You know that feeling after a big thanksgiving or other holiday feast? When you want to loosen your belt a notch and sit back and give in to the sleepy feeling that comes over you? I suppose it’s not unlike a moderate buzz from drinking, though I don’t have firsthand knowledge of such. It’s a calm, comfortable moment.
If someone was interested in attacking you for some reason, that would be a pretty good time to do so. You’re reflexes are slowed and your attention is fuzzy. You tend to fade in and out of conversation. You sleep through the big plays in the football game.
That feeling is common when we overindulge our appetites. It makes us a little slow, a little hazy… and vulnerable.
That seems to be the state of mind that Paul was warning his readers about in 1 Thessalonians 5. He had just reminded them that the time would run out suddenly, like labor pains to an expectant mother. He taught us that the world will be caught off-guard, but he contrasts the way we should see theses things:
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of the 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,” (1 These 5.4-8a).
This is kind of a difficult passage, but the idea Paul seems to be bringing us is one of contrast between those who have been made spiritually alive in Christ and those who are yet dead in their sinful condition. As believers, we understand that we are, as he put it, “children of light, children of the day.” We have been born again by the Spirit, chosen and adopted by the Father of Light, from whom all good and perfect gifts surely come (James 1.17).
Being such, Paul urges, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
Let me clearly say, I do not think for even a moment that he is telling us we should never sleep, but that we should guard against becoming spiritually groggy, sleepy, and sluggish. In other words, don’t doze off and make yourself vulnerable to spiritual attack. And as for being sober, he has made pretty clear that being drunk is not appropriate for a follower of Jesus (Eph 5.18) because it is an obvious excess.
So I have to take a moment here and own up to reality. I believe that drunkenness and gluttony and sexual immorality and greed and many other categories of sin are all the same thing: it is the misuse or overindulgence of a good and God-given appetite. Some of us who would never touch alcohol have over-indulged our appetite for food so much for so long that we are hindered in our ability to faithfully obey God’s direction for our lives. Many who are so very cautious about their appetites for food and drink have so misused their appetite for success that it has long passed into greed.
There is nothing inherently sinful about our appetites. There is everything inherently sinful in the misuse or over-indulgence of those appetites. Doing so makes us lethargic in our faith, slow in our responsiveness to the Spirit, and almost empty of self-control.
If we would live out a genuine faith—a real life faith—let us heed the urging of the Apostle.
Keep awake and be sober.
Father, show us any way that we have been abusing the appetites You have placed within us. Strengthen us by Your Spirit to keep spiritually awake and sober.