May 16th , 2009, Ally and I were in a hospital in Albiline, Texas, for the birth of Noah, our first baby. We were adopting him. We’d found out about the mother’s pregnancy, the birth, and the possibility of adopting him only 5 weeks earlier. Those 5 weeks were filled with our regular jobs and hurrying through the process to qualify for adopting him. In all that craziness, we hardly had time to think about how to take care of a baby, let alone read the books on it. But then I couldn’t believe it, after only a day and a half we were expected to leave the hospital with this baby and no nurse was coming with us! Now, I was thankful that there was still some adoption paper work that had to be finalized, so for a little while we stayed at a foster family’s house. And they said, “You can stay at our house and do everything with taking care of the baby. We’ll just be there if you need us.” Great! But I seem to remember thinking at the hospital when we were expected to leave, “How could you let people like us, who have never had a baby, just walk out of here with a baby? Shouldn’t you give a class first on what you do with this little person or have us watch some how-to videos?” Aside from showing us how to wrap him like a burrito and strap him into a car seat, about the only instructions they gave us was basically, “Keep this end full and the other end empty and that’s the gist of it.” Keep him fed and clean. So that’s what we did and he survived and he looks like a normal eight year old now. Then we had another kid and did the same with him and he too survived and looks like a normal 5 year old, except he’s only as tall as the three year olds, but I think that’s just because he unfortunately has my genes. So I guess the main needs of a baby are to stay fed and clean.
Guess what the main needs of a newborn Christian are? Really of all Christians, but newborn Christians especially? Cleaning and feeding.
Our passage will be, I Peter 2:1-3. It begins with this word “Therefore” which bases what is said here on something previously said, and that is, I think, the last few verses of chapter 1. So in order that we might see the flow of Peter’s thought here, let’s read first the last few verses of chapter 1. I Peter 1:23, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you. 2:1 Therefore…” The sense of “Therefore” I think is “because you have been born again into the family of God, and because of the living and enduring nature of God’s word, because you are now God’s children and God’s word is so life giving and transforming and will always be so, because of those realities, this is what you should do:” “… putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
So I hear Peter saying, “If you are born again into the family of God, you need two things. First, you need cleaning (verse 1). So you need to be putting away all this filth whenever it’s on you. And second, you need feeding (verse 2). So you need to develop a serious appetite for spiritual nourishment like a newborn baby does for milk. And you need cleaning and feeding for three reasons… that you might grow, that you might experience ultimate salvation, and that you might experience more of the kindness of the Lord.
So let’s look here first at…
The filth we need to clean ourselves of
In verse 1 there are five grimy things that need to be wiped off. This is all relational filth. This all has to do with our attitude and treatment of other people. That’s a primary concern of God, the way we are toward one another, because He loves the other people too, you know, and He is interested in having a world where everybody loves one another, a world unspoiled by these kinds of impurities. That world is coming. God wants us to be a part of it. But we can’t bring this kind of stuff into it. This stuff that ruins this world has got to go. We must be cleaned of this that we might be a part of what God is making. The cleaning needs to happen in this life. God will help us but not force us. He wants it to be a free-will choice to rid ourselves of these things and to take on the heart of Jesus and love everybody.
Notice you have the word “all” three times in verse 1. “Putting aside ALL malice and ALL deceit and hypocrisy and envy and ALL slander…” It’s easy to be selective in your obedience. It’s easy to think if I scrub off most of the stuff the Lord dislikes, then I can get away with keeping a little of my favorite uncleanness. But it’s not just recommended that we should put these aside or that they’re unattractive and smelly, or that it’s just a good idea, rather all through Scripture, OT and NT, you find that these particular things are like infections or cancers. If ignored, if just allowed, they will erode your character and relationship with God.
Malice is ill will. It is evil wishes against another person. It’s wanting another person to hurt, to be disadvantaged, to lose something that they have going for them. It’s having a grudge against somebody. And that’s deadly. You remember Jesus taught “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. For example, you’ve heard them say, ‘Don’t murder or you’ll be liable to the court.’” That’s not going to cut it. “I say to you if you harbor anger toward your brother and tear him down with your words, saying things like “You fool[you good for nothing]”…” (Matt 5:20-22). He taught, when you ask God for forgiveness you might as well say, “Father, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” because that’s how God will forgive you. It is of the utmost importance to God that we learn from Him to forgive those who wrong us and tolerate what’s annoying about people and just want and seek their best interest, like God has done for us. Do you have a grudge against someone? If you were to hear that something bad happened to a certain person, would you smile and say, “He got what was coming to him”? Do you have any malice in your heart? Any at all? Put it aside. That’s infectious filth.
The next word, deceit, is a word in the original language that was used a lot by fishermen. The word literally means to bait or to decoy. Fishermen are deceitful, did you know that? You fisherman (Bobby Parker, George Cowan), you’re a bunch of liars. Many fishermen lie about how big the fish was that they caught, but they all lie to the fish too. They cover up a hook with something yummy for the fish and dangle it in the water as if to say “Here, I just want to feed you.” It’s lying, it’s deceit. It is intentionally leading another to believe something other than the full truth on the matter. It’s cleverly hiding an aspect of the truth for your personal advantage. I don’t think God has a problem with that when it’s just fish. But among people, the book of Proverbs says it is an abomination to Him. So all deceit, all cleverly hiding of the truth, intentionally misleading, manipulating, giving false impressions, must be put away.
Then next in the list is hypocrisy. If there was one thing Jesus hated, it was hypocrisy, when the way you present yourself around people is not really who you are in private, when the public appearance you portray is inconsistent with your true character. Jesus wanted transparency and honesty, even if that honesty revealed things that were not very nice. Jesus was much gentler and more gracious toward the tax collectors and sinners who would admit their sinfulness than He was toward the Scribes and Pharisees (who maybe committed less sinful deeds on a regular basis), but who acted in public like they were far more righteous then they were. They would say long prayers in public, but never pray at home by themselves. They would give large amounts when people were watching, but never when there was nobody around to see it. They would fast only when it would be noticed. I think one reason the Lord so hates hypocrisy is that it turns people away from Him and from the church as much as about anything. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I don’t go to church because it’s filled with hypocrites.” To which usually I want to say, “Oh well then you won’t mind coming. You’ll fit right in.” But that’s probably not the best way to respond. Putting aside hypocrisy, what does that mean exactly? It doesn’t necessarily mean, don’t do any righteous thing before other people. It’s not necessarily wrong to be seen praying or giving or confessing your faith. Jesus said let your light shine in such a way that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father who is in heaven. I think the way we implement this putting aside of hypocrisy is twofold. It involves, on the one hand, toning down the public show of righteousness if it doesn’t match how we are in private. And on the other hand, it involves stepping up in our private life until the public show won’t suggest anything untrue about us. For example, if you pray in public but don’t pray at home, on the one hand, quit praying in public. On the other hand, step up in your private prayer life and start praying at home so then you can pray in public and it won’t be hypocritical. If you carry a Bible around but don’t ever read your Bible, quit carrying a Bible on the one hand, but on the other hand start reading your Bible so you can carry it around without giving a false impression about you. If you teach a marriage class but you’re verbally abusive of your wife, quit teaching the marriage class. But start treating your wife with love so then you can teach the marriage class without being a hypocrite.
Next in the list is envy. And this is a nasty, horrible attitude in the Bible. It was responsible for the first murder in history (Cain’s murder of Able) and the worst murder in history (the murder of Jesus). Matthew 27:18 says Pilate knew that they handed Him over because of envy. They were just mad that He was being admired and loved and followed by so many. They wanted that and they didn’t want Him having that. It’s why Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. It’s why Korah and others rebelled against Moses and were swallowed up in the earth. It’s why Saul became obsessed with killing David. So many terrible deeds recorded in the Bible trace back to envy. It’s such an irrational and ugly thing. Envy is what goes on in your heart when somebody is blessed around you and you’re mad because that fortunate thing happened to them. Or it’s when you are pleased to hear that some unfortunate thing happened to somebody. It’s a hard sin to confess. It’s hard to confess, “I’m upset because that good thing happened to you. I wish you were worse off.” It is on the other end of the spectrum from love for that person.
And then the last one in the list: Slander. The Greek term is literally “to speak down”. It’s any talk to people or about people that does nothing but tear them down or cause others to think less of them. Did you know gossip is a form of stealing, worse than breaking into their house and stealing their jewelry? It’s stealing somebody’s reputation. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.” You do more harm to a person by defaming their name in the minds of people than by taking their money. I found a good Shakespeare quote. But I don’t want to be a hypocrite and give you the impression that I read Shakespeare, I don’t read Shakespeare. I just happened to come across this particular quote and thought it was good. A character in one of his plays said, “He who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”
These things are unbefitting children of God. These things are not going to be in the world God is bringing. These things must be cleaned off. But second, as children of God that need to be fed, we need regular nourishment.
So Peter says we should…
Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word.
Or your version may say the pure spiritual milk. The word in the original text is logikon, which only shows up twice in all of the NT (Rom 12:1). Scholars will say it’s hard to know exactly how to translate it. But you may know the Greek term logos, which means a word or a message or reasoning or thoughts. So logikon seems to mean something like belonging to the sphere of words or thoughts or reasoning, or belonging to the level of the mind. So the idea here I think is, as opposed to milk for the body, this is wordy milk, conceptual milk, milk for the mind, milk for the reason.
The pure nourishment for your mind does not come from the impure world. Obviously, it comes from God who is pure. And He gives this pure nourishment for our minds through the Scriptures and through those He has gifted to understand and explain and teach His word as long as they are faithful to the task.
I love the illustration Peter uses here for how we should crave the mental nourishment that comes from God: Like newborn babies crave milk. Have you ever been around a hungry baby? I think this is part of why maternity nurses are generally fine with letting inexperienced parents go home with their baby without a lot of coaching, because they know the baby is going to make them feed him when he’s hungry. If he’s hungry, though it’s 2 in the morning, he will communicate loud and clear, without words, “Wake up! Right now! Out of bed! Let’s go! Time to feed me! Stop taking so long. Get over here. Feed me now.” And they can try rocking him, making goo-goo faces, singing a lullaby, whatever they can imagine to satisfy him, but he will say, “FOOD! NOW! Don’t even think about putting that pacifier in my mouth! I will spit it in your face! You will give me food!” And he will do that every few hours.
And Peter says, we should have the same longing, craving, and appetite for learning more about God and His will and His plans, the unseen and eternal things, the things spoken of in the scriptures. Do you crave spiritual truth like a nursing baby craves milk? That’s a convicting question, isn’t it? What’s that look like? I’ve seen a few people I think that describes. That craving gets them here for Bible class whenever they can make it. That craving gets them out of bed a little earlier so they can read a little bit before they go to work. That craving has them read the Bible from cover to cover every year. They can’t get enough. They seize every opportunity to learn more about God and things that are unseen and eternal.
One of the things I’ve noticed that prevents this longing is if you think that you already know pretty much all there is to know about God and spiritual matters. I have heard multiply people say, “Yeah I’ve read the whole Bible a couple times or more. I know what it has to say.” I guarantee you don’t know it all. I used to think, out of Bible college and after I’d read the Bible a couple times, that I pretty much knew what every part of it was about. You could name a passage and I could give you the sense of it. And the more I’ve dived deeper into this incredible book, looked more carefully, the more I see that I didn’t know and the more I see that what I thought I knew was not true knowledge.
Many bible students and scholars have affirmed the imagery somebody, a long time ago, came up with that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.” It’s got a lot of very simple and straightforward parts. But even in these areas, look again and look more closely and often, there’s much more significance than just what lies on the surface. There’s a depth to the scriptures that you cannot plummet completely in a lifetime study.
Now, how do you bring yourself to crave something that you just don’t have a craving for? Like me and the olives. I’m not a fan of olives. I’ll eat them if they’re on something. I won’t pick them off a slice of pizza or sandwich if they’re already on it. But I would never order them on a pizza or sandwich. They’re okay. I just prefer other flavors if given the option. Some Christians find themselves like that toward the word of God. It’s not that it’s disgusting to them. It’s okay. Just given the choice they’d rather read a hunting magazine or watch TV or something else. If that’s you, how do bring yourself to crave spiritual truth? You know what would make me crave olives? If you were to convince me that olives would make me grow a few inches taller. Man I’d want a truck loud of olives if that was the case. Or maybe even if you just convinced me that they would hugely boost my immune system, my muscles, my memory, my eyesight. If I became convinced of great benefits in olives, then I’d want to eat more olives. And then probably as I got more used to them I’d develop more of a taste for them.
So Peter mentions some…
Benefits of learning more about God and the things He’s revealed.
He says, first of all, like physical nourishment makes a baby grow, spiritual nourishment will make you grow, and that is more into the likeness of Jesus. Don’t you want to be like Jesus? Don’t you want to be that patient, to be self-controlled? Don’t you want to be that certain about God’s will and what He wants you doing? Don’t you want to be at peace where you can sleep in the boat when the storm is raging around you? Don’t you want to be that beautifully unselfish, compassionate, and giving? Don’t you want to be that helpful and blessing to everyone around you? I’ll take that over being 6 feet tall with rippling muscles. But you cannot grow without proper nutrition. You must have a steady diet of God’s word to grow.
Second, at the end of verse 2 you have this phrase that my version translates “in respect to salvation.” Or it’s literally into or unto salvation or for salvation. It’s the same preposition that you see in Acts 2:38 (that most of us are familiar with), “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for or unto the forgiveness of your sins.” So, like how we repent and are baptized to come into the forgiveness of our sins, we are to grow from there to come into salvation. That is the ultimate salvation that we still have yet to experience when Jesus comes back. Peter, earlier in the letter, spoke of what we will experience on that day as salvation (1:5, 9, 13). As repentance and baptism is God’s condition to come into forgiveness, growth is God’s condition for ultimate salvation. Not that we be perfect. Not that we know it all. But that we keep growing, we keep learning and changing more into who He would have us to be, that we don’t decide “I know enough. I’m good enough. I’ll just remain as I am and coast to the finish line.” We can’t do that. We have to keep growing, keep trying to know and be more like Jesus.
And then, a third benefit of learning more from the Lord is suggested in verse 3. Translated literally, “if you have tasted that the Lord is kind.” Or “if you’ve tasted that the Lord is good”, an illusion to Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Haven’t you realized by experience that the Lord is kind. Hasn’t it blessed your life to come to know Him and come as far as you have in your relationship with Him? Isn’t it wonderful to have hope? Isn’t it wonderful to have purpose in life, something to live for? Probably you get along better with people now. Probably you feel much better about how you’re living. The point, I think, is if the Lord is kind and you should know that He is because of your experience, then you should realize that the more you learn of His word and the more you grow thereby to be who He wants you to be, the more it is going to bless you, the more joy and peace you are going to have.
It’s like the samples at Costco. They give you a taste of something, so you can see if it’s good, to decide whether you want to buy a whole box of the stuff (in case you want to experience more of that goodness). Well, I think that’s what Peter is saying. You’ve tasted a bit of His kindness. Why don’t you get more? You can experience more of His kindness, more of His hope, more joy, more peace, more wisdom for living your life well and helping others, more strength for the hard times, etc. Why don’t you get all you can? It’s free. The Lord wants you to.
I think this summarizes a lot of what I’m usually trying to say in sermons. The Lord is good and kind. The more you learn what He wants you to learn, the more you avoid what He wants you to avoid, the more you do what He wants you to do, the more you change how He wants you to change, and the better it is for you. The teaching, instruction, and guidance of the Lord is not enslaving, oppressive, or detrimental to you. It is kindness and blessing for you. Realize and trust that He’s good and go after all He wants you to know and all He wants you to be. Choose to experience more of His kindness by doing these things: be clean of all the malice, envy, hypocrisy, and slander, and grow to know more and be like Him.