By Jonathan Moseley
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
1 Peter 2:1-3
Some of us have been coming to church with very little victory over sin and very little increase in our affections for God. We stumble over the same questions, fall into the same struggles, and wrestle with the same doubts. Should you give up? If you’re a Christian, you would say never! But you do want to grow up. You want to mature as a believer. And the next question that may be in your heart is, “How then can I grow?” Peter is going to help you.
Peter writes this letter addressed to Christians living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1). The early church started in Jerusalem but they scattered, and the reason for this dispersion was persecution. So, Peter takes up penning this epistle in hopes that Christians will stay faithful to the Gospel in the midst of their suffering.
Enemies of Love
Before we come to 2:1, Peter has already commanded them to love one another sincerely and earnestly. This would be impossible for them to do by themselves, except they have been born again. The first birth is a natural one by a mother, but “born again” is the birth that happens supernaturally by the Holy Spirit and what makes you a child of God. It’s a spiritual birth. It comes after your natural birth when you have faith in Jesus Christ. When we become children of God, this new heart is able to love God. But love cannot grow in the same heart as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Because they seek to kill love. They want to damage a person, not help a person. They are enemies of love. Let’s take a quick look at these words and try to understand what they mean:
Malice | Think about this as taking pleasure in another’s harm. It’s enjoyment over something bad happening to a person, a heart that secretly smiles at their hurt.
Deceit | This is pulling a fast one on someone—in other words, making what is false appear as something that is true.
Hypocrisy | This is just one of the many forms of deceit. Giving compliments but not really meaning them—that’s hypocrisy. Being one person in public and another person in private. Making promises but not really planning to keep them. It’s an inconsistency between what you say and what you do. It’s fake and counterfeit.
Envy | This can be described as resentment towards someone because they have something you want. It grieves or gets angry over another’s successes.
Slander | The others we have taken a look at are more internal. However, slander is a little more progressive. Slander is not internal. It moves beyond wishing harm and actually brings it. Slander seeks to put someone down or ruin someone’s reputation by speaking against them.
It is not clear what may be causing these Christians to struggle with this list Peter lays out. Or what makes Peter mention it here. It’s possible that the scattering of Christians has brought together Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in close proximity and both parties haven’t quite gotten over their prejudices towards one another. It’s possible that fear and uncertainty brought upon by the day-to-day pressures of living under the constant threat of persecution are bringing out the worst in people. We don’t know, and honestly, it doesn’t make much difference.
Either way, Peter is clear on this: we are to get rid of all forms of evil. Literally, we are to throw them off! (2:1). But sadly, these evils can be like wet clothes--they stick closely and they're hard to get rid of.
So, how can we do it? What will it take to snuff out these evils and give room for love to grow?
The Word Does the Work
Notice what Peter says. Putting aside these evils, we are to be “like newborn infants, long for the pure milk of the word—that by it, you may grow up into salvation” (2:2-3). There are two questions here: 1) What's the milk? The last verse of Chapter 1 tells us. The milk is the word, namely, the good news that was preached, and 2) How are we supposed to be like newborn infants? In our longing! Infants eagerly want milk from their mother. Milk is what they depend on for survival; so, in their desperation for nourishment, they cry if they don’t have it. Peter wants our longing for the word to be like the longing of an infant for milk.
Notice this is a fight for our emotions. He wants there to be a baby-like eagerness, desperation, and dependency on the word. Peter considers the word pure—meaning, true, and nourishing—that’s why we grow by it. The word will do the work of maturing us as Christians, but we have to be careful about what we long for. You might say, “I want to long for the word. I really do. But I just don’t get excited about reading. I don’t know how to have this longing Peter is commanding. I’m having trouble engaging my emotions with God.”
Here, I would gently take you to what Peter says next in v.3, “if (since) you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Peter has already said, “Put away evil. Long for the word.” Now, he grounds it all in “if (since) you have tasted the Lord is good.”
The born again Christian has had some kind of experience with God. It was the moment the news of the Gospel became good news. This news may have struck you suddenly or you may have grown up hearing this news and slowly it became sweet to you. When the Gospel becomes real in your heart, you gag at your own sin. And you need something to replace that bitter taste, so you reach for something that could refresh the soul of your mouth: the Gospel. The experience you enjoyed was a taste of the Lord’s kindness. And maybe since then, God has spoken to you. Each time he does is another taste of his kindness.
What we can do when our emotions fail to feel what they should about God?
We can remember the taste of past pleasures. This is what Peter is encouraging to his audience with the end v.3, “if (since) you have tasted that the Lord is good.” We use our minds to think back on God’s goodness—how he loved us, how he provided for us, how he cared for us. As we do this, God may create something in you: longing. That’s what happens to your mouth when you start thinking about the last home-cooked meal or a juicy steak. It begins to water—with desire. When our emotions struggle to engage God with love and joy, wander into the past and hold fast to a moment where you tasted the sweetness of God’s Word. No wonder Peter spends so much time explaining the Gospel, because this is a sure place we can always go when our emotions need some help. In this way, the word—or the good news—works to help create the longing Peter calls for. Let your heart remember the taste of past pleasures for renewed and rekindled passions for here and now.
How Then Can We Grow?
1) Know that milk is for the young and old. In other words, never try to graduate from the Gospel. Yes, there are deep things of God to explore and study and know that build upon the Gospel. But you don’t learn the alphabet and then try to make words without letters. You need the letters to make the words. The Gospel is never something we move on from. Peter would not want us to. We use these simple truths of the Gospel to influence everything about how we think, act, and do. We are spiritually born by the Gospel. And we spiritually grow by the Gospel.
2) Grab the right bottle. Notice that Peter takes you to the source of your growth: the word. That's the bottle we should drink from. It's in this bottle that we find the milk we need for the nourishment of life. Just as a caution here: do no think you can grab the same bottle culture drinks from and expect to mature as a Christian. You cannot reach for control and popularity and riches and relaxation and expect to grow up into salvation. You can't reach for hours of uninterrupted Netflix and poor music and expect your soul to be nourished. What are you feeding your soul? Peter says, "Long for the word." Grab the bottle of God's Word.