There are two different Greek words which are typically rendered by the English word, “sober,” or a variation thereof.
The first of these, from the Greek, “nepho,” refers to an actual abstinence from intoxicants. It is the word used, for instance, in 1 Peter 5:8, 2 Timothy 4:5 and 1 Thessalonians 5:6. Those who sometimes argue that the Bible does not speak against the use of alcohol as a beverage would do well to consider this Greek word and what it means.
But the other word translated as “sober” in English is the Greek word “sophron” and it refers not to an absence of intoxicating substances, but instead denotes the presence of a soundness of thought. That is, the first word warns against those substances which remove our ability to think, but the second word refers to the self-control and self-discipline which enables us to think properly.
Consider for instance this passage of Scripture: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3; ESV)
Also, we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:12; NKJV) The ESV substitutes the word “self-controlled” for “sober,” in this verse. The Grace of God teaches us that we should bring our thoughts under control, and be sober in our thinking.
This disciplining of the mind is a rather important thing. Just before the admonition we cited from Romans 12:3, the Bible also says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a; NKJV)
From the two passages cited above, let us make two points about the sober-judgment God wants from men.
Firstly, we see from the passage from Romans, that a sober minded judgment is humble. If we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to, our judgment is faulty, our reasoning unsound, and the conclusions and behavior that follows will be of a similar unsound nature.
We might add to this, as a side-note, that if we lack humility, we also lack the love God desires in us, seeing as how love is not puffed up and proud (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4); nor can we be saved, for the Scriptures teach that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (cf. James 4:6)
In pride a man sets himself against God and makes of God an enemy. He derides the Law of God as being for others, or inferior to his own position and philosophy, and seeks to have others agree with him, rather than bending his own will to that of the Almighty. It is in pride that a man seeks to dominate others to his own will, rather than loving them as equals and seeking to be their servant, as God desires.
“The rich and the poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” (Proverbs 22:2) And, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we forget these practical ideas, and start elevating ourselves over others, seeking equality or superiority with God, forgetting that we are but the clay and He alone is the potter, we have left the realm of good sense and sobriety and have moved into foolish and harmful thinking.
A second point to make about sober-thinking, derived from Titus 2:12, is this: it requires curbing our impulses. Specifically, it requires that we turn away from ungodliness and worldly lust. A man cannot embrace sin and at the same time embrace soundness of thought. Sin is destructive and harmful, its wages is death, and all who succumb to it will perish eternally, deprived of a place in glory (cf. Romans 3:16-17, 6:23; John 8:21, 24) Thus did Jesus warn that unless men repented, they would perish (cf. Luke 13:3, 5).
If we give in to all our carnal desires, renouncing the righteous behavior of God, we have left the path of wisdom and salvation, and are trodding the sure and easy path that leads to destruction. (cf. Matthew 7:13-14) How much smarter is the man who instead renounces the things of this world and submits himself to the commands of the Lord? (cf. Matthew 7:24-27) Such a man is exhibiting both great wisdom and sound judgment.
If you would like to learn more about the wisdom that God teaches, the church of Christ invites you to join us for worship and study, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.