Read 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8. How does the drunken/sober analogy help us better understand preparation for the second coming of Jesus?
Paul begins verse 6 with “therefore” or “so then,” depending on the translation. He has established that true followers of Jesus are children of the light and of the day. In today’s passage he continues the metaphor in order to exhort them to be more and more ready for Jesus’ return. While verse 7 offers a bit of a digression, verses 6 and 8 encourage the Thessalonians to be awake, sober, and armed for the challenges ahead.
Paul begins with the contrast of asleep/awake. Because believers “belong to the day” (ESV), they should not sleep, as the night is for sleeping. Paul is writing metaphorically, of course. Sleep here is a metaphor for spiritual laziness or lack of interest (in verse 10 it is a metaphor for death). The expression “let us not sleep” in the original means “don’t even start” sleeping. Paul assumes that they are already awake but encourages them to persevere in watchfulness more and more.
Paul then encourages them to be sober rather than drunk. In the ancient world soberness was a symbol for philosophical reason. Paul wants the Thessalonians to be thoughtful and careful in their reasoning from Scripture. Some use the Bible for date-setting and speculation. Paul wants believers to be focused, instead, on the implications of Scripture for their own spiritual preparation. The sober/drunk metaphor may also point back to the kind of ethical restraint he has encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.
The daytime is associated with being awake and sober. It is at night that people sleep and, usually, at night when they get drunk. But in verse 8 Paul switches to the imagery of a military guard. Guards need to be awake and sober at all times, day and night. So, soldiers need to exceed the norm when it comes to watchfulness. Paul likewise expects Christians to exceed the norm when it comes to preparation for the Second Coming. And like soldiers, Christians should put on all of their equipment before taking their posts.
Take Paul’s words in these texts, as if he were writing specifically and personally to you, and you alone. How would you translate those words into action? That is, what about your life would need to change in order for you to be doing what he says?