, but having a working faith. It is not just love, but having a laboring love. It is not just hope, but having an enduring hope. It is not just having these things, but living them out more and more, growing and abounding in our love for God and for all people, so that God will establish our hearts blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

          • Armor. You see, there is in fact a great battle going on between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, and by God’s grace you are more than conquerors in that battle. You have been equipped with the armor that will win, and now you need to use that armor. You need to grow in your faith. You need to grow in your love. You need to grow in your hope. Paul describes this armor as a motivation for us to use it in v. 8:

            • 1 Thessalonians 5:88 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.

            • This translation says we have already put on the armor; other translations say we need to be sober by putting on the armor in the present. The exegetical and lexical arguments for the one or the other translation don’t matter very much, because either way the point is that you need to use this armor. It is useful. It will protect you. Now a soldier going into battle with only a breastplate and a helmet would be inadequately equipped, but when you are equipped with this armor of faith, love, and hope you do not lack in the least respect. You have the full ground, and wellspring, and receptive instrument for full spiritual sobriety right at your fingertips. You even have the beginnings of the victory within your own heart and life! But you need to keep fighting the battle, using this armor. Paul is exhorting you to fight on the winning side!

            • Hear Peter’s encouragement in 1 Peter 4:1-5:

              • Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

            • And Paul in Romans 13:11-14

              • 11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

            • Put on the armor of faith, love, and hope, and use it! And you will grow in spiritual sobriety.

            • Let us then be ones who can say with Paul, “7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

            • And so let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert, and let us be sober.

1Green, 235.

2Cf. Luke 16:8.

3The related adjective does not:
1 Timothy 3:2 (adjective)
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
Titus 2:2 (adjective) that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience;

Last Updated on Monday, 12 March 2007 14:13