1 Thessalonians 5:8
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
I. THE CENTRAL INJUNCTION, into which all the moral teaching drawn from the Second Coming is gathered: "BE SOBER."
1. The context shows that we are not to omit a literal reference (ver. 7). Temperance is moderation in regard to the swinish sins of drunkenness and gluttony. None need the precept more than we. Any doctor will tell you that the average Englishman eats and drinks a great deal more than is good for him. It is melancholy to think how many professors have the intellectual and spiritual life blunted by senseless table indulgence.
2. The higher meaning.
(1) It is not an unemotional absence of fervour in Christian character. Some are always preaching down enthusiasm, and preaching up "a sober standard of feeling," which is nothing more than Laodicean lukewarmness. But the last thing the Church of this century needs is a refrigerator; a poker and pair of bellows are far more needful. The truths we profess are so tremendous that nothing but a continuous glow of enthusiasm will correspond to their majesty and importance. Paul was the very type of an enthusiast. Festus called him mad; so did some at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:13). Oh for more of that insanity which rouses the Pentecostal charge, "These men are full of new wine"!
(2) It means the prime Christian duty of self-restraint in the use and love of all earthly treasures and pleasures.
(a) It is clear from the make of a man's soul that without self-control he will go all to pieces. Human nature was made not for democracy, but for monarchy. Here are within us many passions, tastes, desires, which ask nothing but "Give me my appropriate gratification, though all the laws of God and man be broken to get it." So there has to be an eye given to these blind beasts and a hand laid on these instinctive impulses. The true temple of the spirit has the broad base laid on these instincts; above them and controlling them the will; above it understanding which enlightens it and them; and supreme over all conscience, with nothing between it and heaven. Where that is not the order you will get wild work. The man who lets passion and inclination guide is like a steamboat with all the furnaces banked up, the engines going at full speed, and nobody at the wheel.
(b) That self-control is to be exercised mainly in regard of our use and estimate of the pleasures of life. It is not only man's make that makes it necessary. All about us are hands reaching out drugged cups; and whoever takes Circe's cup turns into a swine, and sits there imprisoned at the feet of the sorceress forever. Only one thing can deliver us: "Be sober" in regard to the world and all it offers. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
II. A MOTIVE WHICH BUTTRESSES THIS EXHORTATION. "Let us, since we are of the day, be sober."
1. What day? Not exactly the Day of Judgment, although there may be some allusion to that; but the apostle has passed from that to day in general. Christians are the children of that which expresses knowledge, joy, and activity; they should, therefore, be brave, not afraid of light, cheerful, buoyant, hopeful, transparent, and walk in this darkened world, bearing their radiance with them, and making things, else unseen, visible.
2. But while these emblems are gathered into that name there is one direction in which the consideration ought to tell — that of self-restraint. "Noblesse oblige; the aristocracy are bound to do nothing dishonourable. Children of the light are not to stain themselves with anything foul. Indulgence may be fitting for the night, but incongruous with the day.
III. THE METHOD BY WHICH THIS GREAT PRECEPT MAY BE FULFILLED.
1. Faith, love, hope, form the defensive armour of the soul, and make self-control possible. Like a diver in his dress, who is let down into the ocean, a man whose heart is girt with faith and charity, and whose head is covered with hope, may be dropped down into the wildest sea of temptation and worldliness, and yet will walk dry and unharmed.
2. The cultivation of these three is the best means for securing self-control. It is an easy thing to say, Govern yourself." The powers that should control are largely gone over to the enemy. Who shall keep the keepers? You can no more "erect yourself above yourself" than you can lift yourself by your coat collar. But you can cultivate faith, hope, and charity, and these will do the governing. Faith will bring you into communication with all the power of God. Love will lead you into a region where temptations will show their own foulness. Hope will turn away your eyes from looking at the tempting splendour around, and fix them on the glories above.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.