Consider a person who exercises fastidiously and holds to a strict diet but also abuses alcohol and drugs. That kind of schizophrenic behavior would raise a lot of questions, and rightly so.
The same goes for Christians who carefully guard their spiritual diet but make no effort to avoid or eliminate sinful, spiritual toxins from their lives. Faithfully studying God’s Word is vital to our growth, but it’s not the only factor. We need to recognize sinful attitudes and motivations as carcinogens that can wreak havoc in our spiritual lives.
Right now, these sinful toxins could be poisoning your life, eating away at your usefulness, and causing all sorts of decay and destruction. Peter recognized the threat these sins pose to our spiritual health and commanded his readers to “[put] aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).
The King James translation of 1 Peter 2:1 tells us to “lay aside” all of these negative things. The Greek word used here actually means to “strip off your clothes.” It’s the same thing that is meant in Hebrews 12:1 where we are told to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.” Peter highlights five specific toxins we should strip out of our lives for the sake of our spiritual health: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander.
Strip out the malice. In biblical times, malice meant “wickedness” or “heathen evil”—the characteristic evil of the world surrounding the young Christian church. Peter doesn’t advise laying aside some malice; he wants all of it gone. Today’s Christians are no different than those in the first century. Many of us like to play at Christianity while dabbling in worldly practices. But there is no place in the Christian’s life for the garbage of the world.
A young man once approached a great Bible teacher and said to him, “Sir, I’d give the world to know the Bible as you do.” The teacher looked him in the eye and said, “And that’s exactly what it will cost you!” If we want to grow and develop as Christians, we need to examine ourselves and identify those worldly remnants and scraps that we are hanging on to.
Strip out the deceit. Peter also instructs us that all deceit (or guile) has to be jettisoned from our lives. Impure motives lie at the root of deceit and this always leads to the conscious deception of others. But deceit never offers any long-term payoff—it’s always exposed eventually.
This is a hard lesson to teach children. I used to tell my own children, “It’s really a lot more expensive to lie, because every time I catch you in a lie you are going to be punished much more severely than if you told me the truth.” I had to prove this on occasion, and it was always a hard lesson for everyone—for me to teach and for them to learn—but it was worth it.
Strip out the hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a natural outgrowth of deceitfulness. Non-Christians always like to point out that the church is full of hypocrites, and unfortunately they are right.
Christians sometimes reply to this charge by rightly observing that the church—where people can hear the gospel and be taught the Bible in the right way—is the best place for hypocrites to be. Nonetheless, as Peter plainly shows us, we can’t be content with that as the status quo. Hypocrisy, once uncovered, needs to be repented of. There is no place for it in the life of a sincere Christian. If the believer glibly excuses his hypocrisy, he is taking advantage of God’s grace and is a bigger hypocrite than ever.
Strip out the envy. Reduced to its basic components, envy is simply self-centeredness. Envy is always the last thing to die, because it only dies when the self dies. But as most Christians know, the self is hard to kill.
How many churches have been wrecked, how many missionary organizations have been riddled with dissension, how many families have been destroyed—all by envy? In his letter, James joins with Peter in warning Christians about the demonic influence of envy:
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:14–16)
Strip out the slander. Simply stated, Peter is telling us to quit gossiping. Gossip just might be the most attractive sin for Christians. We may nod vigorously when the preacher warns about it from the pulpit, but on the way home or even while walking to the car we engage in it in any number of ways. We are very clever, of course, to mask it behind words like, “I’m so concerned about Mary” or “Can you fill me in a little so I can pray about it?” Far too much gossip goes on under the guise of prayer and feigned piety.
It is worthwhile to note how all of these five sins are interconnected. Malice (worldliness) inevitably fans the flames of deceit or guile. And deceit and guile lead to hypocrisy, which produces the envy. And the fruit of envy often leads to evil speaking—slanderous gossip.
As deadly as these toxins are, we still gravitate to them. In order to break their hold on our lives, we must develop a taste for what Peter calls the milk of God’s Word. He says, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2–3). Peter is telling his readers they have tasted God’s grace by taking that first step into salvation. The imperishable seed has sprouted and now they need to feed the new life they have within. For the new Christian especially, God’s Word is like milk. Milk is crucial to the growth of any baby and God’s Word is crucial to the growth of the new Christian.
Paul had the same idea when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica and said, “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, NKJV). Paul passed on the same idea to Timothy, encouraging him to stand fast in the face of apostasy. He reminded Timothy that, if he is faithful in instructing the brethren in the truth of God’s Word, “You will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6, NKJV).
As important as milk is, however, the human body needs other foods to gain all its proper nutrition. While some Christians are doing pretty well with laying off spiritual junk food, they are perhaps too content with a weekly bottle fed to them by their preacher. They are failing to get into the Word of God for themselves where they can chew on more solid food.
True spiritual nourishment for the believer is God’s Word. However, as Paul told the Corinthians, there is more to God’s Word than just milk (see 1 Corinthians 3:1–2). The milk provides a good start for our spiritual growth but we must also desire meat, the rich spiritual truths that God wants us to have if we are to truly change and become what He wants us to be.