Attacking the Body of Christ

by Lauren Dyck

One thing the true church has always been sure of is that the world hates her. Our Lord Himself said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” This is a normal expectation for the church, as well as individual Christians, who seek to be faithful in this sinful world. Even within much of the professing church, compromise in many areas has led to many professing Christians linking arms with the world in areas of doctrine, justice, culture, etc., to the point where much of what used to be clear in regards to Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy is viewed to be extremism, or hard fundamentalism, and creates hatred within the walls of the assembly. But, what creates most division in true fellowship is when the true church has members that turn on one another. Obviously I’m not speaking about contending for true doctrine or pointing out false teachers within the body, for this is obedient to the teachings of Scripture:

Titus 1:9 “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Titus 2:1 “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Romans 16:17-18 “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

So what am I speaking of? When brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same body, turn on one another and attack each other out of selfish jealousies, personality contrasts, or often what turns out to be a misunderstanding, and leads to sinful behavior and speech against others in the body of Christ. The apostle Peter addresses this in his first epistle:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” 1 Peter 2:1

The indicative statement on which the imperative to “put away” hinges, is really both the preceding statement in chapter 1:23, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God,” as well as Peter’s statement chapter 2:3, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

The conjunction “so” at the beginning of 2:1 shows us that what Peter has just said at the end of chapter 1 serves as the antecedent to what he is about to say. That is, we are to love one another earnestly from a pure heart, because we have been born again through the living and abiding Word of God, “so put away” these sins. We now see Peter’s practical instruction as to how this love of our brothers and sisters is to look in action. He is stating what the volitional aspect of this supernatural love looks like. In a sense, “you are to love the bride of Christ, and this is what it looks like.”

The verb translated in the ESV as “put away” is often used when someone takes off or lays aside clothing. Acts 7:58, “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (emphasis mine). Peter uses the same Greek root word to instruct the church to put away these sins as was used to describe that the witnesses “laid down” their garments. When Peter instructs us to put away these sins, he is picturing our taking them off as if they were dirty garments. You are to lay aside the kinds of behaviour towards one another that undermine your profession of faith in Jesus. Instead, you are to do the very thing that gives evidence to the unbelieving world of the genuineness of your Christian profession – love the family of God!

These sins that Peter lists in chapter 2:1 – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander – embody the fruit of an unregenerate person, they are the marks of an unbeliever who thinks of themselves before others. The apostle Paul addresses this very attitude as well in his epistle to the Philippians when he exhorts the church to strive for unity through humility in chapter 2:1-11:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul gives the church an illustration of Christ’s ultimate example of humility, but he begins by stating what our natural, fleshly inclinations are: acting from rivalry and conceit, and looking at our own interests first. He then contrasts this with the imperatives that should mark a believer: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” and instructing us to look “to the interests of others.”

So, not only do we have a living hope and an imperishable inheritance as a result of our new birth (1 Peter 1:3-5), but we also have a new heart that is capable of loving those who do not deserve to be loved, or may not embrace or return such love. We can now love in this way because, through the new birth, we are now empowered to love as Jesus loved.

What Peter is saying in essence is, “Stop acting selfishly like the pagan world around you and start treating each other in light of being part of the same family. You are brothers and sisters.”

The list of sins Peter mentions in chapter 2:1 are all sins that attack other people. These are all things we do against others and, therefore, are the opposite of loving one another.

Let me briefly define the sins Peter lists in chapter 2:1:

“Malice” is a general word for evil or wickedness that carries with it hostility and possibly even an intention of harm towards others. It can also signify the bad blood grudges that often motivate people in their behaviour or attitudes towards others.

“Hypocrisy” can also be translated as “insincerity.” It includes ordinary inconsistency between belief and practice. It includes deception of self as well as deception of others. If we reflect on ourselves, we will see that one can be both sincere and hypocritical, because if we first deceive ourselves, we will readily deceive others.

“Envy” is the gnawing sorrow we feel when we see someone has something we think we deserve, or when we see someone with an advantage over us. As Daniel Doriani comments, “Envy is a wretched vice because it hurts everyone. It torments the subject, who envies, and it hopes to destroy the happiness of the one envied.”

Malice, hypocrisy, and envy readily lead to deceit and slander.

“Deceit,” like malice, is a wide-ranging vice. It includes all dishonesty, whether in word or in deed. When we deceive, we cover, or mask, the truth.

“Slander” is a bald opposition to the truth, ordinarily behind someone’s back. A powerful quote that helps us see this is, “The deceiver hides the truth. The gossip sometimes tells the truth – but delivers it to the wrong people. The slanderer boldly lies, pretending to deliver the truth.” Slander is speaking evil of someone to bring them harm, to ruin their reputation.

These are all sins that harm relationships and destroy community. It should not be lost on us that the goal of our conversion is the very opposite of such sins. We are to pursue an earnest – or sincere – unhypocritical, brotherly love as Peter tells us in chapter 1:22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” The fact that Peter uses the term brotherly shows us that he is still talking about relationships among believers in the church, and he is reminding his readers that they have put off the ways listed in chapter 2:1 when they obeyed the truth.

These sins hinder Christian love and fellowship and must be put off. We must seek to love the bride of Christ, the church, in a sincere, selfless manner. 1 John 3:16-18 reads, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

As children of God, we have the ability to love like this now that our souls have been purified by obedience to truth. Because we have believed the gospel, because we have been adopted into the family of God by Jesus’ act of love in sacrificing Himself as payment for our sins, we can now genuinely love as He has loved – in deed and truth.

How can we love like this? We can love like this because the truth we are obedient to is based on the living, abiding, imperishable Word of God (1 Peter 1:22-25). It is not dependant on our human capacity to love but based on the very character of God as He has revealed in His Word to – and for – us. It is in our flesh to treat others as Peter warns against, but it is the abiding Spirit of God that trains us to righteousness, to provide the means by which we are able to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

May we ever seek to obey this command, not for our own gain, but out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and, ultimately, for our love of Him who paid the greatest price, His own life so that we could be adopted into His family on the merit of His righteousness.

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