COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9 KJV)
There are complicating factors in the life of a believer. Two of them will suffice to set the stage for this lesson. First, living by faith, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord, are accomplished in a hostile realm-"the present evil world." Second, it is done while hounded by a cruel and crafty adversary. It is this latter condition that is now addressed by the Spirit. Much, if not all, failure among believers occurs when the awareness of an adversary is lost. In our time and country, there has been an accentuation of the capability of the natural man, and little or no stress placed upon the Sovereignty and power of God. The results have been disastrous. When the emphasis is put upon human capabilities, the door is opened for the wicked one, and he will always enter it. His strength and corrupted genius towers above that of mortals. When they do not give heed to arming themselves against him, he becomes invincible, and can only be hindered by God Himself.
SOBRIETY AND VIGILANCE
" 5:8a Be sober, be vigilant . . . " KJV The nature of spiritual life demands that a certain mind-set be maintained. We are not only faced with challenges to improve, grow, and make spiritual advance, there are also inhibiting factors and aggressive hostility to be confronted. The words now placed before us by the Holy Spirit accent the necessity of being focused, serious, and undistracted in our progress to glory. Let it be clear, where these exhorted qualities are found, Divine support will be realized. Every heavenly exhortation is accompanied with the guarantee of assistance and strength.
BE SOBER! This is the third time "sober" has been mentioned in this Epistle. First, we were exhorted "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end . . . " (1:13). Second, the Spirit admonished "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober" (4:7). In both of these, the conclusion of all things-"the end"-is the incentive for sobriety. We do not know how long the interim between "now" and "then" will be. That is the reason for being sober. Because of its relative rarity, it will be good to again review this indispensable quality. Remember that the exhortation to "be sober" is itself proof of its necessity.
The word "sober" includes the following characteristics: self-controlled, watchful, clear headed, alert, serious, and aware of what is going on. Being "sober" is the opposite of being "asleep" and insensitive to ones surroundings. As it is written, "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Thess 5:6-8). These words confirm our real situation in this world.
Sobriety is more than an activity of the mind. It is associated with action-i.e., putting on the protective armor God has supplied. Anything that so distracts the human spirit that the danger of our situation is no longer seen, is an enemy, causing us to lack sobriety. This is an intensely personal matter in which one person cannot legislate to another. But we can fervently admonish one another to be "sober," alert, watchful, and keenly aware of what is going on around us. This is a spiritual alertness.
In this particular text "sober" accents watchfulness. We are in a vulnerable situation, an unfriendly world, in a frail vessel, and the target of an angry enemy. If we have eyes to see, we will see these things from afar, and thus avoid the danger associated with them.
BE VIGILANT. The meaning of vigilance is closely related to that of being sober. It means to be watchful by keeping awake. It presumes the temptation of weariness and the tendency to fall asleep. It is as though the Spirit said, "Be sober, and stay awake!" Other versions read, "be watchful,"NKJV "be on the alert,"NASB and "keep alert."NRSV This is the same word Jesus used, when finding His disciples asleep in Gethsemane. "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matt 26:40). I do not doubt He often speaks to our hearts in the same manner, as we succumb to spiritual slumber.
The perilous nature of our times is found in the enormous amount of distractions that are hurled at us. Entertainment heads the list in prominence, and is exploding exponentially. From athletics and games to TV and movies, people are being lulled to sleep, and brought to live in a fictitious world. This attitude has even penetrated the church, and is found in its culture, programs, structures, and even its member's attire. There is little awareness of the dangers that surround them. "Vigilance" is considered an obsolete word, and few have even the remotest idea of its significance and necessity.
In such a circumstance, the admonition of our text becomes even more critical. Our spiritual vision must be keen, and our spirits alert. We must be able to look beyond external circumstances, and perceive the stumbling blocks and distractions that are being thrown at us. The time is short, which makes Satan even more dangerous (Rev 12:12).
Our gatherings must sharpen our spiritual vision, intensify our alertness, and help us to be more awake than ever before. Our words and manners, our attentiveness and contributions must be of assistance in this matter of being sober and vigilant. When this happens, the Holy Spirit will use our various ministrations to enliven and strengthen us. Jesus Himself will be among us to minister. Such assemblies no doubt summon bands of holy angels, who are devoted to the support of God's people. "Be sober! Be vigilant!"
THE REASON FOR SOBRIETY AND VIGILANCE
" 5:8b . . . because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." KJV We are not admonished to be sober and vigilant without cause. It is not enough to merely respond to the exhortation to sobriety and vigilance out of a sense of obligation, although that may very well be a beginning point for some. However, obedience that does not perceive the reason for obeying will be short-lived. At some point, the human spirit must see the reason for responding to God, else the response will soon wither and eventually die. This is the rationale behind the informative nature of all of the Epistles. They are opening up the reason for obeying, responding to, and following Christ. There is strong justification for giving heed to Divine admonitions.
The reason for being sober and vigilant is straightforward: it is "BECAUSE" we have an "adversary." This is not an adversary as encountered in an athletic event. This is a life and death matter-like David and Goliath. Our situation will not allow for external peace to become the occasion for spiritual sloth. Peaceful circumstance, a lull in the deafening noise of distraction, and seasons of blessing, do not change the situation described in this verse. In all of them, Satan is still our adversary, he is still prowling about, and he is still seeking someone to devour.
First, apart from the Word of God, there is absolutely no confirmation of the described circumstance. If God had not told us the saints have such an antagonist, there is no possible way we could have come to this conclusion. Even after we have been solemnly warned, many Christians are conducting themselves as though this was not true. They live as though they had no adversary, or personal attacks from him.
We have an unseen opponent: an enemy that is against us, and aggressively so. He stalks us like a "roaring lion," about to pounce on its prey. HE is identified as a "lion" because of his strength and shrewdness. He is said to be "roaring" because of his rage, malice, and brutality. Do not imagine that "as a roaring lion" means Satan is harmless and helpless! Job will instruct you more perfectly in the matter, as well as Peter. They can both tell you what "your adversary" can do if ever given permission to test or sift you! There is no need to be "sober" and "vigilant" if Satan is just a blustering old lion who is no threat to us. Such a solemn warning should remove the inclination for men to think so foolishly.
Satan is "walking about," or "prowls about."NASB He is going up and down and throughout the whole world, seeking for those who are not sober and not vigilant. Twice, in the days of Job, when God asked Satan "From where do you come?", the devil answered, "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it" (Job 1:7; 2:2). He was roaming the whole world, prowling about just as our text says he does now. There is no section of this world in which he is not "walking about." There is no time when he ceases to prowl, stalking benighted and sleepy souls, and even those who are sober and vigilant. When you are awake, "your adversary" is walking about. When you are asleep, "your adversary" is waking about. That is why you must "be sober," and "be vigilant."
And what is our adversary seeking to do? Why is he prowling like a roaring lion, with his mouth wide open? He is "looking for someone to devour!" NRSV - someone to "swallow up."YLT He is contemplating the destruction of unalert souls. He wants to bring them down, cause them to fall, provoke them to deny the faith, or be overtaken in a fault. When you see poor souls that fall, it is because they were vulnerable to the wicked one, who is seeking someone to devour! That is why men and women stupidly fall into gross and unreasonable sins! The devil found them without soberness and vigilance, and thus "devoured" them. The Spirit has spoken frankly with us about this matter, and we do well to hear what He says.
It is no wonder Jesus taught us to pray, "And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one"NKJV (Matt 6:13). Every insightful person wants to be protected from the "adversary." Those with understanding know, that on their own, they are not equal to his attacks. Job can testify to the hardness of trial. Peter can declare the difficulty of being sifted. Paul can instruct us of the effects of a thorn delivered by Satan. How aggressive our prayers ought to be in this area! Mark it well, such fervent prayers WILL be heard if they are accompanied by sobriety and vigilance. Being sober and vigilant is essential. They are made effective when they are accompanied by "all prayer."
HOW TO RESIST THE DEVIL
5:9Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." KJV Notice, our adversary does not simply go away, nor is there a promise of not having to confront him. Whether or not we will encounter him is not the question. Rather, it is whether or not we will resist him.
To "resist" the devil is not turning our back on him, or pretending he is not there. To "resist" means to oppose or stand against. Other versions read "whom withstand,"ASV "Do not give way to him,"BBE "Take a firm stand against him,"NLT and "Stand up to him."NJB This is a combative stance in which we refuse to back up or allow Satan to attack us without fighting back. In resisting the devil, we refuse to yield to his temptations. We set ourselves against him and oppose, fight against, and do combat with him. Resisting is aggressive and determined. It involves insight and boldness, and a refusal to give up what Christ has brought to us. This is no work for the timorous of heart, or those without understanding.
How do we "resist" the devil? At this point we rise above the reasoning of men and the manner of flesh. We actually do combat with Satan indirectly. In a sense, we are face to face with him, but in another sense we are not. In the first sense, we are actually confronting the devil in a very personal way. In the second sense, there is something between us that neutralizes the entire circumstance. Satan does not have immediate access to us, but is limited by the will and power of our Lord. Too, we are doing battle with him in Christ Jesus, and not person-to-person.
Steadfast in the faith. Our resistance takes place when we are "steadfast in the faith." This is continuing to have a dominating faith. It is enduring in believing, and refusing to have our eyes pulled into the dark domain of Satan, thus seeing things from an earthly point of view. To be steadfast is to be firm. It is to be strong and unwavering. It is to be solid and stable in trusting the Lord and believing His promises.
Steadfastness in the faith is the same as holding up the "shield of faith" (Eph 6:16). It is the same as gaining the victory over the world through faith (1 John 5:4). Satan has no counterattack for faith. Your faith is to Satan what unbelief is to God: it moves him away from you. This is another way of saying Satan's attacks can actually cause you to believe God the more, to trust Him more fully, and to see the promises as more precious. That is the secret to opposing Satan. That is how you do battle against him. When you believe God, you throw down the lies of the devil. When you trust God, you throw up an impenetrable barrier between you and "your adversary." Just as unbelief hinders Jesus (Matt 13:58), so faith stifles the attacks of the wicked one.
Our brethren. Our opposition to Satan is to be accompanied by a recollection of our "brethren that are in the world." Steadfastness in the faith is conducive to this remembrance. Believing God cannot be done without considering His people. And what is it that we are to recall about this holy society? It is that "the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished" by them.NASB You are not the only one confronting the devil. Remember, he is walking to and fro, and up and down in the world. And, notice what it says about confronting our adversary. It is called "afflictions," or "sufferings." From the military point of view, we are resisting. From the experiential point of view, we are suffering. Think of it this way. When you are suffering, you are also fighting-that is the other side of the coin. This is the way we are being better suited for glory (2 Tim 2:12).
Accomplishment. These sufferings, or confrontations with our adversary, are also accomplishments. Something is being achieved through them. The word "accomplished" is a strong one, indicating the completion or finishing of a work. These are small remnants of Christ's sufferings, "left behind" to be filled up, or experienced, by us (Col 1:24). In them, we are made stronger, better, and wiser. We are made to see the real issues more clearly. In them heaven becomes more precious, and the world is less desired. A work is being accomplished in you when you face the devil-but that is certainly not his intent. His purposes are being overturned when you are perfected in your sufferings! This takes place, praise the Lord, only in those who are "in the world." As soon as we leave this domain, there will be no confrontations with the devil, and no need for resistance.