Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wednesday Night Devotions: 1 Peter 2:1-3

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” [[1 Peter 2:1]]

In the first chapter of his letter, Peter talks about God's great gift to us. Peter realizes that we're fallen, both body and soul. Because we're fallen and we live in a fallen world, we come with expiration dates. Our life here is perishable. Some believers come to appreciate this fact sooner than others. In this perishable life, we may have to face trials of different kinds. Peter says that these trials are permitted by God for a very simple reason: to refine us by burning away any of the selfishness that wouldn't fit in well in God's kingdom.

Peter also tells us that – long, long ago – the prophets were very curious about what God had in store. They knew that we weren't meant to be perishable. Peter says that they caught glimpses of the truth: that there would be a Messiah, a special Anointed One sent into the world someday by God, who would do something about our problem. Peter says that even the angels in heaven were curious about what all of this would mean, and what it would be like to fall and then be redeemed. Sure enough, God sent his eternal Son into the world as the promised Messiah, Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to clean us from our sins, which were the reason why we became perishable in the first place. Peter says that Jesus cleansed us by shedding his “precious blood”, which was worth far more than all the riches of the earth.

Jesus then returned from the dead and rose into heaven in glory. It's because of this that we can have “new birth into a living hope”. When our parents gave birth to us, they were working with perishable materials. But now that God has given new birth to us, our new birth is from something that can't ever perish or fade away: the word of God. This word of God is the gospel message that was preached to us. We all here became Christians when we heard the good news of what God's been up to: bringing his peaceful rule back to the world through Jesus. Because we've been born out of something imperishable now, we're no longer the people we used to be, long ago before we met Jesus. Now we're new people. Some of us might remember that when our parents passed on, they left us something behind that we could inherit. But our earthly inheritance can't compare with the new inheritance that we get in the new birth. Peter says that the new inheritance “can never perish, spoil, or fade”. Peter also says that God has it in storage in heaven, but that when Jesus comes back to earth and we welcome him in, Jesus will bring our inheritance of eternal life and honor with him to give to us.

In the meantime, we live in a perishing world, a world that's constantly falling apart around us. Someday we know that Jesus will come back and make it all new. But until then, we don't fit in. We're not natives here anymore. Nowhere on earth is our hometown. We're foreigners. We're immigrants here on a temporary visa. Peter says that as we wait for Jesus to come back, we should “set our hope on the grace” that Jesus will bring. We should be looking forward to how amazing that will be. We should also have “minds that are alert and fully sober”. It's very easy to just slide through life, not paying attention to the world around us. But that isn't what God calls us to do. God wants us to pay attention to what's going on in the world. More importantly, God wants us to pay attention to what he is doing in the world.

We should be ready every day for Jesus to come back. How should we be living today? We should be living today so that, if Jesus suddenly came back tonight, not only wouldn't we be caught off-guard, but we wouldn't have any regrets. We should live today so that, if Jesus came back tonight, we could look back on today and say to ourselves, “That's how I wanted to be living when Jesus returned”. Peter says that before we knew Jesus, we were ignorant and clueless, and we just kept following our evil desires – those temptations that sin puts in our heart to settle for less than God's best. But Peter encourages us to live a holy life, one that doesn't look like the rest of this world but looks like it comes from somewhere else entirely; and Peter tells us to love each other from the bottom of our hearts.

And that brings us to Chapter 2. Right off the bat, Peter says that for all these reasons – but mainly because we've heard the imperishable message about what God did and is doing through Jesus and have been born again because of it – we should live a certain way. There are certain attitudes and behaviors that God wants us to throw away from our lives. That includes everything deceitful. We shouldn't trick people, we shouldn't lie, we should just be tellers of the truth. It also includes everything slanderous and everything malicious or nasty. Everything that leads us to spread unpleasant rumors about each other, everything that leads us to be mean to those around us – all that has to go. And so does all of our hypocrisy. We need to practice what we preach and walk the walk as we talk the talk.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” [[1 Peter 2:2-3]]

As Christians, we – just like Peter's audience – have “tasted that the Lord is good”. Peter's quoting here from Psalm 34, which is an acrostic Hebrew poem that David wrote after escaping from an enemy while pretending to be crazy. In that psalm, David opens by saying that he'll always praise God, because God is the one who delivers the righteous. When David looked for God's help, God was there for him. God rescued David, and David encourages the people, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him”. In other words, go ahead and see what it's like to trust God. Take the free sample; taste it, savor it. If you do, you'll find out just how good God is! If you side with God, you may not have everything you want, but you will have everything you need. Anyone who wants to live a good and joyous life should learn to follow God and not stray from his path, David says, because God will pay close attention to those who follow him closely. David says that God is “close to the brokenhearted” and will protect the righteous one. As we learn later on, Jesus Christ is the Righteous One, and when we hide ourselves in Jesus and cling to him, we live in God's presence, safe from the powers of sin. That's the message that David has for us, and Peter says that as Christians, we sampled what God offered us – which was nothing but his own self. And we liked it, and we've been coming to God's table ever since, since when we tasted, we realized, “Yes, the Lord is good”. Charles Wesley wrote a beautiful short hymn on Psalm 34:8 that I find very inspiring:

Taste him in Christ and see
The abundance of his grace;
Experience God, so good to me,
So good to all our race!
Celestial sweetness prove
Through Jesus' grace forgiven,
And then enjoy in perfect love
The largest taste of heaven.

Peter urges his audience to be like newborn babies who drink “pure spiritual milk” in order to “grow up in your salvation”. Now, this letter may have been addressed to a community with a lot of new believers in it. Elsewhere, Paul says that Christians need to grow out of being babies. He tells the Christians in Corinth that, because they were still full of sin and hadn't set themselves apart from the pagan world around them, he had to give them milk still, and not the 'solid food' they should've been having. The author of Hebrews also says that those who still need milk are “not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness”. So what we see here is that immature Christians are compared to newborn infants who can only take in the most basic spiritual teachings. They aren't ready for more advanced spiritual nutrition. But if they grow, then they can begin to handle more and more solid food and become mature in their faith.

But, Peter says, even if we're still on milk, it should be pure. It shouldn't be expired, and it shouldn't be mixed with anything gross. It should be fresh and clean and just the milk. I wonder how badly God's heart breaks when he sees some of the mistaken teachings that get passed off on his children before they're mature enough to see the difference clearly between the good and the bad. Sometimes God's children drink bad explanations of the Trinity – the one God we know in the three distinct persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are each the one God and who existed in perfect love and fellowship since before the world was. They drink it in music, they drink it in second-rate 'Christian' novels, they drink it in bad analogies that point to dangerous mistakes the church flat-out rejected hundreds and hundreds of years ago already. Sometimes God's children drink bad understandings of how God works in the world, so that we hurt each other with unbalanced clichés like “Everything happens for a reason” and “It must have been God's will” – which have some truth in them but can just as easily mislead, because part of what it means for the world to be fallen is exactly that terrible things happen senselessly, though God can bring good out of it all. Sometimes God's children drink skewed understandings of faith and works, either assuming that if we say we believe and have church membership then we must be okay and don't need to ever do anything, or else assuming that we get to heaven if we're decent, churchgoing folks who led a life with a bit more decency than villainy. Sometimes God's children drink bad understandings of worldly success and God's plan, especially the way some popular televangelists dish it up – we wrongly assume that anyone faithful to God will succeed by worldly standards, not remembering that the pure word of God talks about taking up our cross and living as a poor foreigner in this world, coming from somewhere with radically different standards.

Interestingly, First Peter, First Corinthians, and Hebrews all imply that the Christians they're written to are just infants and not mature enough to move on from the milk. That makes me wonder how the churches in our area measure up. In our church, how many of us are really able to pick up a knife and fork and sink our teeth into some spiritual filet mignon – and how many of us are, at best, drinking from a spiritual sippy cup and thinking that it's all we'll ever need? We can be sure that if we aren't being stretched and feeling filled from what we're getting, we probably haven't made ourselves move on from milk. But what do we get in our Sunday school classes? What do we get in our devotions and our prayer meetings and our commissions? What do we get in the songs we choose to sing to God during worship on a Sunday morning? What are we really getting? Does it seem like more than we can handle? Does it require hard work to chew? Solid food does; milk doesn't.

Some milk is fine as a nice frothy beverage to go with our grown-up meals, but if we don't start also eating something solid and keep it up, we can't grow. We also need to be sure that our meals are balanced. We shouldn't be spiritual vegetarians who eat only, say, creation or the end-times – just one part of the biblical food pyramid. We shouldn't always get chocolate cake for our main course, eating those parts of the Bible that make God sound so nice and friendly and fluffy while skipping over anything less sweet-tasting, like God's judgment on human sin. (We see people in our culture doing that a lot these days – and look at the spiritual tooth decay that sets in!) We need to dive into God's whole smorgasbord and develop a balanced spiritual diet. We need solid food that makes us chew and grow stronger, and we need the whole range of cuisine from God's table, not just this dish or that dish. What we get should make us think, it should make us learn, it should make us grow, and it should build up our spiritual muscles so that we have the strength to apply it. So how are we doing? What are we feeding on here? What are we feeding each other? What's the nutritional value on our sermons, our devotions, our spiritual reading, our fellowship with each other as believers?

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