“For the one who wants to love life and to see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and let him turn away from evil and do what is good. Let him seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We all want the good life. All of us. Now, our definitions of what constitutes the good life can vary pretty wildly from one person to another, but it’s our goal all the same. Culturally, the good life is generally defined as being economically prosperous, materially abundant, vocationally successful, and socially respected. However you happen to define the good life, though, the real question is how you come by it. What Peter offers us here is a pathway to one particularly worthy destination.
I implied something slightly misleading a second ago. I implied that how a person defines the good life doesn’t really matter as much as the question of how to get it. That wasn’t quite what I meant. The question of how we achieve the good life is still a really important one, but the exact definition of the good life we are using does matter a lot. In fact, it might matter even more than the question of how to achieve it.
Let me explain. Let’s say someone’s definition of the good life is one where she doesn’t have to care about the people around her because she can do or obtain everything she needs all by herself. Well, the pathway to that particular version of it is going to be one of self-indulgence and a growing apathy toward the people around her coupled with a willingness to use them for her own ends. Hopefully you agree with me in thinking that’s not a particularly good definition of the good life. A life that is built on apathetically abusing people and using them for your own ends isn’t all that good.
So then, what definition of the good life is worth our attention. You might not be even a little bit surprised that I find the good life described in the pages of the New Testament to be the best one on the market. It isn’t always or even often a life of ease and plenty like our culture prizes, but it is one of joy and peace and a deep and abiding sense of contentment. Those virtues are good no matter what your circumstances happen to be. A life rooted in those things seems like it will be good regardless of the rest of a person’s physical circumstances.
Indeed, what Peter offers here is a path to the good life for anyone to follow. That’s clear from his opening invitation: Do you want to love life and see good days? Well, of course we do. We all do. That’s the essence of the good life. We love life and enjoy good days. It seems, then, that I wasn’t quite so imprecise with my words as I let on. The deeper truth here is that there aren’t actually multiple different versions of the good life. There is only one life that is good and everything else is merely a facsimile of it, and most of those aren’t very much like the real thing when you look closely (much less when you actually experience them).
The truth is that if you want to experience the good life, there’s only one path to it because there’s only one version of the good life that’s really good. If you want that life, then, what’s the path? How do we get there? The answer is not what we might expect. There is no great quest. It doesn’t require us to go to great lengths of exertion and exhaustion to obtain it. No Herculean efforts are required. There are really only four things that Peter mentions. Four. That’s all. But these are four things that will take a lifetime to master and which we only really have a chance at achieving if we have help. God’s help.
So what are they?
The first is to use your words graciously. Words are powerful things. When used well, they can grant life where there wasn’t any before. When Ezekiel brought the dry bones to life, he did so by prophesying to them. Evil words can bring death and destruction. Hitler’s rise to power was fueled primarily by his speeches; speeches which nearly destroyed the world. If we want to live the good life, we need to commit ourselves to letting only gracious and kind words come out of our mouths. Or, as Paul put it in his letter to the Ephesian church, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The second thing is to speak honestly. The good life is always going to be rooted in truth. Always. If you want to enjoy it, you’ve got to be willing to say what’s true and stand by that no matter what the cost for doing that happens to be. That seems like it should be an easy thing, but it is a great deal more difficult than we might imagine. Why? Because of sin. Sin brings shame which makes us want to hide and lies are the easiest way to create curtains to cover our shame. We forget something and so lie to cover up our memory slip. We do something wrong and lie to hide our illicit action. We hurt someone and lie to conceal the abuse from others. None of those things will lead to the good life. Dishonesty never does. If you want the good life, commit yourself to the truth.
This is made easier by the third thing. Don’t do what is evil. Turn away from what is evil. Don’t even give it your attention. Instead, commit to what is good. And what is good? Building up those around you. Seeking real justice for the oppressed. Comforting the sick. Visiting the prisoners. Clothing the naked. Feeding the hungry. Caring for the widow. Advocating for the orphan. Working hard and resting well. Investing in your family. Being generous with your abundance. Those and more are all signposts for the good life. Anything selfish or injurious or unjust must be removed from your life.
When you do this, the fourth thing Peter describes will become easy: Seek peace and pursue it. Seek to have whole and right relationships with the people around you as far as it depends on you. This means not insisting on their meeting with your standards. It means graciously bending in their direction as often as you can without sacrificing what you know is right and true. It means being patient with them and forgiving as you have been forgiven.
When you do this, the good life will be yours for the enjoying. What’s more, you’ll have help. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous. He sees you. He knows you. He will listen to you. Any other path, though, will not receive that attention.
The only question remaining, then, is this one: Do you want the good life? You can try other paths, but this is the only one that will get you there. So, what are you waiting for?