Therefore rid yourself of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 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.
What is the 'therefore' there for? Because of the word that was preached to you. What was that word? That you have been born again.
Born again is such a cliche. It seems that everyone is claiming to be born again. But is this rebirth real? It is not just turning over a new leaf. It is not just a new year's resolution. It is not just a determination to try and do better. We have all been there and know how futile those resolutions are. Being born again is about letting go of your old life. There may have some things in your old life you were proud of: those exams you passed, those scout badges you won, that time you were top of the class in maths, that good deed you did for your neighbor; you can't retain any of that. Count them all as dirty rags.
You have to be born again. Nothing of the old life has to be clung on to. If you were a mullah of the Islamic faith or a Hindu priest, or twirled your Buddhist prayer wheel for decades; if you were a graduate of the finest theological department in America, or a tyro at philosophy; if you graduated at the top of your class; if you were famous in your field; none of it counts. A newborn baby has no use for its placenta. For nine months it has received nourishment and oxygen through the placenta, but now it must receive its nourishment from milk and its oxygen through its lungs. The placenta is no use to it now. So we must free ourselves from our previous lives.
It is easy to say we should be free of malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind, but that doesn't mean we can retain our half-decent behavior towards the neighbors, our odd acts of kindness, our love for our parents and spouse, our unwillingness to kick a dog, our charitable gifts to starving African children, and rack them up as credit to our account. All our righteousness is as dirty rags.
There is a reason for this. We must never think that we save ourselves. If we consider ourselves as the Elect, soon enough we get to thinking why we were chosen. Was it because we are better looking, better behaved, more intelligent, less depraved, had better genes, because we were Anglo-Saxon or had some Jewish blood? No, none of those things. God loves us because He loves us. It is a mystery why. Too many people have become puffed up because they thought themselves special. There is a song that goes "I'm special because God loves me". I can't sing it; I don't think of myself as special. Certainly, I think of myself as blessed and loved, but it's not my just deserts. Even if we recognize that salvation is all of God we are apt to think that salvation was offered to the whole world but only some accept the offer. Then we praise ourselves for our perceptiveness in accepting the offer. We forget that faith itself is a gift of God.
So like newborns we must put aside all those remnants of our former state. Malice is the bad feelings we have against other people. Most commonly this manifests itself as hatred of people who are not like us. Black people can hate white people and white people can despise black people. The racism industry defines racism as malice of the oppressor against the oppressed when the oppressed is of a different color. Sexism is always of the man against the woman. Homophobia is specifically or the straight against the gay. We don't have a word for the gay man who hates the straight man. But malice is not unidirectional - it cuts both ways. In Africa we see different tribes killing each other for no reason except that they are of a different tribe. We are all guilty of tribalism. In Afghanistan we get worked up here about British soldiers dying. Other deaths hardly merit a headline. We might read of American or Canadians dying, but these deaths occur below the fold, and if a Dane or a German is killed, it doesn't even make page 17. As for Afghans dying it is sometimes greeted with glee - serves 'em right. This is malice.
I saw today that 70% of Britons don't think it is wrong to steal from work. Pencils, paper, various bits of office supplies, the odd front wing from the car factory, free rides on the train, they're all the perks of the job. Not only do we deceive our employers, we deceive ourselves. This is theft. Deceit is a way of life for many people. They lie to their boss, they lie to their wives, they lie to the police, they lie to their customers. I read somewhere that Islam demands that you must always be honest to another Muslim - you may deceive the infidel, of course. But we must put away deceit. Let your yes be yes and your no, no.
Hypocrisy in Greek refers to being an actor. Pretending to be what you're not. Do you ever say what you think your audience wants to hear rather that what you believe to be true? You are being a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is what Christians are accused of more than any other sin. It means taking off your Sunday attitudes with your Sunday suits and living through the week in your dirty rags. How shaming that Christians should have this reputation!
Envy is a green eyed monster. It isn't the same as jealousy. Our God is a jealous God. Jealousy is about asserting our right to what is ours, envy is about desiring what is not ours. The ten commandments talk about coveting. Nowadays we talk about keeping up with the Jones's. Sometimes it seems that our whole economy is based on envy. People get into terrible debt because they want what other people have. When I was young, we only bought what we could afford to pay for. It was years before we had a television or a vacuum cleaner, or a washing machine or a dishwasher. We waited until we could afford them. Now we have the government encouraging us to use our credit cards or to borrow money to buy new models. They have pumped money into the economy but are cross that people are using it to pay of their debts. We are about to see my younger daughter married. I was dumbfounded when I heard of the cost of weddings. Someone I heard of organized a fly-past of some aerobatics flight. I told my daughter to give everybody a plain sheet of paper and we could have a competition for who could make the best paper airplane. Those could be our fly-past.
What does it benefit us to acquire a bigger and better flat TV screen - next year our neighbors will have bigger and better ones. I'm quite proud of my 10-year old car - may it last as long as I do.
Slander isn't just the civil offence that we might be sued for. It means saying unkind and unfounded things about people. My mother told me that If I couldn't think of anything nice to say about someone, I should keep my trap shut. It is so easy to make subtle insinuations about people, especially your rivals or opponents. Notice it talks about slander of every kind. It's not just the things we might be sent to prison for, but subtle hints.
When we talk about putting away all these evils, we are too apt to think in terms of great crimes. If we have never appeared in a court of law, we think we are all right. If we are a little bit better than the Smiths across the street, we think we are doing well. But the Smiths aren't the standard we have to live up to, Jesus is.
I emphasize, we are not trying to justify ourselves, but having been justified by Christ we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work out our salvation within us. I have written before about the Matthew Parris article in the Times at the end of last year in which he, an atheist, said that what Africa need is not aid, but a change in heart. What Europe needs, what America needs, is not their finances sorted out nor an end to the recession, but a change in heart.
We need to rid ourselves of the things that characterized our former life - not necessarily great things like murder or theft or rape - but the silent sins that few know anything about: addiction to porn, love of money, spousal neglect, a nasty temper, a cynical attitude, pride of life, addiction to chocolate, overeating, spiteful attitudes to others, self-centeredness, gossiping (did you know that gossiping is listed with homosexual acts as something to be avoided), neglect of our parents (even if they are difficult), lack of generosity, insincere creeping around the boss, excessive patriotism, little acts of sabotage, even stealing paperclips. Do you justify watching late-night programs by stressing their social context and claiming you ignore the overtly sexual scenes? Do you watch movies replete with four letter words without protest claiming that that is how life is? Do you exceed the speed limit because 'everybody does it'?
We can be sailing along in our lives with everything going swimmingly. We seem to have a fair wind behind us, the business is going well, the wife is apparently happy, the kids are in good schools, our church is successful with large congregations and a healthy building fund, but all the time we are nursing secret sins. The communion service tells us that a man ought to examine himself. But that self examination should be part of our keeping short accounts with God.
We should crave pure spiritual milk. Where do we get it? Most importantly from the Word of God. There are many means of grace - prayer, fellowship with other believers, reading Christian books, the communion service - but we are fed from the Word and by the Word faithfully preached. We should be careful that the preaching we are sitting under is faithful to Scripture. We don't need our ears tickled about politics or sociology. We don't need Pollyanna. We don't need a lesson in New Testament Greek or journeys through Assyrian history. The Scripture can be hard to understand (though the hard part about it is more often putting it into practice) and that is why the Lord has raise up preachers to faithfully expound the Word to us. They are worthy of double honor, but woe betide any preacher who leads the faithful astray. It is an awesome responsibility.
One final word. Chapter 2 verse 3 says, "Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."
I worried about that word 'tasted'. Then I remembered. Hebrews 6:4-6 "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." Are we babies or miscarriages? The parable of the sower is clear that the seed sometimes falls where the soil is thin. It may spring up rapidly but without rooting itself properly it withers and dies. We may talk about once saved; always saved but the question is are we truly newborns or just abortions. To be sure we must take the spiritual milk and digest it.