Some years ago I was at my church. As I was walking about I unexpectedly met a fellow long-time church member as they arrived late.
The circumstances did not call for any explanation, but one was volunteered. Unbeknownst to that person I just so happened to have known their afternoon activities, and what they volunteered was not what they had done. Deceit was not necessary, but deceit happened and remembering it was easy. The memories unfortunately are not scant, but include detail after detail of the event. I know what time of day it was, what side of the church it was, whether it was at the front of the church or the back, who was around, etc. etc. Many years later, in February of 2016, I taught 1 Peter 2 in my Sunday school class. Here is the first verse from that lesson.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (ESV: 1 Peter 2:1)
Most unexpectedly this verse has resulted in mercy. How can a verse which says, “…put off deceit…” cause me to overlook that very thing in another Christian? Part of that story is below and part of that story has been developing as I have been writing this post. So after reading this verse I asked the class, “Who was Peter saying this too?” The answer which seemed reluctantly given or perhaps uneasily determined is found in 1 Peter 1: Christians of the New Testament church. It was written to aliens and strangers, men and women chosen by God. That answer was not the church answer. The Christians Peter was writing too were being told to put off malice. They were Christians with malice. They were Christians with deceit. Christian hypocrisy? A thing among the holy. Envy, slander, too, exist. In studying this book of Peter one must remember that he had just instructed the recipients to be holy. On that basis he gives the admonition to rid themselves of some things. The important thing to see here is that the Christian is clearly encumbered by the things of the old life. That should not be a surprise. It should not be harbored or embraced. It should be something that the Christian strives to be rid of. They should be in the garbage shoot or the disposal, but like a sink full of dirty dishes there is a process to it all. Christians are saved and being sanctified. Another Christian from the beginning is James and he too wrote a letter. In chapter 3 comes instruction in the facing of personal sins. In the verses of that section envy and selfish ambition are the sins, the devilish “wisdom,” James is directing the twelve tribes scattered among the nations to face off against. What is the admonition he gives? His first saying about them was that if found inside oneself there should be no boasting about them. That part makes sense enough. His second saying, though, adds another dimension to it by saying that you should not deny the truth. One can deny the truth by continuing to live in envy and selfish ambition (or hypocrisy, slander, envy, etc.). That is the more obvious viewpoint on this, but one can also deny that these evil tendencies are in one’s heart and expressed in one’s life. When one sees sin in one’s life it must be dispatched. It is not to be denied, but dealt with.
The manner of dealing with those things is not the focus I wish to draw here. The focus I wish to draw here is that Christians sin. Peter made it plain that sin was integral and yet something to be rid of. Those of us who come to Christ do so through the recognition that there are tendencies and deeds that have separated us from God. Those deeds are to be repented of and cast off. We would do very well to remember that each person comes to God with a different set of experiences, helps, hindrances and abilities. God works with them and changes them and moves them in the right direction. We who are observing the lives of others must not pass judgment on the things that others do for God alone knows their victories. God alone knows from where they have come. I Peter 1:17 says that we call upon a Father who judges impartially according to one’s deeds. We call judgment upon ourselves when we judge others for the things that we disapprove of (sins are not that hard to see but we have them too). To further draw this out consider the discussion of Jesus and Peter in John 211 . Christ had intimated the manner of Peter’s death. For some reason that made Peter inquire about the manner of John’s demise. Jesus made it very plain that John’s future was irrelevant to Peter’s. Peter was to follow God’s direction for his life. The same thing was true for John, but Peter had no grounds in the relationship between John and Jesus. I do not know the spiritual raw material2 of another person. I do not know the victories and rebellions, the excellence and failure of others. I want to speculate, but that is far afield from what God would have. Before we walk the halls of our churches we should pray that God would help us be gracious to others, that we would not be surprised when we see malice and deceit among the dedicated, envy in the elect or slander in the saints. The thing God has begun he will carry on to completion. It is probably safe to say that all who are still alive are not yet mature and complete; we do well not to hold them in contempt for not being so. Back to the memories of that day where deceit was delivered. I’m “good” with that now. “Good” because I put away the judgment I had passed upon that member. That is between them and God, and by now may be a thing long dealt with.