A Flood of Dissipation

Our last post included a quote from I Peter chapter 4.  I include it again here, extending it to verses 1 through 5.  “Therefore, since Christ has suffered death in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered death in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (I Pet 4:1-5).

Beginning in verse 1, follow these powerful word pictures with me.

  •  Christ died “in the flesh,” i.e. as a man.
  • Because our flesh “died” with Christ, sin is no longer our normal practice (“he who has died has ceased from sin”).
  • In fact, with the time we have left on earth (“the rest of the time in the flesh”) we should be following “the will of God,” not our former lusts.
  • Following the “lusts of men” was our former course and many of these activities are described here in verse 3.
  • But these activities are clearly in our past (“the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried these out”).
  • For those who have not “died with Christ,” (i.e. have not become His children by embracing His message), they continue on their sinful path, our former path; a path described as a “flood of dissipation.”
  • They are “surprised” or “shocked” that you no longer join them, and they “malign” or “heap abuse” on you because of it.
  • But take courage under their persecution, God the righteous judge is on your side.

“Flood of dissipation” is an interesting phrase.  It is translated from two Greek words; ANACHUSIS, meaning overflow, and ASOTIA, meaning wastefulness.  In physics, dissipation is defined as “a process in which energy is used or lost without accomplishing useful work.”  In other words, dissipated energy is wasted energy, energy that is not captured for any useful purpose during an energy exchange.  Peter is painting a picture of our culture’s fascination with sin – in its entertainment, debauchery, and idolatry – as an overflow of dissipation, a flood of waste.  And who, if we have been paying attention to our entertainment and news culture, wouldn’t agree with Peter’s assessment, and who among us hasn’t felt that sense of waste when we have been caught up in it.

We somehow have the mistaken idea that evangelism happens when we join the culture in their “flood of dissipation.”  That somehow our “good” will rub off in these sinful situations.  That somehow engaging the culture around its sewer enhances our “identification” with unbelievers.

This passage suggests just the opposite.  Our witness and our allegiance to Christ shines brightest when our friends and family are “surprised” by our lack of participation.  This does not mean we become isolationists.  We still engage our unbelieving friends across the family, neighbor, work, sports, etc. spectrum throughout our circle of influence.  We are brothers and sisters with our unbelieving friends under the tent of all of us being created in God’s image, an origin that all humanity shares.  But as far as where our steps go from there, we are to be radically different, not in an obnoxious way, but in a winsome way that invites our unbelieving friends to join us in something better.  Join me in thinking about and praying for all the winsome ways that we can shine the message of Christ in our relationships.

“Holiness Befits Thy House”

“Holiness befits Thy house, O Lord, forevermore” (Psalm 93:5).  God’s dwelling place is adorned or decorated with holiness.  It has the aura of holiness.  It has the look and feel of holiness.  It has the taste and smell of holiness.  It is literally filled up with holiness.  Holiness befits God’s house.  Does holiness adorn your house?

God has placed us here as a family to be salt and light.  If we “bubble wrap” ourselves and our kids, we are making a mistake.  Jesus was called “friend of sinners”.  He didn’t get that title by withdrawing in isolation.  At the same time, I think it is safe to say that Christ was not influenced by the sin He encountered.  While there is danger in being legalistic, of imposing our gray area views on others, or becoming boastful about what we do or don’t do, I think our greater danger is going the other direction.  We hear much advice about engaging the culture.  Unfortunately, I fear much of our cultural engagement is taking place around the culture’s sewer.  Is our effort to relate just an excuse to conform?

The New Testament has plenty to say about not conforming to this world.  We demonstrate and offer a radically different option to our unbelieving friends than the life they are now living.  We are radically different, not because we are better, but because we have been rescued to a new life.

How different is the rescued life?  I Peter 4:3-5 says, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

The time for sin is “past”.  The time for the practice of sin is in the rear view mirror for the rescued believer.  Could there be any more accurate description of our entertainment culture than we see here in verse 3?  God says run away from these sins of our past, not continue to participate.  Our unbelieving friends should be “surprised” (vs 4) by our refusal to participate.  Why?  Because it is so rare.  Are people surprised by how we parent?  Are people surprised by how we spend our money?  Are people surprised by our refusal to join the gossip and complaining in our workplace?  Are people surprised by what we feed our minds?  This is where we often lose our impact.  Sadly, our Christian life is not surprising.  Let your life be a surprise by your radical identification with Christ.

Surprise the world around you by refusing to “run into the flood of dissipation” that is our current culture’s mentality and be prepared for rejection as “they malign you.”  Stand firm, even if it offends, if it is for the cause of Christ.  Do not offend by being obnoxious, by being angry, by being judgmental.  There is no blessing in that.  And rest in the judgment of Christ.  After all, “He who is ready to judge the living and the dead” is the one we seek to please above all others.

May holiness be the adornment of your house.

Facing Adversity

The blessing of adversity is not an oxymoron.  The goal of these posts on prosperity and adversity is not to depress us.  The promise of adversity is not for us to adopt an Eeyore-like attitude of “woe is me,” looking for the negative in every event and relationship.  It is also not about bringing on adversity needlessly by being obnoxious, offensive, etc.  Adversity will have no trouble finding us when we follow the path God has laid out for us.

The goal is to develop joy in the face of adversity.  It sounds difficult, and it is without the supernatural resources we have in Christ Jesus.  Being joined with Christ in His death is our power and following the example of His joy is our strength.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3).  What I have been trying to say is this, “Don’t be surprised by adversity” and “don’t grow weary and lose heart” under its weight.  Instead, embrace adversity with the resources of the supernatural Christian life as being part and parcel with our current kingdom experience.  May you be strengthened by it.

I also would like to quickly add that these prosperity and adversity posts do not imply that God does not financially bless or miraculously heal new covenant believers.  Far from it.  I have seen in our own experience God’s provision ranging from us selling our car to pay the hospital when our first child was born (we were college students with no insurance) to blessings of unexpected financial windfall.  I’m just saying that as I understand the New Testament, there is no ironclad promise, no magic spiritual formula for acquiring wealth.

On the healing side, I believe God heals today.  In fact, I think we are generally too timid in our prayers for the sick.  I believe God heals.  Sometimes it is by His choice that we can’t explain.  Sometimes it is by our prayers of faith.  Sometimes it is not at all.  Healing miracles are happening today.  I just can’t be certain when and where.  But I am content knowing that God knows the when and where for His glory and our good.

Prosperity and Adversity – One More Thought

“This, I command you, that you love one another.  If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (Jn 15:17-21).

One last thought on prosperity and adversity.  At a fundamental level, prosperity teaching is a slap in the face to the persecuted church.  Think about what the persecuted church has lost.  They have lost their wealth.  Their land, a common source of income, has been taken away.  There homes have been burned to the ground.  They have been fired from their jobs.  In short, their ability to earn a living has become all but impossible.  If we say, “God wants us to be rich,” what are we saying to the persecuted church suffering for their faith?

Secondly, they have lost their health.  They have been beaten.  They have been starved.  They have been killed because of their allegiance to Christ.  Can anyone with a lick of common or theological sense fit their situation into a prosperity theology?

Pray for the persecuted church.  Support the persecuted church.  And where possible, provide rescue to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  But don’t talk to them about a health and wealth gospel.  It is a slap in the face to these heroes of the faith.

Prosperity and Adversity

When I took my first full-time job out of college, we moved to Dallas, Texas, the prosperity teaching capital of the world.  This health and wealth gospel was foreign to me and to the auto workers and farmers and bus drivers I had grown up around in Northern Indiana.  I was interested in getting in on this deal; you know, with the more money and all.

Soon, two situations had me running for the exit.  First, as I began to receive literature from these prosperity teachers, I noticed a curious pattern.  Based on the testimonials, it seemed God’s financial blessing only worked for those on a variable income.  For some reason miraculous increases in wealth came to realtors, salespeople, business owners, and, of course, the prosperity teachers themselves.  No testimonials from hourly employees or those on a straight salary.  And much to my chagrin, no geophysicists.

I also encountered a personal situation that flew in the face of prosperity teaching.  A family friend, a young wife and mother of two children, died of stomach cancer.  Shortly before her death, she said, “I’ve confessed every possible sin I can think of…I’ve prayed with all the faith I can muster…It’s not happening for me…I’m dying.”  Something isn’t working when only those on commission and tele-evangelists are getting rich and believers are dying young.

At some level our theology has to agree with the realities of life.  In fact, the observation that what God says in the Bible explains so much of the reality I experience is the apologetic that sealed my choice to become a Christ follower.  If your theology says all people are under six feet tall…well, it’s just not true.

The key to unlocking the the true meaning of the apparent prosperity teaching of the Bible is to understand the difference between the Old and New Testaments, the old and new covenant, the old and new arrangement between us and God.  The most casual reading of the Old Testament suggests that prosperity is a common picture of God’s blessing.  From Abraham to Jacob to the Israelites to Job to the Proverbs, God’s blessing (and punishment) was generally vary tangible, immediate, and temporal.  God’s blessing and curse were clear and right out front for all to see.  This is the testimony of the Old Testament.

But something changed at the coming of Christ.  God’s character; God’s incomparable greatness and His care for His people (see Isaiah chapters 40-66) did not change.  But how He demonstrates His care changed dramatically.  Remember the word testament means covenant or arrangement.  Something changed in our arrangement with God.  Just as our tendency is to add Jesus to the Old Testament in the area of the law (legalism), we also are inclined to add Jesus to the prosperity teaching of the Old Testament rather than recognize the new arrangement.

Francis Bacon summed it up well in 1512 when he wrote, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.” Our facial expression becomes quizzical as we think about that thought.  Could adversity really be the blessing of the New Testament?  I believe it can and it is.  In fact, a careful study uncovers Scripture from every book of the New Testament that supports this idea.  In the interest of space we will only mention two.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of God with a farming story.  Going straight to Jesus’ own interpretation (Mt 13:24-30,36-43), let me summarize the story.  The farmer (God) planted the good seed (His people) in the field (the world).  His enemy (Satan) secretly sowed some tares or weeds (sons of the evil one).  That the two were planted together was unknown until they began to grow.  God’s workers (the angels), upon seeing the weeds growing with the wheat said, “Should we go yank out the weeds (destroy your adversaries and the adversaries of your people)?”  In other words, “Should we employ the Old Testament method of destroying evil on sight, in the here and now (and by implication allow your people to prosper)?”

God’s surprising new covenant reply was, “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” (Mt 13:30).  In the church age, our present situation, righteousness and evil are growing together and results in both adversaries and adversity for the new covenant believer.

There are many other New Testament passages which emphasize the adversity we face waiting for our eternal reward.  The temporal and immediate reward system of the Old Testament has been replaced by something new.  This new system was recognized by the apostle John even in his greeting to the churches in the book of Revelation.  “I, John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:9).  A fellow-partaker in tribulation.  A prisoner in exile because of his allegiance to Jesus.  Not exactly the good life.

But the story of John and the story of the early church is a testimony to words that John heard with his own ears in the upper room.  Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).