Long for the Pure Milk of the Word

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

I hear so many prophetic words for us as a church in this text I scarcely know where to begin. Let's go straight to one of them and then back up and look at the whole passage.

The Threat of Spiritual Fatalism

A great threat to salvation and to our growth toward salvation (v. 2) is what I would call spiritual fatalism—the belief or feeling that you are stuck with the way you are—"this is all I will ever experience of God—the level of spiritual intensity that I now have is all I can have; others may have strong desires after God and may have deep experiences of personal pleasure in God, but I will never have those because . . . well, just because . . . I am not like that. That's not me."

The Tragedy of Spiritual Fatalism in the Church

This spiritual fatalism is a feeling that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of my past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow me to ever change and become more zealous for God (Titus 2:14), or more fervent (Romans 12:12), or more delighted in God (Psalm 37:4), or more hungry for fellowship with Christ (John 6:35), or more at home with spiritual things (Romans 8:5), more bold (2 Timothy 1:7), or more constant or joyful (Romans 12:12), or hopeful (1 Peter 1:13).

Spiritual fatalism is tragic in the church. It leaves people stuck. It takes away hopes and dreams of change and growth. It squashes the excitement of living—which is growth. It's like saying to a gawky little girl who feels like her body is all out of proportion: well that's the way you are, and you will always be that way, when in fact she is meant to grow and change. That would be tragic to convince her of a kind of physical fatalism—that her growth is stopped right there at 13. So it is with the spirit. Only spiritual fatalism is much worse. Because greater things are at stake, and because we never do get to a point where we've arrived at the final stature like we do in our physical bodies.

So thousands of people live year after year without much passion for God or zeal for his name or joy in his presence or hope in his promises or constancy in his fellowship and feel—well, that's just the way I am. And they just settle in—like an adolescent who stops growing and lives with pimples till he's 80.

God Commands Us to Feel Longings

In this text God commands us not to be spiritual fatalists. Peter says in verse 2: "Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." The word for "long" here is very simply the word "desire"—it's a command to desire.

What this means is that if you feel stuck because you don't have the kind of spiritual desires that you should, this text says, You do not need to be stuck! It says, "Get them!—Get the desires you don't have." If you don't desire the milk of the Word, start desiring it!

Now, isn't that amazing! A command to desire! A command to feel longings we do not feel. A command to feel desires we do not have. Is anything more contrary to spiritual fatalism than that? Fatalism says, I can't just create desires. If they're not there, they're not there. If I don't feel things the way the psalmists seem to feel things when they say, "As a deer pants for the flowing streams so my soul pants for you, O God" (Psalm 42:1)—if I don't feel that way toward God, then that's that. I just don't. I'm not like the psalmists. That's what spiritual fatalism says.

But God says (v. 2), "Desire the pure milk of the word!" Now before you raise all kinds of objections, like, How can you command me to have a desire? What can I do to obey a command like that? How do I just produce a desire? My whole problem is that I don't have the strength of desire I want. And you just tell me to desire. You may as well tell a lame man to walk.

The God Who Bids Us to Fly

Hmmm? Can you imagine such a thing—commanding a lame man to walk? Who could do such a thing? Or how about commanding a lame man to fly? Do you think God might command that?

I was listening to a talk by Corrie Ten Boom yesterday and heard her recite a little poem by John Bunyan. It's one of the best statements I have ever heard about the difference between the law and the gospel. You'll see how it relates.

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

In other words in the old covenant God gave commandments, but by and large did not give the divine enablement that overcomes the deadness and depravity and rebellion of the heart. But in the new covenant, which God set up at the cross of Christ, God gives even harder commands, but he also gives the power we need to fulfill them (Romans 8:4–6), through faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11).

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands

We are duty-bound to run, even though our feet are willfully frozen in the ice of sin. We can't run in ourselves, and so the commands of the law condemn. And the gospel is not different in having no commands, no conditions. Flying is harder than running.

Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

Powerful Deliverance from Spiritual Fatalism

This is powerful deliverance from spiritual fatalism. The fatalist says, "I can't fly. I can't even run. My feet are frozen in my genetic makeup and my dysfunctional family of origin. And besides that I don't have any wings. I cannot fly. That's the way I am." But over against that fatalism, the gospel says, "Fly! You don't have desires for the milk of the word? Well, have them."

What this says is that just as essential as having the desires for the Word that we are supposed to have is having the trust in God that he gives what he commands. If God says to desire, when we don't desire, then we trust him that he must know something we don't know. He must have some power we don't have. There must be a way. That's the opposite of spiritual fatalism. God commands it. So there must be a way. I will not settle for less than what God commands, even if it is a command to fly.

St. Augustine's Plea

One of the ultimate non-fatalist statements was made by St. Augustine. And it is deeply biblical. In his Confessions (X, 40) he said,

O love that ever burnest and art never quenched! O Charity, my God, enkindle me! Thou commandest continence. Grant what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.

That is the way you are supposed to pray and believe when you read 1 Peter 2:2, "Long for the pure milk of the word." Long for it! Do you not have the longing? Get the longing! Do you not desire the Word? Start desiring it. Do not say, "I'm just this way." Do not settle for spiritual fatalism. It is not God's will for you.

That's one of the prophetic words I hear in this text for our church.

Getting the Whole Text in View

Now I said I would stand back and get the whole text in view. So you can see how this one part in verse 2 fits with the rest.

Since You Have Been Born Again by the Word . . .

Notice that verse 1 begins with the word "therefore." So what he is about to say is based on what just went before. What was that? What just went before was the tremendous statement (v. 23) that we are born again (by God) through the Word of God. The point was that this Word is imperishable (v. 23) and that it is living and active (v. 23) and that it is not like grass and flowers that die but that it endures forever. So if you have been born again through this Word, then you will last forever. You are secure forever in the family of God, who caused you to be born again into that family.

Therefore—since you have new life by God's working and since you have confidence about the future—therefore (2:1), "putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word."

Since you have been born again by the Word of God, now long for the Word of God. Do you see the connection between the Word of God in verses 23–25? Born again by the Word . . . therefore long for the milk of the Word. If you began your life with the Word, sustain your life with the Word.

What Exactly Is the "Spiritual Milk"?

But your version may not say "milk of the word" in verse 2. It may just have, "long for the spiritual milk." Well that's accurate. The NASB here is an explanation, not just a translation. But the explanation is a good one, I think. Except, it's too limiting. Is "the spiritual milk" merely the Word of God? Or is it something more specific in the Word? I think it is.

Verses 2–3 say,

Like newborn babes [who were born by the Word of God], long [the way babies do] for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if [that is, since!] you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

Do you see the connection between the intense longing or craving for the "spiritual milk" in verse 2 and the tasting of the kindness of the Lord in verse 3? Put them together: "Long for the spiritual milk, since you've tasted the kindness of the Lord." So it seems to me that the milk is the milk of God's kindness. That is what we are commanded to long for. So which is it: the milk of the Word (NASB)? Or the milk of God's kindness?

But there doesn't have to be a contradiction. Where did the readers taste the kindness of the Lord? The answer is: in the gospel, the Word of God (v. 25). They were born again by that kindness through the Word of God. So the spiritual milk is the kindness of the Lord experienced through the Word of God. Or you could say, the spiritual milk is the Word of God revealing or transmitting the kindness of the Lord.

You were born again by that Word—namely, by the powerful kindness of God in that Word, and now go on longing for that Word and for the day-by-day experience—tasting—of the kindness of the Lord through his Word.

Trust the Powerful Word of the Lord

If the Word of God is powerful enough to create new Christians (through new birth), then the Word of God is powerful enough to create desire in languishing Christian souls. Don't be a spiritual fatalist. The power at work within you—just to bring you to life—is like the power that raises the dead (Ephesians 1:19–20). Can it not create desire just like it created you? Trust it. To paraphrase Bunyan's poem:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel states:
It bids desire and then creates.

The Word Is Also Powerful for Destruction

But it also destroys. Verse 1 describes the destructive side of the Word of God. "Therefore, putting aside [get rid of, destroy] all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word." One of the ways the Word of God creates desire for the milk of God's kindness is by destroying desire for other things.

  • Malice: a desire to hurt someone with words or deeds.
  • Guile: a desire to gain some advantage or preserve some position by deceiving others.
  • Hypocrisy: a desire not to be known for what really is.
  • Envy: a desire for some privilege or benefit that belongs to another with resentment that another has it and you don't.
  • Slander: the desire for revenge and self-enhancement, often driven by the deeper desire to deflect attention from our own failings. The worse light we can put another in by slander, the less our own darkness shows.

Malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, slander—these we must put away, destroy. This is the other side of longing for the spiritual milk of God's kindness in the Word. If you want to experience desire for God's Word; if you want your desires to grow; if you want to taste fully the kindness of the Lord, realize that as our satisfaction in God's kindness rises, the controlling desires of malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander are destroyed. And the reverse is true: as you resist them and lay them aside, desires for God grow stronger and more intense.

Peter's point is: don't think that they can flourish in the same heart. Desire to taste and enjoy God's kindness cannot flourish in the same heart with guile and hypocrisy. So fight against spiritual fatalism from both sides: fight to destroy the desires of guile and hypocrisy; and fight to taste the kindness of the Lord in his Word.

The Result

The result will be (v. 2b) "you will grow in respect to salvation." Literally: "you will grow into salvation." Salvation is reached by growth. To be sure, God gives the growth (1:5; 1 Corinthians 3:6). But growth is necessary. Do not fall into the spiritual fatalism that says, "I can't grow; I can't change; and I don't need to." Throw that idea away like an old smelly garment, and seek God with all your heart for help in desiring his Word, and let us grow up together to salvation.