When I read this passage from 1 Peter 5 and see the word “sober-minded,” I tend to place all the emphasis on “sober.” And that word makes me think about behavior. But this is a mistake, even though the original word in the Greek does in fact mean “sober.” Allow me to explain. Peter’s call for sobriety is bookended between two discussions of suffering. The first is encouragement, found at the end of chapter 4, and the other is this: “Resist [the devil], firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
And that is why I think Peter’s call for sobriety is all about belief and not behavior. Peter is concerned about the faith of His readers surviving in the midst of suffering. “Keep awake! Show some self-control! Be alert! In the midst of you suffering, the devil is out to wreck your faith!”—I think that is what Peter is trying to say in this passage.
He knows what we all know. The most important things are often the things we cannot see. We can see our sufferings. If the suffering is intense enough—and we know it certainly was for Peter’s original readers—our faith can waver. We can begin to lose control of our imagination, which is really the lack of sobriety Peter is worried about.
We imagine what it would be like to let go of our faith. We picture in our minds an easier life. We picture freedom and imagine the suffering will go away. We daydream about all the ways we might get control of our own life which, at any given moment, appears to be coming apart at the seams.
Peter wants them (and us) to know the devil is at work in this wavering. This is why he uses the image of a lion to capture our imagination, so we can “see” by faith the danger we are actually in. He wants us to picture the suffering of other believers. And he wants us to remember we are not alone. He encourages us to think about the restoration that is coming, to remember that Jesus has dominion. He is the King after all.
Our imaginations can run wild. Peter wants us to be alert to the fact that we do have an adversary working against us, but all the while we have a King who never stops working for us.
Written by Matt Redmond