By Bob Wilkin
How does growth occur in the Christian life? Is it by having an accountability partner? Prayer? Being in a small group? Attending church? Memorizing Scripture? Reading Christian books? A one-time commitment to serve God? Daily commitments to serve God?
The answer, as we shall see, is that God’s Word, if gladly received, produces growth.
Primarily that means that growth comes by attending a solid Bible-teaching church where your thinking is molded by clear verse-by-verse exposition.
Peter wrote his first epistle around AD 64, probably from Rome (see 1 Pet 5:13). Peter was writing to Jewish believers who were chosen by God to be pilgrims, or sojourners (1:1). That is, these
Jewish believers had been dispersed from their homelands.
At the end of chapter 1, Peter commanded the readers to love one another. At the start of chapter 2, he ties that theme in with the importance of the Word of God in our spiritual growth.
Prepare Yourself to Receive God’s Word (1 Peter 2:1)
The command is in v 2: “Desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”
But before Peter gets there, he tells the readers to lay aside those things which would hinder us in desiring and receiving God’s Word.
We are to lay aside:
• All malice
• All deceit
• All evil speaking
Peter is not being exhaustive here.
These attitudes and actions both look back and look forward. They look back to the command just given to love one another (1 Pet 1:22), and forward to the command to desire the pure milk of the word that we may grow thereby (1 Pet 2:2).
These sinful attitudes and actions hinder us from loving one another and from taking in God’s Word. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Wayne Grudem says, “Someone who is practicing ‘deceit’ or ‘envy’ or ‘slander’ will not be able truly to long for ‘pure spiritual milk’” (p. 94).
Ernest Best points out in his commentary: “the ability to receive spiritual nourishment…and the sharing of fellowship with other Christians are interdependent” (p. 97).
In the first century almost nobody had even a single book of the Bible in his home. People only received the Word at church on Sunday.
Thus, this certainly looks at the way one prepares to come to church. Notice that all of these things are community related: evil speaking, envy, hypocrisy, deceit, and malice.
In his commentary on Peter’s epistles and Jude, J.N.D. Kelly says, “If distinctions are to be drawn, wickedness (kakia: an all-inclusive term) and deceit stand for general attitudes disruptive of community life…” (p. 83).
Grudem says, “All these sins aim at harming other people, whereas love seeks the good of others” (p. 94).
Desire the Pure Milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2a)
Babies love mother’s milk. In our culture babies live on milk for the first six months or more. When a baby is hungry, he will make his strong desire known. And babies eat every two to three hours!
We are to hunger for God’s Word like a little baby craves milk.
The expression “the pure milk of the Word” can also be translated “pure spiritual milk.” The Greek is to logikon adolon gala. Logikon is only used twice in the NT, here and Rom 12:1, in which it refers to “reasonable service.” It is related to logos, which Peter uses in the preceding context (1:23). Though not all commentators agree, the translation “the pure milk of the Word” captures the sense nicely.
Just as milk provides physical nourishment, God’s Word provides spiritual nourishment.
Babies grow by means of milk. Christians grow by means of God’s Word.
Peter calls it “the pure milk.” It is pure in the sense that there is no error in God’s Word. It is 100% good for you. It is 100% true. It is fully profitable for growth.
Peter is not using the word milk to refer to merely the basic elementary teachings of God’s Word. Paul contrasts the milk of the Word and the solid food of the Word (1 Cor 3:2), where milk referred to the food baby Christians eat. The author of Hebrews made the same distinction in Heb 5:12-14, You need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their sense exercised to discern both good and evil.
Peter is using milk to refer to all the teachings in God’s Word. His point concerns the strong desire we should have to take in God’s Word. He is not suggesting that his readers are young believers or that they only receive basic teaching.
When we come to church on Sunday morning, do we come with a strong desire to hear and to receive God’s Word?
The preacher’s job is to prepare the spiritual meal. The listener’s job is to prepare himself to eat. He is to come with great anticipation.
Sometimes that is hard, isn’t it?
We can be sick or tired, or sick and tired.
Sometimes the preacher isn’t preaching the Word, but is instead preaching some recent Christian book or article.
I’ve come to see that being a good listener when others preach is just as important as being a good speaker when it’s my turn to speak.
Everyone, preacher included, needs to desire the pure milk of the Word.
That You May Grow Thereby (1 Peter 2:2b)
If a Christian does not feed on God’s Word, he will not grow.
Growth for the Christian comes by taking in God’s Word.
I should note that some English translations add “to salvation” at the end of v 2. The NIV, NASB, and HCSB all add those words. However, the majority of Greek manuscripts do not have them. Hence the NKJV and the KJV rightly do not include them.
In terms of eternal salvation, there is no growth. Once saved, always saved. Once born again, always born again.
Of course, there is a sense in which we can experience more out of everlasting life. We can experience it more abundantly. However, since the words to salvation are not in the text, that is not an explicit point Peter is making. He is talking about spiritual growth.
Years ago I had a discussion with a pastor friend. My friend is a DTS graduate, a very sharp guy, and a very gifted preacher. He was preaching each week to over 400 people, and they loved it.
I had been encouraging him to preach God’s Word verse by verse, like J. Vernon McGee. Instead, he would merely proclaim what he considered the main point of a passage, and then he would spend the bulk of the sermon giving lots of illustrations and practical applications.
We had lunch one day, and here is my recollection of what we said:
Me: I know you can preach verse-by-verse. You were trained in this, as I was, at DTS. And I know you are a gifted guy. This is a matter of choice on your part. It isn’t that you are unable to preach verse by verse and do it well.
Friend: Yes. I could. But I believe that the real issue in preaching is application, not explanation. Most Christians know a lot more Bible than they will ever use. What they need are practical ways in how to apply it.
Bob, this cuts both ways. You have given several sermons at our church in the past year. I’ve noticed that you gave almost no applications. Why don’t you give people specific applications to work on?
Me: Well, in my opinion most texts of God’s Word are not calling for us to do something, but to believe something. As I see it, the main application of most texts of Scripture is to have our minds renewed as Rom 12:1-2 and 2 Cor 3:18 say. Our lives are transformed as our minds are renewed. So instead of laying out a lot of specific applications when the text of Scripture gives no such applications, I seek to help the listener understand and believe what God says.
In my view, spiritual growth occurs when we believe what God says. We need what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). We need to have our minds renewed. When we think properly, our actions follow.
Friend: When you don’t give specific applications, people leave and nothing changes in their lives. You have given them a Bible lesson, but nothing to do.
Me: There’s the difference in the way we view preaching. I see God’s Word as changing lives. I don’t see my coming up with lists of applications as changing people.
We moved on to other things because it was clear we had different views on how preaching should be done.
At my home church, Victor Street Bible Chapel in Dallas, we are all united in the power of God’s Word. For over 60 years (including nearly 50 years when Zane Hodges spoke once each month), this church has proclaimed the glorious gospel of grace and the power of God’s Word to cause us to grow. Verse-by-verse Bible teaching has been the hallmark of this church. It doesn’t matter whether you listen to Luis Rodriguez, Dave Renfro, Charlie Bing, John Daniels, or me, you hear the Word of God being taught. If you desire it and receive it, then you grow thereby.
If You Have Tasted That the Lord Is Gracious (1 Peter 2:3)
Peter’s remarks are an allusion, a loose reference, to Ps 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
Most commentators note that the word LORD in Ps 34:8 is Yahweh and that it refers to God. However, Peter and Christian writers understand Yahweh in Ps 34:8 to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I would say that Yahweh in the OT often referred to the second person of the Trinity, but it isn’t until the NT that we realize this.
Peter uses a word for gracious or good here that sounds like Christ. The word is chrēstos, which means kind or good. There is a play on words here. The reader sees that Peter is talking about Christ (Christos in Greek): the Lord, Christ, is chrēstos, kind or good, to us. To be kind or good is to respond to people with favor, with blessings, whether deserved or undeserved.
Ernest Best paraphrases this as “‘You have tasted that the Lord is good (= Christ),’ i.e., good for food, for growth” (p. 99).
The Lord’s goodness is seen especially when we partake of His Word.
Peter’s point is that if a person learns from God’s Word that God is gracious toward those who love Him and follow Him, then he grows by his desire and reception of the Word.
There is a sequence here. When we receive God’s Word, we grow and we experience the goodness of God in our lives. This in turn makes us hungrier to partake of more food from God’s Word. The more we grow, the more we desire God’s Word.
This is a Biblical principle. The Lord said that the one who has will receive more, but the one who does not have will lose what he has (Luke 8:18; 19:26). So the more we taste the goodness of the Lord, the more we desire His Word and the more we grow. Growth occurs week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade, as we come to church desiring and receiving the pure milk of God’s Word.
Of course, if a brand-new believer has not yet tasted that the Lord is gracious, then this is a lesson he needs to learn. This is an invaluable lesson in growth.
To be born again we must believe in the promise of everlasting life to the believer.
To grow in our new life we must believe that the Lord is gracious toward those who love and follow Him.
Legalism will not produce true and lasting spiritual growth.
Art Farstad told me a cautionary story. Many years ago a young man in Art’s assembly was influenced by a Christian teacher to read ten chapters of the Bible daily: five chapters of Proverbs, one chapter of Psalms, and two chapters each in the rest of the OT and in the NT. The young man found this a burden. But he felt he could only please God by faithfully doing this.
While Art was preaching God’s Word, he’d see the young man plowing through his required ten chapters. He wasn’t listening as God’s Word was being taught by one of the great Bible teachers of our day! When they had prayer meeting, the young man was reading his ten chapters.
While it is fine to read God’s Word daily, we must not be legalistic about it. There is no command to read so many chapters a day. In fact, in the early church no one had even one book of the Bible in his home. People could only get the Word of God by coming to church and hearing it proclaimed. Even today when many of us have five or more different translations in our homes and offices, our primary intake of the Word of God should still be in church. God gifts men to teach His Word, and church is the primary place we hear that instruction.
God’s Word is living. It is powerful. It changes lives. That is why it is so important that we desire the pure milk of the Word. That is why we should come to church hungry for a spiritual feast.
Come to church ready to receive God’s Word. Be prayerful and desirous to learn.
Realize that growth comes from our taking in God’s Word. Treasure it.
It is not wrong to love God’s Word. If we love God, then we must love His communication to us.
This applies to when we hear the Word in church, when we read it on our own, when we are in Bible studies, and when we read Christian books about the Word, etc.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 41 years, Sharon. His latest book is Is Calvinism Biblical? Let the Scriptures Decide.