1 PETER #27: DEEP PASSIONS & DESIRES VS. SELF-CONTROL & LOVE

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It is easy to forget, but we Christians are really called to be strange compared to those who do not follow Jesus. We live with a completely different set of assumptions about life, a different way of looking at the world. Peter is calling us all to make a clean break with the ways of the world.

If God is in fact – well, God – then submitting to his will for us is the only path to true freedom. If we make life about our own deep passions and desires, it will wear us out, consume us, and leave us anxious and empty. In fact, today we have billions of people who feel exactly that way: weary, consumed, anxious and empty, always striving for something they can’t quite get ahold of.

Peter points us to a better way, a way based not upon feelings (no matter how deeply held), not based on the idea that we are free from all constraints, but on truth that exists outside of ourselves: instead of living for our passions, we live for God’s purposes. We let God set limits on us, because we trust that he is good, and has our best interests in his heart. We let God, who not only created us, but died to save us, define who we truly are.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 27

1 PETER #27. 1 PETER 4:1-11

Last time we took a close look at what Peter says about suffering. As we look at the “big picture” of verses 1-11 today, we might summarize it like this: “Be done with the things of ungodly culture, with the values and passions of those who don’t know Jesus (verses 1-6). Instead, live in response to Jesus Christ, and according to the values that Jesus teaches us, and by which his Holy Spirit leads us (verses 7-11).”

Let’s start with the first part of that: We should be done with the values, passions and habits of people who don’t follow God. In verse 1, Peter says that we should equip ourselves with the mindset of Christ. In view of God’s promises to us, we should be willing to suffer temporary troubles. They are temporary even if they last for our whole life in the flesh. Our struggles and sufferings will end at the resurrection, but the goodness to come will never end. With this in mind, we should be done with the ungodly world, and ungodly ways of thinking. The New Living Translation does an excellent job capturing the meaning of the Greek in verses 2-3:

2 You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. 3 You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. (1 Peter 4:2-3, NLT)

Peter is drawing out a significant difference between human culture (without God) and those who follow Jesus. Human culture ends up following their own passions and desires. Followers of Jesus, on the other hand, look at the world in such a way that we live in self-control, and love.

People in ungodly culture, Peter says, live for human passions. The NLT puts it “chasing your desires,” above. Our movies, music, politics, and even education, are relentlessly selling the message that in fact, we should live for our desires, whatever those desires happen to be. If we desire it (so the message goes) it is automatically right. The message seems to be that if we feel deeply in any particular way, about anything, it must automatically be good and right.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a forty year old single man named George who is deeply passionate about American Girl Dolls (this is a line of toy dolls intended generally for little girls, for anyone who doesn’t know). He collects them. He has all the books of stories about the dolls. He spends countless hours on the internet researching the dolls, the company, the stories, and finding and buying dolls. He even plays with the dolls. He frequently dresses up as one or another of the doll-characters. This passion consumes him. Most of his money ends up being used for this passion, one way or another. For George, life is about American girl dolls.

I think most of us would be tempted to say something like this: “Hey, it’s not for me, but, I’m not gonna judge. Everyone dances to a different beat, and if it makes him happy, and he’s not hurting anyone, good for him for not letting anyone talk him out of it.” I think we respond that way because we have been trained to believe that any deeply held passion must be automatically good. Certainly, we have been trained to believe that it is utterly wrong to criticize the passion of someone else. Even so, some of us might privately think that there is something that feels “unhealthy” about George’s passion.

Now, change the object of his passion. Instead of American girl dolls, suppose his passion is Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In that scenario, I believe we would be even less inclined to criticize. If some dude wants to give his life to motorcycles, and a particular motorcycle company, who are we to judge? Shift the passion to something in art, or music, or politics, and we don’t even notice that there is anything unusual.

But this is exactly what the Bible means by idolatry. Peter actually mentions the worship of idols in connection with ungodly passions. When we are so passionate about something that we live for those moments when we can indulge our passion, that thing, if it is not Jesus, is an idol.

I’ve spent some time with songwriters and musicians in Nashville. It is quite clear to me that for many people in Nashville, music is an idol. When we gather to sing, and listen, and share songs, that is their worship service. They live for music. This is hard. I think music can be an incredibly powerful force for good. I myself am passionate about music. But when we let any passion, even the passion for something good, like music, become the driving force in our lives, it can become an idol. When we live for it, it is an ungodly passion.

By the way, folks in our church here near Nashville sometimes hang out and sing and play, for the sheer joy of music. I’m not talking about that. We are doing so with a continuing recognition that music is so wonderful because it reflects the Spirit of God. We don’t worship music, but the God who made it, and we enjoy music as one of his gifts. Any gift of God might be properly enjoyed this way.

In contrast, what I’m talking about is letting your passions rule you. When your passion for something becomes more important than God, that’s when the problem begins. In fact, I would say the problem begins when any passion interferes with God’s design for your life. So, if George’s passion for American Girl Dolls takes so much time and energy that it keeps him from engaging in a community of Christians, if it interferes in his relationships with family, if it prevents him from holding a full time job, there is a problem. The same would be true if he had a similarly consuming passion for motorcycles, or a sports team.

Peter also specifically names sexual passions as problematic. Again, this strikes at the heart of our current culture. It is especially about sexuality that our culture says: “If you genuinely feel it, it must be good and right.” Our culture has come to believe that there is almost no such thing as an unhealthy sexual desire. If your desire is for someone other than your spouse, our culture says that it is the marriage that is the problem, not the desire. If your desire is for something that the Bible says is sinful, the culture tells us to get rid of the Bible, or to find a way to make it irrelevant to your desire.

Now, everyone does eventually draw the line somewhere. Almost no one agrees that it’s a good thing if adults feel deep sexual passion for children. Just about everyone draws the line there. But, without God, that line is arbitrary. Today, that particular moral line seems obvious to us. However, in the past, there were many, many other moral lines that seemed obvious to everyone, and those have now been erased in order to serve human desires. Unless we allow something or someone outside of ourselves to set the moral lines, those lines are always shifting. Unless we learn to stop living for human passions, eventually absolutely everything will be acceptable, as long as it proceeds from deep passion.

The problem with following human passion is that it is all about me. I become the final arbiter of what is good, and right and acceptable. I accept no authority over me, and it becomes my responsibility to discover my desires and their meanings. This is true of every individual in our modern society. The path of following my desires makes me into the god of my own life. Talk about lawless idolatry!

I want to emphasize that this is the real issue in our current culture. We follow our passions, and refuse to call any of them wrong, because we believe that each individual should be free to determine for themselves what is right, what is wrong, who they are, and what they want to do. God might be welcome as an advisor and assistant, someone to help people “become the people they want to be.” But people in our culture are not interested in a God who actually has the authority to say: “You must not do this,” or “You must do this.” We certainly don’t want God to impose any parameters on us about who we are supposed to be.

But if God is in fact – well, God – then submitting to his will for us is the only path to true freedom. If we make life about our own deep passions and desires, it will wear us out, consume us, and leave us anxious and empty. In fact, today we have billions of people who feel exactly that way: weary, consumed, anxious and empty, always striving for something they can’t quite get ahold of.

Peter points us to a better way, a way based not upon feelings (no matter how deeply held), not based on the idea that we are free from all constraints, but on truth that exists outside of ourselves: instead of living for our passions, we live for God’s purposes. We let God set limits on us, because we trust that he is good, and has our best interests in his heart. We let God, who not only created us, but died to save us, define who we truly are.

This begins, as Peter points out, with self-control: in other words, the opposite of simply following your passions and desires. Instead of letting them lead us, we – by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us – control our desires and passions. We are not our own gods. Instead, through Jesus Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God, and God (not our desires) is the one who directs and leads us.

This is completely against the culture of our times, just as it was in the days of Peter. Peter points out that when we control ourselves, ungodly people are surprised, and they malign us. The Greek word for “malign” is actually the root of our English: “blaspheme.” In other words, Peter is saying that people speak against us in ways that are filled with malice, with a desire to hurt us and tear us down; their verbal attack on us is wicked, wrong and unholy. But, says Peter, they will have to stand before God almighty and explain themselves. Even before then, by God’s mercy, it seems that God will give them one last chance to repent (verse 6).

Getting back to self-control, it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The more we allow the Spirit of God into our lives, the easier it is for us to say “no” to passions and desires. No one controls their passions perfectly – certainly not me! But as we follow Jesus, and we let him, our passions have less and less control, and God has more.

Self control is not just a technique to stop eating too much, or start exercising, or stop sinning. Self-control represents a new paradigm, a whole different way of thinking, of looking at the world. Self control only makes sense if God exists, and sets limits on us for our own good. When we engage in self control, it is an act of faith. We are saying, “I would prefer to do one thing, but I believe God when he says (through the Bible) that it is not good for me to do it. I trust that God’s limits are good, in fact, I trust that they are best for me.” Therefore, by controlling myself, I put my trust in God into action, and I accept the limits he asks me to accept. We all fail to control ourselves at specific times and points, but the point is to accept that God does indeed have the right to ask us to limit ourselves, that he knows far better than we do what is best for us.

Next, Peter urges us to love one another. Love is the second piece of the new paradigm, the new way of looking at the world, one that sets us apart from the culture around us. The word used for “love” here is agape. Agape is a choice; a commitment to treat someone as valuable, to be committed to what is best for the person you agape. So if we are living in love, we are acting in the best interests of others. We are committed to valuing others. This is entirely different from following our own passions and desires.

If we live for our own passions, we will make choices in favor of those passions, even if those choices hurt our family and our community. The highest good that we live for is to satisfy our own deeply held feelings. We are trying to fulfill ourselves. When I was at university, the term they used was “self-actualization” – I live to become the best “Tom” that I can be. That would mean that if necessary, I would leave my marriage to pursue “my best self.” If necessary, I would abandon my friends and family and community in order to have the kind of career, relationship and life that fulfills me.

But love, like self-control, is the opposite of pursuing self-fulfillment. Love pursues the best good  of others. Love is not focused on me. If our paradigm (the way we look at the world) is love, even though we fail to love perfectly, we are not primarily pursuing our own desires and self-fulfillment. Again, like with self-control, love requires that we trust. In order to pursue the best good of others, we have to trust that God will take care of our own needs. We have to trust, in fact, that God loves us, and so we can relax about getting our own needs met in our terms and in our ways.

Peter mentions that love “covers a multitude of sins.” Let’s not misunderstand this. I do not believe that Peter means if we love others, we will cover up their sins. Instead, what he is saying is that love counteracts some sins in specific ways.

First, as with self-control, if we live in love (the way the bible defines love), we will not be living for our passions and desires. This reduces sinning.

Next, if you live in love, you will, as a consequence, avoid many different types of sin. For instance, if you love the community of believers, both as a whole, and also the individuals in it, you won’t engage in gossip, or slander. Jesus said that if we truly love God, and truly love our neighbors, we will fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:34-40). If we love God, we will have no other gods before him, and make no idols, and we won’t take his name in vain. If we love our neighbors, we don’t steal from them, or want what they have for our own, or sleep with their spouses, or lie to them, or hate them.

Finally, I think Peter also means this: love bears with the faults and failings of others, offering grace and forgiveness. If I don’t love, I will very quickly become impatient and angry when someone fails or sins in a way that impacts me personally. But if I love the person who sinned, I will have compassion. I will bear with their issues patiently, and offer them forgiveness. This takes away a lot of the power of sin to divide and destroy the community of faith.

We will discuss verses 9-11 next time, but I think we have enough to begin application for now. It is easy to forget, but we Christians are really called to be strange compared to those who do not follow Jesus. We live with a completely different set of assumptions about life, a different way of looking at the world. Peter is calling us all to make a clean break with the ways of the world.

I have to admit, I personally get tempted to see the world the way ungodly culture does. Sometimes it seems so attractive to live for my deep passions and desires. I mean, I do feel things deeply, and want certain things with a great longing. Even when I know it’s all based on a false way of looking at the world, I still sometimes “flirt” with the culture, and with the ungodly way of living for deep passions and desires. This text is telling me it’s time to make a clean break, to accept God’s paradigm for my life. It’s time to give up the way of the world and be all in with Jesus.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, at times we might be tempted to use God as the means to fulfill our passions and desires. It’s sort of a religiously acceptable way of still remaining focused on our deep desires. So, we need to make sure we aren’t just using God to try to accomplish the purposes of self-fulfillment. But the thing is, when we do accept God’s way, it is ultimately the best thing for us. It is, in fact the ultimate path to becoming who we were made to be. But we need to be careful not to follow God for mainly that reason. Instead, we trust God because we believe he really is God, and we accept his way (as revealed through the Bible) because we believe it is the truth. If we pursue it in order to fulfill ourselves, we’ll get off track. But we trust that he will, in his own time and way, bring us to contentment and fulfillment. And we also recognize that such a thing cannot truly happen until these bodies of flesh die, and are resurrected in immortality.

Some thoughts for application: In what way does this text challenge you to separate yourself from the passions and desires and paradigms of the world? What are specific things that you need to keep in mind when turning away from the way our culture views life?

What is your biggest challenge in accepting the paradigm of self-control? Why is it so hard to accept God’s limits on us? What can we do to encourage one another in self-control?

What is most important to you about living in love? How can we as believers better love one another? How does living in love help you (personally) to live differently from people who don’t follow Jesus?

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