ABSTAIN FROM FLESHLY LUSTS

Mark White

War is terrible. Casualties take so many forms, with some being innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The atrocities of war are nearly beyond belief. The old adage, “all is fair in war” has been played out time and again through the ages as people have suffered the ravages of warfare. Since the American Civil War, we have very little historical experience with war on our own turf, and no personal experience whatsoever with war in our own backyards. For Americans, war is always something we wage “over there.”

Our shores have been safe from the all-out bombardments which other societies have frequently experienced and for whom there is almost automatic acceptance that warfare is a fact of life. The carnage of dead bodies strewn about the shattered streets of our hometown is a picture we have not seen. Try to imagine your home a bombed-out shell. Picture in your mind your livestock slaughtered, your workplace destroyed, and your way of life completely decimated. Visualize if you can the little children of your neighborhood with missing limbs, or raped, or perhaps dead. Most of us cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to live in war-besieged places like Iraq, Croatia, or Palestine. There, human life is so poorly regarded that the leaders of these peoples do not mind spilling the blood of their own countrymen in what sometimes appears to be senseless, petty strife. Perhaps those of our nation who have seen active combat know something the rest of us do not. War is not pretty, and those who glory in it are misguided. It is serious business, and armed conflict always produces loss from which neither the victor nor the conquered ever fully recovers.

If carnal warfare is merciless and horrific, how must more so the spiritual warfare in which Christians are engaged. Peter warns the readers of his epistle to realize the seriousness of the struggle they were making against immorality of all sorts. In fact, he uses several strong terms in 1 Peter 2:11 to impress the imagery upon the minds of first century Christians, and also upon us. He wrote “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.” Since we are really living in a place which is not home to us, we must be careful lest we succumb to the alluring temptations of the flesh. Just as American travelers must not drink the water in some foreign lands no matter how sparkling pure, and refreshing is may appear –– even so Christians in the world must avoid the contaminants to our souls which come so attractively packaged. A Nigerian preacher friend of mine learned this lesson in a severe way upon visiting the United States. The rich, fat, sweet diet of Americans proved to be intolerable for his bland stomach. Those southern pecan pies were so alluring, but eating an entire pie at once will sicken the best of Southerners, much less a Nigerian! Peter said we must “abstain,” which literally means “to hold oneself constantly back from.” Fleshly lusts are seductive, promising, and so palatable – especially at the first. Solomon’s wise instruction concerning the fleshly lust of alcohol is an appropriate illustration of the fact that it may be alluring at first, but in the end “it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Proverbs 23:32).

These “fleshly lusts” of which Peter speaks “war against the soul.” If a good military strategist never underestimates his enemy, then Christians must surely realize that lust is a serious deterrent to spirituality. Lusts of the flesh are insidious and powerful. They mean to win, not just tease and toy with the Christians affections. Pornography entices and excites, then enslaves. Filthy speech is at first “cute” or “cool,” but becomes a mindset reflecting a soiled heart. Adultery titillates the libido, but ultimately destroys the soul and even the body. Immodesty is at first “trendy” and “fashionable”, but finally lewd and lascivious. “It’s war out there,” dear brothers. Arm yourselves with the Spirit’s sword and shield and do battle for your spiritual self-preservation.

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