COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 4:3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles; when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 4:3-6, NKJV)
Life in Christ is not a mere discipline, or way, of life. In Him, we are given life itself-eternal life. A transformation takes place that cannot be understood by the world. Sensing the sharp conflict between the life of the believer and their own, those who are of this world speak evil concerning the saints. Their spiritual ignorance compels them to do this as a form of self-justification. They realize believers do not live as they used to, but do not know why. The testimony of the saints, however, is making the sinful accountable for their preference of this world. They have been given light through the lives of those who are themselves walking in the light. It is sufficient light to provoke them to earnest inquiry. This should be a source of great encouragement to us. It confirms the powerful influence of Christ dwelling within, even though it is not often acknowledged by those seeing it.
THE TIME THAT IS PAST IS SUFFICIENT
" 4:3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles; when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries." NKJV However long we spent in sin prior to being translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, it was enough! There is nothing of real value in that era of our lives, and we do well not to speak extensively of that time. As it is written, "What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death"NKJV (Rom 6:21). When we were "in the flesh," everything about our lives contributed to spiritual death, alienating us further from God. Thus it is written, "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death" (Rom 7:5). Nothing about our former lives was proper or profitable. By saying we have spent enough time living in that manner, the Spirit does not suggest there was anything right about that time. Rather, He is showing us the unreasonableness of living to satisfy our flesh, rather than living unto God.
"Gentiles" refers to more than those who were not the Jews, or were not in a covenant relationship with God. The word is here used to denote those who know not God. Thus 1 Thessalonians 4:5 refers to "the Gentiles who do not know God." Because they rejected both the testimony of creation and their conscience, and "did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" NKJV (Rom 1:28). The manner of life now mentioned is the result of refusing to live with a mind to please God, and being turned over to a reprobate, or debased, mind.
When men do not know God, they cannot live properly. They are thus shut up to vanity, appropriately called "the will of the Gentiles." This is the kind of conduct those who do not know God prefer and seek. Such living may differ in intensity, but never in nature. Those who "know not God" always live primarily for themselves. They are slaves of their fleshly appetites until they are delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every person in Christ once walked in self-will, "doing the will of the Gentiles," or living without due regard for the living God. The Spirit now mentions some of the things that characterize that type of living. He will reach into the lower part of the bottomless pit of fallen human nature, confirming that only Divine mercy kept us from occupying those lower realms. The seeds of all of these things are found in the flesh.
Lewdness. The KJV reads "lasciviousness," the NASB "a course of sensuality," the NIV "living in debauchery," and the RSV "living in licentiousness." This is the aggressive intention to satisfy base lusts of the flesh. It is wantonness, or a refusal to suppress the desire to indulge sinful appetites. It is shameless sinning, and indecent and outrageous sensual behavior. This type of living is heavily promoted in our time.
Lusts. This is longing for what God forbids-for things that defile, exclude one from God, and forbid entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is a strong craving for things associated with the flesh- temporal things that bring satisfaction only "for a season" (Heb 11:25). Other versions use the word "passions," RSV, NRSV emphasizing how they drive men.
Drunkenness. The KJV reads "excess of wine." The word strictly means "bubbling over with wine." The idea is that the drink takes over and controls the individual, causing his mind to be unproductive, and all control to be lost. Men have become creative in providing such indulgences. They range from beer to whiskey, and all forms of drugs. Drunkenness is a grievous sin because it refuses to give ones powers to the Lord.
Revelries. This is night time carousing, in which sinful appetites are fulfilled with aggression. It is marked by indulgence, loudness, and excessive sinful behavior.
Drinking parties. The KJV reads "banquetings." Others versions read "carousings." The word used literally means "drinking bouts," the height of stupidity and vanity.
Abominable idolatries. This is detestable idolatry that extends beyond the normalities of idol worship. Like the prophets of Baal, those engaging in such vanity do foolishly. When God is not known, this is the direction life takes. However long we spent in such vain pursuits, it is sufficient. Let us never give another single moment to such things.
THE WORLD DOES NOT UNDERSTAND
" 4:4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you." NKJV The word "these" refers to the horrendous list of sins just mentioned. Our former associates do not understand why we no longer live for such indulgences. They can only think of change in relation to certain disciplines of the body, or consultation from purported experts in human behavior. Such people know nothing of the "new creation," all things becoming "new," or old things "passing away" (2 Cor 5:17). They are ignorant of transformation (Rom 12:2), affection being placed on "things above" (Col 3:1-2), the cleansing of a conscience (Heb 9:14), or a compelling quest to "know" Christ Jesus (Phil 3:10). They imagine that a change in behavior is only a surface change, with the individual maintaining all of their sinful inclinations. Thus Alcoholics and Drugs Anonymous teach people they are still alcoholics and drug addicts. They only overcome their tendencies by following a regimented procedure and maintaining a new circle of kindred friends who are in the same state.
Former friends are "surprised"RSV we do not "run with them," or "join them" in our old manners, preferring their friendship and indulging in old appetites. They sense they are no longer our preferred companions. Life in Christ Jesus presents a new perspective for those who are of the world. They can detect we no longer belong to their order, but cannot account for the change. There is no earthly explanation for such radical alteration. Believers must learn to reckon on the strangeness of the life of faith to unbelievers, making no attempt to accommodate their behavior to dull the edge of that testimony. While each believer is responsible for their own life, thoughtful consideration should be given to continuing to maintain any manner of life that leads sinners to believe we are no different from them. Satan will tempt us to culture worldly friendships and manners.
The words "flood of dissipation" refer to an indulgent manner of life in which the appetites of the flesh are cultured and gratified. The KJV reads "excess of riot," and the RSV "wild profligacy." This is a condition that finds "flesh" at the center of all basic consideration. Carnal appetites are considered primary, and satisfying them is seen as the greatest benefit. In this case, "excess of riot" is the flesh bubbling over, demanding gratification. It parallels James' expression "superfluity of naughtiness," or the "overflow of wickedness"NKJV (James 1:21). In our day, there is a marked tendency to keep old appetites, giving them a religious flavor. Thus, we have been introduced to Christian rock music, Christian entertainment, and Christian comedians. It is not my purpose to condemn such things. However, each believer is responsible for cutting loose from the world, not embracing a form of godliness that allows for appetites to be kept in a different form.
Our former friends are not always provoked to ask a reason for the hope that is in us (3:15). Sometimes they are zealous to defend their own godless manners by "speaking evil" of us. Thus believers are seen as guilty of deviate behavior, while the "Gentiles" are perceived as normal human beings. Frequently those with whom we once companied "speak against" us as "evil doers" (2:12). They charge us with being inconsiderate, proud, and hypocritical. Even though we make no claim to being the only holy people, they charge us with thinking we are "so holy." Sinners do not always fall at our feet, acknowledging, "that God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor 14:25). Sometimes they charge believers as Festus did Paul, "Your great learning is driving you insane" NIV(Acts 26:24). It is even possible for former religious associates to say of us, as the people did of Jesus, "You have a demon" (John 7:20). Or, as the Jews said to the former blind man, whom Jesus had healed, "Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?" (John 9:34).
Believers must not allow such false accusations to cast them down. The world reacts to us in this manner because they are seeking to justify themselves at our expense. It is our business to avoid arrogance or any form of pride, imagining that, of ourselves, we are better than our enemies. But when we set our faces toward heaven, running the race set before us, it will cause confusion among many former friends. Do not be discouraged by this.
DIVINE PREPARATION FOR GIVING ACCOUNT TO GOD
" 4:5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." KJV We are to understand that those who have witnessed the change wrought in the new creation will be held responsible for their reaction to it. We will not adjust our behavior to make sinners more comfortable in our presence. They are accountable to "turn aside," inquiring into the holy life, like Moses turned aside to behold the burning bush. It was precisely at the point that Moses turned to see that "great sight," that God spoke to him (Ex 3:3-4).
The Lord "stands ready to judge the living and the dead,"NRSV holding men in strict accountability. For many, accountability has to do with making ourselves responsible to one of our peers, to help us keep from committing sins into which we are easily drawn. There may be place for such accountability on an elementary basis, but it is certainly not the highest manifestation of spiritual life. Right now, God is ready and willing to judge those remaining alive, and those who have departed from this world. Jesus has done everything to prepare for that inevitable judgment. He has done something about sin, about the sinful nature, and about God's indignation against sin. There is no valid reason for a lack of preparation for "the day of judgment" (Matt 10:15; 2 Pet 2:9; 1 John 4:17).
Giving "an account" to God includes explaining our response to all of the benefits He has provided, whether it was the form of a godly testimony, the preaching of the Gospel, or the unseen wooing of the Holy Spirit. Men will give an account to Christ Jesus for their words (Matt 12:36), deeds (2 Cor 5:10), and thoughts (Heb 4:12; Psa 139:23).
These words are written to help the saints not to be unduly concerned about the malignment of wicked people. When they are subject to the abuse of men, their motives questioned, and they are censured and reproached, they are to remember not to avenge themselves. They are not to allow their spirits to be cast down when wicked men speak against them. The enemies of the saints will give an account for their treatment of God's holy ones. That is punishment enough. They need no retaliation from us.
The Holy Spirit now alludes to the "spirits" mentioned in the third chapter (3:18). There, the "spirits" were identified as those who were disobedient in the "days of Noah." Here, the society is broadened to "them that are dead." The idea here is that those who passed away prior to the preaching of the Gospel, in this world, would not be unduly disadvantaged by the times in which they lived. The world is going to be judged by Jesus Christ (Rom 2:16; 2 Tim 4:1), and in view of the redemption which He has wrought (Acts 17:31). And how will it fare for those who did not hear the Gospel while upon the earth-those who died "not having received the promise" (Heb 11:39). What of people like Samson, king Saul, the Israelites who fell in the wilderness, and those who were "disobedient in the days of Noah?" These and others were judged for their sin, suffering death. Are we to assume none of them repented or desired the blessing of the Lord?
Is external judgment the necessary indication of Divine rejection? Indeed not! There were some in Corinth who became weak and sickly, and even died under the chastening hand of the Lord. Yet it is written of that very occasion, "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32). Again, it was said of the infamous fornicator of Corinth, "deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5).
We are dealing with something driven by Divine knowledge, not appearance. God knows the people who would have believed if only they had heard the Gospel and seen the works of Jesus-- like Tyre and Sidon (Matt 11:21), and Sodom (Matt 11:23). Such souls, now "dead," had the Gospel preached unto them so God would remain just in judging them for their sin, yet be merciful to them on the day of judgment. This is, indeed, a profound truth, yet worthy of our embrace. We are to ponder it when we begin to think unmercifully of our enemies. I conclude, therefore, that no person will be lost who had a tender heart, even though they were not blessed to hear the good news in this world.