COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 2:11Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Pet 2:11-12)
The "good fight of faith" is an aggressive one, calling for the complete devotion of the people of God. Faith always puts us at a seeming disadvantage. When Israel came into Canaan, they did not face one small nation, but "seven nations greater and mightier" than themselves (Deut 7:1). In such a circumstance, an acute awareness of absolute dependency upon the Lord is cultured. This is the picture the Spirit now places before us. We are engaged in a battle that is fierce and unrelenting. The appetites of our Adamic nature are calling out for gratification, and will not keep silence. Faith, however, empowers us to resist them, "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts" in order that we might "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Tit 2:12). In this way, we are not only working out our own salvation, but providing a reference point for the ungodly. When the Lord, through various ways, deals with their hearts, they will be able to recall how the world did not move the faithful. It is then, in the context of "visitation," that they can see how unjustly they had treated the saints, and thus be provoked to glory God.
BESEECHING AS STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS
" 2:11Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims . . . " KJV The words "dearly beloved" are especially significant, and very strong. They come from a word meaning "dear, very much loved." The word is used thirty (30) times in Scripture, and always (with one exception--the Jews, Rom 11:28) of those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 10:14; 15:58; 2 Cor 7:1; 12:19; Phil 2:12; 4:1; 1 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:2; Heb 6:9; James 1:16,19; 2:5; 1 Pet 2:11; 4:12; 2 Pet 3:1,8,14,17; 1 John 2:7; 3:2,21; 4:1,7,11; Jude 3,17,20). It is a spiritually affectionate term, confirming that those closest to the Lord are also most precious to the saints. The value of the saints cannot be overstated.
To "beseech" is to implore, entreat, or make a strong appeal. It is to earnestly ask for something, and even to beg. But there is a very personal aspect to this word. It means to come very close to the individual, as one who is eager to help and assist. It can be pictured as a person putting his arm around his close friend and giving him precious counsel. This confirms "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace" (James 3:18). In this close and loving relationship the will of the Lord can more easily be accomplished in us.
The Spirit now appeals to our status in Christ: "strangers and pilgrims." This is our relationship to the world. We are "strangers" because we do not belong here, but are "aliens," holding basic citizenship in heaven. A "stranger" is one who lives in a certain realm without the benefit of citizenship, or fitting into the culture. A "pilgrim"is a resident foreigner whose stay is temporary. He is passing through a land, but really is no part of it. Thus, two aspects of our life are seen. (1) First, we are not of the world order, and therefore do not fit into it. (2) Secondly, we are en route to the real promised land, seeing our stay in this world as temporary, and not primary.
Abraham confessed to the children of Heth, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you" (Gen 23:4). When David blessed the Lord at the gathering of the offering for the building of the Temple, he said, "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding" (1 Chron 29:15). He also confessed in the 119th Psalm, "I am a stranger in the earth."v19 The holy people of old "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb 11:13). Jacob referred to his entire life (130 years) as "the days of my pilgrimage." David also referred to his life in this world as "my pilgrimage" (Psa 119:54).
Faith uproots the believer from "this present evil world" (Gal 1:4). Once reconciled to God, the believer becomes acutely aware of the friction of this world, and of his own separation from it. When your name is written in heaven, it is removed from basic citizenry in this world. Reconciliation to God produces enmity in the world. That is not what it should do, but what it does! A person who is not a "stranger and pilgrim" in this world is not living by faith. In fact, such is the very enemy of God (James 4:4).
Here is an appeal made to those who are at variance with the world, do not belong to its order, and are passing through it to a "better country" (Heb 11:16). Those who call our attention to our earthly status, roles, and functions, are doing us no favor. The strongest appeals are not made in view of our earthly roles, however valid and blessed they may be. The most powerful motivation is experienced when we recall we are "strangers," outsiders, foreigners, and aliens, in this world. We are journeying through the world like Israel did through the desert. We will not be here long, and thus the Spirit encourages us to make the most of our time. By so doing, we will be the better prepared for eternity.
Our time in this world requires that we wear "the whole armor of God" (Eph 6:10-17). It necessitates our vigilance, or watchfulness (1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2). It should not surprise us if the world rejects us like the men of Sodom rejected Lot: "This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge"NASB (Gen 19:9). Thus we are not exhorted in view of our earthly status, but in consideration that our names are written in heaven. The exhortation that follows only makes good sense to us in that context. Further, we will only be able to fulfill it in view of our strangership and pilgrimage in this world.
FLESHLY LUSTS THAT WAR AGAINST THE SOUL
" 2:11b . . . abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."KJV The word "abstain" means to reject, refrain from, keep away from, or separate ourselves from. In our text, it is not a once-for-all action, like rejecting a one-time offer. This is a continual rejection, or abstaining from. It is pictured in Potiphar's wife attempting to seduce Joseph "day by day" (Gen 39:10). It is also seen in Delilah's treacherous tempting of Samson "when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him" (Judges 16:16). Continually abstaining is required because of a continual assault upon our souls.
The things from which we abstain are called "fleshly lusts." Other versions read "desires of the flesh,"NRSV "the passions of the flesh,"RSV "sinful desires,"NIV and "sensual urges-the evil desires, the passions of the flesh [your lower nature]."AMPLIFED These are the yearnings of our "old man," which "is crucified" with Christ (Rom 6:6). Although crucified, our "old man," or "flesh," has not yet succumbed. We are to "reckon" ourselves to be "dead indeed unto sin" (Rom 6:11), but sin is not yet dead unto us. It still speaks to us, lures us, and tempts us to return to our old ways, like the impenitent thief on the cross tempted Jesus, "If thou be Christ, save thyself AND US" (Lk 23:39). The "flesh" will do anything but die!
It might surprise you to know that a considerable percentage of Christians are taught there really is no struggle between the flesh and the spirit. They are taught that Jesus took the flesh and the struggle away, and that it no longer exists. If this was the case (which it emphatically is not), this verse would have no relevance whatsoever. You cannot "abstain" from something you do not confront. James reminds us that temptation consists of being drawn away by our "own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14). These lusts are further identified in Colossians 3:5, and are said to be OUR "members that are upon the earth." In view of this circumstance, Paul acknowledged that in his "flesh dwelt no good thing" (Rom 7:18). Again, the Spirit reminds that an incessant war is going on between the Spirit and our flesh, prohibiting us from doing what we really desire. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish"NKJV (Gal 5:17. To deny the existence of such a warfare is to confess to spiritual ignorance and a defiled heart. The experience of every believer will confirm the saved are continually assaulted with temptations-"fleshly lusts."
"The flesh" is the part of us that is "born of the flesh" (John 3:6), or the part that came from Adam. It is the natural, or unregenerate, part of us, and is to be denied and "put off" because of its unchangeable corruption (Tit 2:12; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9).
But this is not mere Law, or a lifeless commandment. The desires from which we are to abstain "war against soul"-and aggressively so. They are to us what the Philistines were to the Israelites. "Fleshly lusts" seek to pull us down from the "heavenly places" into which we have been raised (Eph 2:6). They are the arsenal Satan uses against us. Yet, they cannot force us to descend into Satan's domain. Instead, they seek to allure us by making us think there are advantages to be had in the realm of darkness.
The phrase "war against the soul" suggests that yielding to them will result in the forfeiture of our soul. As Jesus said, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"NKJV (Matt 16:26). This is not a war of mere emotion, causing depression, discouragement, and other similar conditions. Those are matters with which we must also contend, but that it not the point of this text. The "war" is in the realm of desire, preferences, and longings-wanting something that will eventually lead to condemnation.
These "fleshly lusts" cannot deliver what they offer. At best, they deceive men into indulging in "the pleasures of sin for a short time"NIV (Heb 11:25). The fact that these desires are so strong and relentless accounts for Peter's strong beseeching, or pleading. We need continual exhortations and encouragements in this area. Our faith has not only set us against the world without us, but also against the worldly nature within us-"the flesh."
THE IMPACT OF HONORABLE CONDUCT
" 2:12Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation."KJV The word "conversation" refers to our manner, or direction, of life. Alternate words are "behavior,"NASB "conduct,"RSV and "lives."NIV The word "honest" means more than simply without deception. It includes "excellent,"NASB "honorably,"NRSV and "good."NIV This is really the only acceptable life, and it is only possible when we "abstain from fleshly lusts." There is no honor, excellence, goodness, or honesty in the flesh. All of those virtues are forfeited when we yield to its allurements.
"The Gentiles" are those who do not know God-the pagans.NIV Thus the Scriptures refer to "the Gentiles which know not God" (1 Thess 4:5). Although unworthy of an extensive dialog, here is an interesting observation. While religious men are anxious to emphasize trying to "reach the lost," here is an exhortation of quite another order. It assumes a certain antagonism between the godly and the ungodly, and exhorts believers to conduct themselves so that their good works may be seen. This correlates precisely with the word of our Lord. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). Note also, our conduct is "AMONG the Gentiles." It is understood that this is where we all are-"among the Gentiles," or "in the world," which, to us, is a foreign land.
Note also that those who do not know God "speak against you as evildoers." It is assumed this will happen, because you are of another order. When given the occasion, or when they are provoked by your godly words or conduct, they WILL malign you, as though you were an evildoer, or in the wrong. Even at His weakest point (2 Cor 13:4), those not knowing God maligned Jesus (Matt 27:42; Lk 23:36). It should not surprise us that when men are ignorant of God, they begin to speak about His people as though they are foolish and in the wrong. It is not strange for such charges to come from religious circles, even as it did with Moses, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles.
When "good works" are beheld, it is not because we aggressively press them upon the wicked. They are beheld because of their CONTRAST with the manner of this world. Our faith permeates what we do, distinguishing our works from those of the world. Too, when we "abstain form fleshly lusts," it adds a heavenly flavor to our words and deeds. Make no mistake about this, the world does see what we do-or the manner in which we live. We are shining "as lights in the world," and such a light cannot be hidden (Phil 2:15).
The impact of the spiritually ignorant beholding our good works is most remarkable: they will "glorify God in the day of visitation." While some believe this to be a reference to the ultimate "visitation," the return of the Lord, this is not the case. I know of no other place where the Spirit suggests that seeing our good works will provoke people to glorify God when Jesus comes again. This text is referring to the visitation of God upon sinners in both benefit and judgment. The appearing of Jesus is thus called a Divine "visitation" (Lk 1:68; 19:44; Acts 15:14). Thus Saul of Tarsus glorified God in the day of his visitation because of Stephen's light (Acts 22:20). From the day he had witnessed the death of that first martyr, it was difficult for him to "kick against the pricks," or goads (Acts 9:5).
God does "visit" the sin of people upon them (Ex 32:34). If people are tempted to imagine this is only toward God's people, let them remember the flood, Babel, Babylon, the Canaanites, the Egyptians, and Sodom and Gomorrah. It is God's manner to visit "the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate" Him (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9).
Whether the "visitation" is an opportunity to turn to the Lord, the sound of the Gospel, or punishment for sin, the lives of the godly provide a means through which the sinner may be recovered. In the midst of such Divine influences, those who are ignorant of God may recall the glowing life of His people, and thus be moved to turn to the Lord and call upon His name. Thus He will be glorified "in the day of visitation." Believers are not to imagine their holy lives are undetected and unnoticed by ungodly people.