Sober Minded

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

It is easy for the addict to tell himself that being under the influence of marijuana isn't that bad. After all, he can still function, at least to some extent, while high. That is why people tell themselves they are better students, better lovers, better drivers, etc. while stoned. You and I know they are not. All that is happening is that they are too stoned to care or to accurately judge how poorly they are truly doing.

"But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 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." (I Thessalonians 5:4-8).

The Greek words we are interested in, which are translated "sober," are the adjective nephalios and the verb nepho. They are a compound word consisting of ne, which means "not", and piein, which means "drink." Of these words, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states,

"The concept which underlies the verb nepho 'to be sober' and the whole word group is formally negative. It is the opposite of intoxication both in the literal sense of intoxication with wine and in the figurative sense of states of intoxication attributable to other causes."

The Jewish philosopher Philo illustrates this definition when he stated,

"So too soberness [nephein] and drunkenness are opposites."

Liddel and Scott define these words as "to be sober, to drink no wine." Clement of Alexandria once said,

"I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere [nephalion] life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire."

Now that we understand the meaning of these words, let us see how they are used. Nephomen is translated as sober in both I Thessalonians 4:6 and I Thessalonians 4:8. Notice the contrasts:

  • light - darkness,
  • awake - sleeping, and
  • sober - drunk.

It is apparent that Paul desires the Thessalonians to be "alert," mentally watchful, and "sober," physically abstinent. In fact, we find that alertness is often connected with abstinence from intoxicating beverages (Luke 12:45). We understand that it is physical abstinence that is being considered since it is being contrasted with being drunk.

What applies to alcohol also applies to other mind-altering drugs. Marijuana harms your alertness both while high and for several months after you stop using it. You cannot be a faithful Christian and a marijuana user at the same time.

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