1 Peter chapter 2 focuses on a few key concepts including spiritual growth, a reminder of the duties and privileges of God’s people, as well as a reminder of the importance of submission to the authorities placed over us.
As a foundational part of this maturation process Peter specifies in verse 1 a few sins that we, as believers, are to “put off”, “put away”, or, in other words, avoid in our lives: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.
Malice in a broad sense could be perceived to encompass all forms of wickedness; however, in a more precise sense, malice is settled overgrown anger. An anger that inflames and overwhelms your thoughts, leading you to design schemes of mischief or revenge.
Deceit, also known as guile, causes damage to another by using flattery, falsehoods, and delusions against someone else’s ignorance or weakness.
Hypocrisy, when looked at through the scope of religion, can be defined as counterfeit piety. On the other hand, hypocrisy in a civil context can be defined as counterfeit friendship. This is lived out when giving high compliments that you don’t really mean and when you make promises that you never intend to keep.
Envy is a grieving over the good and welfare of others - be that their abilities, prosperity, fame, or success.
And evil speaking refers to speaking against another or defaming them. Backbiting would be a great example of evil speaking.
Knowing that Peter is writing to a group of believers it almost seems a bit odd that the evils he is so forthright in cautioning to avoid are all things that you would, at first thought, not associate with true followers of Christ. Afterall, we as Christians are striving daily to reflect Christ more clearly and NONE of the things listed above are a reflection of Him, His character, or His heart. In fact, they are the exact opposite of who He is and who He has called us to be.
When it comes to issues that are so blatantly “wrong”, it almost seems that Peter is offering a teaching that is a bit too elementary for his audience. But, as is true in everything, the Lord had a point and purpose for this teaching.
It is important to remember that even the most seasoned and matured Christians have to:
Be cautious of and on the lookout for sin because, though we are sanctified, we are still liable to temptations.
1 Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
Remember that our best efforts given to God do not hold value if they are not done with the right heart and motivation.
1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and or angels, but not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
And 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us to “do everything for the glory of God”
Friends, our motives, not just our actions, matter to God!
And finally, we must remember that even one sin not laid aside can and will hinder our spiritual growth and can also hinder the spiritual growth of others.
We see this truth in various places all throughout scripture including in Matthew 6:24 where we are reminded that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
I am a very visual learner and as a young teenager my youth pastor gave the illustration of a fish swimming upstream. He explained that as long as the fish keeps doing what God designed it to do, swim up stream, it continued to draw closer to it’s desired destination. But the moment the fish stops swimming, it is going to be swept up in the current and taken farther down stream than it ever desired to go.
That visual has stuck with me and been brought to my remembrance countless times over the past 25+ years since I first heard it. And it serves as just as powerful of a reminder to me now as it was to me then that no matter how long you have been swimming upstream, fighting against the current and the culture around you, the moment you stop swimming, the moment you give into temptation, the moment you place a dream or desire above the Lord and His leading and calling, you begin to get swept up in the current, which will always draw you further away from, rather than closer to, what the Lord desires to do in and through you.
But do you want to know the amazing thing about this upstream journey that, at times, can feel impossible to endure? If you ever find yourself having been swept up by the current, all you have to do to get back “on track” if you will, is to start swimming again! The moment a fish begins fighting against that current is the moment the fish starts moving upstream and once again moving closer to its desired destination.
So I encourage you today, as Peter encouraged the believers then:
If life is going great and you feel invincible, don’t forget to keep out a watchful eye for the temptations that can and are coming to try and trip you up along the way. Because though Jesus is invincible, you my friend are not! Be alert. Be on guard. And walk confidently and boldly in CHRIST and not yourself!
Check your motives! We can do a lot of things IN THE NAME of Jesus without doing them with the HEART of Jesus.
And finally, those things that you have decided to give a blind eye to in your life despite the Lord’s consistent nudging to release it - let them go! Lay it at the feet of Jesus and walk away. Because what may seem inconsequential on the surface could be a stumbling block in disguise.
So even when it doesn’t make sense - trust and follow the Lord’s leading, heading the depth and weight of the words found in Isaiah 55: 8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, “ declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”