I very much enjoyed preaching through I Peter chapter 1. There is a lot of great material there, including the gospel. With chapter 2 Peter’s subject changes from salvation to practical Christian living. And to be honest with you, I seriously thought about bringing our study of this letter to a close. With exceptions, the verses still before us are not as exciting or interesting as those we’ve just finished. So I thought about going to Romans 8 or John 14. But if I claim to preach the whole counsel of God, then I shouldn’t deliberately avoid any texts. And if I claim to practice the great commission, then I’m going to have to include: “teaching you to observe all things, whatsoever the Lord has given to us in His epistles.” Our evangelistic outreach as a church will only be as strong as our members are strong in the Lord. This necessitates teaching and preaching those chapters which aren’t exactly thrilling. It also means I will have to work harder to make you – and myself – excited about what Peter tells us.
As I suggested on Wednesday, we will probably bite off larger chunks of scripture per message as we move on. Instead of two lessons from each verse, it may be more like two or three verses per lesson. But I’m not going to confine myself – or the Holy Spirit – in any way, so there will be exceptions. And since there won’t be as many gospel scriptures, we won’t have as many I Peter sermons in our morning services. But we should still have plenty of variety and things in which you might rejoice. This doesn’t mean that our on-going studies will be less important than what we have had recently. In fact, for you saints, these lessons may be more important than another message on regeneration or the sovereignty of God.
Just as Paul often does in his epistles, Peter has done the same thing here. He has laid the foundation for Christian growth. He has reminded us of our salvation in Christ. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit” let’s move forward. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection…” “Perfection?” That is not my word, that is the statement of Hebrews 6:1. The word is “teleiosis,” and it refers to completion.
You and I have a long way to go before we are complete; before we are even remotely perfect. As Paul encouraged Timothy, he is encouraging me: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God (even I Peter 2, 3, 4 and 5), “And is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Paul was not talking about preaching the gospel, but about teaching the rest of the whole counsel of God. He then added the reason: “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Who is to be perfect? “The man of God;” the Christian, the sanctified one, the saint of God.
We won’t be looking at verse 2 this evening, but I’m going to borrow one of its thoughts to use as tonight’s title: “A return to innocence” – “As new born babes.” In some ways, to be the best Christian is to be like an infant. In theology, it would be best if we were full grown and mature. In dealing with the world, whether in defense of the truth or the offence of evangelism, it would be good if we were wearing the whole armor of God, and we knew how to wield the sword of the Spirit. But when it comes to some aspects of our relationship to the Father, it is best if we were like babes. And when it comes to sin, I wish we were all completely innocent and inexperienced. It is to that innocency Peter refers.
He begins chapter 2 with the word “wherefore.”
He says, based upon what I have just shared with you, lay aside those things which hinder your spiritual growth. Based on the new life you have in Christ, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby. The word “wherefore” takes us back a few steps – and then a few more steps back. The first step is found in verse 22 – “See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” If we are going to have a positive spiritual impact on our wicked society, we need to be a society of very different kind. Among other things, we need to be a church filled with familial love – family love.
And the source of that relationship between brethren is founded in our mutual salvation. “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Peter is arguing for unity, harmony and spiritual cohesiveness among the brethren. We need to watch out for those sins which can kill or stifle brotherly love. Because we are being scrutinized by the people we are trying to evangelize. Something must be done if Paul cannot look at John Mark or Barnabas without revealing his anger toward either of them.
Peter lists FIVE SINS which should not be found in God’s people.
They are sins in the sight of God, and they are offences which separate brethren. They are some of the very things which stifle unfeigned, fervent love. He speaks of “malice,” “guile,” “hypocrisy,” “envy” and “evil speaking.”
I wonder how these particular sins were brought to his mind? We are told at the end of this letter that Peter was in Babylon as he wrote. Some interpreters tell us that he was thinking metaphorically of Rome, a new Babylon. The more literal and practical scholars believe that Peter was in Babylon – in today’s Iraq. Whichever, or wherever, he was not in Pontus or Galatia or Bithynia.
So again I ask: why were these five sins in Peter’s mind as he wrote? Of course, it was the Holy Spirit who inspired this epistle and each word in it. The Holy Spirit wanted Peter to mention these sins. I believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Word of God – each and every word was God-breathed. The Spirit, knowing exactly problems were facing the brethren in Asia Minor, led Peter to speak of them. But God often used things in His prophet’s minds and events in their lives to direct them in their ministries. It could be that wherever Peter was at the time, the people around him were struggling with these five sins. Furthermore, the man of God may have seen these problems among the brethren everywhere he went. And he himself may have been struggling with these things. Also, the Holy Spirit had His finger on the pulse of Christianity today as well. He knew that we have these same temptations and sins. I think it is interesting that Paul and James also mention these sins in their letters. The point is: we cannot afford to skip over these sins as not being applicable to us.
The Word of God is a living book; unlike anything found in human literature. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12. The Holy Spirit and the Word were looking into the hearts of the Asians who lived many miles from Peter. And the Word and Spirit were looking to our hearts many centuries later. With which of these sins do you not have problems? Two of them? All of them? Which one of them is going to appear before you tomorrow for the very first time? You can’t know at this point.
Will it be malice? This word is translated “evil,” “wickedness,” “maliciousness,” and “naughtiness” elsewhere in the Bible. Have you ever met a Christian who was simply mean or malicious? I have. Have you ever said anything to someone with the intent of embarrassing him? Hurtingt him? Getting even? Haven’t we all at some point retaliated, reacting to some offence, replying with something equally offensive? I’m not saying that person didn’t sin against you, but your negative reaction was in itself evil and wicked. And as all sports fans know, it’s usually the second guy – the one who retaliates – who gets the first penalty. For the sake of lost souls and for the glory of the Lord, we must show “that we love one another with a pure heart fervently.” And that means putting down malice and that malicious reply.
Then there is guile. Remember, this word is used several times to describe the way the Jewish leadership came to the Lord Jesus. The Bible speaks of their craftiness and their subtle deceit as they approached with a desire to trap the Lord with His own words, or in provoking Him to do something contrary to their law. Conversely, Peter uses the word to glorify the Lord Jesus and to further condemn these things: Verse 22 – “(Christ Jesus) did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Verse 21 – “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Verse 23 – “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” What should we do when, in a moment of high emotion, someone sins against us? In God’s strength, we should walk away, leaving that brother to the Lord who judgeth righteously.
Peter next speaks of a very common, divisive sin: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the wearing of a virtual mask to cover the real relationship we have with another person. For example, it might be the wearing of a smile, when we really aren’t happy to see this person. It might be pretending friendship or friendliness, when there is no desire for friendship. This is precisely to what Peter referred earlier: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
Sometimes people behave hypocritically toward others because they are envious of them. Our envy might involve things the other person possesses: a house, a car, financial ease, great hair or a beautiful complexion. Or our envy might involve intangibles like the ability to speak in public or to sing well; an analytical mind. It might be something subtle like envy about that person’s preference for someone else over you. Our envy very often involves the additional sin of covetousness. “I want what that person has.” We need to join Paul in saying, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
This might be a revealing exercise: Jot the names of all the members of our church down the left side of a piece of paper. Then beside each of those names, write things about that person which you think are really outstanding. Maybe they are things you wish you possessed. The sheet might fill up with things like: friendliness, humility, kindness, a good memory. There might also be those things I just mentioned: his house, his new car; a boat, or financial stability. Then, if I could be permitted to take all of your lists and combine them, I guarantee one thing. Everyone would have something which someone else thinks is desirable; everyone including you. There are things in you about which other people could potentially covet.
We have all been blessed by the Lord. We all have been given various “talents” to borrow from a parable. We all have gifts for which we should be thankful; even things about which other people might envy you. I’m not saying this is the best way for you to deal with your envy, but it might be a good place to start. We should all rejoice in what we possess, and we should to learn to be content with those things. Someone envies your marriage, your retirement, your good health, your joy, your peacefulness. The Bible teaches that we should focus on those blessings we possess rather than on those things which we don’t possess.
Peter’s last point is evil speakings. I said earlier that both Paul and James also exhort the brethren to recognize and shun these divisive sins. In II Corinthians 12 we find the only other use of this same Greek word, but it is translated differently. Paul wrote, “I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” Here Paul uses Peter’s word, but it is translated “backbiting.”
One of the most troublesome sins among the saints is that of the busybody or gossip. How bad and dangerous is the gossiping backbiter? Its poisonous nature cannot be over-emphasized. Just as John links together unbelief and lying with murderers, sorcerers and whoremongers, Peter links together murderers and busybodies. I Peter 4:15 – “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” What does a gossip do? He talks about others behind their backs. But the gossip’s theme isn’t usually the spirituality that person displays or the joy he exudes. Gossips usually focus on the more sinful or questionable side of other people’s lives. And every time they speak, they drive a wedge between the people to whom they are speaking and the people about whom they are speaking, further hindering the unity and the corporate testimony of the church.
Peter rather kindly and politely tells us to “LAY ASIDE” these things.
Do you remember a few weeks ago when I mused about whether Peter was familiar with the letters of Paul? Listen to Colossians 3:8 – “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Not only do we have reference to malice and filthy communication, but also to “putting off.” It’s the same word Peter uses.
Hebrews 12:1 uses that word again when it says, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” There are at least two good reasons to lay aside, or put off, these five sins. One is that we are running a life-long marathon for the glory of the Lord. We need to run as swiftly as possible, according to the strength and ability which the Lord gives us. And we need to run it to its conclusion, joyfully crossing the finish line at the appointed time. But these weights and the sins which beset us, hinder us, slow us and enfeeble us. We cannot be the runners the Lord has commissioned us to be, so long as we are burdened with the effects of our sins.
And then a second scripture reminds us of another reason to put these things aside. Romans 13:12 – “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” We are to lay aside all malice, guilt, hypocrisy, envy and evil speaking, not only that we might better run the Christian race. But we need to lay aside these filthy, stinky, tattered and ugly garments in order that we might put on the armor of God and the characteristics of our Saviour. There is not enough room in our lives for both wickedness and righteousness; sin and service; divine disappointment and divine blessing. We need therefore to “cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”
We have work to do for our Lord and Saviour. We are to glorify His name, and we have a commission to properly bring the gospel to the lost. Furthermore, we have responsibilities to our brethren to “love one another with a pure heart fervently.” We cannot properly fulfil any of these if we are burdened with sinful weights and stinky garments. We need to return to the innocence we had as newly regenerated babes in the family of God. “Wherefore lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes… that ye may grow thereby.”