Meditations in 1 Peter : 64: Alert
1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.
Dictionary definition: “alert – watchful and ready, as in facing danger.” Dog owners know this. They are sitting quietly in the evening with their dog asleep at their feet and suddenly the dog is awake with its ears up – alert from a sound it has just heard. Is there an intruder? In World War Two, in Britain at least, there would be “an alert” and sirens would go off to give warning that enemy bombers had been sighted and the populace should go to air raid shelters. The same thing has been seen in old war films on airfields or ships at sea. An alert is sounded which presages the coming of an enemy and a call to get ready to counter them.
Peter is doing the same thing for the verses continue, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We’ll consider Satan as our enemy in the next meditation but for the moment let’s focus on the general need to be alert. Some people might like to portray the Christian life more like a picnic, where everything is nice and peaceful and there is not a worry or care in the world. Unfortunately that is not how the world is.
There are two things in the world – that God has permitted to exist – and they both detract from the picture of peace and tranquillity. They are Sin and Satan. Sin is simply that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. It is something each one of us inherited but now we are Christians God has given us the power – in the form of His Holy Spirit – to overcome Sin. Also the demands of the Law, which always accentuates the need to strive and creates the inevitable outcome of failure, have been removed in that we live lives that are loved and accepted in Christ and which are about relationship and not rules. But Sin is lurking there in the background to express itself the moment we become lax in our thinking and behaviour.
And, yes, Satan is our very real adversary as we’ll see in the next meditation, and he seeks to bring us down by various devious strategies. It is because of these that we need to remain in a state of alertness. The first strategy is that of deception where Satan attacks our thinking and seeks to distort the truth or deny the truth. If he can work in our minds and make us feel we are unloved, he’s won. If he can make us feel we have to work to appease God, he’s won. If he can get people not to believe in God, he’s won. Indeed he seeks to play on our self-awareness and turn it into self-centeredness and, in so doing, make us forget about God and so make us godless.
When he does that he can lead us then into the second strategy, which schemes for our downfall, which is temptation. In this he seeks to lead us into behaviour that is contrary to God’s design for us and is, therefore, unrighteous. Righteous behaviour is simply that which conforms to God’s design for us, His will. Unrighteous behaviour, which is contrary to that, always leads in the direction of destruction, which is what Satan is aiming for. He looks for any opportunity to lead us astray and away from the truth, and then into a wrong behaviour and wrong lifestyle. No wonder Peter calls for us to be alert – on the watch for the uprising of Sin and the sneaky approaches of Satan!
In that famous passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians chapter 6, the apostle Paul eventually says, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph 6:18) The exhortation comes near the end of the passage about spiritual armour and standing against the enemy. The call is to be aware of the enemy’s activities and to be alert against them and to pray to counter his works.
But there is a bigger call to be alert in the New Testament, and it is in respect of being aware of the times in which we live, especially in the light of Christ’s return. Jesus himself, speaking of the last days declared, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mk 13:32,33). That time, described by Jesus, is presaged by enemy activity and the call is to be alert to such a time.
The apostle Paul reiterated the same thing: “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” (1 Thess 5:3-6) Everyone else may duped into complacency, but we are called to be alert to what is going on and ready to receive Jesus when he returns.
In the context of the ‘Last Days’ teaching, Jesus told the parable of the five virgins (Matt 25:1-13) which concludes with, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” There it is – keep watch, be alert, look out for and be aware so that you may adjust your life accordingly. That is what this call to be alert is about. It is that we may see the coming enemy, or see the coming days, and take the appropriate counter-measures, to reject the enemy’s advances and get ready to meet Jesus. That is the significance of this call. May we heed it!