How To Suffer Well [Part 4]

If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. —1 Peter 2:3

The best way to prepare for suffering is not stocking gold coins or installing solar panels on your roof or storing bottled water. Those things might be worth doing. But the best way to get ready for suffering is to be born again. Then we come alive to the goodness of God right in the middle of the bitter things of this life, and we can face anything. 

The gospel is about a cross, followed by a resurrection. It’s about a hope nothing in this world can destroy. And that hope enters into our own subjectivity, here and now, through what the Bible calls being “born again.” “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). What did God prove at the resurrection of Jesus? That death is now reversible. Death is no longer final. And that hope awakens a new sense of eternity in our hearts. We are learning not to freak out. We are learning not to be frantic. Why? Because now we know that this life is not our only life. God has put eternal life into our hearts. And that’s how we suffer well. We have a future no cancer, no war, no nuke, no demon, no sin can destroy. Our future comes from God.

Here are two things you can never lose, if you have been born again, two powers God is unleashing into your life: love, and longing. Here are two things nuclear radiation cannot spoil, two things Muammar Gaddafi cannot murder, two things economic recession cannot steal—love (1:22-25), and longing (2:1-3).

Love

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for       

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
  but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. —1 Peter 1:22-25

I want you to see two things here. First, how God uses the gospel. Verse 23: “You have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable.” When we are born physically, the life energizing us is perishable. The life keeping us alive right now isn’t completely alive. It starts to fade, I think, on our nineteenth birthday, and it’s downhill from there. We really do fade like the grass or like a flower. But when we are born again, God puts within us fully alive life, imperishable life. It’s what you feel inside when you hear the gospel and your deepest being lights up. That’s the new you inside, and that new-born you will last forever.  

But how did God accomplish that new birth in us? Peter writes, “Through the living and abiding word of God.” That answers a question. If being born again is something we cannot do for ourselves, if being born again is something only God can do, do we do nothing? Do we wait in passivity? What is it we can do, if we don’t feel alive to God but we wish we did? What we can do is expose ourselves to the word of God: “You have been born again… through the living and abiding word of God.” What we can do is come to church and receive the gospel, because God gives eternal life through his living and abiding Word. Think of it this way. If you lack energy, you can’t cause your body to digest food and turn the nutrients into energy. But what you can do is eat. It will nourish you. If you are cold, you can’t cause the sun to shine its warmth on you. But what you can do is walk outside. It will warm you up. Even so, the gospel is how God energizes us. Place yourself humbly where God is at work, and you will feel it. He will be faithful to you.

The other thing I want you to see is what the gospel produces in us. What does this positive new energy create within?Repentance. That’s what Peter is talking about in verse 22: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” As we receive the ministry of the gospel, God speaks very personally into our hearts: “The time has come to change. Here is something in your life I want to change. Let’s go.” And we say back to him, “Yes, Lord. I want to obey. Let’s go.” And we start repenting and changing and making adjustments.

Look at the powerful thing God does with that openness: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Repentance creates love. And not a common love, but an earnest love. I love this word “earnestly.” My lexicon of ancient Greek tells me this word means abundantly, intensely, eagerly, gushingly. And if we think, “Wait a minute. That might be embarrassing, I might lose face, I might over-extend, I might become vulnerable”—if that thought pops up to the surface, call a time-out in your mind right then and challenge that thought. You and I are in no danger of loving too earnestly. We are in serious danger of loving too moderately. But the gospel says, “Down with moderate love! That’s the old you. Sure, you were loving before you were born again. But you were guarded about it, you were selective. God is spreading earnest love, like his own love! That’s the new, born again you. Go for it!”  

Before we were born again, we looked at other people and thought, “Look how sinful they are. I don’t like them.” We saw weakness and failure in other people, and we judged them as unworthy to be loved. We thought, “If they would only change, I would love them.” But then God had great mercy on us. We were born again through the gospel of God’s love for us sinners. We’re beginning to see what’s really going on inside us. If I am unable to love another sinner, and I blame them for it, and I tell myself it’s their fault—even if they really have sinned, still, my own impure heart is what’s blocking the flow of God’s love. If I am setting limits on who gets the love of God from me, the real problem is my own heart. Do you see that here in verse 22? If we are unloving, it’s not really because of their disobedience but because of our own disobedience.

Here’s the flip-side. Here is God’s wonderful path forward for every one of us: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth….”  The truth, not someone else’s better behavior, makes us more loving. The truth is, God loves sinners. The truth is, Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners. There is nothing cold or aloof in that good news. It’s who Jesus is. And that truth is creating a new community of people who love earnestly and outgoingly and cheerfully and generously. This church is where that truth is changing the subject from what’s wrong with someone else to what’s right with Christ and how everyone can come here and be caught up in him. 

God will never stop breathing his love into your heart through the gospel. His comfort will help you with other people. Maybe that means a conversation with your roommate this afternoon, or with your spouse. Maybe it means apologizing for how you’ve embarrassed them over their failings. God doesn’t treat you like that. You are just fading grass. But God loves you earnestly, and forever.

Longing 

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. —1 Peter 2:1-3

Again Peter addresses us as born again, like newborn infants. And there is a kind of infancy we must never outgrow. What is it? Longing. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk” of the gospel. And longing, Peter says, is how we grow: “Long for the pure spiritual milk [of the gospel], that by it you may grow up.” How are we born again? Through the gospel. How do we grow? Through the gospel.

If you want to grow, all you need is an appetite. I find that fascinating, because “longing” is a matter of the heart. But I tend to think of growth as a matter of the head. I’m a theologian. And our tradition, coming out of the Reformation, highly values head-knowledge. That is not bad. It is so good and so right. But it is incomplete. We grow by head and heart together. We need a new paradigm of spiritual growth, fueled by longing. I notice that we refer to the middle wing of this building as “the education wing.” Okay. That isn’t wrong. But have you ever heard of a “longing wing” in a church building? Why not? By education alone, without longing, we do not grow. We become proud and hard. But how sweet and humble of God, that all we need, to grow strong, is an appetite. We don’t have to be smart, just hungry. The psalmist said, “My soul is consumed with longing” (Psalm 119:20). Augustine said, “It is yearning that makes the heart deep.” It’s what a healthy baby feels. You could offer him a million dollars, and he’d refuse it, because it wouldn’t satisfy the hunger. This is how born again people feel about the Word of God, because only the Word of God is “pure and spiritual.” We don’t have to filter it. We have to filter TV. But we can swallow the gospel down eagerly, and it will only do us good. What else do we have like that?

But even as verse 22 called us to repentance, so does verse 1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Why does Peter say that? Because these sins can be delicious. But these sins are like junk food. They kill our appetite for pure spiritual milk, and they make us sick and weak. So Peter calls us to decisiveness: “Put it all away, get rid of it, spit it out of your mouth,” he says. Put what away? Malice, the desire to hurt someone. Deceit, the desire to fool someone, to take advantage. Hypocrisy, the desire to look better than we really are. Envy, the desire to take what belongs to someone else, including intangibles like their reputation. And slander, the desire to make someone else look bad. These are not healthy desires. But let me ask you. What does this list of bitter longings remind you of? Maybe some churches you’ve seen? That’s why this verse is here. We born again people need to be told to put these dark desires away. Every one of these horrible sins is inside me and inside you. We can make any church poisonous. Let me ask you a more disturbing question. Who do these sins remind you of? The devil. He has a taste for malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. We should shudder at how we are capable of acting like the devil himself.

But here is our safety, and it’s a sweet safety. Verse 3: “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” It’s just another way of describing the new birth. It’s a taste deep within our hearts. It’s an experience of the goodness of the Lord.  In fact, here is something I saw for the first time this week. The word translated “good” is also used where the Bible says, “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). The Lord’s goodness is his kindness to us sinners. This word is also used in Matthew’s gospel when the Lord says, “My yoke is easy” (Matthew 11:30). The Lord’s goodness is how he takes it easy on us. He doesn’t bear down. He doesn’t approach us in a rage. He runs to us, kisses us, embraces us, puts the best robe on us, and a costly ring. His goodness is not stark and severe and demanding, like some “good” people I’ve known. His goodness is kind and easy to enjoy. You were made for it—for him! His goodness is what we taste through the ministry of the gospel. And we just want more. When you were born again, that was your first taste. And it wasn’t meant to satisfy you but to arouse you. You feel that now. You want more. You long for Christ. Good. That’s proof that you have been born again. And there’s more where that came from! So go for it. We grow by enjoying the goodness of God.

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