Abstinence From Animal Appetites
1 Peter 2:11
"Beloved, I urge you as aliens and
strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul."
1 Pet. 2:11
We should remember, in the study of First Peter, this letter was originally sent to Christians scattered in Asia Minor. They were going through a severe ordeal as victims of persecution. They were suffering for righteousness' sake, while living as "aliens and strangers" on the earth. They were
"distressed by various trails" and "tested by fire," (1 Pet. 1:6,7).
Now the devil wants to use our suffering against us (Peter will later speak of the devil's work as "a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," 1 Pet. 5:8). When Christians are living with difficulty, the devil seeks to use that experience to weaken their faith; to break them and to seduce them away from the Lord. The "roaring lion" is attempting daily to bring us back under bondage to sin. Peter was writing to suffering Christians, under this kind of pressure and he told them:
"Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."
This word "abstain" means "to hold off from; to keep yourself from; to not participate in something. It is a prohibitive word. We are prohibited or forbidden from the thing specified. (See similar use of the term in 1 Thess. 4:3 and 1 Thess. 5:22).
We use this word in dialogue today about sexual promiscuity and pre-marital sex when we affirm the importance of abstinence. People who refrain from all alcoholic beverages are sometimes called total abstainers. So the word "abstain" has to do with not participating in the thing identified.
In 1 Peter 1:11 the thing identified is: "fleshly lusts" (NIV: "Sinful desires").
It is significant, in Henry Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, his explanation of "fleshly" uses the word "animal" three times in one sentence. His entry is: "…having the nature of flesh, i.e. under the control of the animal appetites . . . having its seat in the animal nature or roused by the animal nature…,"
(Thayer, 569). Barnes comments on "fleshly lusts" as being those "desires and passions as the carnal appetites prompt…"
Let me ask: When we talk about appetites or desires, where do they first show up? Where are appetites located? In the mind. These words – lusts, desires, passions, appetites – identify inclinations that occur in your mind.
The law of God stated by Peter in this verse is: a Christian, who is a sojourner here on the earth, should not even entertain the desire! We should stop that process in its inception; before the appetite is fulfilled in action. We should not participate in the thoughts! Our character should be so directed by Deity, we do not entertain the thoughts. If the thoughts do arise, we should immediately reject them and repent ("put them all aside," see Col. 3:5-11).
Let me get back to Thayer's explanation of "fleshly" as having a parallel in animals. Animals are driven by appetite. While an animal can be trained or domesticated, that training is not really character development. An animal might refrain from certain behavior – because of conditioning, desire of reward or fear of punishment. Humans, on the other hand, are made in the image of God; we enjoy the capacity to be trained in a higher sense; our will can be changed; we are capable of loving and serving our Maker.
Peter teaches here – We ought to gladly surrender to that training. Barnes has it right: "A sojourner in a land, or a pilgrim, does not give himself up to the indulgence of sensual appetites, or to the soft pleasures of the soul. All these would hinder his progress, and turn him off from his great design." Our great design is – "…an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away," reserved in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4).
The obligation set forth by Peter is illustrated in Matthew 5:28 where Jesus said: "…everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." This is an example of lusts in the mind – prior to any external act! This is a case illustrative of the point Peter is making; our obligation – as people under God – to abstain from fleshly lusts.
This obligation can be associated with something Peter wrote, recorded in the first chapter. Be holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15). God entertains no evil desire. Jesus did no sin – mentally or physically (2:22; 4:1). We must abstain from fleshly lusts. Because …
Fleshly Lusts "war against the soul."
Back to the animal reference. An animal's misbehavior, fulfillment or defilement of appetite does not have negative impact against the soul of the animal. In the sense the word is used by Peter, the animal has no soul! The word "soul" as used here is a human quality of divine origin; the inner man – that part of us, made in the image of God, and subject to either defilement or cleansing.
When I participate in fleshly lusts and/or engage in fleshly acts, that indulgence injures me spiritually, causing damage to the soul. Christ died, to become the singular relief for that damage. When I obey the gospel I am cleansed by His blood. But also I assume the obligation to take on a new character; and that means, carefully avoiding those thoughts or deeds that would re-damage my soul!
"Christians are in a campaign or war against the Devil and cannot afford to yield to animal desires against the will of God…" (Clinton Hamilton).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 10.4; April 2003