TASTE AND SEE THAT THE LORD IS GOOD 1 Peter 2:1 – 3, August 11, 2020
Reflection | The end of chapter 1 of Peter’s letter marked the conclusion of an extended line of thought. Peter began by praising God for the living hope we, as Christians have, thanks to being born again through the eternal word of God – that is Jesus. Building on this declaration of the Gospel, Peter went on to encourage us to focus on pursuing holiness. Such a pursuit is not a matter of us trying to be perfect but rather of being gradually and ultimately perfected through the work of the Holy Spirit by living out of the grace we have been given.
Peter rounds out this call to be made holy – whole in Christ – by beckoning us to love one another deeply, earnestly, and continually. Built into our identity as followers of Jesus is the responsibility and the empowerment to love others like Jesus loves us. In making this rallying cry, Peter emphasizes yet again, such love is borne not from within ourselves but from the pure word of God, the Spirit of Christ, implanted within us.
Now, with the start of chapter 2, as Peter begins by writing “Therefore,” he makes it clear that what he is about to say rests upon his previous teaching. He continues to be directive in how we are to be in relationship with each other: “Rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (verse 1). Similar to Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:8-9, Peter’s words here are more of an implied command rather than a direct one. In other words, Peter is outlining what naturally flows of those who are abiding in Christ.
In this case, he describes the various attitudes and actions through which we fail to give love to others – dispositions that a follower of Jesus yields to the purging of within themselves through the work of the Spirit.
The Greek word for “malice” simply means evil – specifically evil intentions. Sometimes we may impulsively or carelessly say or do something that hurts another person. In such cases, we, hopefully, acknowledge our wrong and out of true remorse, seek to make amends. Such a corrected misstep is not a case of malice. Malice is ill-will – not an accidental or reactionary response but a habit of mind – with the intentional desire or purpose to cause or to see harm come to another person. Seeking revenge is borne of malice.
Deceit is intentional dishonesty. To be deceitful is to behave treacherously – to bait or lure another person so as to take advantage of that person. In Genesis 27, what Rebekah and Jacob do in order to make Isaac think he is interacting with his other son, Esau, is deceitful.
Hypocrisy is also falseness or play-acting. To be hypocritical is to profess a standard and more importantly, to hold others accountable to a standard, that one does not live up to. Hypocrisy is often motivated by pride – an inability to admit our weakness while attempting to judge others.
Envy is discontent that becomes resentful – a grudge or spite. Envy is not the same thing as jealousy. Whereas envy always has an outward focus in that we resentfully desire some item, person, or attribute possessed by someone else, jealousy is more internalized as it centers around the protection of one’s own items or relationships. Biblically, jealousy, in certain circumstances, can be a positive thing – such as God’s loving jealousy (seeking to protect from harm or abuse) of His children and His creation. Biblically, envy is never presented as positive.
Slander is literally evil-speaking. To slander another person is to use false or misleading words to defame another’s character or reputation. Sometimes slander is openly declared –boldly, bluntly, and wrongly. Other times slander is insidiously subtle, seemingly harmless, and perhaps even claimed to be unintentional.
Back-biting is a form of slander. So is passing along hearsay or indulging in speculations or presumptions – particularly that cast a negative perception of another person – all for the sake of enhancing our own standing or for swaying an outcome in a direction we desire. Slander is one of the behaviors Paul lists as a mark of those who hate God! (see Romans 1:30). James labels slander as demonic behavior (see James 3:15-16).
While Peter is not being exhaustive here, what all five of these dispositions have in common is that they represent a choice to focus on my benefit over and above the interests of someone else. Setting aside such postures, Peter urges us to crave something other than feeding our own ego. He writes, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation” (verse 2).
The metaphor of followers of Jesus being like “babies” is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe Christians who are immature, more driven by vice than virtue. (see Hebrews 5:12 or 1 Corinthians 3:1). Peter, however, uses this image in a different way. In appealing for us to be like babies, Peter is talking about being pure and untarnished by the evils he has just listed and instead to be receptive and dependent on different food.
Again, unlike Paul and the author of Hebrews, Peter, in calling for us to crave “spiritual milk” is not referring merely to the basic or elementary teachings of God and the Gospel. The original language of the phrase he uses here is “milk of the logos or the word.” The word or Word of God can refer both to God’s revealed word in Scripture and the Incarnation, the Word made flesh (see John 1:14). Hence, Peter is counseling us to crave not only the written word of the scriptures but also, more significantly, from our relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This broader understanding of the milk Peter has in mind lines up with the tagline he adds in verse 3, an allusion to Psalm 34, “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Notice that Peter here is commanding us about what to want – what to hunger for. We have to be told what to crave because this appetite doesn’t always come to us naturally. Newborn infants will sometimes reject the very milk they are crying for, at first, until they get a taste of it. And then they guzzle hungrily. And then a typical baby feeds every two to three hours!
Like a little baby cries out for milk in order to be nurtured and to grow, we mature in the faith as we hunger for God’s word, as we crave and seek the presence of Jesus in wherever we are and whatever we are doing. There is a sequence here. As we receive and feed on the Word and the Spirit of God, we recognize and experience the goodness of God in our lives. This in turn increases our appetite for and our reliance upon Christ. A synergy develops. The more we drink deeply of the divine grace which fully sustains us, and on which we fully depend, the more we flourish. The more we digress from promoting and defending ourselves in our relationships with others and the more we progress in being enabled to do the work of freely and fully loving each other as our Father loves us.
Consider & Discuss | What is your daily diet – not in terms of physical food, but rather the other content we consume in terms of what we read, what we listen to, what we watch, and the attitudes and behaviors in which we indulge? Is your current diet more like what Peter calls us to rid ourselves of? How much is the Word and the Spirit of God a part of your diet?
Read Psalm 63. Do you crave God as King David did? Where do you identify with David’s words this psalm? How have you tasted that the Lord is good? Are you feasting on the joy and the confidence we have in our relationship with God in Christ? What might it look like to change your daily diet, to develop more of a hunger for Jesus? How might this alter the kind of table you set before others – and the kind of food you are serving them?
Prayer Focus | Founder of the Feast, of the true food, the only food that satisfies, thank You for the daily provision of Your Word and Your Spirit. Like manna from heaven, both are present to us each and every day. And yet, we confess our appetites for other types of sustenance. How easy it is to become full of malice and envy and yet to find ourselves left empty. How tempting it can be to indulge in envy, hypocrisy, and slander and yet discover we are drinking the very poison we believe we are serving to others. Cleanse our palates, O God. Give us a deeper hunger and thirst for what gives life rather than takes it – for You. Teach us to crave and to rely on the pure milk of Your grace and truth so that we may continue to grow in the faith you provide, so that we may mature into the fullness of the image and likeness of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.