He tells us that we are to abstain from the passions of the flesh and he commands us to keep our conduct honorable. And in the rest of the book Peter will flesh out what abstaining and acting honorable will be like. But here, at the very outset, we are to notice that, once again, we are called to a life of extremity.
You may have heard that many Amish communities practice a thing called rumspringa. It’s that time, typically during their teenage years, where a young Amish person walks away from his Amish-ness for a while. Up to this point he’s lived a distinct life of separation. But during rumspringa, he has opportunity to explore the world.
So when an individual comes of age he will leave his family and enter the mainstream American culture. He may learn to drive. He certainly will take up the dress of your ordinary English youth. He most likely will engage in the typical practices common to American young people, such as playing video games, watching movies, listening to music. He may even go to the extreme of indulging in the excesses of life, such as sexual promiscuity, drinking, and partying.
It’s believed that this time of “freedom” is good for the young person. It is thought that after they “sow their wild oats” they will have it all out of their system and they will return to their old Amish life.
As these Amish kids live much of their life set apart from such modern delicacies, they are often quite eager for their rumspringa. They cannot wait to taste the delights of their new found “freedom.” They cannot wait to leave off their separated lives and indulge themselves the pleasures of the world.
You might think that the Amish community is way off—way out there, for this rumspringa practice. But deep down inside you know it is true of yourselves. Every one of us has the rumpsringa desire in our hearts. There is a part of us that wants to cast off the distinctly separate life that we are to live and indulge ourselves in a little rumspringa.
But when it comes to the Christian life, we find in our passage today that there is no such thing ever permitted for those of us who wish to be Christians.
As we look at this passage, I want us to consider then the extreme life that we are called to. I want you to think about what your duty before God really is, and then consider why it is important that we uphold that lifestyle.
I. What must we do?
Again, our passage calls us to do two things, to abstain from the passions of our flesh and to live honorably before the Gentiles. Let’s think about what that entails. First, what does it mean to abstain from the passions of our flesh?
When we talk about abstinence and “passions of the flesh” most likely you’ll immediately think of lust and sexual desire. Certainly that is included. And it is one that we can never talk enough about in our present day. But I want you to understand that it is not limited to that. This has to do with lust of any kind. It is much broader in its scope because it has in mind any kind of unholy obsession that we may have.
You know how your desires tend to fly off the hook, and it can be over something that is all fine and good. But you just get obsessed with it, and you want it ever so bad. And it almost becomes a fire within you that keeps flaring up, and you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s that new cell phone or that video game. Maybe it’s getting that little addition in your house that you say would make everything just so perfect, and you keep going to the internet to look at it (its under the guise of researching it, of course). Whatever it is, it is out of your reach at the moment and you salivate over it like a dog salivates over his dinner bowl.
Peter says that we are to never let the delights of this world so mesmerize us like that. If we are so spell bound in our covetousness, then you need to know that you have become sidetracked from your chief pleasure in life. Your greatest delight in life is always to be the Lord Jesus Christ. All of your other yearnings are to be held in check. If they exceed this chief priority, then we have greatly erred.
And this is something you need to remember as we approach the Christmas season. We are on the verge of the year’s grand advertising blitzkrieg. Most stores operate in the red until the last quarter of the year. And they pull out all the stops so that you’ll buy their wares. And they will come dangling every little item right before you. They want to encourage that spirit. They want you to glut yourself with their products. Their whole campaign will be designed tin such a way to best tap into that lust.
But you must understand that that urge—that feverish, pressing thirst for more that is so common to our sinful nature is to be extinguished. We are not to let it be entertained, not even for a moment.
These passions, these obsessions for the world’s pleasures, must be averted at all costs. But you say, “How? How in the world can I do that?” Well, it’s going to be the work of grace, of course. That’s why we must rely on Christ.
But I think our text gives us some help too. I think it contains a real practical hint at how we keep ourselves pure in this regard. The word that is translated “abstain” actually means “keep yourself away from” or “distance yourself.” We tend to think of abstinence as just avoiding something; like keeping it just out of our range of touch. We think of it as “hands off.” But the biblical idea of abstinence is getting clean away from it—distancing yourself.
I know that’s the last thing you want to do when it comes to something you really want. What you want to do is get as close as you can to it. But God says, get away. If it is in your mind and you are constantly turning it over, get away from it. Put your mind on something completely different. Perhaps the best thing to do is pray. When you are consumed with earthly things, get some distance by sending your thoughts to heaven. When you are consumed with yourself, pray for other people—perhaps saints who are in far off countries struggling for survival.
The chief thing to do is to get some distance.
The other thing that we must do is live honorably among the Gentiles. I’m not going to dwell long on this. As I said, we are going to flesh that out more in the upcoming weeks as we make our way through the rest of 1 Peter. And really, I believe that what is said here is just two side of one coin. I think that Peter is basically repeating himself. First he states it in a more negative fashion: abstain from the passions of the flesh [“get some distance from the things you covet]. Then he says it in a more positive fashion, “Live honorably among the Gentiles.” Both are getting at the same idea: You are to make every effort to live a spotless life. Blameless!
You might say that this is just a restatement of what he said earlier, “Be perfect, as the Lord your God is perfect.” That is the summation of this passage.
But if you would indulge me one moment…Let me just say this about what it means to “live honorably among the Gentiles.” I have heard that there are some who will not hire anyone who has an ichthus sticker on the back bumper of their car. They are business minded men and women and they will not hire anyone who claims to be a Christian. It’s not because they are flaming atheists. They don’t have any specific vendetta. It’s just that they’ve seen what a lot of Christians are like. They won’t get to work on time. They poke around while they are at work and don’t take their projects seriously.
Now what kind of testimony is that? That is certainly not living honorably among the Gentiles! And you see how the “passions of the flesh” are linked to living honorably. The passions of sloth make lives that are dishonorable.
That is not what we are called to. We are called to honorable lives—lives that other people will find respectable and praiseworthy. And that means that we need to put the passions of our flesh in check.
I have so many applications I want to make here, but I’m going to have to tuck them away for now. We’ll have to deal with them another time. Let it be enough now for us to say that God calls us to an extreme life. We must bridle our excessive desires. We need to get distance between us and them and live honorably among the Gentiles. That is what we must do. We must live the extreme life, without a single second of a rumspringa.
Peter tells us that we must live to the extreme. But you’ll notice in the passage that he doesn’t leave it at that. He gives us several reasons why we need to live that way.
II. Why must we do it?
If you need a little motivation to get you on board with this, consider what Peter says about your nationality.
A. The issue of your nationality
At the very beginning of our text for today Peter reminds you that you are a pilgrim and an exile. He reminds you that you do not belong to the kingdom of sin and Satan. You belong to God and are a citizen of heaven. As such, you must be sure to maintain the proper deportment. Your lifestyle must remain in keeping with your personal background.
Think about the Amish kid again. Imagine a little Amish boy in all his Amish clothing. He’s got his blue and black dress, and his little Amish hat on his head. Now imagine him walking into a bar full of bikers. You see the boy walk up to the bar and order up a beer. Then as he swigs it down, he lights up a cigarette, grabs a pool stick and starts flirting with the ladies sitting in a booth.
Now something in your brain has to be screaming. I hope you are having a hard time imagining that. It’s not right. An Amish kid isn’t supposed to do that. That is not his environment. That’s not the kind of lifestyle that you associate with Amish kids. So long as he is in that bar [for whatever reason, perhaps his buggy broke down] he is a stranger. And his lifestyle ought to be in keeping with his original ethnicity.
That’s exactly what Peter is talking about here. You are a spiritual alien. Your homeland is the realm of angels and of God. And since this is so, cannot kibitz with sin. It would be unnatural for you to do so. So long as you are in this world, you are to stand out like a sore thumb. Your interests are in the New Jerusalem, and so your lifestyle is to be of a heavenly sort.
You must live this life because of it is in keeping with your nationality. But it is not just your ethnicity. You also need to consider the hostility of sin.
B. The issue of sin’s hostility
Our passage here makes it very clear that sin is hostile. At the end of verse 11 it says that these passions and lusts, “Wage war against your soul.” It is saying that sin is like an army ready to advance against your spiritual life. It is the enemy to peace and happiness, and it wishes to lay siege upon your soul.
You have to understand that you cannot permit sin in your life because it will attack you. It has the power to weaken and debilitate you spiritually. And all of you know this is true by experience. You know the misery it causes you. You know how it impedes your ability to smile and enjoy life. Sure it gives the allurement of happiness, but once the fleeting moment of sin is gone you’re left with nothing but the aftertaste of bitterness, discontent, and angst.
And then that impedes the rest of your spiritual life. You know how such things keep you from prayer. The more you are taken up with the delights of the world, the less you are taken up with God. How many of you can testify to how it impinges upon your ability to listen to a sermon. You couldn’t tune in because your mind is being assaulted by worries and anger and “what if’s.”
My friends, sin is on a campaign. It would like nothing more than to breech the fortress of your breast and raise the banner of misery over your heart.
And that is why you must take heed to Peter’s call, because it is so hostile.
But Peter not only brings up the issue of your nationality and sin’s hostility. He also mentions the world’s scrutiny.
C. The issue of the world’s scrutiny
Years ago Francis Schaffer wrote a book entitled, “The church before a watching world.” That is the very notion contained in verse 12. The world is watching us because, as it says there, “they wish to speak against us.” That is to say they are watching us because they want to charge us with some sort of wrongdoing. But we must show them that there is nothing to their charges. Moreover, the bounty of our good deeds must lead them ultimately to glorify God.
In the early church we see a good example of this. There was a time when the Roman magistrates charged the Christians with sedition. They were thought to be traitors because the Christians oftentimes talked about being part of another kingdom. And the Romans called for their citizenry to report Christians. But a lot of that didn’t happen because the everyday people around the Roman Empire knew that Christians were not bad people. They knew that for the most part they were obedient citizens.
Today, we might not face such an extreme case. But we are certainly still under surveillance. To be a Christian is to live in a fishbowl. Everyone is watching. Our neighbors are peeking over the fence at us, watching us through their windows. Just think, as soon as a prominent minister falls into sin, what happens? It is headline news. It is on the front page of every media outlet. They are just looking for a way to criticize.
But we must show them that there is no credence to their charges. As they scrutinize the things we do, our purity and our love ought to lead them straight to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Warren Weirsbe tells the story of some missionaries who were trying to minister to a certain tribe. They were diligent in their efforts to preach and teach. One day the chief of the tribe came to them and began talking to them. He eventually said, “We know that you teach about this Jesus and want us to be Christians. But we also know that you are working with the next village too. We will wait and see what becomes of them. If their lives become more righteous and their lifestyle improves, then we will become Christians too.”
That is the way it is more often than not. And may we take it to heart. May we be encouraged today to take heed to what Peter has said. May we see how important it is to live holy lives.
As I said earlier, over the next few weeks we are going to see what it means to live honorably among the Gentiles, but today may we see just how important it is to do so. And may we be encouraged to live to the extreme.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.