Meditations in 1 Peter : 50: Abused for Goodness
1 Pet 4:3,4 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do– living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.
“There’s nothing like a cured smoker,” they say, “for going on at smokers.” Now oddly, in these verses it is exactly the opposite. It would be the smokers going on at those who have given it up! Throughout this letter Peter has been encouraging the Christians he’s writing to, to hold fast to the faith – especially in the face of persecution – and to live righteous lives. Again these verses start with a link word, ‘for’. He’s just said that we should consider ourselves “done with sin” (v.1) and “not live the rest of his (our) earthly life for evil human desires.” (v.2).
When he says, “For you have…” it’s like he might say, “After all, you have spent enough time in the past wasting away your life in bad ways…” That is the thrust here. All of the things he lists are things linked to the senses and unrestrained use of the senses, a wrong use of them. This is not how you should live is the underlying sense of these things. When he uses the words, “you have spent enough time in the past,” it is like he is gently chiding or reproaching them for having lived like that, in ways that they should now know are unrighteous and ungodly. As we said above, there is this sense that he’s saying, “you frittered away your life and wasted your life living like that, so you should never even think for a minute of drifting back to that sort of lifestyle. This is yet just another reason for staying away from that sort of life – you’ve been there, done it, known it does you no good, and just wastes or fritters life away. Don’t think of going back there!
This same sort of thinking is in Peter’s mind in his second letter when he warns about people who would lead his readers back to that old lifestyle: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Pet 2:21,22) This is the sense that is behind our verses today. But in this present letter he’s been dealing with a variety of ways that we receive opposition and even persecution, and so he finishes with a recognition of how the world that they have rejected now responds to them.
They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. The world doesn’t understand why it is that you have rejected that lifestyle that they are still wallowing in. They have never realised their plight or if they have they have pushed the thought away. No, they have decided that they will make indulging the senses in a life of unrestraint, their life, and they cover up their inner emptiness by so doing. On the outward side they appear to be having such fun – although to see them next morning is another story which is mostly not told! No, they make like they are having such a wonderful time while all the while they are covering up an inner emptiness. They feel insecure and alone and seek to cover it up by a wild lifestyle. They try to convince the rest of the world that they are having such a time in their freedom. Of course for many this so called freedom is in fact slavery, for they cannot get out of it and dare not get out of it.
So from their life of excesses they look upon their ‘puritanical’ friends who have turned their back on it, and think them strange. Why are these Christians such killjoys, is what they think; how weird they are! In their blindness they cannot see the love, the joy and the freedom that their Christian friends are experiencing, the goodness of life that they are enjoying without any artificial stimulants. No, the more you look at the two contrasting lifestyles and the more you honestly face the outworking of both of them, the more obvious the folly of the old lifestyle becomes. But of course those trapped by it cannot see it!
But it goes further, because not only do they think it strange that you have given up that lifestyle, deep down they feel you show them up and you play on their conscience and make them feel even worse than they did before, and so have to work even harder to convince themselves and everyone else what a good life they have. And so, deep down they feel resentful about what we have done and so out of defense they attack us with words, they heap abuse on us as Peter says. They denigrate and seek to demean us in this effort to cover up their guilt.
Oh yes, if you have never understood this before, please understand it now. These are the dynamics of what is going on here. Realise these things and you will realise that you never want to go back there. Now there is a danger we need to face before we finish. It is the danger of inadvertently crossing the line. Oh, says our modern Christian, I would never be into “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing.” Very well, but be honest. If you are a party person, how often are you on the verge of this? Really, how near this lifestyle are you? A man was once walking along a road alongside a field fenced by an electric fence. Inside this large field was a cow inching under the bottom strand of the fence to get the grass just out of reach while not being electrocuted. When there is a whole field of enjoyable grass, why live right on the edge? If we are doing this, we need to examine our inner self and see that we are not letting Christ minister to all our inner needs so we don’t need to boost them artificially. It is a valid concern, I believe, in modern Christianity. Please think on it.