1 Peter 2:2

‘as newborn babies,
long for the pure milk of the Word,
that with it you may grow’
(1 Peter 2:2)

This exhortation, from the apostle Peter, is about spiritual birth, spiritual appetites and spiritual growth. They form a natural sequence, so it’s helpful to consider them like that.

First the spiritual birth, which is what Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus was about. This is essential, before we can even begin to comprehend the things of God: ‘“unless one is born anew, he can’t see God’s Kingdom… That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit… ‘You must be born anew’… born of the Spirit”’(John 3:3-8). Earlier in this letter, Peter addresses his readers as those who’d been ‘born again’(1 Peter 1:3&23) through ‘seed… the word of God’(1 Peter 1:23), the ‘Good News which was preached to you’(1 Peter 1:25), the same ‘“seed… word of God”’(Luke 8:11) that Jesus mentions in the parable of the sower. So this word-seed and the Spirit work together. God gives ‘birth to us by the word of truth’(James 1:18) ‘through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit’(Titus 3:5). As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘We… speak these things… in words which… the Holy Spirit teaches… they are spiritually discerned’(1 Corinthians 2:13-14).

Once born in this way, and having ‘tasted that the Lord is gracious’(1 Peter 2:3) and ‘good’(Psalm 34:8) in this New Testament sense, also described as drinking refreshing ‘“living water”’(John 4:10, cf. John 7:37-39, Revelation 22:17 & Isaiah 55:1ff.), we’ll develop an appetite for more of the same, including the milk mentioned here, and the ‘meat’(1 Corinthians 3:2) that Paul refers to elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, such ongoing feeding involves the word and the Spirit too, marinated together and digested similarly – it’s how the growth described here begins. The Spirit animated ‘word of God… living and active’(Hebrews 4:12), transforms and conforms our ‘thoughts and intentions’(Hebrews 4:12) to the very ‘mind… of God’(Romans 12:2)‘Christ’s mind’(1 Corinthians 2:16). That’s why Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples: ‘“Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth”’(John 17:17) and taught them that ‘“The words… I speak… are spirit, and are life”’(John 6:63). So Paul would encourage us all: ‘be renewed in the spirit of your mind’(Ephesians 4:23); set your ‘minds on… the things of the Spirit’(Romans 8:5); cease to ‘walk… in… ignorance’(Ephesians 4:17-18) and the spiritual blindness of your formally ‘darkened’(Romans 1:21ff.) minds – rather walk ‘as children of light’(Ephesians 5:8).

Perhaps surprisingly, however, we’ll find that our appetite for the darkness persists, despite these new heavenly appetites. Later in this chapter, Peter urges his readers to abstain from such cravings, which ‘war against the soul’(1 Peter 2:11). We’re to starve the bad and nurture the good. As Paul taught, we’re to ‘make no provision’(Romans 13:14) for these old appetites. Helpfully, living for the appetising new flavours found in the ‘fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness’(Galatians 5:22) etc., is a great way to suppress the bad, i.e. ‘walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfil the lust of the flesh’(Galatians 5:16).

That brings us to an essential further aspect of this growth, the fruiting – the ultimate purpose of these healthy spiritual appetites and nourishment. We’re to ‘grow’ not simply in knowledge of the word, enjoying its taste, but bear the fruit as well. As Peter wrote in his second letter, the aim is not just ‘faith… and… knowledge’(2 Peter 1:5-6) but ‘moral excellence… self-control… perseverance… godliness… and… love’(2 Peter 1:5-7ff.) etc., especially the latter. As Paul put it: ‘If I… know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith… but don’t have love, I am nothing’(1 Corinthians 13:2). Similarly John: ‘He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love’(1 John 4:8), never forgetting God’s ‘righteousness’(1 John 2:29) more generally, like Peter’s list of other ‘things’(2 Peter 1:8) that should characterise growing Christian maturity.

The corporate nature of this holiness is important too. Peter’s mind quickly turns to that a few verses later. He describes the Christian community as a collection of ‘living stones… built up as a spiritual house, to be… holy… God’s people’(1 Peter 2:5-10), set apart and different from the world, like ‘foreigners and pilgrims’(1 Peter 2:11), characterised by ‘good behaviour… good works’(1 Peter 2:12) and the like.

Finally, we should note one specific context of this letter, the ‘various trials’(1 Peter 1:6, cf. 3:14ff., 4:12ff., etc.) mentioned. Digesting and applying its truths in such contexts can actually help to ‘perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle’(1 Peter 5:10) us, whilst ‘undergoing the same’(1 Peter 5:9, cf. James 1:2-4 & Romans 5:3-5).

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