The World is Surprised When We Do Not Join Them – 1 Peter 4:3-4

Peter lists a series of vices that were acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Some of these are associated with entertainment (theater, the games), others may be associated with banquets in the temples. While some of these might be family celebrations and fairly innocent, a meal at a temple would be an opportunity for drunkenness, gluttony, sexual excess.

Bacchus

Sensuality (ἀσέλγεια) refers to a “lack of self-constraint” that goes beyond what is socially acceptable. Traditionally this is translated as “licentiousness” and turns up in sin lists along with fornication. It is the kind of insolence that makes a mockery of what is considered acceptable in polite society.

Passions (ἐπιθυμία) is the typical word used for lust, although that is not always a sexual lust; gluttony, for example, is an inordinate craving for food, etc.) The word can refer to any sort of desire that goes beyond what is necessary.

Drunkenness (οἰνοφλυγία) is not the typical word used in the New Testament for one who gets drunk, but implies that the person is gluttonous for wine. Philo of Alexandria uses this word in his discussion of coveting:

Philo, Spec. Laws, 4.91 When it [coveting] affects the parts about the belly it makes men gluttonous, insatiable, intemperate, debauched, admirers of a profligate life, delighting in drunkenness, and epicurism, slaves to strong wine, and fish, and meat, pursuers of feasts and tables, wallowing like greedy dogs; owing to all which things their lives are rendered miserable and accursed, and they are reduced to an existence more grievous than any death.

The word translated orgies (κωμος) refers to a festive meal usually in honor of Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine. The word appears twice in the LXX, in 2 Macc 6:4 it describes the revelries of the Gentiles in the Temple courts before the Maccabean revolt, and in Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 it appears in a detailed sin list (translated as “frenzied revels.”

2 Maccabees 6:4 (NRSV)  For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 (NRSV)  For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

Similarly, “drinking parties” (πότος) refers to carousing, although this is not always with the connotation of drinking in a sleazy bar. The elite often held banquets to discuss literature or philosophy (a symposium) while drinking heavily. BDAG suggests that Peter “has less sophisticated participants in mind.”

Lawless idolatry (ἀθέμιτος εἰδωλολατρία). This final item is scathing in its condemnation of the religious practices of the Roman world.  The word Peter uses here is used for wanton, unseemly behavior, things that even the Roman world would consider too disgusting. In addition, Peter calls these gods idols, something that would not be considered politically correct in the Roman world. You might not worship someone else’s god, but you did not call it a disgusting idol! Not only do these people commit acts that are unseemly, they do so in the service of a worthless idol.

Imagine contemporary celebrations like Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, or Super Bowl parties. There are all excuses for indulging in behavior that would be inappropriate at other times. But this goes beyond the pale: imagine someone behaving so badly at Mardi Gras that people thought they were crossing the line.

Peter implies that his readers have participated in some of these things. This is usually taken as a “proof” that the congregation is made up of Gentile converts, since Jews would not have participated in these kinds of debaucheries. But as Karen Jobes points out, this may be an overly idealized view of diaspora Jews living in a pagan culture. That some of them at some point did attend the theater or the gladiatorial games is entirely possible.

Christians developed the reputation for being different because they chose not to participate in such behaviors. In the ancient world, different was always bad. If a Christian choose to not participate in some civic event because it is an excuse for debauchery, they are likely going to be view with suspicion. If the event was dedicated to the gods of the city, perhaps the Christians were endangering the prosperity of the city. If the event was a family celebration, then refusing to participate would have created tension within the most basic unit of Roman culture.

This goes beyond modern Christians abstaining from the drunken festivals of our time. To use the analogy of Mardi Gras, if someone refused to participate in the festivities, they might be considered a kill-joy, or holier-than-thou, or judgmental. But few would consider them traitors to the city of New Orleans, and no one really thinks that the gods are going to bless the city since everyone participates in the revels. This radical call to holiness opened many early Christians to accusations of disloyalty.

 

11 thoughts on “The World is Surprised When We Do Not Join Them – 1 Peter 4:3-4

  1. As Christians we are called to be different. We need to set an example to the rest of the world so that when people look at us they can see that we are different and we can use that as our testimony. I agree that Christians who decide not to participate in certain events will be in a way shunned or looked at as kill-joys, but that is nothing compared to the persecution that Christians and Jews were facing in Roman or even today in other countries. In other countries refusing to participate would be viewed as rude and possibly being disloyal to the country itself. In America our persecution is just being made fun of or being left out of group events.

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  2. I think your comparison to Mardi Gras is probably the closest thing that I have experienced to a being surrounded by a festival that embodies so many things I do not partake in. But the feeling of being that “killjoy” extends to many many other things in United States culture. It’s frequent that I receive remarks about my lack of interest in Football and the Superbowl. If those make me uncomfortable now, I cannot imagine what I would be experiencing if the pressure was on a festival or event that carried a larger significance to people. Regardless of the severity of the event, Peter’s words remain true to this day. There will always be something that the world loves that we ought to abstain from, and it won’t make any sense to them. But we should walk with confidence knowing that we live in the Spirit and have a certain way of living our lives that is contrary to the people around us fixated on idolatry, drunkenness, and sexual debauchery.

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  3. Every Christian faces persecution from the world. The world sees Christians as different, almost alien from them. In 1 Per 4:3-4, Peter lists the things that the world takes part in that believers should not take part in. These things include lust, drunkenness, and lawless idolatry. Professor Long explains each of these in his post. All of these had some form or part in Roman entertainment and worship. As a result, Peter tells believers not to take part in these worldly actions as it causes Christians to blend into the crowd. As a result, when Christians do not do these things the world sees them as different and strange. Not only that, but the people around believers at that time had a hard time understanding why Christians rejected their beliefs. Not only that, but Christians were considered to be disloyal. It is important for Christians today to be separate from the world, but in a way that does not make others think that they are judgmental.

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  4. This is a very unique and interesting topic for this blog posts. Obviously, the blog post is titled “The World is Surprised When We Do Not Join Them – 1 Peter 4:3-4.” This post highlights the difference of two worlds, the secular world and the Christian world. Christian tradition has always considered these two worlds as different. It seems to be typical Christian thinking to try and “stay away” from the secular world. The secular world is the world that Christians view to be filled with this debauchery and non-Christian behavior. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is a meaningful and relevant passage of Scripture that points to this debauchery that is discussed in 1 Peter and this blog post. It encourages Christians to avoid these behaviors, which is important because these behaviors do not honor the kingdom of God.

    The blog post mentions that it is very possible that some of these Jews in the times of 1 Peter partook in some of these secular actions. Though I have no evidence of this, I tend to agree with the blog post statement. As previously stated, the Christian world today seems to stress the idea that Christians are not to partake in the sinful nature of the secular world. My point is that the Christian world today emphatically discourages Christians from being a part of the debauchery. However, we as Christians still fall short because of our sinful nature, and this causes us to take part in the debauchery that is clearly discussed throughout this blog post. Therefore, if we do it today, it makes it difficult for me to believe that Jewish Christians in Bible times were able to refrain from these temptations of their surrounding secular society.

    Moreover, the idea of this blog post reminds me of Romans 1:16. A Christian hip-hop group headlined by famous artist, Lecrae, initiates an “Unashamed” movement. This movement is centered around the idea that Christians should embrace their faith and be unashamed in it because of the power of the gospel and the power of God. This movement acknowledges that living a life for Christ is considered different in today’s society. This goes hand-in-hand with the message of this blog post that highlights that the world expects us to partake in these actions. They are surprised when we choose our faith over temptations.

    It is interesting to see this discussion take place in how Christians choosing not to take part in these actions can affect how they are viewed. That being said, when Christians fail to turn away from these temptations and, they give in, then they are typically viewed as hypocrites. This is important to understand, and I have talked about this in one of my other blog post responses. Christians must be aware of this tendency and understand that hypocrisy limits and hinders our ability to minister to others. This is a major and compelling argument as to why Christians need to do their best to avoid hypocrisy and debauchery. Winner (1999) highlights the fact that hypocrisy in Christian communities and circles is definitely real. Winner (1999) proceeds to emphasize that it will make one “wince” (p. 86).

    Winner, L. F. (1999). Whoa, Susannah! It’s great music, but its portrayal of Christian hypocrisy will make you wince. Christianity Today, 43(11), 86.

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  5. Someone recently told me about how they never really enjoyed a certain movie because of what it celebrated. This was a kids’ cartoon movie we were talking about. Cute graphics and songs and all of that. Plu, it portrayed another culture well.

    This post reminded me of that conversation. Even as Christians there is a fear of “being holier than thou” to the point where many would not be willing to share their thoughts on a movie with another Christian. While there is definitely a time/place/attitude to share or not share these things, I can’t help but wonder how many Christians are feeling peer pressure, real or imagined, to either not adopt convictions or be willing to share them with others.

    Yet I’m sure we all know that one obnoxious person who is demanding and loud about how they just can’t do it because they are in fact, such a good Christian. I might be exaggerating, but we all know – and maybe have been – that person who sees others and themselves in regards to what they do and don’t do as a Christian.
    How do we maintain an openness to following convictions and avoid falling into legalism?
    What does it actually mean to be “in the world but not of the world” ?

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  6. “The world is surprised when we don’t join them”, this all too true. The world seems to want to test Christians in their faith and when Christians refuse, they immediately think we are judging them and are “holier” than they are. E.prins has two great question in her comment that really makes you think, “How do we maintain an openness to following convictions and avoid falling into legalism? What does it actually mean to be “in the world but not of the world?” (E.prins). It is hard to know how to respond when there is just a wide gap between the world we live in and how we ought to live. If we look at the verses before 1 Peter 4:3-4, Peter simply says that we are no longer living for our “human passions but for the will of God” (1Peter 4:2). Thus, it doesn’t matter that the world thinks you dull and boring for not joining them, as long as we are not hypocrites. We are here to serve (Mat 20:28) and to proclaim the “will of God”. Peter encourages us and the Jews to stop sharing in the sensuality, passions and drunkenness of this world and live for Christ because our time is limited on this earth (James 4:14).

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  7. In relation to our actions and behaviors Karen Jobes said, “What we believe about the future determines how we live today”. As Christians we recognize that what we do on this earth and the decisions we make in regards to our spiritual and physical life have ramifications for eternity. We consciously choose to not participate in activities, such as those listed in 1 Peter 4, if they go against the moral guidelines given to us in scripture through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. A lot of the time we do not worry about how the small things we do today can impact what we are able to do tomorrow, this is especially relevant in the times that we find ourselves currently living in and through.When there is not a worldwide pandemic people tend not to worry about basic things like food or toilet paper. But when we all find ourselves being limited to our residence and suddenly have an immediate threat or anxiety surrounding the future, we become more aware of what we do and to what extent we are utilizing our resources. I know that 1 Peter 4 is talking about the relationship between Christians and pagan/secular activities but Titus 1 tells us we should be above reproach in our lifestyle and behaviors; meaning that our lives should reflect God in a way that no fault can be found in it.

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  8. It is crazy what people used to do because it was dedicated to the gods! The levels of immorality that used to happen in the open is kind of surprising. We hear of things like this happening today, but it is not this outspoken, and people try to sweep things like it under the rug. And then to the extent that Christians were persecuted because of the difference shows just how widespread the issues were. In order for everyone to notice they were different, pretty much everyone had to be involved. Their response to how different Christians were is not surprising though.
    And even Christians today get the same responses that they did in Peter’s time. There are certain things that are accepted within society, and some people wear them as badges of honor. But as Christians, we are called to live above some of the things of the world, and to not partake in what they do. This makes Christians stand out apart from the rest of the world, when we stand firm in what we believe when culture says it is acceptable. This brings us into the same position that Christians were in during Peter’s time, and will continue into the future.

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  9. This blog post makes me think of the recent short paper that we had to write on how we can best imitate Christ. One of the ways in which I thought we could best imitate Christ is by being born again and allowing our entire lives to be changed and effected by God. This creates quite a difference from the way we live and the way the rest of the world lives. It creates a sort of difference between us as Jobes points out (Ch. 11). This may even bring about some persecution and with persecution some suffering as we may become mocked or harassed for not doing what everyone else is doing and for holding to the standards that we believe God desires us to. However, this suffering is also in line with what 1 and 2 Peter tell us about imitating Christ. He suffered for doing the right thing, for doing good. Therefore, as Christ-followers we will also suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:20-25). Doing good is not without reward, however. When we continue to do good and follow after God’s will for us in our life, regardless if it is popular or what everyone else is doing, we are then showing others who God is and His glory. They will know God by seeing the good that we do (1 Peter 2:12).

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  10. I personally love the title of this Blog “The world is surprised when we don’t join them”. This is something that the world wrestles with when it comes to Christians. They realize that we say we are different or that we act differently but when we go against the grain and do not join their activities of drunkenness and immorality they are surprised. And often more than that they tend to mock us as people who always follow the rules and who can never have any fun. As humans, of course, we have those desires to have fun and do what everyone else is doing but we have to put those sinful desires to bed and submit to the will of our heavenly father. In Galatians chapter five we as believers in Christ our challenged to not walk by the flesh but walk by the spirit (Galatians 5:16). In Romans 8:6 we are told that the flesh and its desires lead to death and not life. That is why we must not give in to our sinful cravings because they are of the flesh and not of God. They lead to death and not to life. So yes the world will be and should be surprised when we do not join in their sinful cravings but instead stand by God and his word.

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