“Therefore, get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
1 Peter 2:1-3 (Common English Bible)
Happy People, penned by songwriters, Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters and performed by Little Big Town, is a feel-good track that sparkles with uncommon wisdom about what it takes to be happy people: “Happy people don’t cheat. Happy people don’t lie. They don’t judge or hold a grudge. They don’t criticize. Happy people don’t hate. Happy people don’t steal.” These are the opening lyrics of a song that capture the sentiment of what’s going on in a world threatened with a deadly virus and torn by hurtful political rhetoric. As Fred Craddock, a widely popular preacher and thinker of the Christian faith, observes, “Christian growth involves, among other things, getting rid of those attitudes, ways of speaking, and behavior patterns that attack the central fabric of the community: mutual love.”[i]
As each one of us, approach a new day the one constant factor we all share is a decision: the feelings and attitudes that will shape our response to others. Implicit in these words from 1 Peter is an old life that was before knowing Christ and the new after our encounter with the Gospel. Whenever we face a situation, we now have a choice: the habitual response of ill will, deceit, pretense, envy, and slander that was the character of the old life or a response that is shaped by love. This moment of decision is one point of conflict we must negotiate between our old and our new life. A conscious decision is called for. Will we surrender to our old impulses, our normal response to other people, or will we choose the new way taught by, “the pure milk of the word”?
First Peter calls us to clean the slate of our lives – to face up to our old, destructive nature and wipe away specific attitudes and behavior that tear at the fabric of relationships with one another. Craddock wrote, “Malice, envy, and slander do not drop off like old clothes; these demons must be fought to the end.”[ii] If they are not wiped away – by an intentional decision each day – these behaviors sour and spoil our lives and rob us of the happiness we desire. As Happy People reminds us in a lyric, “Cause all the hurt sure ain’t worth all the guilt they feel.” A rich and rewarding life is the promise of the Gospel, a salvation from the decay brought by destructive speech and behavior. In Jesus Christ, we have “tasted” the promise of that salvation and know that it is good.
The refrain of Happy People announces, “If you wanna know the secret (of happiness). Can’t buy it, gotta make it. You ain’t ever gonna be it. By takin’ someone else’s away.” An excellent place to begin this “new life in Christ” is with any animosity that we may hold toward another. Letting go of that anger and hatred is like removing a heavy backpack after a long hike up a mountain. The initial relief is immediate and grows, measure by measure, over time. In truth, we may cause little hurt to another by our anger but we do serious harm to ourselves. It shows in our life, in our speech and our behavior. People see it. More, we experience it. It is depilating, often resulting in physical ailments. The closing lyric of Happy People is especially poignant, “Well life is short. And love is rare. And we all deserve to be happy while we’re here.”
[i] Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude: Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) 35.
[ii] Craddock, 35.