1 Peter 2:11
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul
In his monumental book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon listed five reasons for the fall. One of those reasons was the mad craze for pleasure. A few years ago, a poll was conducted asking men what they wished for when blowing the candles out on their birthday cake. The top five responses were: (1) a lower golf score, (2) a Porsche, (3) weight loss, (4) a team championship, and (5) plastic surgery. Could there be any doubt that America too, is bent on pleasure? Just consider the craze for sports, the volume of business done in the entertainment arena, the infatuation with the body, and the types of merchandise that are sold for the sole purpose of recreation and pleasure. Most Americans no longer work just to put food on the table; they work so that they can spend their time and money on pleasure.
How is the normal Christian supposed to live and serve God in such a pleasure-crazed world? Is enjoying the things of this world really that bad? Is the normal Christian forbidden from having fun? The Apostle Peter deals rather concisely with the subject of fleshly lusts in 1 Peter 2:11. In this verse, Peter puts forth a Plea, a Problem, and a Prescription for the issue of Pleasing the Flesh. In this lesson, we shall look at his Plea, reserving the Problem and Prescription for the next lesson.
Notice that Peter begins his plea with the word "beseech". The use of such a strong word surely implies a certain earnestness or seriousness about the subject which he is going to discuss. We therefore ought to take all the more heed to understanding what that subject is. The topic of his discourse has to do with fleshly lusts, or strong desires to do that which brings pleasure to the body.
Let us lay down some precepts to further understand what pleasures are sinful, and then look at some marks of a flesh-pleaser.
There are certain pleasures that are explicitly forbidden by God and declared to be sin. For example, Paul lists several things in Galatians 5:19, "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." Another list is given in Colossians 3:5, "fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
1. We must be very careful not to condemn all forms of pleasure, for God gives us many things on this earth to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). In fact, it may be as great an evil to be overly cautious about enjoying the things that God has given us, as it would be to enjoy them too much.
2. To prefer pleasing the flesh above pleasing God is a sin. Paul denounces this in 2 Timothy 3:4 with wickedness that shall come in the last days, "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (see also 1 John 2:15). The good of the soul ought to be set higher than pleasing the flesh (Colossians 3:2). To prefer watching the super bowl over the worship of God is a fleshly lust.
3. The ultimate end of enjoying the pleasures of this life ought to be praise and thanks to God for His blessings (1 Corinthians 10:31). If pleasing the flesh becomes our ultimate end, it is sin and the flesh is made an idol. What is the ultimate goal in tanning the body?
4. When pleasing the flesh hinders our service to God, it is a sin. The children of Israel were enjoying their own houses and lives so much that they failed to take care of the house of God. God responded to this with the warning "Consider your ways" (Haggai 1:4-11). For example, watching TV late on Saturday night will hinder one's service to God on Sunday morning.
5. When pleasing the flesh is harmful to our health, it is a sin. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not". Smoking, drinking, drugs, etc. are all pleasures that are harmful to one's health.
6. When pleasing the flesh becomes excessive, it is a sin. Peter characterizes the wicked as being excessive in their pursuit to please the flesh (1 Peter 4:4). Many pleasures, such as eating and sleeping, are often spoken of in negative terms when they are done in excess, i.e. gluttony and slothfulness. Out attitude ought to be as that in Proverbs 30:8, "give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me". When we "play" too much, it becomes a fleshly lust.
7. When pleasing the flesh draws us into sin, such a fleshly lust is itself sinful. This kind of lust is dealt with in James 1:13-15.
The Puritan, Richard Baxter, lists 10 marks of a flesh-pleaser:
When a man in his desire to please his appetite, does not do it with a view to a higher end, that is to say to the preparing himself for the service of God; but does it only for the delight itself. (Of course no one does every action conciously with a view to the service of God. Nevertheless, the general manner or habit of a life spent in the service of God is absent for the flesh-pleaser.)
When he looks more eagerly and industriously after the prosperity of his body than of his soul.
When he will not refrain from his pleasures, when God forbids them, or when they hurt his soul, or when the necessities of his soul call him away from them. But he must have his delight whatever it costs him, and is so set upon it, that he cannot deny it to himself.
When the pleasures of his flesh exceed his delights in God, and his holy word and ways, and the expectations of endless pleasure. And this not only in the passion, but in the estimation, choice, and action.
When he had rather be at a play, or feast, or other entertainment, or getting good bargains or profits in the world, than to live in the life of faith and love, which would be a holy and heavenly way of living.
When men set their minds to scheme and study to make provision for the pleasures of the flesh; and this is first and sweetest in their thoughts.
When they had rather talk, or hear, or read of fleshly pleasures, than of spiritual and heavenly delights.
When they love the company of merry sensualists, better than the communion of saints, in which they may be exercised in the praises of their Maker.
When they consider that the best place to live and work is where they have the pleasure of the flesh. They would rather be where they have things easy, and lack nothing for the body, rather than where they have far better help and provision for the soul, though the flesh be pinched for it.
When he will be more eager to spend money to please his flesh than to please God.
When he will believe or like no doctrine but "easy-believism," and hate mortification as too strict "legalism." By these, and similar signs, sensuality may easily be known; indeed, by the main bent of the life.
We shall deal later with the Problem of Fleshly Pleasures, but first we must note that the existence of such a Plea implies the presence of peril. This danger is found not only because of the problem involved, but also because of the potential for self-deception. Because we are dealing with the subject of pleasure, there is the peril of not perceiving the problem - the flesh may beg the question, "Is there really any harm in pleasing me?"
The method used by Eskimos to kill wolves painfully illustrates this point. They repeatedly dip a knife in blood and freeze it until the knife is thickly coated with frozen blood. Finally, they lodge the handle of the knife into the ground with the blade sticking up. The wolf with its strong sense of smell is lured to the knife and begins to lick it. The taste of blood then incites a lust for more within the wolf. Furiously the wolf licks the knife not realizing that as the frozen blood is devoured the blade of the knife begins to cut its own tongue. Overcome by its own passion for blood, the wolf is unaware of the pain and the fact that it has now begun to drink its own blood. Eventually the wolf bleeds to death. Such is the peril of pleasing the flesh.
In case this illustration from an animal does not convince you of the danger, consider this fact. The strongest man (Samson), the man after God's own heart (David), and the wisest man (Solomon) were all drawn away into the lust for sex. What a peril it is to please the flesh. Let us further consider the example of Samson in Judges 16:4-21. The Bible says that Samson "loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah." Daily he sought her not knowing that she was out to destroy him. Surely, you say, her intentions must have been very obvious, but this is not the case. Verse 16 says, "she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death." Somehow Samson seemed to be totally unaware of his precarious situation. Such is the peril of pleasing the flesh.
Let us not underestimate this earnest plea concerning fleshly lusts. We have thoroughly examined the subject and the great peril; next week we shall look at the problem with pleasing the flesh and Peter's prescription.