"What Are You Living For?"
Nov.27, 2005 1Peter 4:1-11
Life is full of decisions. Each choice reveals something about our values and priorities, our real purpose, what's most important to us. What we choose can make the difference between survival and disaster.
A frightened woman on the Titanic found her place in the lifeboat that was about to be dropped into the raging North Atlantic. She thought suddenly of something she needed in light of death that was breathing down her neck. She asked for permission to go to her state room. She was granted just a moment or so, or they would have to leave without her.
She ran across a deck that was already slanted at a dangerous angle. She ran through the gambling room that had money pushed aside in one corner ankle-deep. It didn't interest her a bit, she kept right on running. She came to her stateroom and pushed aside her jewellery. She reached above her bed and got 3 small oranges and found her way back to the lifeboat and got in.
Death had boarded the Titanic. One blast of its awful breath had transformed all values. Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless. Worthless things had become priceless. In that moment she chose 3 small oranges rather than mountains of money; she preferred simple fruit to a crate of diamonds.
The apostle Peter counsels us to adopt the same attitude that Jesus had: to be done with sin, even if that means hardship and suffering. That means choosing what's not popular; making God's things priority instead of what people ordinarily want. He says at the beginning of chapter 4, "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God." (1Pe 4:1f)
Do you see the choice here? What are you living for? "He does not live the rest of his life for [on the one hand] evil human desires, but rather for [the preferred option] the will of God." That is, God's choice or inclination, God's desire and pleasure; what the Lord wishes to be done by us. Much different from fallen human wants, what our passing appetites crave or earthly minds find attractive.
Taking the Perilous Plunge
Peter takes a couple of verses to describe the wrong choice - the wide road to destruction that too many people follow. Starting at v3: "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." (1Pe 4:3f) He describes it as a downward drop, a "plunge" into a "flood". We can categorize some of the damaging consequences from this choice as: accident, anxiety, abomination, abuse, and account. The Lord wants to save people from so much damage and hurt to themselves and others that arise from these wrong choices.
"Accidents" develop from dissipation, drunkenness, and carousing. The root word for "dissipation" is literally "unsafe", risky or dangerous behaviour, careless and excessive - like the prodigal son who squandered his wealth in "wild living" (Lk 15:13). "Orgies" relates to revelry, drunken parades through the street; alcohol is so often a factor in impaired judgment, lowered inhibitions, and a contributor to fatal vehicle accidents. Today, drugs are another example of dissipation; people get "wasted".
Francis Schaeffer quotes an anonymous poem, styled after the 23rd Psalm but with a very different lord: "King Heroin is my shepherd, I shall always want, He maketh me to lie down in the gutters; He leadeth me beside the troubled waters; He destroyeth my soul."
My daughter Emily is a 'blogger', posting her poems and prose on the internet to share with friends. This past Thursday she wrote of returning to a place in Edmonton where drug addicts hang out. It's called "boyle street community centre": Emily writes, "i can't get them out of my mind. there they were hugging the doors, dancing on the streets in delirious stupor, staring at me like i didn't belong. and i didn't. it wasn't my turf but now i know it's there and i need to return. call it addicted to the needy. i'm needy too, i've got holes in my socks and heart and all i want to do is sit beside you and say nothing. somehow i know that bleeds Christ to you. somehow i know there's truth in pure communion. i cry out against crysal meth and all the ways it's playing with your facilities and i wish i could heal you. and i get angry at your choices and wish you had better families better homes better lives so it didn't come down to crystalizing your feelings and hardening your hearts and then dying. i want to help you. is that condescending? maybe you can help me. but i know you can't do life on your own. let me take your hand and introduce you to my youth worker, my personal friend, who knows how to take away your pain forever. it won't cost you anything. he's already paid." Jesus can redeem us from the accidents caused by dissipation and drunkenness.
"Anxiety" arises afterwards for those who give in to lust and sexual indiscretion. A one-night-stand's pleasure can result later in persistent disease, unwanted pregnancy, lawsuits, even abortion and the related emotional trauma. Christian counsellor John Regier observes that, in couples that have been physically involved premaritally, the wife becomes scared if the husband comes home 5 minutes late from the office - because she's afraid he's committing adultery with one of his attractive co-workers. Because of their premarital indiscretion, they can't trust each other, so there's anxiety. But John's wife doesn't become scared if he's late because she knows there were times when they were dating and they could have done something immoral, but John had self-control to resist temptation. He's proved his values, so she's not anxious.
"Abomination" is a synonym for what Peter terms "detestable idolatry". People in the first century were aware that Greeks carried lust and drunkenness into their religious observances, as in the worship of the goddess Aphrodite. Not unlike the Baal fertility cults of Canaan in the Old Testament. What Peter terms "debauchery" can also be thought of as abominable behaviour. The meaning of this word is shameless or (literally) in-continent. An elderly gentleman I'd been speaking with at the hospital who'd had prostate surgery seemed a little ashamed to admit he had to wear a diaper; because of his condition, he no longer had bladder control. "Debauched" people are incontinent with regard to their behaviour, they've lost control of themselves, often ending up embarrassing themselves "in unbridled...excesses". They belong in moral 'diapers'. Yet it also seems society is losing an appropriate sense of shame; we're becoming numbed to debauchery. We shrug and say, "There they go again." But Paul cautioned in Romans 13(13), "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." Idolatry is anything that edges God out of His due place of Lordship in our lives; don't let anything that's abominable start to take you away from His control.
"Abuse" is another result of pagan choices. Evil desires lead us to take advantage of others, disrespect them, and run roughshod over them in order to get what we want. It can be physical abuse, or emotional or verbal in nature. Peter says in v4 that those who "think it strange that you do not plunge with them" into the same behaviours "heap abuse on you." They speak evil of you; they try to defend their wrong actions, justify and become defensive of their choices, attacking those who advise them otherwise or hold back from joining them in sinful activity.
Accident; anxiety; abomination; abuse; the final outcome of poor lifestyle choices is, "account". V5, "But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." Those who are disobedient can try as they may to justify their preferences in this life, but finally they will have to answer to Almighty God for their wayward conduct. The Bible makes it very plain in Galatians 5(19ff) that those who engage in the "deeds of the flesh" (Paul here also lists debauchery, drunkenness, and orgies) "will not inherit the Kingdom of God." You can't keep on giving yourself to such things and make it at judgment.
We will have to answer to God for our words as well as our actions. Jesus said (Mt 12:36), "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken." He also plainly said the Father has entrusted judgment to the Son; "those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (Jn 5:22,29)
Death and judgment are sure, so we need to choose carefully now in life the actions for which we will have to give account. There's a tombstone in a cemetery in Indiana over a hundred years old that bears this inscription: "Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by / As you are now, so once was I / As I am now, so you will be / So prepare for death and follow me." Some passerby read those words and scratched this reply below: "To follow you I'm not content / Until I know which way you went." (!) The apostles and Jesus urge us to choose wisely; which direction are YOU going?
Rise to New Heights of Fulfilment
Having warned against the plunge into a flood of evil desires, Peter turns from the negative to the positive: What we're to be living FOR, the will of God, what He desires us to do. The stakes are high; we need God's view on things. V7, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." Tuning in to God's heart involves prayer; preparing for that spiritual connection requires the subjection of our physical and mental faculties. Peter's echoing what he said back in 1:13, "prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled..." Or as Paul said (Eph 6:18), "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests...be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."
Was Peter recalling that fateful night in the Garden of Gethsemane when he and the other disciples were succumbing to drowsiness, while the Lord wrestled with the prospect of His own imminent death? The time was shorter than any of the disciples realized. Jesus had come and asked Peter, "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?...Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Mt 26:40f) This whole passage echoes that strategic tussle between lower flesh-pulls and higher spiritual callings.
Prayer gets us on the same page with God, beyond our limited earthly view. Prayer opens us to God, sharing our deepest concerns with Him, but also sensing His priorities for us. John Bunyan said, "Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised." More simply, O.Hallesby observed, "To pray is to let Jesus into your heart!"
In addition to prayer, another source of godly fulfilment Peter recommends is brotherly love. V8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." Another version says, "Above all, be warm in your love for one another." What's the temperature of our mutual affection? Do we really care? Are we following up on 'nudges'? What practical form is love taking in our fellowship, and beyond? I know, for ourselves, one afternoon this week, a one-hour medical appointment turned into a 3-hour ordeal. By the time we got home it was late in the afternoon and nothing had been started for supper. A message on the answering machine had an invitation 'out of the blue' for us to come for supper. We felt loved!
Peter may be freely adapting from Proverbs 10:12, "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." Love goes a long way toward compensating for another's weaknesses, overlooking foibles, making allowance for what the other lacks. A young woman walked into a fabric shop and asked the owner for some noisy, rustling, white material. The owner found two such bolts of fabric but was rather puzzled at the young lady's motives. Why would anyone want several yards of noisy material? Finally the owner's curiosity got the best of him and he asked the young woman why she particularly wanted noisy cloth. She answered: "You see, I am making a wedding gown, and my fiancé is blind. When I walk down the aisle, I want him to know when I've arrived at the altar, so he won't be embarrassed." Love compensates and makes allowance for another's lack.
Peter goes on in v9, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." Hospitality frees us to receive and connect with others. Karen Mains (Open Heart, Open Home) describes the difference between "entertaining" and "hospitality": "Entertaining says, 'I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.' Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, 'This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.' Hospitality aims to serve.
"Entertaining puts things before people. 'As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my housecleaning done - then I will start inviting people.' Hospitality puts people first. 'No furniture - we'll eat on the floor!' 'The decorating may never get done - you come anyway.' 'The house is a mess - but you are friends - come home with us.'
"Entertaining subtly declares, 'This home is mine, an expression of my personality.Look, please, and admire.' Hospitality whispers, 'What is mine is yours.'"
Finally, Peter emphasizes new heights of fulfilment come by using our spiritual gifts. V10, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." Like good stewards, managing the resources entrusted to us, unlike the rich man's manager Jesus told about who stole from his master's accounts to provide himself with post-employment income (Lk 16:1-9). Peter adds in v11.b, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." Faithful stewardship frees us to experience God's pleasure and power in deploying our particular grace-gift. Like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire who said, "God made me fast...When I run, I feel God's pleasure." Through his Olympic competition and preaching, Liddell exercised His gift in a way that brought God honour; and he knew God was using him.
Whatever our gift happens to be, let's serve others with it, "faithfully administering God's grace." Many of us have started the annual project of Christmas shopping, putting hours of forethought and footwork into purchasing just the right gift for loved ones. Imagine how a parent would feel if on Christmas Day (or Eve) when the gifts for their children were handed out, the children just took them, said "Thank you," and laid them aside with no attempt to open the gifts - not even to find out what they were! Imagine therefore how the Lord must feel when He has given gifts to us that He intends for us to use, and yet we never take the trouble to find out what they are, never put them to work, and then excuse ourselves from serving the church by saying that we can't do anything! Fulfilment comes in serving "with the strength God provides;" as we're obedient, we sense God's empowerment and enriching of our abilities.
Hospitality Brings a Stranger Home to God
In closing, here's an account of how a little hospitality made a profound impact in a person's life. A seminary student used to drive about 30 miles to church on Sunday mornings and would frequently pick up hitchhikers. One day he picked up a young man who noticed he was wearing a suit and asked if he could go to church with him. The student said, "Of course you can." The stranger came to church and afterward was invited over to one of the members' homes for lunch and fellowship. While there, he received a hot bath, some clean clothes, and a hot meal. In conversation with the youth, his hosts found out he was a Christian, but had wandered from fellowship with the Lord. His home was in another state and he was just passing through on his way back. Later in the evening, they bought him a bus ticket and sent him on his way.
A week later, the seminary student received a letter from the hitch-hiker. Enclosed with the letter was a newspaper clipping with headlines reading, "Man turns himself in for murder." This young man had killed a teenage boy in an attempted robbery and had been running from the law for some time. But the kindness and hospitality of Christians had convicted him. He wanted to be in fellowship with God, and he knew he needed to do the right thing about his crime.
Little did those Christians know that by their faithfulness to show hospitality they had influenced a man to do what was right in God's eyes - something that was very difficult - and thereby help restore him to fellowship with His Lord. They reminded him what to live for: administering grace persuaded a killer to turn from evil and live instead for God's will. Let's pray.