Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Sober-minded, Prudent, Thoughtful, sensible

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

Sober minded, Prudent, Thoughtful, Sensible

Richard Hollerman

The Authorized Version (KJV) of the Bible uses the term “sober” frequently, but this is seldom found in our contemporary language. Today, sober is defined as “plain or subdued,” or “devoid of frivolity, excess, exaggeration, or speculative imagination,” “straightforward,” or “marked by seriousness, gravity, or solemnity of conduct or character.”[i][i]  The Greek sophron means “of sound mind,” or “self-controlled, soberminded.”[ii][ii]  It means “prudent, thoughtful, self-controlled.”[iii][iii]  The verb sophroneo means “be reasonable, sensible, serious, keep one’s head,” and sophrosune means “good judgment, moderation, self-control.”[iv][iv]  The noun means “of sound mind, self-controlled.”[v][v]

It should be clear that this quality is largely missing in our day.  There is much superficiality, frivolity, worldly thinking, and a general lack of spirituality, but God calls us to have this quality of good judgment, sound thinking, and prudence.  He wants us to be sensible, sober, and serious people.  Peter writes, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit” (1 Peter 1:13).  The ESV has, “be sober-minded.”  In light of the spiritual dangers that surround us, Peter says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (5:8).

If you were walking through a jungle and heard the roaring of a lion, you surely wouldn’t spend your time in distracted joking but would be sober and alert to danger.  We are in a dangerous and crucial spiritual battleground, thus we need to face the enemy with a seriousness that this enterprise deserves.

Paul writes to Titus and says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (2:11).  But this grace teaches us something: “. . . instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (v. 12).  This world and this age are characterized by ungodliness and worldly desires—which we must avoid.  Instead, we must live “sensibly” or with a sober-mindedness and serious purpose.  This is not the time to play spiritual games since eternity is in the balance!  The apostle again emphasizes sober-mindedness in a world on the brink of disaster: “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” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6). He then admonishes us, “Since we are of the day, let us be sober” (v. 8a).  Only if we are sober-minded will we be prepared to fight the present spiritual battles.  Peter also makes this connection with the end time: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).

Scripture singles out various classes of Christians and their need for sober-mindedness.  The overseer (elder) must be “temperate” or “sensible” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8).  Women likewise (perhaps wives of the overseers, or other women) must be “temperate” or “sober-minded” (1 Timothy 3:11, NASB, ESV).  Older men also must be “sensible” or “sober-minded” (Titus 2:2, NASB, ESV). Young married women are called on to be “sensible” or “self-controlled” (Titus 2:5, NASB, ESV).

A woman must cloth herself with special care.  Paul exhorts, “I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good words, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).  He says that women should be clothed “modestly and discreetly.”  The term “discreetly” here is sophrosynes, which may also be translated as “self-control” (ESV, NET Bible, English-Greek Interlinear) or “propriety” (NIV).  Women, do you pay special attention to clothe yourselves with sober-mindedness and self-control—or do you allow the lustful, prideful, frivolous ways of worldly fashion to influence your clothing choices?

This character quality is seldom found in our contemporary culture.  Believers must live, speak, and conduct their life in a sensible way, with sober-mindedness, self-control, and holy prudence.


[i][i] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[iii][iii] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

[iv][iv] Ibid.

[v][v] NASB Exhaustive Concordance, Greek Dictionary.



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