Longing for God's Word
Passage: 1 Peter 2:1–2:3
Longing for God's Word
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter 2. We’ll be looking at vv1-3 this morning. So far in this letter, Peter’s key truth has been the new birth, the truth that believers have been born again to a living hope. We who were dead in our sins have been given new life through the living and abiding word of God. This is how Peter began his letter, and it has been the controlling truth throughout chapter 1.
But the truth of the new birth only addresses the beginning of the Christian life. What happens after we have been born again? The new birth is extremely important, even determinative in a Christian’s relationship with the Father, but there is more after that. The terms birth and born imply this, right? Birth is not the end, but the means to the end of life. We are born so that we might live and grow and mature and flourish as human beings. In the same way, Christians are born again so that might grow and mature in Christ. This is why Peter has given commands and instructions to his readers. They have been born again, so be holy. Conduct yourself in fear. Love one another. In other words, Peter knows that their new birth was only the beginning. It was the necessary step in order for them to follow Christ and live as God’s people during the time of their sojourn. They have been born again, but now they must grow.
But how will that growth happen? Remember, Peter has made clear that the new birth was entirely the work of God. Through his power and through his word, God brought dead sinners to new life in Christ. If that’s the case, then how exactly do Christians grow? If we are not responsible for our life, then how can we take responsibility for our growth? Should we just sit back and wait for growth to happen? These are the questions that come to mind as we enter 1 Peter 2 this morning. Let’s turn to our text, and follow along with me as I read from God’s word.
There are three parts to our message this morning. I want to make two points from 1 Peter 2, and then I want to end by answering a question that I anticipate will be hanging in the air by the time we get to the end of the sermon. Two points, and then a question. Let’s begin with our first point – Long for the milk of God’s Word.
Long for the Milk of God’s Word
As we come to chapter 2, we receive another command from Peter. It’s found in v2 – “long for the pure, spiritual milk.” This is the main idea of the passage, and everything else is connected with it. Now, the question that comes up first in dealing with these verses is this – what is this pure, spiritual milk? Peter says we are to long for that milk, but what is it? This is the key question, and there are a number of possible answers.
Peter could have in mind the goodness and kindness of God. He mentions God’s goodness at the end of the passage, in v3. In that verse, he even says that believers have tasted of that goodness. The milk could be God’s goodness. But it seems more likely that the milk refers to God’s word. Remember at the end of chapter 1, Peter reflected on the living and abiding word of God. He said that believers were born again through that living word, and he said that believers were comforted by that same word. That makes the word of God that most recent topic of discussion in the context of the letter. In light of that, it seems most likely that milk in chapter 2 picks up on the word of God that ended chapter 1.
This conclusion becomes even more likely when we look closely at how Peter describes the milk. Note that he says it’s spiritual milk. The word spiritual is an adjective that is connected with the Greek word for word. They have a similar root. It seems that Peter used this adjective spiritual in order for his readers to see a connection between the pure, spiritual milk and the word of God. The milk, then, is the word of God. And Peter calls it pure milk in order to highlight that it is free from false teaching or heretical doctrine. You don’t want to drink soured milk. In a similar way, you don’t want to take in false doctrine. Peter’s command, then, is that believers are to long for the pure, uncontaminated word of God.
Now, the word Peter uses – long for – that word means to have a strong desire for something, even implying that you need it in order to survive. One commentator uses the word crave in order to communicate the point, and I think that is a good way to say it. Peter tells believers to crave the word of God. He even gives us an illustration so that we might have a better idea of what this command means. Peter says that believers should long for the word like newborn infants. Just as an infant craves milk in order to grow and sustain life, so also the believer should crave God’s word.
Now, think about how single-minded an infant is on milk. When an infant is hungry, there is only one thing on that little one’s mind – give me the milk! Nothing else seems to matter except getting that milk. It’s almost as if their entire lives revolve around feeding, at least during those early days of infancy. They may sleep and do other things, but the primary thing an infant is about is feeding on the milk. Peter is saying that the believer should have the same kind of single-mindedness when it comes to the Christian life. What do I need more than anything in my life as a Christian? God’s Word! Believers are dependent on God’s word, just as an infant is dependent on milk. We simply cannot live as God’s born again children without the milk of God’s word.
But this command to long for God’s word is more than simply a desire to know the content of Scripture. Often when we hear this kind of talk about longing for God’s word, we think, “I need to read the Bible more so that I know it better.” And that’s true; we should read the Scriptures more. But Peter is making a deeper point than that. He’s not just saying, “Get more biblical content in your head.” He’s saying, “Long for the word to do it’s work in your life!” That’s an important difference. Look at how this works in our passage. Note that chapter 2 begins with the word “So.” That word signals that Peter’s point carries on from the previous paragraph. Remember from the previous paragraph, Peter taught that God brought about the new birth through his word. In other words, it was the word of God that gave us spiritual life.
With this command in chapter 2, Peter is saying long for that word, the word that granted you new life in Christ. Long for the life-giving word to continue to work in your life! Don’t just long for more biblical content; long for the power of the word to keep working. Just as the word gave your spiritual life in the first place, so now long for the word to nourish your spiritual life in the present.
To long for the word, then, means to come to the Bible with a sense of expectancy, an expectancy that God’s word will continue to work in your life. Let me ask you, when you come to read the Bible, what are you thinking? Are thinking that anything is going to happen? Or are you thinking, “I just need to get my Scriptural content for the day”? This word is the means by which God made us alive in Christ. Shouldn’t we come to it expectant, praying and asking for God to bring that same life-giving power to us each day? Shouldn’t we crawl to the word each morning and with trembling breath pray, “Oh God, I know that your Word is powerful beyond what I can comprehend! It gave me new life when I had no hope of life! Would you work with that same power in me today? Would you open up your word to me with that same power this morning?” Yes, we should come to the word with that kind of expectancy, with that kind of longing.
Think of a man who comes to a field, and he knows that in this field, there is buried an unbelievable amount of gold. More gold than he could possibly imagine. And this man has a shovel and a sifting pan, and he’s ready to dig. How is he going to dig? With a ho-hum sense that he might find something valuable or with a sense of expectation that there is gold ready to be found? He will dig with expectation, with zeal, with passion! He will dig with expectation because he knows that in that field there is gold beyond what he could possibly imagine!
In the same way, come to the Scriptures with expectancy. There is in the word of God a wealth of riches that you cannot possible fathom. There is in the word of God a treasure trove of delight that surpasses your deepest longings. There is in the word of God a depth of power that can bring life even to those who are dead. When you come to the Scriptures, come like the man who comes to the field full of gold. Come and dig with expectancy. Open the passages of your Bible and pray to God, “Father, I know that you have included in your word riches beyond compare, power beyond imagination! Would you show me those things? Would you pour out those riches, that power on my life?” And then dig. Dig with all your might, with a sense of expectancy.
I think that is what it really means to long for the pure, spiritual milk of God’s word – to crave a daily outpouring of God’s power in our lives through his life-giving word! He may not grant it every day, but shouldn’t that be our expectation and hope? Leave the results up to God, but let our hearts long for that kind of powerful outpouring. Oh that God would make us a people who long for the pure, spiritual milk of his Word with that kind of expectancy!
The Life-Giving Word is also the Growth-Giving Word
That brings us to our second point – the life-giving word is also the growth-giving word. We saw last week that God gives us new life through his word – born again through the living and abiding word of God. In this passage, we see that the life-giving word is also the growth-giving word. That’s the logical connection between these two paragraphs. The life-giving word is also the growth-giving word. Let’s note two specifics about the growth-giving word.
First, the word brings growth in salvation. Look where Peter writes in v2, “long for the pure, spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” This is the reason why we should desire the milk of the word – so that we might grow up into salvation. Remember, Peter has already made it clear that believers have been born again to a sure salvation. Through God’s grace in the gospel, we are being saved. But that salvation will be finally revealed on the last day, when Christ is revealed from heaven and finishes what he started in the gospel.
What Peter is saying here is that the word is causing us to grow up into that final salvation. As the word works in us now, we are prepared and kept and secured for the last day, precisely because the word is working in us in the present. The work of the word in our lives now is evidence that God has caused us to be born again; it’s the evidence that the final day will bring salvation for us, not judgment. Through his word, God is maturing us in salvation for the purpose of saving us finally and fully on the last day.
What we need to see here is that our growth in that salvation comes through the word. Growth is not something that happens haphazardly. It comes through a dogged, expectant, daily pursuit of the word of God. As we long for the word, God uses that word to grow us up in salvation. He uses his word to mature, but that maturity doesn’t happen by chance. It comes through the word.
And growth doesn’t happen mystically or magically. It happens through your mind and heart interacting with the truth of God’s word. It happens as you read and memorize and wrestle with Scripture. It happens as you think and ponder and talk about what God has revealed in his word. You grow not by emptying your mind, but by filling your mind with the truth of Scripture. God gave you a mind for a purpose, and that ultimate purpose is to know him through his revelation in Scripture.
If you want to grow, then use your mind to engage with the word of God. You don’t have to be an expert in the Bible to grow from the word. God has given you what you need to understand his word and grow from it. He’s given you his Holy Spirit, and he’s given you a mind. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, and his job now is to illuminate your mind so that you might understand and benefit from the word. You don’t have to be an expert to grow! The Lord has given you what you need, and he asks you now to simply be faithful to engage with his word. Read it, feast on it, wrestle with it. Ask questions, have conversations, pray, and pray some more. Do everything you can to get the word of God into your heart and mind. Don’t think that growth is something mystical that will simply happen to you over time; it won’t! Engage your mind with the word of God, because it’s the word that will grow you up into salvation.
The second thing we should note is that the word puts off our former evil attitudes. In v1, Peter says to put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. This list follows his discussion of loving one another that we saw in 1.22. All of the evil attitudes Peter lists here are against love. You cannot love others is you are marked by malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. These attitudes are acids that corrode love within the church. If those kinds of attitudes pervade our lives, then there will be no love for one another. How can genuine love and hypocrisy exist in the same situation? They can’t; it’s not possible. Peter says here to put all of these evil attitudes away, so that we might continue to love one another.
Now, in one sense, these evil attitudes have been put off in the new birth. When God caused us to born again, he put these sinful, evil attitudes off of us. He gave us a new identity in Christ, which means that our old identity in Adam no longer defines us. The old me is gone, and there is a new me that has come to life through God’s work in the new birth. These evil attitudes belong to that old nature, and God put that nature off. In one sense, these things no longer define us.
But in another sense, these evil attitudes still cling to us. These acid-like attitudes still work to corrode my relationships with others. Even though I am in Christ, I still struggle with envy and deceit and hypocrisy. What Peter is saying here is that the believer must continue to put off what God has already decisively put off. Believers must put off in practice what God has put off in our identity. Even though we have a new identity and status before God, we are still plagued by that old sinful nature, what the Bible calls the flesh. Through God’s word and his Spirit, we must continue to put off those old, evil attitudes. The Bible calls that process of putting off sanctification – to be more and more like Christ through progress in holiness. That sanctification doesn’t happen in one moment; it’s a lifelong process that will only be finished when Christ returns and we see him face to face. Until that day, we must continually put off in practice what God has put off in the new birth.
How do we put off such evil attitudes in practice? Through the word! It was through the word that God caused us to be born again, and it is now through the word that God causes us to grow up into the salvation we received in the new birth. See how it works? As I long for the word, malice is destroyed. As the word works in my life, envy is driven away. Slander is replaced with encouragement. Deceit is put off, while honesty is built up. The word puts off those evil attitudes that once defined us, and the word enables us to love one another from a pure heart. This is how we grow to love one another. We continue to long for the word of God, which causes us to grow up into salvation, and through that word, we continue putting off these evil attitudes that work against love. In whatever way you need to grow, the word will do that work. It will grow up into salvation, and it will put off those evil attitudes that you used to define you. Whatever way you need, the word will do that work. The life-giving word is also the growth-giving word.
Now, unless I’m mistaken, the question that hangs in the minds of some people at this point is this – what if I don’t long for the word? What if I don’t crave God’s word? Let’s be honest – that’s a reality. There are seasons, sometimes prolonged seasons, when we don’t long for God’s word. Sometimes, there are days upon end when we don’t crave the word. We crave work or sleep or leisure or TV or whatever, but we don’t crave the word. What do we do in those times? Maybe you’re in one of those times this morning. You’ve been listening and thinking to yourself, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t long for the word. I don’t have that kind of craving.” If that’s the case, what do you do? Let’s see if we can find some sort of answer or direction from 1 Peter.
What we should note at this point is that Peter commands them to long for God’s word. He commands it. He commands them to desire the word. That’s strange, because we can’t make ourselves long for the word. We can’t make ourselves crave the Scriptures. It is beyond our ability to make ourselves feel things like desire and longing and craving. Isn’t this completely unrealistic? Why does Peter command us to long for the word if we can’t actually produce such longing?
Here’s my answer, with the help of people like Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis and Piper and the apostles Paul and Peter. My answer, but not original to me. I think Peter wants us to see that the answer to not longing for the word is the word. When you don’t crave the word is exactly the time when you should pursue it. This is because it’s through the pursuit of the word that we find desire for the word. It’s through pursuit of the word that God develops in us a craving for his word.
Why is this the case? Because the word has the power to create what it commands. Catch this. Why should we pursue the word when we don’t long for the word? Because the word has the power to create what it commands! Think about what Peter has already shown us in this letter. The word of God brought about new life in you. The word caused you to be born again. Now, think for a moment about that new birth. In the new birth, the word of God comes to you, a dead sinner, and the word says, “Live!” But there’s a problem. You’re dead, so how can you live? Because the word creates life in you! The word has the power to create what it commands.
If the word created new life when we were dead, then certainly the word can create in us a longing, even when we don’t have that longing. The word has the power to create what it commands. When the Bible says, “Long for the word,” you obey that command by going to the word. And as you go to the Scriptures, faithfully, day after day, the Spirit of God begins to kindle a flame of desire in your heart. Slowly at first, God works to give you a craving, an appetite for the Scriptures. As this happens, you begin to long more and more for the life-giving, growth-giving word of God.
This goes back to what we talked about earlier – coming to the word with expectancy. Even when we don’t long for God’s word, we should come to the word with expectancy because the word has the power to create what it commands. If you don’t long for God’s word this morning, be encouraged to go to that word, even without the longing, knowing that God’s word holds the power to create life even out of death. How will that same word not also create longing and desire in your cold heart? Trust him, even if you don’t crave the word this morning. Trust him that his word has the power to create what it commands.
Let’s close by looking at Peter’s words in v3. Look at what he says – “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The phrase sounds like a conditional, but Peter clearly thinks that this is the true experience of his readers. They have tasted that the Lord is good. They have tasted that Christ is good and satisfying. And it’s that taste of Christ in the gospel that keeps us going back to the milk of God’s word. We want more of the word because it was in the word that we tasted of Christ and his gospel. In the word of God, we have tasted the truth that Christ is our Redeemer. In the word of God, we have tasted the truth that Christ shed his precious blood for us. We have tasted of Christ’s goodness in the gospel, and it’s that gospel-taste that keeps us coming back to pursue Christ more and more in the word of God.
And I think that is something important we need to remember here at the end. When we long for the word, we don’t simply long for more information. We don’t long for the word so that we can make ourselves better Christians. We long for the word because the word reveals Christ to us, and Christ is our living hope. We long for the word in order to continue deepening our taste of Christ as the all-satisfying Savior. May God give us grace to long for the word so that we might taste more and more that the Lord is good.