“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 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 2:1–3, NASB95)
“If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all” (Thumper). This is the memorable line spoken by Thumper when he was asked by his mother what his father had told him earlier that day. The reason he was asked to repeat this instruction is because of his verbal response to meeting Bambi, the new young prince (“Kinda wobbly, isn’t he?”). In Matthew, we have recorded for us one of numerous instructions of Jesus. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NASB95) This instruction predated in various forms the words of Jesus and is found both in Old Testament instruction and the surrounding culture. Here Jesus repeated the positive form of the instruction to embody the ethical principles of the Law and the Prophets and establish a large umbrella covering how we are to treat others.
But the reality is that throughout time, just as we see strongly before us today, people tend to react defensively and even offensively when what they hold close is attacked or threatened. But as Christians, we are called by God not to respond as the world responds or even as our hearts might desire. We are called to take captive these responses of our hearts and to purpose to react according to the character and example of Christ.
Recognizing that we were all once enemies of God, we are instructed to consider how Christ responded to those who attacked Him. Later in this same chapter of Peter we will read about how Christ responded to those who went after Him, “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:22–23, NASB95)
As Peter begins this portion of his letter, he instructs us to change the way we do things. We are no longer to think and walk as the world does, but to pursue Christ so that we grow in Him. Having tasted His forgiveness we are to be that way toward others. Having once been an enemy of God and now being made His beloved child, we are to look to others with that same hope. This means that we are to do life and even conflict differently.
Putting aside malice, we are not to act badly, evil, or with spite or ill will toward others. We are not to work to make them look small. Malice has intent. It is a purposeful way of treating others, and we are to purpose to love them with the love that we have been shown by God. This does not mean that we accept, tolerate, or agree with what others might say or do, but we need to guard our own hearts and actions as we respond remembering just how far our Lord went for us.
We are told to put aside all deceit. We are to be honest in our words and our dealings. My printer has six cartridges in it, and every single one of them is important to my final project coming out right. If one of the cartridges is empty then the final project is distorted. When it comes to our words about others we are not to paint them in an untruthful way, whether it be to make them look worse or to make ourselves or the things we hold close look better. Half-truths use only half the ink, and lies add ink that isn’t there. We are to put of deceptions, and be honest, speaking the truth to others.
We are also not to be hypocrites. This does not mean that we don’t speak about one thing as being right when we struggle with doing it ourselves. But, we are not to be actors. We are not to pretend that we have it all right while we condemn those who struggle or who we deem to fall short in some way. As Christians, we are to put aside that which is opposed to the instruction of Christ, and put on that which is right and appropriate while we encourage others to do likewise. In this, we are to do so with a sense of humility recognizing that our ability to stand and walk victoriously is a gift to us from God as His Spirit works in us.
We are also not to be envious or to jealous of what others might have, whether that be an attribute, a position in life, or a possession. Envy not only encompasses the aspect of having a strong desire to have but also wishing that your having it came at the expense of them not having it. In a more altruistic way we might want to think that we want to possess it with them, but when the push comes to shove in our heart, if we had to decide between the two we would want it ourselves over them having it themselves. This goes right back to one of the Ten Commandments where we read that we are not to covet. In putting this off it is important to remind ourselves that God deals with each of us uniquely according to His perfect will with His unlimited wisdom in infinite love. The apostle Paul wrote that he had to learn to become content, and he followed this by speaking of the source of that contentment. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13, NASB95)
Realizing that the list is by no means exhaustive, the last of the things mentioned here by Peter to put off is slander. I have already dealt with this largely in the discussion of putting off malice and deceit, as what comes out of our mouths is often our way of expressing the intent of our hearts. But specifically, slander is generally the words that we speak of others out of their presence as we engage in backbiting and speaking evil of them. Whether in their presence or their absence we are to guard what comes out of our mouths in regard to others.
We are not to feed ourselves and our emotions on these things, rather we are to feed ourselves on the word of God. We are to hide it in our hearts and to have it rule our reactions. It is to be our strong desire and purposeful way of living to run to the Word to guide and direct our responses. We are to learn the ways of God, regularly put off the ways of the world, and put on that what is good and right and true.
“for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8–10, NASB95)
God has let us taste His kindness. We are charged to let others taste it as well.