Background: Peter was writing to encourage groups of believers who are going through persecution. His ministry originally was to the Jews, but God gave him the privilege of ministering to Gentiles, as well.
Introduction: Peter was finishing his first letter, addressed to various groups of new believers, and giving them words of encouragement.
The text is 1 Peter 5:8-11: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
I. Peter gave two commands in verse 8.
Notice Peter gives a pair of commands in verse 8. The first one is: Be of sober spirit. The King James Version reads as, “be sober,” and we usually think of being sober as being free from the influence of drugs, alcohol or anything that could compromise our sobriety. However, that isn’t the most accuarate meaning here.
May I share a rather personal illustration here? After I graduated from high school, I had a job at a service station, pumping gas, checking oil, putting air in tires, washing thousands of windshields! Not too far away was a road that led into a subdivision, and many of the folks going to and from those homes would stop for fuel at our gas station.
One Friday evening, the local high school had a home football game, and of course the school showed a lot of pride in its team. Well, a student (perhaps a freshman or sophomore, who apparently didn’t have a driver’s license) was walking quite a way from the station to the stadium. I jokingly asked, “Where are you going, all by yourself?” but genuinely was concerned. Anything could happen to young ladies of her age. She laughed, bought a soft drink from the machine, and said she was going to the game. Amazed, I said, “Well, be careful,” and went back to my duties.
Fast forward a few weeks. Another Friday evening, another home game, and the same girl stopped at the station. However, this time she had some friends. The car was a two-door coupe, and three people could sit relatively comfortably in the back seat. There were three in the back; in the middle sat the same girl (no soft drink this time). She had a glass bottle with a gold liquid inside. As I recall, the beverage made mention of a high life. I’ve thought about her through the years and hope she found salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord. For a fact, she wasn’t totally sober at that particular moment.
Being of sober spirit isn’t necessarily the same thing as being sober or simply free from the influence of something such as drugs and alcohol. Having a sober spirit means having a sense of self-control.
The second command Peter relayed to the believers was: Be on the alert. Peter would have known about that, personally. He had been a fisherman long before he followed Jesus as a disciple. He surely would have known, for example, where the fish were biting and where they weren’t; he would have learned how to judge when storms or waves would appear seemingly out of nowhere on the Sea of Galilee.
He also would have known, or remembered, he had to be on the alert when Jesus had asked him, James and John to stand guard or watch while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36; Mark 14:32). Did he succeed? At least twice, Peter and the others fell asleep when Jesus, humanly speaking, needed them the most. What a rebuke when Jesus asked them, “Couldn’t you stay awake for an hour?” Peter knew about being on guard when he remembered going into the danger zone! He tried, apparently, to mix and mingle—or appear to be insignificant—around a charcoal fire in the high priest’s palace (KJV) or court (NASB), according to John 18:15. He wound up denying Jesus at least twice, maybe multiple times. He repented, after weeping bitterly (Matt. 26:75).
There’s also a message for us, and it isn’t just to expect the expected. Sure, we need to watch and be careful when we’re driving, playing games, engaging in sports, or what have you. Some years ago, I drove to a church on the other side of a small, but highly arched, bridge. The arc was such that I was driving blind, unable to see what was on the other side due to the height. Something told me to drive slowly, and I did. Good thing, too, as there were a few young children, riding their bicycles, not expecting traffic, I suppose, on a seldom-used section of roadway. I shudder to think what may have happened if I had gone the normal (30 mph) speed and hit any of those children.
No, it isn’t just the routine things we need to watch out for; there is the spiritual aspect, too. We have enemies. The world, the flesh and the devil all have each one of us in their targets. They want to see us fail and fall. They rejoice greatly when we stumble and face problems. Imagine a bully in school or somewhere who gets you in trouble and gets his or her kicks from doing this. Now multiply that by a factor of 10 or more and you’ll get the idea. Peter was careful to give us a couple of sound instructions; he also told us why.
II. Peter gave information about our adversary in verse 8.
Adversary, foe, enemy and similar terms could be used to describe our greatest adversary, the devil himself. The image Peter has in mind is that of an opponent in a court of law, such as opposing counsel, someone who believes he or she has a legitimate case against you.
Most of us could relate to this: Who hasn’t heard about Job and the problems he faced? None of them, by the way, were his fault! Satan accused God! of protecting Job and proposed that if God allowed Job to lose his property and later his health, Job would curse God. God gave permission for Satan to afflict Job to the point of horrible skin lesions and loss of almost all he had, but Job stayed true. This was a classic example of an accuser being found false, and the believer remaining faithful and true to the Lord.
Peter and other early disciples would have known, also, about the illegal trial of Jesus Himself, just before He was crucified. Humanly speaking, Jesus didn’t stand a chance against the lies, misquotes, changing charges, and an appeal to the pride and personal welfare of Pilate, the Roman governor. Further, one thief who was crucified with Jesus insulted Him to His face, along with many people who walked to Calvary, only to mock and watch Jesus suffer.
Lest we think the accusations stopped there, we don’t need to look far to prove otherwise. Just about any time a Christian wants to live as a Christian, following the Bible’s teachings, taking a stand for biblical morality, watch how often he or she is accused of being everything from racist, sexist homophobic, biased, zealous, right-wing reactionary, etc.
Peter didn’t stop at giving an image or identity of the adversary. He also described some of his strategy or method of operation. Peter said the devil walked about, like a roaring lion, seeking something to devour. I read somewhere that a lion will roar in order to scare or frighten the prey into freezing or not knowing where to go or what to do to escape. The young lions and sometimes the lionesses would then come in for the kill, dragging some of the prey back to the pride. Sometimes, depending on the relative hunger, the lion would gulp down the prey whole, not bothering to chew.
What a picture of our adversary! He’s prowling around, just as he did in Job’s day, roaring to frighten the prey—us!—into giving up the fight. He’s waiting to find and devour us, gulping us down in one bite. He will continue to be the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10) far into the future. We’ll never completely understand, the absolute hatred Satan has for all of humanity, especially those who renounced our allegiance to him and became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Lest we get too discouraged, please remember that even when we stumble, fall, and become aware of our sin in any capacity, we generally feel bad about it as a result of conviction. This is a reasonable reaction to having committed sin against God and the Lord Jesus Christ. We deserve punishment for our sins, but let’s not stop there.
The apostle John later wrote “…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The word advocate is the Greek word parakletos, meaning “one called alongside to help.” One rendering I’ve seen or heard of is “defense attorney,” which means Jesus Christ defends us when we are accused, including when we are rightly convicted of sins! Jesus pleads our case by declaring that He already has paid the penalty for our sins by His own death on Calvary’s cross. He’s defended us numerous times, but He’s never once lost the case! We are forgiven!
III. Peter gives another command in verse 9.
We would love to stop there, rejoicing in the grace and goodness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can’t, though. Not yet. We’re still here to live, work and witness to what He has done. There’s only one way to do this: by standing firm against all the Devil throws at us. What did Peter say in verse 9?
The first thing each believer needs to do is resist the devil. Some of us remember the “Flip Wilson Show”from the early 1970s. Wilson had a sketch on the show in which he would dress as a woman named Geraldine, who would make a purchase (e.g., a new dress) and as Wilson would asked Geradldine why she’d bought the item. Geraldine would reply, “The devil made me buy that dress!” Well, many of us laughed about it back then! Some of us still do. The reality is that there isn’t anything funny or humorous about yielding to the devil.
James already had written to believers some years prior to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (v. 4:7). This advice is still valid! We don’t have to yield to the devil for one moment. He’ll try anything to cause us to veer or wander off the pathway, then accuse us to God when we do! If we resist him—if we say no and mean no, if we call on our heavenly Father for assistance—we don’t need to fall for any trick of the devil.
Peter also reminded his readers that we’re not alone in our struggles. Other believers in other lands are going through their own dealings with the devil. In some cases, they endure fierce, fiery persecution. John later wrote Jesus’ message to the Church of Smyrna about troubles to come (Rev. 2), and Peter already had mentioned the problems his audience was going through at the time of his letter. After all, Peter had endured his own share of persecution. Just look at the first few chapters of Acts! Yet, he encouraged them (and us) that we have victory in Jesus!
Let’s wrap it up here. Peter’s first commands were to be of a sober spirit, and to be on the alert. We need not say much more about this, except that our enemy, the devil, is prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. If we resist him, we can and will overcome with the power our Lord makes available to us!