1 Peter 2:1-3
November 14, 2004
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:1-3).
This is a passage with huge implications for our church at this particular moment in our history. Peter’s words are rich with insight and deep with meaning. If you have any interest in growing spiritually, pay attention to what Peter says because he is speaking to you. And if you haven’t been growing as you would like, pay even closer attention because Peter connects two things that we often keep separate.
You can see those two things quite clearly in verses 1 and 2. Verse 1 speaks of five wrong attitudes that must be put out of the Christian life. When Peter says “rid yourselves,” he uses a verb that was used for stripping off dirty clothes. If you are a Christian, you must strip these five things out of your life: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Becoming a Christian means changing you wardrobe. These five attitudes went out of style when you were born again.
The word malice refers to evil actions that characterize the pagan world. It’s a general term for evil in all its various forms. Malice is a desire to hurt someone with words or deeds. It speaks of a smoldering resentment that causes you to lash out at others.
As a fisherman, Peter would have understood the word deceit, which really means to “bait the hook.” It’s what you do when you play a trick in order to get your way. You are deceitful when you tell a lie or omit the truth in order to gain a personal advantage. Deceit is a clever form of deliberate dishonesty.
The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek theater and referred to the practice of putting on a mask and playing a part on stage. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he is not.
Envy was one of the seven deadly sins. One writer called envy the last sin Christians will confess because it is so ugly. Envy is jealousy at the success of others or happiness at another’s misfortune. It is the poison of the soul that turns you into a resentful, angry, grouchy, miserable, critical person.
The term slander translates a Greek word that literally means to “speak down” about someone. It includes gossip, tale bearing, backbiting, spreading rumors, passing along a bad report, taking cheap shots, using humor to lacerate others, disparaging comments, unkind words. You can slander someone with the raised eyebrow, the unfinished sentence, veiled accusations, twisting the truth to make another person look bad, using subtle nuance to give a negative cast, judging others unfairly, and putting others down to make yourself look good. Slander is usually the fruit of envy, and because it is almost always done behind the back of another person, it is the seedbed of hypocrisy.
An Email From a Church Member
Let me stop right there and hold those five things up for you to look at: Malice … Deceit … Hypocrisy … Envy … Slander. These rotten attitudes have no place in the Christian life. There is no room for them in the Christian wardrobe. And there should be no room for them inside the Christian church. These are all relational sins. You might call them horizontal sins because they touch on how we relate to others around us. And by definition, they deal with how we respond to the difficult people we rub shoulders with every day.
I wonder how well we are doing in this area. This week I received an email from a church member that made me stop and think. Here’s part of the email:
Last Sunday you had a multifaceted message, but one thing you mentioned really put into words something I’ve been deeply thinking about. It was the part about loving your neighbor. None of us does enough in this regard, but I feel that our attitude towards church members always needs improvement.
Just as you mentioned the head turning in the hallway, I’ve observed “The Parting of the Sea” in the hallway. Why is it we can’t overcome the attitude that every person must look like us, act like us, be our same size, talk the same as us, and be as LOVABLE as we are?
It bothers me so much that we, largely as a church, discriminate against most newcomers because they aren’t in the clique, and because they present larger challenges to us as Christians. Perhaps they are a bit obnoxious; perhaps they are more outspoken; perhaps they have few social graces; perhaps they don’t match our stereotypes.
Aren’t those the people Christ has commanded us to love? Aren’t we to make a special effort to show those people we love them and care for them however little they fall into our stereotyped definition of a fellow Christian?
It bothers me to see people run from such people and it bothers me to hear all of the gossip that those people produce. Perhaps we all need reminders about these things. Love thy neighbor as thyself! That is, even if he’s a bit too loud; even if he is a bit demanding; even if they dress weirdly; even if they lack social graces to fit them into the mold we have formed; even if they have less mental capacity; even if they are braggarts; even if they don’t know about deodorant; even if they monopolize conversations; even if they are loud!
I have heard such reprimands that if I were the person to whom such addresses were directed I would leave in tears and never go back to that church. Perhaps I might leave all churches, as how people are at one might be an indicator of how most Christians treat the less likable.
These are just some thoughts I’ve been feeling while listening to the gossip and nitpicking many people have done regarding newcomers (and even long time attenders) who are not as socially graced as they are! Isn’t gossiping a sin?
If Your Horizontal is Messed Up …
Before I say anything about that note, let’s consider the second thing that Peter talks about in this passage. Verse 2 challenges us to crave “pure spiritual milk.” We are to crave the milk of God’s Word the way a baby craves its mother’s breast. Babies have an infallible and unmistakable way of letting you know when they are hungry. The baby gets fussy and begins to cry, and there is nothing to be done but to feed him. Milk for a baby is not a fringe benefit. It’s necessary for life. By using this image, Peter doesn’t mean that his readers were all brand-new or “baby” Christians. And he’s not comparing milk to meat. Peter means that we are all to be as hungry for God’s Word as a baby is for its mother’s milk. And the reason is clear—”so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” There is an important progression here:
1) The Word of God for the believer is like milk to a baby.
2) We need the Word like a baby needs to drink milk.
3) Just as babies cannot grow without milk, we cannot grow without the Word.
The key to verse 2 is the word “crave,” which means deep desire that leads to vigorous action. The word means to yearn for something to the point that it becomes a consuming desire.
Let me put these two thoughts together:
1) We are to lay aside the rotten attitudes that hinder our brotherly love. That’s verse 1.
2) We are to earnestly crave God’s Word so we can grow spiritually. That’s verse 2.
We can say this in a slightly different way:
Verse 1 describes certain horizontal sins that we need to put off.
Verse 2 describes the vertical reality of spiritual growth and a closer walk with God.
Here is Peter’s whole point: The way we treat one another has a direct impact on our relationship with God. As long as we harbor these relational sins and wrong attitudes, we will never grow spiritually. These relational sins are like junk food of the soul. They choke off our craving for the Word so that instead of growing, we stay just as we are.
You can treat people unkindly and gossip about them and harbor bitterness, you can have a sharp tongue and a critical spirit and you can look down your nose at people who aren’t like you. As long as you do that, you will never grow spiritually not even if you come to church four times a week and go to Bible study every other day. Those relational sins will choke off the Word of God in your life. That explains why some people can come to church for years and never get better. They’re harboring a relational garbage pit on the inside. They make excuses for their envy, they ignore their gossip, they make light of their cutting comments, and they justify their meanness toward others. And they don’t grow because they can’t grow.
When your horizontal is messed up, your vertical will never be right. God has wired us up so that the horizontal and the vertical go together. John says it very plainly in his first epistle: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20). We cannot say, “I hate you” to a friend or family member and then say, “Lord, I love you. Please bless me right now.” God says, “No deal.” It doesn’t work that way.
Junk food has a way of messing up our appetite. It happened to me twice this week. On Thursday afternoon I drove out to REI Sports in Oak Brook looking for some cold-weather gear for my bike riding this winter. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I felt like I had gone all the way out there so I ought to buy something. So I found a bag of trail mix and ate it on the way home. And when supper came, Marlene had fixed a wonderful meal, but I could hardly eat it because I wasn’t very hungry. Then on Friday afternoon, I ate a late lunch. I’m not sure why I did this but I drove up to Gene & Jude’s hot dog stand in River Grove. Last May, Steve Boisse, Ted King and I rode our bikes from my house to Parky’s in Forest Park and then to Gene & Jude’s so we could conduct the Great Chicago Hot Dog Challenge. We ate hot dogs and french fries and then rated them in various areas such as bun, wieners, toppings, fries, and so on. It turned out to be a dead-even tie. On Friday I decided to go to Gene & Jude’s by myself. I shouldn’t have done that because when you go by yourself, you are tempted to eat too much. And that’s what happened to me. While I was standing in line, I thought to myself, “You should order some extra fries.” The fries are fabulous. They slice the potatoes while you watch, and they throw the slices right in the hot oil. Then they put the fries on top of the hot dog and serve it in a greasy brown paper bag. It’s a little bit of heaven. But they serve plenty of fries with the hot dog. You don’t need extra fries. But I ordered them anyway. And ate every one of them. About an hour or two later Marlene called and said she was preparing a special supper because it was Friday night and Mark was going to be gone for the evening. Marlene is a marvelous cook and she wasn’t happy to hear that I wasn’t hungry. But that wasn’t her fault. It was mine for eating too many greasy french fries.
But that’s what happens when you eat too much junk food. It messes up your appetite. And the same thing happens spiritually when you indulge all the relational sins that we like to glibly excuse. When you’re angry or upset or critical or mean or unkind or speak cutting words, that’s a poison in your soul that chokes off your desire for the Word.
When your horizontal is out of whack, your vertical is out of whack also.
Taste and See
In verse 3 Peter explains the heart of the problem and the road to a solution when he says, “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Do you see how it all comes back to God once again? Loving your brothers isn’t about you or them. It’s about God. Spiritual growth isn’t about you. It’s about God!
When we are angry and bitter …
When we begin to envy others …
When we criticize those who aren’t like us …
When we pass along rumors …
When we respond harshly to those who bother us …
When we lose our temper …
When we answer hastily with foolish words …
When we judge others harshly …
When you answer your spouse with harsh, cruel words …
When you are impatient and irritable toward your children …
When you have no time to be kind to the less fortunate …
When you go through your day with a perpetual scowl …
When we act like that, it is always because we have forgotten the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” God tastes better than sin! Revenge is sweet, but God is sweeter. Sin brings pleasure for a moment, but with God there are eternal joys. You got a taste of God’s goodness when you came to Christ. Do you remember what that felt like? Do you remember how wonderful it was to have the load of sin lifted off your shoulders? Do you remember what it felt like to finally be free? Some of us have forgotten what we were like, and we have forgotten where we came from, and we have forgotten the pit we were in before Jesus rescued us. But when you forget God’s goodness, it’s easy to become critical and judgmental of others. Your bitterness will kill your appetite for his sweetness, or his sweetness will dispel your bitterness. You can’t have both at the same time!
After I preached this message, a man said to me, “I need to go buy a broom.” When I asked why, he said, “So I can sweep some junk out my life.” I think a lot of us need to do some soul-sweeping this week. And if you’ve been eating too much spiritual junk food, you need to pray, “Make me hungry for you, O Lord!”
All in the Same Boat
Last night there was an extraordinary concert here benefiting Breakthrough Urban Ministries. They do an incredible job reaching people in the inner city of Chicago. Over the last few years, we’ve had a chance to partner with them and see firsthand the power of Jesus Christ to reclaim broken lives. So last night we hosted a benefit featuring the choir from Landmark Baptist Church, plus our own Celebration Choir, plus the musical group Proclaim. Near the end of the concert, as Proclaim was about to sing its last song, Keith Johnson gave us a mini-sermon on the importance of caring about the hurting people of the world. Here’s a fact you probably don’t know. He and a few others go out to the west side of Chicago every Friday night to witness to the prostitutes to bring them to Jesus. Some of those women who have been reached for Christ now attend this church. It’s not easy for them to come here, but they do, and I’m glad they are here because their presence demonstrates the power of the gospel and helps us move one step closer to being a truly Christian church. Remember what I said a few weeks ago. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. It’s just that some of us have more respectable sins, that’s all. But apart from Jesus, we’d all be going to hell. During his little mini-sermon, Keith said something like this: “I’m so glad to be part of this ministry that reaches out to people who don’t look right or act right and sometimes they don’t smell right. But that’s okay, because someone reached out to me when I was in need of a Savior.”
You know what our problem is? We’ve forgotten what we smelled like before Jesus saved us. That’s not just a problem of upper-middle-class churches in prosperous villages like Oak Park, but it is our problem. We didn’t smell very good on the inside, and maybe we didn’t smell so good on the outside, but someone came to us with the Good News and led us to Jesus. We’ve forgotten how we used to stink in the eyes of the Lord. We’ve forgotten the pit we were in when God found us. We’ve forgotten what it means to be lost. It’s time that we started remembering the goodness of the Lord.
If you ever remember the goodness of the Lord to you, you won’t have the time or the inclination to look down on others or harbor hatred or bitterness or envy or malice in your heart. What is the answer? Try harder? Be nice to each other? The answer is not in trying harder or in being nicer. The answer is not in you at all. The answer is God! Every part of your life as a Christian is about God—who he is and what he has done for you. Has the Lord been good to you? Have you tasted his goodness in your life? Has God rescued you? Did he answer your prayers when you cried out to him?
If so, give thanks and remember his goodness. Rejoice in his goodness. Let his goodness be the foundation of your life, and you will find your anger and malice and envy and all those other junk food relational sins slipping away. Remember God’s goodness and you will crave more of it just as a baby craves its mother’s milk.
So let me repeat the phrase I’ve used several times, only this time with a twist: The horizontal is the key to the vertical, and the vertical is the key to the horizontal. It’s all about God.
What about that email I received a few days ago? I think it’s basically true. The answer is not for me to scold you because scolding does no good. We look down on others because we have forgotten how bad we smelled before we tasted God’s goodness. Remember his goodness to you, and you’ll start treating people with true brotherly love, and then you’ll start to grow. That’s Peter’s message to us today. And it’s all about God once again. Amen.