"The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." (1 Peter 4:7)It is understandable that the early believers would have expected, and hoped, that Jesus would return soon, even in their own life time. He had told them He would return, He just didn't tell them when. Certainly, for us, the end is just that much more closer then when they believed. However, regardless of how close His return is, we should live like it is today, for we do not know when He will return. Jesus warned us to always be ready when He said, "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will." (Matthew 24:43-44) The key to living like Jesus may return today is to live soberly. Peter uses two Greek words here that can both be translated as "sober", you could say he is asking us to live sober and soberly.
The first word simply means to be of sound mind. It is the word that Luke uses to describe the demonic that had been healed by Jesus, "and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind." (Luke 8:35) He was sober and "in his right mind." As Christians, we must learn to think rightly; to put aside childish thinking, daydreaming, speculation, and vain imaginations that we might think soberly as adult men and women of God. Essential to this is to grow in our understanding and ability to use the Word of God. As we come to more accurately know the Word of God, both written and fleshly, that being Jesus who was the Word of God, we will begin to think more like Jesus thinks and to posses a world view that is more in line with His. Philosophy is good and knowledge is good, but its the Word of God that will transform our lives and prepare us for His eventual return. Paul warns us, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8) and "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1 NKJV) Philosophy can enslave us and knowledge can make us proud, but the Word of God sets free.
The second word for "sober" means to abstain from wine for the purpose of watching. We can become so engrossed in the affairs of this world that we fail to keep watch, not just for His return, but also for those things that would endanger our lives. The question is, "where is our mind?" Have we numbed our conscience with various addictions to substances, recreation, pleasures, distractions, and even work, or are we wide awake in our spirit, watchful of all things around us? Paul encourages us, "But since we are of the day, let us be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:8) We are of the day, now is our time to be sober and watchful. It is interesting the reason we should be watchful, it is for the purpose of prayer. The reason Peter tells us to be watchful is so that we might pray on account of what we see, either for things that might be needed by others or by us, or of things that we might need protecting from. Many of the needs and attacks against our lives can be avoided through prayer if we are able to see them in advance. When Jesus was facing the cross, He said to His disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch." (Mark 14:34) and yet upon returning, He found them sleeping and said, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?" (Mark 14:37) In the end, they all fled on account of Him. How different their response might have been if they could have just watched and prayed for one hour? Their watching and praying could have prepared and strengthened them for what was to come, however they were not.