Long for the Word
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 2:1-3
The other day, as I was driving home from the grocery store, I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus. The ad had two pictures of a middle-aged man. In the first picture, he’s in workout gear, sweating, and holding a barbell while straining to lift it. In the second picture, he’s smiling, looking refreshed, and rejuvenated. The poster was an advertisement for a gym membership, and the tagline was “Worth it.”
If we put more words to it, the message was that even though working out is difficult or strenuous or bothersome, the benefits of exercise are worth the pain. Some of you might agree with that. Some of you don’t.
As I made a mental note of the advertisement, my mind went to a passage in First Timothy chapter 4. Timothy was a young man, maybe in his 30s, when Paul wrote this letter to him with instructions about how to lead in the church. And Paul says: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Paul isn’t saying that exercise is bad. He’s saying that the benefits are temporary, especially when compared to godliness, which has an eternal benefit. To use the words of the advertisement, Paul says that disciplining yourself for godliness is “worth it.”
God wants us to be proactive in our spiritual growth. How do we do that? What should we be pursuing if we want to grow spiritually?
Last week, as we finished up First Peter chapter 1, we saw the command to love one another. That’s a key focus of spiritual growth. That’s the summation of the Christian life. And the call to love one another was connected to the power and the permanence of God’s word.
Since the word endures, our love should endure. The power of God’s word should be seen in the power of our love. God’s faithfulness, which is evident in His word, should be evident in our love.
The final verse of chapter 1 says, “The word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
That marks the transition to a new focus of the Christian life. You focus on love, and you focus on the word of God. That’s another vital key to spiritual growth. You can’t be a Christian without love. And you cannot be a Christian apart from the word of God.
So, with that in mind, let’s read the opening verses of chapter 2. This is God’s word for us today.
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The New American Standard does a better job here of preserving the sentence structure from the original Greek. Verses 1-3, in the original, are all one sentence. And the heart of that sentence is the command of verse 2: Long for milk. Yearn for it. Eagerly desire it.
The word for “longing” here is an intense word. It’s used by other biblical authors to talk about a desire to be with someone you love. It’s also used to talk about our desire for our glorified body. One Greek dictionary says that this word is such a strong desire that it comes with the implication of a need. And that’s exactly what’s happening here.
Peter is calling us to desire something that is vital for us, and the picture he wants in our minds is that of newborn babies longing for milk. Newborn babies might take some time learning how to eat, but they don’t need anyone to tell them that they should want to eat. Once a healthy baby is born, that desire comes almost immediately.
If everything goes well in the hospital, the nurses clean up the baby, they weigh and measure the child, and then what? They give the child to mom. This kid wants to eat. He wants sustenance.
Peter is talking about the word of God, and he calls it “milk” or “spiritual milk.” The Greek word for “spiritual” is somewhat broad. It could also mean rational or logical. The Greek word is “logikós” which comes from the word “logos” which means “word” or “message.” So, this adjective points to something that is carefully thought out. It’s orderly or organized or rational. The “milk” Peter is talking about is the message of Jesus Christ, which had been preached to them. That’s the spiritual milk, or the rational milk.
In First Corinthians and in Hebrews, the authors talk about God’s word as milk, but there, it’s used somewhat negatively for those who are only receiving simple things, introductory things. That’s not what Peter is doing here. In this context, drinking milk is not a bad thing. It’s what Peter wants Christians to long for, to desire.
In looking at that word for “long,” I noticed that this is the only time in the Bible where it’s used as a command, in the imperative sense. God commands us to love one another. And God commands us to desire His word.
Is that even fair? Is that appropriate? How can someone command someone else to desire something? I can ask my kids to clean up their toys, but can I ask them to desire something more? Is that fair?
Well, whether or not you think it’s fair, it actually happens all the time in our culture. In fact, it happens so often, most of us are desensitized to it. We call it a commercial. Isn’t the aim of a commercial to try to get you to change your desires? And then, having your desires changed, to use their product, or visit their website, or whatever else. That’s what a commercial is saying: “You need to value this. You need to want this. You need to desire this!”
And that commercial can happen with words, and it can happen with pictures. Either way, the point is the same.
How many of you have ever seen a commercial or an ad for Netflix? If you’ve ever used Netflix, you’ve seen a commercial for it. Because the platform itself is like a giant commercial. You can’t start watching a movie without seeing an endless array of other movies and shows begging for your attention. Those are ads.
“Click on this. Desire this. Invest your time in this. And your life will improve.”
Well, I don’t need statistics to point out the vast difference between how much time our church spends with the Bible, and how much time is spent watching TV, or Youtube, or Netflix, or Hulu, or Disney Plus, or whatever else is out there on the internet. You can think about that in your own life.
Today’s discussion isn’t about how much time you spend listening to or reading the Bible. Today’s discussion is about how much we want to. My intention today is not to guilt all of us into change. That doesn’t work. That doesn’t last. My hope is that we can look at these three little verses and have our desire for God’s word grow. And if that desire grows, our habits change. And our conversations change. And we will, individually and as a family, mature spiritually.
So, how do we grow our desire for God’s word? That’s what I’m going to answer in our points for today. How do we grow our desire for God’s word? Here’s what Peter says.
Number 1: You renounce the sin in your life. You renounce the sin in your life. That means make a commitment to get rid of it. Put it to death. Look at verse 1 again.
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
Remember, this comes right after the command to love. And what we have here is the opposite of love. It may even have been some of the more specific sins Peter’s original audience was dealing with.
“Malice” is a generic word for wickedness or evil. “Deceit” and “hypocrisy” are talking about overt sneakiness or a double-life. This is the opposite of genuineness. This is the opposite of a life that confesses sin and wants to fight it.
Envy is connected to covetousness or jealousy. And slander is when you talk bad about someone, particularly when they’re not present to defend themselves. These are the kinds of sins we all deal with. And if you think you don’t have a problem with covetousness or with your tongue, you are doomed. We all deal with that.
So, how does renouncing and fighting sin increase my desire for God’s word? Why does Peter include it before the main command?
For starters, we need to recognize that the word of God points us in a different direction than our sinful nature. And the work of God in our life is not addition, it is replacement. God doesn’t call us to simply add some religious activity to our lives. He calls us to get rid of the old life before we put on the new life.
If you try to put on a new set of clothes without taking off the old set of clothes, you look ridiculous and the new set is wasted. It won’t work. God’s word won’t do it’s intended work in your life, if you are unwilling to deal with sin.
You can’t keep shoving new clothes into your closet or your drawer and expect it to fit. You have to take the old stuff out. Do you get that?
If you don’t actively work to fight the sin in your life, you will not have an increasing desire for God’s word. You’re not going to want to read the Bible. Because the Bible, as God’s instrument for our righteousness, will bring conviction at times. It’ll bring correction. And if you don’t want to be exposed to the problems in your own life, you’re not going to want to read or listen to the Bible as God intends for you to receive it.
Another consideration here is that if you are committed to laying aside the sin in your life, you’re gonna be tired. It’s going to be draining. And so, you will need spiritual sustenance. You’ll think, “God, please, I need Your help!” And how do you access that help? By prayer and by God’s word.
Maybe you’re not spiritually hungry because you’re not spiritually active. Think about that. Maybe you’re not spiritually hungry because you’re not spiritually active.
By spiritually active, I don’t necessarily mean some kind of great, externally visible Christian project. Spiritual activity includes the daily battle with sin. The more aware you are of your sin compared to Christ’s righteousness, the more you realize you need God’s help. And your hunger and your desire to commune with God through His word will grow.
So, if you want to increase your desire for the word of God, renounce the sin in your life. Make a commitment to lay aside anything that dishonors Christ.
Let’s move on now to a second way to increase our desire. Number 2: Remind yourself of its power Remind yourself of the power of the word of God.
That’s what Peter is doing when he says that the word is pure. That’s verse 2: “Long for the pure spiritual milk.” “Pure” here means unadulterated, unmixed, untainted, undiluted.
I have three young children, so my wife and I know what it means to dilute stuff. We water down the juice. We dilute it because it makes it last longer, and it reduces the amount of sugar the kids are gonna get. We don’t want them getting used to drinking a bunch of sugar. Well, as kids get older, they realize what’s happening, and they don’t like it. Most of us would rather not have our sodas and our juices watered down. We want the full force.
And that’s especially true in things that we believe are good for us. None of us wants to find out that out that some kind of medication we paid for has been watered down. We want it pure. We want to experience its full effect. We want it to work.
That’s what Peter is saying about God’s word. It’s pure. It’s potent. It works.
I’m sure most of us can find some kind of redeeming value in a book or in a TV show, but if we’re looking for something that will transform our lives for our eternal good, the word of God is absolutely pure. And that’s why it is our spiritual nourishment, our spiritual milk.
Look at the end of verse 2. Peter wants us to long for this milk so that “by it [we] may grow up into salvation.” This is what matures you spiritually. There’s no hidden secret. There’s no magic pill. This is what produces and what promotes our spiritual life. This is what makes us more like Christ.
That passage I read to you earlier from First Timothy 4 says this as well: “you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” NAS says we are “nourished” by it.
Jesus prayed in John 17:17: “Father, sanctify My disciples in the truth; Your word is truth.” The word of God is what sanctifies us. It’s what grows us. This is how the Holy Spirit works.
That doesn’t mean we detach ourselves from the word. But it does mean we need to stop looking for spiritual sustenance outside the word of God. When I am genuinely encouraged by a brother or a sister in the Lord, what brought that about? It happens when they speak the word of God to me. It doesn’t have to be an exact quote in King James, but what they encourage my soul with is the truth of God.
This is what makes our corporate musical worship so powerful. It’s not simply an emotional exercise. It’s grounded in God’s powerful and eternal truth. Spiritual life came to us through this word. And that never stops. This is how God continues to grow your spiritual life. It is the instrument of the Spirit of God to sanctify you.
And we need to recognize here that our culture—and our own sinful, lazy flesh—doesn’t want truth. It wants an experience. It wants to be entertained. We don’t want to think. We don’t want to be challenged. We want to be pampered. We want to be affirmed. We want chocolate and sweets rather than a nutritious meal.
And this is a danger even in the Christian sphere, because there are Christian preachers and Christian books urging us to look somewhere else, other than Christ’s word, in order to commune with Christ.
I was reminded this past week about a very, very famous book called Jesus Calling. It’s written by a woman named Sarah Young. And in the first edition of that book, here is what she wrote in the introduction: “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.”
This woman sold a lot of books. And her original claim was that these were the very words of God spoken to her. That’s why she wrote it in the first person. The whole premise of the book is that the Bible isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to meet your needs. It isn’t enough to make you into who God wants you to be. And so, as is typical with anyone seeking to add to the words of God, Jesus sounds more like them, than He does in the Scriptures.
True wisdom, true spiritual maturity, doesn’t come from trying to listen to some individual message from God. It comes from the pure milk of the Bible. Sit down and listen to what God has said. This will make all the difference—if you give it your attention. So continually remind yourself of its power.
There’s one final way to increase your appetite for God’s word. You renounce the sin in your life. You remind yourself of its power. And, number 3, you remember the goodness of God. Remember the goodness of God. That’s the message of verse 3: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Peter is taking his readers back to a previous experience they have had. And what he probably has in mind are the words of Psalm 34: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
That’s a psalm calling people to trust in Him to be rescued. In this case, Peter is calling them to remember a time when they tasted God’s goodness. Maybe you’ve tasted God’s goodness through His provision or His protection, and that’s a good thing. But what I think Peter has in mind is His goodness in salvation, when His goodness was experienced, not necessarily tangibly, but invisibly. At conversion, your soul felt the weight of sin and conviction. Your soul feels the condemnation you deserve, and yet it also experiences the goodness of God through Jesus Christ.
There is, at the moment of salvation, a wonderful relief at what God has done for you in Christ. Externally, nothing changes immediately. It’s not visible in the circumstances of your life, but your soul rejoices to know that the eternal God has transferred you from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
That’s the taste of God’s goodness. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit on the human heart.
Peter lists it as a condition for pursuing God’s word. If you don’t love God, if you can’t say that you’ve ever experienced His love for you, your probably not saved—but you can be. Call out to god for mercy. Stop trying to taste the goodness of this life and beg Him to show You His goodness in Jesus Christ. Turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ. His perfect life, His sacrifice on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are the only way to be saved. He is the true King and He is the only mediator between man and a perfectly good God.
For those of us who have surrendered our lives to Christ, we recognize that our spiritual life isn’t always as vibrant as it used to be. We don’t experience the thrill of walking with God like we once did. But don’t you wish you could? Don’t you wish you could get that taste again? Don’t you wish you could experience anew that fresh, vibrant, joyful relationship with Jesus Christ? How does that happen?
It happens as you give yourself to word of God. This is the word that brought you new life, that introduced you to Jesus Christ. And this is the word that will show Him to you all the more clearly.
Does that mean if you read your Bible tomorrow, it’s going to be a mountain top experience? Maybe, or maybe not. But as your relationship with God through His word deepens you will delight in God more and more.
Think with me, if you will, of the typical love of a newlywed couple. And then compare that love to what it can look like 30 years later. Maybe it’s grown distant. Maybe it’s grown cold through neglect. But, if a couple has put in the work to pursue one another and to show vulnerability and to keep those communication lines open, how is that love going to compare? It’s deeper. It's richer. It’s more substantive.
That doesn’t mean the newlywed love was meaningless. It just means that that’s not the end.
The Holy Spirit residing within a believer produces a longing for redemption and a longing to be with Christ. We don’t know the exact moment that will happen, but we do know that Christ hears us, and He calls us to commune with Him by the word His Spirit has given us.
Let’s remember the goodness of our Lord. And let’s taste it again by devoting ourselves to the word He has given us.