1 Peter 1:22 - 2:3
God’s elect, exiles in this world, are to be holy. They are to conduct themselves with fear. These sound fittingly pious and almost ‘churchy’ today, but what are we to do with them in real life? What do these terms mean in practice? They are perhaps not as valued as they ought to be because they are not as understood as they could be.
Thankfully in this section Peter fills out what holy living conducted in an attitude of thankful fearfulness actually looks like. He begins by explaining it in terms of the Christians relationship with his fellow believers. It is described first of all positively and then negatively and on both occasions Peter embeds his instructions with a reference to God’s indestructible and nourishing word.
So firstly positively. Holy, fearful living will translate into earnestly loving one another. That is what holy living looks like in the Christian religion. It is perhaps the greatest distinguishing hallmark that should noticeable about our churches.
In many ways this would have set the early church completely apart. Instead of attending a religious ceremony, instead of using others as service providers, be they priests or a cultic prostitute, instead of shallow and empty relationships with other worshippers, these Christians were to serve one another, in committed acts of love for one another. This gave texture to their holiness and provided evidence that they were no longer defined by the fading values and passing glories of this world, but instead by the imperishable word of God.
It was their love and the quality of their love for one another that was to demonstrate their holiness and fearful gratitude for their God given salvation. Note their love was to be earnest; that is determined and fixed in its nature, not easily put off or diminished.
And nothing has changed. The antidote to the nominalism, consumerism and emptiness that plagues many of our churches today is for love to work itself out in committed and determined acts of service for one another. Such opportunities lie before us all and could be revolutionary if we were all to play our part.
The one difference of course today is that love itself is being redefined. Peter will address such modern cultural hijackings as the letter goes on, but even here the command to love is welded to an acceptance of the truth, and the truth about ourselves is that we do not always make the right choices. Indeed, when we act according to what is right in our own eyes, we often cause untold damage to others and ourselves. Love does not mean affirming the world’s standards but applying the imperishable word of the Lord, that alone stands forever.
This is what should give definition to our holiness then, positively it is an earnest love for one another.
Negatively it will seek to suppress and suffocate any damaging word. The compass of holiness is so comprehensive, it covers both our actions and our speech, for words can be just as harmful and even more toxic to our relationships than our deeds. So, Christians are to put away all expression of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander.
They are to guard their tongue with the greatest diligence and so provide a refreshing alternative to the unwholesome ways of the world.
We talk about being a counterculture today and there is nowhere like the arena of our speech to display this. We are taught in our culture today that words are uncertain, news is fake, and talk is cheap, but the Bible puts the highest premium on our words and how we use them.
Like newborn babies we almost need to learn how to talk all over again, and we will only do this as we literally ‘drink in’ the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. It will nourish us and cause us to grow, enabling us to stand firm in God’s true grace. As God speaks to us through his word, his language, categories, insights, descriptions and transcendent truth will shape and fashion us to understand reality from his life-giving perspective.
In the life of the Christian holy fearful living makes an everyday difference to both our loves and our lips.
Blessed are you O Lord, and blessed are those who observe and keep your law: Help us to seek you with our whole heart, to delight in your commandments and to walk in the glorious liberty given us by your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.