We are in great need today of Christians with sober minds.
As the swirling winds of religious pluralism and progressive “tolerance” meet with the gales of globalization, a parade of new gadgets, and the constant drip of round-the-clock news-creation, we’re more prone than ever to diversion and distraction — and with it, muddle-headedness and outright confusion. We’re not sure whether to worry about the incessant drumbeats of secularism, or true-to-the-Koran Islam, or whether to just drown our clouded and anxious minds in Pinterest, Candy Crush, or football on the tube five nights a week.
Sober judgment has always been in high demand, but now the supply is at record lows. In the Information Age, we have access like never before to the stuff that makes for high IQ, but raw intellect alone is prone to extremes and debilitating imbalances when wielded without the great stabilizer of emotional intelligence (EQ). Call it wisdom, level-headedness, or just sanctified common sense — the biblical attribute of “sober-mindedness” is at a premium. Which should get our attention when such a thing is central to both a healthy Christian church and the healthy Christian walk.
Fortunately, sober-mindedness is something for which God holds out great promise for development and growth.
The Importance of a Sober Mind
“There is no greater remedy for our clouded heads and hectic lives than the sober mind of Christ.”
“Sober-minded” is one of the first traits given for the church’s leaders (1 Timothy 3:2), as well as their wives (1 Timothy 3:11). It’s the first encouragement to the congregation’s aging men (Titus 2:2), and one of Paul’s most pronounced charges to his protégé Timothy: “As for you, always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5).
As much as ever, as we grope our way forward in an increasingly post-Christian society, we need our pastors and elders — and as many in the congregation as possible — to be balanced and clear-headed. In such a muddleheaded milieu, we need models who will not be suckers for extremes or “wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4) or “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). At the helm, give us stewards of the faith who sacrificially love, not speculators who are easily diverted into vain peripheral discussions.
And in a day where clarity and level-headedness are so sorely lacking, it is deeply encouraging that balanced thinking and sober-mindedness can be taught. They can be developed and learned in time, as Paul instructs Timothy, and us, toward sober judgment when he writes,
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7)
“Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20–21)
“Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:14–17)
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23)
Silly myths. Irreverent babble. Quarreling about words. Foolish, ignorant controversies. Sober-mindedness means not being detoured from the central things, from the gospel “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3), by diversions at the margins. And in our environment of extremisms, it means fresh focus on, and excitement about, the essence of the faith. With our proliferation of idiosyncrasies and endless hobbyhorses, we need preoccupation with “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) — not speculative theories and newfangled hypotheses, but “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Helmet of Salvation
Then how do we get help? Where do we go to clear our clouded heads? 1 Thessalonians 5:4–8 gets us pointed in the right direction.
You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
In particular, verse 8 gives us this important path to cultivating a sober mind: “the hope of salvation.” There is a helmet to protect our heads. Gospel hope guards our minds in the battle swirling around us, and lifts our gaze beyond our present confusion to the certainty of victory. The most sober thinkers in the world are those who have drunk most deeply of the gospel.
“The most sober thinkers in the world are those who have drunk most deeply of the gospel.”
Right at the heart of the good work God has begun in us (Philippians 1:6) is developing our discernment — our sober-mindedness — “so that [we] may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:9–10). As we walk the path of increasing holiness, we get our heads back, little by little. Our minds get clearer as we breathe in gospel air and feast at the table of the Scriptures; our heads become more level under the gravitational sway of Jesus.
In Christ, we are increasingly “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23) and “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). And in that growing clear-headedness, the Christian learns “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3) — not only about self, but so much else as well.
Master of Every Situation
And not only is growth in sober-mindedness part of Christian sanctification, but we have a particular focal point and source in the God-man himself. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we have the Spirit of God, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15–16), and our being conformed to his image (Romans 8:29) includes our minds.
There has never been a human mind more sober, thought more lucid, assessment more balanced, and a head more level than that of Jesus. Solomon was known in his day, throughout the world, for the greatness of his wisdom, but when Jesus is on the scene, “something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).
In Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). His wisdom and sober-mindedness make him “master of every situation,” writes John Piper. “One reason we admire and trust Jesus above all persons is that his knowledge and wisdom are unsurpassed” (Seeing and Savoring, 52).
No Greater Remedy
And not only is his wisdom peerless, but he shares it liberally. “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15). “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
In a day of endless distraction and diversion, there is no greater remedy for our clouded heads and hectic lives than the sober mind of Christ.