A week ago I was teaching our youth group from 1 Peter 2:1-3, in which Peter tells us to put aside (among other things) malice.
I told the teens that having malice in your heart is like being fitted with the wrong prescription eyeglasses. Nothing looks right to you, and you never see things as they really are. People who are filled with bitterness and malice never see the world as it really is; they see it in the way that best feeds their bitterness, and allows their malice to fester.
Today I saw a perfect example of that. Our youth group went to a high school boys' basketball tournament between the Christian academy in our area and another Christian academy in the state (which I will leave nameless).
When our boys were running out onto the court to be introduced, a woman -- through no fault of her own -- walked unsuspectingly into the path of our team, and the situation was such that neither she nor they saw the other in time to avoid a collision.
The woman was knocked to the floor, and was knocked unconscious. Someone called 911, and the woman was taken to the hospital (before she left she had regained consciousness, and was coherent, and had full mobility).
Our boys were just standing around with that "deer-in-the-headlights" look when they realized what had happened, until it became obvious that there was nothing they could do, and were sent to begin warming up for the game.
But I happened to be sitting in the bleachers right in the middle of a group of fans from the other school. Not a big deal, right? I mean, we are a group of Christians, and we can maintain cordial relationships, even in the midst of a sporting event. Right?
Tragically, that was not the case. The group sitting behind us personally knew the woman who was knocked down, and became enraged over the accident. One woman, who (by the testimony of her own mouth) didn't even see what happened, within minutes of the accident was telling all her friends about how "that boy who knocked her down just kept right on going and never stopped to see if she was alright."
Blatantly not true.
"He's laughing about the whole thing. What a jerk."
Likewise not true.
"That whole team is a bunch of jerks. They're so stuck on themselves."
"I hope God makes them lose this game. Serves them right."
"I hope that boy gets hurt. If I get a chance, I'm going to go punch him in the face."
And in the area of the bleachers where we were sitting, we actually had fans around us cheering and laughing when "that boy" was fouled and knocked to the floor.
Honestly, I was embarrassed and ashamed to be sitting in the middle of such an ungodly display of malice and deceit. The viciousness of the woman's slander was disgraceful. But as I thought about it, I realized that, although this woman was spewing out blatantly false statements about the boys on our team, she probably didn't even realize she was doing it.
Though she didn't see what happened, she latched on to the story that would feed her malicious anger, and because malice prevents you from seeing things as they really are...I think this woman actually believed the story she had invented, and was spewing out to all her friends.
Tragic. But it was exactly what I had told our teens about the week before.
It's easy to shake our heads in disgust at stories like that, and think "I would never be like that," but in reality, every one of us has probably -- at some time or another -- let our anger, our malice, our bitterness and rage, cloud our view of events, and destroy our ability to perceive things as they really are.
It's funny the things you remember from your childhood -- often it's not the big events that stick in your memory, but the small, silly little things. I remember breakfast time. Specifically, I remember the Battle of the Toast.
You see, every morning my mom would toast up and butter a big old stack of toast and put it on the breakfast table. Right in the middle of the table. I had two older brothers, and the Battle of the Toast was a war to see who would get the most toast for breakfast. It was a silly thing; none of us needed more than a couple slices of toast with jam or peanut butter, but none of us ever thought about what we needed, or even what we wanted. Instead we only thought about what "the other guy" was getting. And our desires were defined by what "the other guy" had. Thus, if my brother ate four pieces of toast, then I just had to have four pieces of toast. Didn't matter if I was already full; I had to keep up.
Eventually, Mom put a stop to the Battle of the Toast by carefully counting out how many slices of bread she toasted, and limiting us to two slices apiece. Seems kind of silly now, doesn't it?
But this is the cost of envy -- the cost of looking at the other person and comparing what I have to what they have. I stop thinking about what is good (or even what is healthy) and I just have to have what they have. It makes no difference if I need it, makes no difference if it is good for me. I want it.
Just like Peter tells us to put aside deceit, malice, hypocrisy, and slander, he also tells us (1 Peter 2:1) to put aside envy. Envy is the mentality behind the Battle of the Toast -- it is the desire for what someone else has. And we will never be healthy as long as we measure our life and our possessions in comparison to what someone else has.
When I was in college, I knew a young man who had a very interesting childhood, a young man who loved to tell stories about all the odd adventures and misadventures he'd had while growing up.
I remember, when I first knew him, sitting in the cafeteria eating supper and listening him telling the most fascinating stories. I remember thinking to myself, "How in the world does one person have so many strange things happen to them?" And I remember thinking, from time to time, either "Why couldn't my childhood have been this interesting?" or "I sure am glad my childhood wasn't like that!"
Then one day, when he was telling one of his childhood adventures, I found myself thinking about one of his previous stories he had told a month earlier, and thinking to myself, "How can both of these stories be true? They seem to contradict one another!"
From that point on, I began listening to his stories with a much more critical ear, remembering previous stories and comparing them to current stories, and looking for ways in which the stories didn't match up. It didn't take long before I realized: "None of these stories are true; they exist only in his imagination. And if any of them are true, it certainly isn't worth my time to try to figure out the difference!"
Gradually, everyone in his circle of friends began to understand that he was a perpetual, habitual liar. And soon everyone began distancing themselves from him. We all had better things to do with our time than listen to him tell stories that we knew weren't true.
Eventually, he got a whole new circle of friends, but that set of friendships was doomed as well.
I understand the desire to make yourself look good, and telling a few carefully placed lies can be one way to do that. But the cost this young man paid for "looking good" was far too high. When you give in to the temptation to speak falsehood, ultimately it becomes impossible to sort out your lies and keep them consistent. Ultimately, your sin will find you out.
1 Peter 2:1 tells us to put aside all deceit, and lists this as one of the prerequisites to having a sincere hunger for the Word of God, and of growing up spiritually. A person who indulges in deceit is a person who will never grow into a healthy, spiritually mature man or woman.
A couple years ago I had my cholesterol level checked, and my doctor told me "Your cholesterol level is way too high." We talked about what I was going to do about it, and I told him I wasn't interested in taking any medications to lower my cholesterol. I wanted to do the "all natural" approach, even though I knew it would be much harder.
So I changed my habits. I changed the amount of exercise I do, and made significant changes in my diet. Now I eat far less fast food, far less fatty foods than I used to. And the good news is that, in the last two years, my cholesterol has dropped 27 points. I still have a little way to go, but that's definite progress.
Changing my diet has really changed the way that I "taste" food. I used to love really greasy foods. Now, however, after being careful to avoid greasy foods, my appetite has changed. If I have a pepperoni pizza, I find myself thinking "Wow! This tastes really greasy!" It's not that pizzas are any more greasy now than they were two years ago; it's just that my appetites have changed because of the kinds of foods I put into my system.
This change of appetite can happen spiritually as well:
Just as my physical appetites have changed from fatty foods to more healthy foods, our spiritual appetites can change as well. We are supposedto have an appetite for the Word of God, just like a little baby has an appetite for their mother's milk.
Unfortunately, our appetite changeswhen we start tasting of other things which aren't as healthy. What are some of the spiritual "fatty foods" that are unhealthy, and change our appetite away from God's healthy food?
Malice. Deceit. Hypocrisy. Envy. Slander. When we indulge these unhealthy spiritual appetites, it destroys our appetite for God's word, and ultimately means that we will never grow up spiritually.
So Peter says: "Put these things aside!" As long as you let any of these things into your spiritual diet, you will never be healthy, and you will never grow to maturity.