The Expository Files.

A Word About Abstinence For Sojourners and Pilgrims

1 Peter 2:11,12

Writing to the suffering "pilgrims of the Dispersion," the apostle Peter gave this instruction: "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation," (1 Pet. 2:11,12, NKJ).

Especially in chapter two of First Peter, the apostle dwells on the dignity, status and privilege enjoyed by Christians. They are living stones in God's spiritual temple and are attached to and upheld by Christ, the chief Corner-stone. They are a royal priesthood, with access to God through Christ, consecrated to divine holiness. Because of this, they are a people who must lay aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, and who desire the pure milk of the word (2:1,2).

As Christians, we are part of a "chosen generation," and we truly are "His own special people." But we are also sojourners and pilgrims who must "abstain from fleshly lusts." Consider ...

This wasn't just casual conversation, or the expression of one's subjective idea. Peter said, "I beg you," or in the New American Standard Version: "I urge you..." When we find language like this in the Bible, we ought to take notice and be serious about the statement. A personal decision to abstain from fleshly lusts is important. It is so urgent, the apostle was begging his brethren to make this a priority.

Christians are described as "sojourners" and "pilgrims." In both expressions there is the idea of being a temporary resident here. Our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Physically, we occupy space here on earth for a time, but in nature, thought and interests we are citizens of that faraway homeland.

A sojourner is a traveler who hasn't reached his destination yet. The term is applied to Abraham in Hebrews 11. In verse 9 it says, "by faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise." And in verse 13 there is this statement about him and others: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." A sojourner is a traveler who hasn't reached his final destination. Christians are sojourners. We sing in the gospel song, "this world is not our home."

The other term is pilgrim, and it has about the same significance; it means TEMPORARY VISITOR. We tarry here on earth just for a short time; our greater task is to make preparation for our final destination. We have no permanent domicile here, and this becomes the basis of the abstinence Peter requires. {See also, 2 tim. 2:4; 1 Jno. 2:16}.

The word "abstain" means "to hold back from," or "to hold off from," (apecho). The same word is used in 1 Thess. 4:3, "abstain from fornication," and 1 Thess. 5:22, "abstain from all appearance of evil." It means, to keep yourself from this; to hold off or avoid. In 1 Pet. 2:11, this term was written in the present, middle. infinitive thus "to keep constantly holding one's self back from fleshly lusts, as a constant, ever-present duty," (Guy Woods, Commentary on First Peter, p.#66).

In 1 Pet. 2:11,12, we are urgently instructed to hold off from FLESHLY LUSTS. "The fleshly lusts are all evil desires, the effect of which is to war against the soul, i.e., against the best interests of the soul ...," (Woods, p.#66).

These are the desires that may arise within us which are evil. Not all desires are evil, but when I want to do that which God has prohibited, that's an evil desire. The NIV says to "abstain from sinful desires." These are desires of the flesh which are wrong in themselves, and so they "war against the soul." And, these desires could lead us into further sinful actions.

Two passages may help us understand what Peter wants us to abstain from.

Galatians 5:19-21 specifies the works of the flesh. I need to abstain from any thoughts that would lead me to engage in any of these works. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." I must see myself as highly privileged in Christ, but here on earth I'm only a temporary visitor. I must constantly and aggressively avoid any thoughts, plans or dreams that would lead me into any of these sins.

In Matthew 5:27,28, Jesus said "You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." This is an example of the lustful thoughts I must abstain from. {See also: Prov. 6:25; 2 Sam. 11:2; Job 31:1}.

The scribes and Pharisees placed emphasis on the external; they were concerned about outward things being correct and according to their traditional  understanding. Jesus said, regarding their emphasis, "except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." The Lord taught against, not just the act, but the thought/feeling/desire behind the act. Abstain from fleshly lusts! Every wish must be
crucified which may be a hindrance to me or to others (Gal. 5:24).

I need to abstain from fleshly lusts because they "war against the soul." The soul must be guarded with all diligence; it must be fed, nourished and protected. God has made provision for the soul to have all it needs (Eph. 1:3; 2 Pet. 1:3). In my response to God's rich provisions in Christ, I must abstain from anything that would damage the soul. Because our citizenship is in heaven, and sinful desires war against the soul. {By the way, the expression used by Peter, "war against the soul" literally means, "to carry on a campaign," according to Robertson's Word Pictures. This emphasizes that we are in warfare, and the Devil is involved in a daily campaign against us. When we entertain evil thoughts, we contribute to the enemy's victory. We give him an advantage!}

This is urgent because we shall all "give account to" the Lord who is ready "to judge the living and the dead," (1 Pet. 4:5).

This teaching we have studied should be considered within the framework of its' time and circumstance. Peter was writing to Christians who were "grieved by various trials," and who were "reproached for the name of Christ," (1:6, 4:14). They were suffering!

When things are hard for us; when we are being tested and tried by persecution or just the ordinary problems of life on earth, there may be a tendency to relax our efforts and to justify our laziness on the basis of the hardship we are going through.

I may be tempted to say to myself: "Well, I'm under a lot of pressure right now. I've got all kinds of problems I must cope with, so I really cannot expend my energy in spiritual growth and development. And if I fall short in regard to a couple of matters here and there ... well, the problem is, I'm under all this pressure!"

THIS KIND OF THINKING IS WRONG!! Peter was writing to a persecuted, suffering people and he told them to abstain from fleshly lusts and to make sure their conduct was honorable. This tells us, HARDSHIP IS NO EXCUSE! In fact, in time of hardship and pressure I need to concentrate MORE on faithfulness to the Lord and I need to be more careful about temptation and fleshly lusts.

"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 2.10; October 1995