Sophron! Sound thought and Self-Control
There are two different Greek words which are typically rendered by the English word, “sober,” or a variation thereof. The first of these, “nepho,” refers to an actual abstinence from intoxicants. It is in passages such as 1 Peter 5:8, 2 Timothy 4:5 and 1 Thessalonians 5:6. Those who sometimes argue that the Bible does not speak against the use of alcohol as a beverage would do well to consider this Greek word and what it means. But the other Greek word translated as “sober,” is the word, “sophron.” “Sophron” does not refer to the absence of intoxicating substances, but instead denotes the presence of a distinct soundness of thought. While the first word, “nepho,” warns against those substances which remove our ability to think, the second word, “sophron” refers to the self-control and self-discipline which enables us to think properly.
Consider for instance this passage of Scripture: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment,each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3; ESV)
Also, we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:12; NKJV) The ESV substitutes the word “self-controlled” for “sober,” in this verse. The Grace of God actively teaches us that we should bring our thoughts under control, and be sober in our thinking.
This disciplining of the mind is a rather important thing. Just before the admonition we cited from Romans 12:3, the Bible also says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a; NKJV) God does not want just the right physical actions in His children, He also desires the right kind of thinking.
From the two passages cited above, let us make quick two points about the sober-judgment God wants from men, and the qualities we need to develop to properly exhibit such sobriety of thought.
Firstly, we note from the passage from Romans, that a sober minded judgment is humble. A man is not “to think of himself more highly than he ought.” When we ignore this edict and unreasonably elevate our own opinion of ourselves beyond where it should be, our judgment is faulty, our reasoning unsound, and the conclusions and behavior that follows will be of a similar unsound nature.
A lack of humility is a serious thing. A man who is not humble lacks the love God desires in us, for love is not puffed up and proud (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4). Nor can we be saved in that pride, for the Scriptures teach that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (cf. James 4:6)
In pride a man sets himself against God and makes of God an enemy. He derides the Law of God, seeing it as either only for others, or even inferior to his own positions and philosophies. He seeks to have others agree with him, rather than bending his own will to that of the Almighty. It is in pride that a man seeks to dominate others to his own will, rather than loving them as equals and seeking to be their servant, as God desires.
“The rich and the poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” (Proverbs 22:2) And, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we forget these practical ideas, and start elevating ourselves over others, seeking equality or superiority with God, forgetting that we are but the clay and He alone is the potter, we have left the realm of good sense and sobriety and have moved into foolish and harmful thinking.
A second point to make about sober-thinking, derived from Titus 2:12, is this: it requires curbing our impulses. Specifically, it requires that we turn away from ungodliness and worldly lust. A man cannot embrace sin and at the same time embrace soundness of thought. Sin is destructive and harmful, its wages is death, and all who succumb to it will perish eternally, deprived of a place in glory (cf. Romans 3:16-17, 6:23; John 8:21, 24) Thus did Jesus warn that unless men repented, they would perish (cf. Luke 13:3, 5).
There is a reason that the Bible so closely connects wisdom with righteousness. As we learn wisdom, we learn righteousness, and it is in wisdom that we practice righteousness. (cf. Proverbs 4:11) “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13; ESV)
Conversely then, sin is contrary to wisdom and sound thinking. We cannot be said to be thinking soberly if we are at the same time engaged in sin. If we give in to all our carnal desires, renouncing the righteous behavior of God, we have left the path of wisdom and salvation, and are trodding the sure and easy path that leads to destruction. (cf. Matthew 7:13-14) How much smarter is the man who instead renounces the things of this world and submits himself to the commands of the Lord? (cf. Matthew 7:24-27) Such a man is exhibiting both great wisdom and sound judgment.
The point of all of this is to say: God wants self-control and sobriety in our thoughts. Such thinking is an important part of the Christian faith. It is evidence of the grace of God at work in or lives. As Paul told Timothy, God has given us a Spirit of “power and love and self-control.” If we desire to be pleasing to God, walking the path of Christ, in humility and righteousness, we must learn to think soberly about ourselves, the consequences of sin, and the great gift of Salvation that God has given us in Christ.