Therefore, Act

1 Peter 2:1-3 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation- 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Welcome back to 1 Peter. After a several-week break we’re set to begin the second chapter of Peter’s remarkable letter. As you undoubtedly remember, 1 Peter is a letter written by the apostle Peter to a group of Christians who were exiled and suffering because of their faith in Jesus. The point of the letter was to challenge these suffering saints to honor God even in their suffering to describe for them what that looks like.

While many of us use seasons of suffering to justify all kinds of sin, Peter charges Christians to view their suffering as the remarkable opportunity it is. Suffering provides greater contrast than nearly everything else in this life. When people suffer, the world expects them to act a certain way. Peter teaches his readers that because of their new life in Jesus, Christians ought to look dramatically different from the rest of the world in their times of suffering. Christians honor God in our suffering when we are selfless instead of selfish; engaged rather than apathetic; hard-working rather than lazy; encouraging rather than complaining; hopeful instead of hopeless; confident rather than despairing; faithful rather than faithless; generous rather than stingy; kind rather than harsh; loving rather than demanding. These differences, Peter argues, honor God by demonstrating the glory and truthfulness of the gospel and the legitimacy of our faith in it.

To that end, chapter 1 was largely intended to remind the suffering saints of the nature of the gospel they’d believed in and the salvation it brought. God had caused them to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1:3). As children of God, they were given an inheritance in heaven that could not be taken or lessened or destroyed (1:4). This new birth and the faith it came through were more precious than gold (1:7). Their salvation was one that the prophets spoke of and angels longed to see (1:10-12). Their salvation was made possible by the precious blood of Jesus offered as a ransom for their sins (1:18-19).

Peter’s point in doing so is to show them that rightly understood, the joy of the gospel overshadows any amount of earthly suffering. Indeed, that is why Christians will look different in their suffering—because they have the joy of the gospel.

Just like getting a paper cut can’t diminish the glory of the $1,000,000 check that caused it, no amount of earthly suffering can overcome the glory of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christians must, therefore, Peter argues, suffer differently than non-Christians…because of the gospel, we can’t not.

There are countless specific ways faithful Christians will suffer differently from non-Christians. Beginning in chapter 1 Peter mentioned a few: hope fully (not in your job or family or savings or prognosis or government, but in) grace (1:13), be holy (not as you might define it, but) as God is holy (1:15), and fear (no man or circumstance, but) God alone (1:17), and love (all people, but especially) other Christians (1:22).

In chapter 2, Peter continues giving practical, gospel-application. That is, he describes the types of actions that flow from suffering Christians who believe in the gospel. In the first few verses (which we’re looking at this morning) he focuses specifically on practical ways for suffering saints to love other Christians. Again, he picks back up on his charge in 1:22 and expands on what it looks like for each of us to love the church during hard times.

Please pray with me that God would give us souls that believe and love and are overwhelmed by the truths of chapter 1 so that the actions of chapter 2 are the most obvious things in the world.

The first word of chapter 2 (so) is a short, simple word with profound implications. The word translated “so” (or therefore), indicates that what follows is dependent on what came before it. If it were not for the gospel truths of chapter one, the applications of chapter 2 would have no merit. It is because of the nature of God and his gospel that Peter’s commands make sense and carry legitimate imperative oomph.

It makes no sense to run out of a building in a panic if the building isn’t on fire. It makes no sense to call 911 if there isn’t an emergency. It makes no sense to take an aspirin if you don’t have a headache. And it makes no sense to act on the claims of Christianity if they are not true. If God is not who he says he is and hasn’t done what he said he’s done, and if we are not who God says we are and if we haven’t done what the bible says we’ve done, then Peter is making inappropriate and unrealistic demands. But God is who he says he is, he has done what he says he’s done, we are who God says we are, and we’ve done what he says we’ve done, and, (as Peter says at the beginning of chapter 2) so, we must act in radical ways, even in times of radical difficulty.

It is only because of the reality of God and his gospel that Christians ought to act on it; especially when it will mean increased hardship for them. And this leads to the next point which is to clarify who chapter 2 and following are for.

Indeed, right from the beginning of the chapter, Peter makes clear who he is talking to. When it comes to his practical commands, Peter is not speaking to non-Christians. He is not speaking to people who think of themselves as Christians, but do not bear the fruit of the gospel. He is talking to those (2:3) who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. That is, he is talking to those whom God has caused to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1:3); to those who have been born again by the imperishable seed of the word of God (1:23).

The great distinguishing mark between Christians and non-Christians isn’t ultimately what we believe; it is ultimately what we love. What we believe is not the end. What we love is the end. What we believe is the means God has chosen to bring us to the end. The true end, Peter (and the rest of the biblical writers) says, is an insatiable, unrivaled appetite for God and, therefore, for his Word.

This appetite is not in any of us from birth. We are born with an appetite only for the things of our flesh and the world. That’s what sin does. That’s what sin is. Broken appetites are a key component of the death we inherit from Adam. Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins and give us new taste buds. On the cross he absorbed the wrath of God for our rebellion against God (namely, for rejecting him as that which alone satisfies) and he secured for his people new minds and new stomachs. To be a Christian is to believe new things and to delight in new things. Our delights, not our knowledge, are the best indicator of the reality of new birth.

What follows (the “so” at the beginning of chapter 2) is for those who have through the new birth been given such an appetite for God. “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…put away all malice…”. If you have tasted that the lord is good put away all deceit. If you have tasted that the Lord is good, put away all hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Peter’s point is that a lack of appetite for these things only and necessarily follow from an increased appetite for the Lord.

If, on the other hand, you have not tasted that the Lord is good focus on that. Don’t get caught up in the results of the transformation before the transformation actually takes place. How many people have been crushed under the weight of God’s call to holiness without the strength of God’s Spirit to obey? How many people have been burned out trying to live up to the standard of God without the new birth of God? How many people have spent years trying to be good enough only to eventually give up because their appetite was never changed?

If you are a guest (or, perhaps, if you are a long-time professing Christian who is struggling to obey) , hear this: you will never be saved by your obedience (your good works). Apart from the grace of God you cannot delight in God and, therefore, you cannot truly obey God. The great Christian hope is not that we will be able to do the things Peter calls us to by the sheer force of our will. No, the great Christian hope is that Jesus has already done this for us, and in so doing purchased for us new minds and hearts and taste buds. As Christians “grow up to salvation” (which we will consider in a bit from 2:2), it is not just that our actions change, it is that our appetites change. We increasingly obey because we increasingly delight to obey because we increasingly delight in God (“tasted that the Lord is good”). The new birth of chapter 1 must precede the obedience of chapter 2.

If, on the other hand, God has caused you to be born again and given you a new mind and heart and taste buds, and, therefore, you have tasted and do taste that the Lord is good—and this is inexpressibly important—what follows in chapter two is something we WILL successfully strive for. It is certain. It is what God does in us. This is the same logic he used in 1:23 where he wrote, “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again…”. Because we have been born again (and only because we have been born again), we will increasingly, successfully walk in obedience, even when it is hard, because God is increasingly making it our delight.

Therefore, as we work backwards to the commands of vs.1-2, know that they will require striving, fighting on our part, but also that our ultimate victory in them is as certain as our salvation.

Therefore, act. There is no sense in which we can delight in Jesus and not have it effect every aspect of our lives. Genuine love for Jesus, has implications for every tiny corner of our existence. We cannot truly trust in Jesus without it making a radical difference in everything we think, feel, love, and do. We cannot truly have an appetite for Jesus and not have it creep into our every longing.

Peter begins chapter 2 by describing a few ways that Jesus-oriented taste buds cause us to act in love toward other Christians (he’ll get to how we love non-Christians later). Again, delighting in God and his word is the only thing that will truly kill our appetites for sin. The more we love eating well and exercising regularly, the less we’ll love junk food and couch potatoing (the two simply cannot coexist for long). Similarly, the more we grow to love God and his word, the less we’ll love the things of this earth.

Again, then, all who have tasted the goodness of the Lord must strive to honor God in our suffering by loving those around us in specific ways. First, we must put away all malice. Malice is the desire to see harm or wickedness come upon others. It is in many ways the opposite of love. Peter says that those who have been born again must work to put off every evil desire for suffering to fall on others.

What’s more, Peter explains that we must not put some of our malice away. He does not call God’s people to put most of our malice away. He demands that we put all of it away. Again, delight in the Lord is entirely incompatible with evil intentions toward others.

Second, Christians honor God in our suffering by loving others by putting away all deceit. We cannot delight in God, love others, and try to fraud or trick the people around us. God is truth and, therefore, people who delight in him delight in truth. Increasingly, therefore, we put off the appetite for sinful gain through dishonesty.

Perhaps the clearest biblical example of this is found in Acts 5:1-5,

…a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

Truly delighting in God and true love for other Christians are altogether incompatible with that kind of deceit.

Third, we must put away all hypocrisy. This term originally referred to actors who wore masks; who were one way but presented themselves in another. More generally it refers to insincerity or a lack of genuineness. There are probably many reasons why people act in hypocritical ways, but having a new birth-given, well-developed taste for God and his word are not one of them. God is always, perfectly sincere and genuine. He never puts a mask on or tries to portray himself as something he is not. Therefore, his people must not either.

In my experience this shows up most in the church with people presenting themselves as more spiritually mature or put together than they are. There was one stretch where I’d met with three married couples in one week who were struggling mightily in their marriage. A short time later another man came into my office crushed by the weight of feeling like he didn’t belong at Grace church because it seemed to him as if he was the only imperfect person, and his was the only marriage struggling here. What a tragedy, and what a perfect illustration of the heart behind Peter’s command.

The point is not that every married couple needs to air all of their dirty laundry all the time. Rather, obedience to Peter’s charge—genuine gospel-love for others—means being honest that you’re struggling and not trying to present yourself as having it all figured out when you don’t.

Fourth, we honor God and love others by putting away all envy. Delighting in Jesus means that we already have everything we need and want. If he is our satisfaction (which is what being a Christian means), we are satisfied. Where, then, is there room for envy? Rather than being bothered when others succeed, we rejoice with them. Rather than resenting the blessings of others, we seek to add to them. There is no competition. The blessings of God are not a zero sum game because his blessings are infinite. Christians who have tasted the goodness of the Lord don’t resent or desire to steal the blessings of others.

And finally, suffering saints must love well by putting away all slander. There are only sinful reasons for backbiting, gossiping, and tattling on others. While we may be more tempted toward these things in our suffering, God’s word calls us to something more, and his Spirit empowers us to something more. Delight in God produces love for others which produces a desire for our words to build up and encourage, not tear down and hurt.

Instead of these things (instead of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander), Peter charges his readers to put on a longing for pure spiritual milk. The reason he gives for this is that it is pure spiritual milk that causes Christians to grow up in spiritual maturity. And it is growing up in spiritual maturity that causes Christians to increasingly delight in God, love others, and kill sin. There are two keys here.

First, he compares his readers to newborn babies. This is not to say that they are new converts (although some of them undoubtedly were), but that their appetite for God and his word must be like that of a newborn. If you’ve been around a newborn baby recently (which I believe is required if you come to Grace Church), you’ve noticed that just about all they do is long for things (desire them earnestly). Babies, by the nature of being babies, don’t want things half way. They REALLY want to eat NOW. They REALLY want to sleep NOW. They REALLY want to be held NOW. They REALLY want to be changed NOW.

Our hope and prayer, and the result of the new birth and the Spirit’s work in us, is an ever-increasing longing for God and the things of God. When a newborn knows what it wants, it is relentless in its pursuit of it. It will not rest (or allow you to rest) until she gets it. The first thing to see from 2:2 is that Peter describes maturing Christians in this way.

Second, specifically, Christians are made to long for “pure spiritual milk”. The pure spiritual milk of 2:2 is the imperishable seed of the living and abiding word of God of 1:23. The glory and power of God’s word is that it is what gives us life and it is what gives us growth. This causes a beautiful, powerful cycle to take place. As we long for God and his word, we spend time in God’s word. As we spend time in God’s word it causes us to grow in our faith and sanctify our longings. As we grow in our faith and have our longings sanctified, our appetite for God increases and, therefore, so does our longing for God through his word…and so we give ourselves increasingly to God’s word which gives us an even greater appetite for it and greater spiritual maturity…and on and on and on. God causes his people to be born again by his Word. And as spiritual babes we long for that which gives us life, the gospel.

The bottom line here is once God causes us to be born again, we receive new taste buds for his goodness and new love for the saints. Simultaneously, everything else loses its appeal. It no longer tastes good to us—especially things directly opposed to God (like malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander). And these two things working together are what Peter means by growing up to salvation.

Twice at Grace I’ve given a sermon on the first Sunday of the new year highlighting the rhythm of God’s creation (new hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, generations; recurring celebrations, festivals, sacrifices, etc.). I’ve tried to make the biblical case that where God has created rhythm, he has infused it with grace. Simply, God has built sanctifying power into the aspects of his design that repeat. And so we read passages like Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Again, the point here is that there is a special grace and mercy from God that comes each morning and everywhere there is rhythm in his design.

Today we get to experience one of the more powerful seasons of God’s grace within the rhythm of his creation—a new year. As you consider this text and as you consider growing in Christ in general, I’d like to encourage you to really drill down on an area or two where you are not yet tasting the goodness of the Lord. Perhaps it will be in the area of loving others. Perhaps, specifically it will be loving others by putting off malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Perhaps it will be in the area of longing for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God. Perhaps something else.

Whatever it is, please use the unique grace of God infused in this new year to fight for an appetite that experiences the greater goodness of the Lord than any circumstances you might encounter. To this end, I believe we’d all do well to pick one or two specific areas of focus to “grow up to salvation” in, in the coming year. I’d encourage you to write these down and share them with your DG. Solicit prayer support and accountability. Mostly, though, rest in the knowledge that insofar as you fight for them in faith and insofar as they are truly a part of following Jesus, God is already working these out in you. That’s the good news of the new birth, of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To help you with this—to help you determine what it is that you might go after in 2017—we’ve put a few questions from Donald Witney on the back of the sermon outline.

And, finally, to offer an even more specific suggestion of what you might fight and trust God for this year, we’ve also printed several copies of a few bible reading plans and put them in the back. Consistent, systematic, prayerful reading of God’s word, we believe, is one of the best ways you can learn to increasingly long for the pure spiritual milk of God’s word and grow up to salvation.

As elders, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to help you know the goodness of the Lord and its sanctifying power. Please let us know how we can help.