In earlier Bible studies on the person of effective prayer, we learned the Bible teaches this person is to be righteous, alert, and fervent, have belief God can do what we ask, pray in solitude, pray ceaselessly, and approach God with his or her whole being. This week we learn from Peter, Paul, Luke, David, and Solomon. Three main verses will help us understand what is meant by self-control when referring to prayer and the life of the person of effective prayer. As in approaching God, each part of our life – heart, soul, mind, and strength - must be affected by self-control.
In 1 Peter 4, Peter wrote to several churches in Asia Minor. The Christians in these churches were experiencing suffering and oppression in their cities, towns, and country. Peter reminded them Christ suffered in the flesh and they would, too, so told them to arm themselves with the same purpose, to live for the will of God. He told these Christians not to be surprised the unbelievers harm them and their reputations and reminded them God will judge these “Gentiles”. In verse seven Peter stated, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” [NASB]
Our study today begins with this verse because by understanding what Peter meant here we will understand another facet of the attitude, attributes, and actions of an effective person of prayer. What did Peter mean by his words “sound judgment” and “sober spirit”? Did he mean not being intoxicated with alcohol and drugs? It would make sense if a person wants to be effective in prayer he or she would have a clear mind. Yet it means more than that.
The words “sound judgment” come from the Greek word sophroneo, which means of sound mind, exercise self-control as in putting a moderate estimate up of one’s self and to think of one’s self soberly (with a serious quality or without embellishment). Besides Peter, Paul and Luke used this phrase of “sound judgment”. Let’s consider how they used them as we try to understand what Peter meant when he wrote these words.
Paul wrote in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Sound judgment in this book Paul wrote means not to have grandiose thoughts of one’s self. It means to have humility. In 2 Corinthians 5:13-15, sophroneo is translated as “sound mind”. Paul said in this passage,
“For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” [NASB]
This means if we are sound of mind, it comes from the love of Christ who controls us whom we made Lord and Master of our lives. Further in the Bible, Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 2:6. When speaking about the role of different people within the family and church, he said, “Likewise urge the young men to be sensible.” “Sensible” comes from the Greek word sophroneo. It means having sound judgment through Jesus Christ so Christians can deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:12). Even Luke wrote about this being able to happen in Luke 8:35 when he wrote about when Jesus healed the man of the demons who had taken over his life. Luke said,
“The people went out to see what had happened and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, and sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they became frightened.” [NASB]
When Jesus comes into the life of a believer, He makes a new creation. The old life is gone and the new has come because of Christ. Jesus made new three parts of the demoniac. The parts He made new were his heart, his mind, and his spirit.
These passages show us that “sound judgment” in the New Testament means being humble and letting the love of Christ control us. Sound judgment comes through Jesus Christ’s actions on the lives of the believers when they allow God to be Lord and Master of their lives. A believer’s self-control comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A few Old Testament writers spoke about the characteristic of humility, just as Peter did, in regards to prayer. Both David and Solomon spoke of being servants of God in their prayer life. Solomon said in his prayer in 1 Kings 8:28, “Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today.” Solomon, because he knew God and His might and salvation, understood his smallness as compared to God’s greatness. He recognized himself in the lowest position of life – as a servant. His father, David, called himself a servant of God many times in the Psalms while praying. In Psalm 35:13, David said, “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I humbled my soul with fasting and my prayer kept returning to my bosom.” David acknowledged his lowness and humbled himself. He actively recognized God’s greatness in his prayer to Him. We can read of David recognizing himself as a servant of God in Psalm 19:11 & 13, 27:9, 31:6, 69:17, 78:70, 79:2 & 10, 86:2, 4, & 16, 89:3, 20, & 39, 90:13 & 16, 102:14 & 28, 109:28, 116:16, 119, 132:10, 143:2 & 12, and 144:10. The important thing for us to realize is that David recognized for himself God’s greatness and worth to be praised and his own lowness. He recognized this and placed himself in this status. David and Solomon exhibited humility - "sound judgment".
Godly men and women of the Old Testament knew God and testified to His greatness as Creator, Provider, Protector, and Savior. They did not know Jesus Christ at that time, but they saw, understood, and recognized God in His actions and knew within themselves He is almighty and they were not. Paul spoke of this testimony in Romans 1:20. Jesus spoke of it in Luke 19:40 when He said even the stones would cry out about God’s plan of salvation for every person if people silenced His disciples. This tells us the person who recognizes God can choose to use “sound judgment” in life and in prayer to God. He or she can choose to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit put within him or her upon his or her confession of faith in Jesus Christ. If the person is not a Christian that person still can choose to use the sound judgment God gives each person in life and in prayer. Because God created us in His image, we can exercise sound judgment by following Him and not following the ways of Satan and the world.
The words “sober spirit” Peter used comes from the Greek word nepho, which means to be calm and collected in spirit, to be dispassionate and circumspect (cautious, wary, careful, and guarded). Soberness of spirit comes by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. What does “soberness of spirit” look like in a person? How is it used in prayer? Paul and Peter wrote about a “sober spirit” in three passages in the New Testament.
In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter spoke to the believers in Asia Minor concerning living during a time when Gentiles orally and physically persecuted Jesus-followers. He reminded them they have an imperishable and undefiled inheritance through Jesus Christ. Peter told them God protected them with His power through faith. They can rejoice, he said, even though they experience trials because their faith, though tested, will cause praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus. Peter told them they preached the Gospel to other people through their words, actions, and attitudes just as the prophets did before them. Peter said in verse thirteen, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The followers of Jesus can keep a sober spirit by being calm in spirit, by being dispassionate so that what is happening in action and word does not discourage them, and by being careful and guarded so they are not taken by surprise. This soberness of spirit comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit within the life of the believer. It comes when a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and allows the Holy Spirit to guide, guard, teach, remind, and admonish him or her each day. By following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a believer will be able to stand strong during trials and persecutions and will stay prepared because of his or her growing closeness with God, his or her growing love relationship with God, and his or her growth in Christlikeness.
Besides Peter, Paul wrote regarding soberness of spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:6 & 8, he spoke to them of the dark times the believers faced then. Paul reminded the believers they were sons and daughters of the light and of day (God) and are they are not of darkness or night (Satan). He encouraged them with these words.
“So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 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. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thessalonians 5:6-9, NASB]
Christians do not sleep, but are ready. They are alert and sober. Believers are aware of what is going on around them, but are prepared by the Word of God teaching and empowering them through the Holy Spirit in their lives. With prayer Christians have put on the armor of faith as Paul taught in Ephesians 6:10-18. Soberness of spirit, Paul said, prepares you to overcome the darkness of the world and reminds you about the inheritance - the hope - you have through the salvation Jesus Christ bought for you. Be sober spirited and alert.
Paul wrote about a sober mind in 2 Timothy 4:5. He wrote to Timothy charging and encouraging him to do that for which God appointed him. Paul reminded Timothy God would judge the living and dead when His kingdom comes. So, he said, “preach the word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” [2 Tim. 4:2, NASB] Paul continued telling Timothy that people would turn their ears away from the truth and would turn to myths. He said in verse five, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Even though Timothy faced hardship and people would not listen to him when he preached the word of God, Paul exhorted him to be sober in all things. He meant to be calm and careful. Paul meant for Timothy not to let anger arise because the people did not heed him. Instead he said to know (this is the part to be careful and guarded about) that darkness is around and people will choose to follow what strikes their fancy instead of following Jesus, of whom he preached. If Timothy had allowed anger or frustration from the people’s lack of listening to enter his voice, actions, or attitude, his testimony for God would have been less powerful and may even have caused him to stumble.
- · For the task to which God appointed Timothy, he would need to rely upon the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide, guard, protect, teach, and encourage him. Self-control as a Christian comes from the Holy Spirit’s filling so he could have a sober spirit.
- · For the ability to stand in the light even as darkness surrounds one, Paul taught the Thessalonians believers to keep alert and sober minded. Stay calm and collected in spirit and be guarded. With prayer put on the armor of God and stand strong.
- · For the believers of Asia Minor, Peter taught them to keep a sober spirit. He told them to prepare their mind for what is coming. Be careful and hopeful. Fix their hope on the grace of Jesus Christ and be holy in all their behavior through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 4:7 Redux
What then did Peter mean when he told the believers in Asia Minor to be of sound judgment and sober of spirit for the purpose of prayer? Believers in Jesus Christ must exercise self-control and put on a moderate estimate of their selves. They must recognize God’s greatness and their smallness in relation to Him. Believers in recognizing this might consider themselves the servant of God as David, Solomon, and Paul did. These believers must recognize who God is and who they are not and exercise self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit in their daily lives recognizing that fact. That is “sound judgment”. Peter spoke of a sober spirit, too. The believer would, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, be able to stay calm and collected in the face of persecution, trials, and adversity remembering Jesus faced these without sinning. He testified to God’s love, mercy, and grace continually. Besides this, the believer would be cautious and guarded knowing that trials, persecutions, and adversity will come. Jesus said His followers would face what He faced and more. Yet, even with the knowledge trials will come and facing them, the Christians of Asia Minor were to realize, accept, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and control them so God’s gospel continued to reach people in darkness. Having a sober spirit meant knowing trouble would come, but God’s Holy Spirit would protect and guide the believer through it.
Having sound judgment and sober mind enables a believer to pray as the Lord prayed. He prayed that no person would be lost to the darkness. Jesus prayed that everyone would come to know God’s love and mercy. He prayed for the sinner who died on the cross next to Him.
Relevance and Conclusion
Are our prayers reflective of this sound judgment and sober spirit? Do we allow our emotions to dictate our prayers to God or do we pray as God wills – for the salvation of that criminal, for that dying child, for that suffering depressed person, etc.? That is humility. Do we exercise self-control (Spirit-control) when praying each day so we recognize God’s will needs to be done, not ours? That is servanthood. Do we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven? Do we pray for other believers to stand firm in their faith and do their God-appointed tasks? That is soberness of spirit.
- · We must recognize God’s greatness and our smallness.
- · We must seek His will that none be lost.
- · We must remember God is in control?
- · We must allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, hearts, actions, and words.
Remember, only when we are communing with God with each part of our being, that is loving Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, are we truly allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us to the depth of relationship with Him and the true purpose of prayer – for God’s will to be done that all people might be saved and enter a relationship with Him. Paul stated this in John 3:17 and 2 Timothy 2:4.
- · Yes, prayer is for your growth in your relationship with God.
- · Yes, prayer is for your growth in Christlikeness.
- · Prayer is also for the salvation of all people of the world.
Will you pray with sound judgment and sober spirit so that no one will be lost?
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” [John 3:17, NASB]