I missed yesterday because our flight was delayed, but I want to resume where we left off last Friday, and stick to 1 Peter 2:11-12, which is the heart of Peter’s letter. The readers to whom he gives this address are powerless: Rome’s might is unstoppable, and the little clutch of Christians in Asia Minor is not potent enough to do anything but act in such a way that its future can be preserved.
Peter’s first piece of advice is this: “I urge you [resident aliens and temporary residents, like Abraham and Sarah — Gen 23:4] to abstain from the fleshy lusts that war against the soul.”
The powerless are urged here to avoid fleshy lusts. Notice the words: “lusts” translates epithumia and that word is found also at 1:14 (“do not be shaped back again into your former, ignorant lusts”) and at 4:2 (“so that you no longer live according to human lusts”). And “fleshy” translates sarkikos and that word, and its cognate sarx, is found here and at 1:24 (“all humans”), 3:18 (Christ was “put to death in the flesh”), 3:21 (human skin), 4:1 (“Christ/humans suffering in the flesh” and “life on earth”), 4:5 (contrast with being made alive by the Spirit). Conclusion: “to avoid fleshy lusts” means to avoid living out God’s redemptive work in a human-sort of way.
Now if we add to this human vs. divine approach what Peter suggests in 2:13–3:12 we will come to a more accurate meaning of what “fleshy lusts” means. The first thing I would add is that is too simplistic and too easy of a view to move to sexual sins or to basal lustings of the flesh. Peter’s mind is on something else, though he would clearly include such basal lustings. Peter is concerned with how to bring God’s redemptive work to Asia Minor and what will be the worst thing his readers could do. That is: to act in violence or rebellion against the rulers (2:13-17), to rebel against owners (2:18-25), to have women struggle with their husbands (3:1-6), to have men overpower their wives (3:7), and to have a church group that is divided (3:8-12).
In other words, if we look at how Peter mixes (to use Steve Taylor’s clever image) his theological tradition with the setting of the Asia Minor believers in Jesus, Peter’s strategy is for the Christians to do God’s work in God’s way and not in Rome’s way: which is power and might.