We have problems with Leviticus. We either laugh, cry, or simply give up when we read the specifics of God’s law to the Hebrews. Why would God care what they ate, or that they didn’t mix kinds of fabric, or who they had sex with, or what was clean and unclean? In many ways, God was taking a people, His people, and removing from them everything that corrupts directly or because of the connections to Egyptian and Canaanite religions. God was taking a mixed up group of people with an adulterated impure faith and showing them the way to becoming unadulterated and pure in their faith, life, and practice. Peter, along with others, provides similar instructions for us.
Welcome to the eight step in our Walk Through 1st Peter. If you are just joining us or would like to share previous articles, they can be found on our website – lambchow.com. Even though we’re beginning the second chapter of Peter, there is really no break in thought between Chapter 1 and 2. Today we consider the first few verses. “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, NASB95) Peter logically connects what follows with what came before. He is, in essence, saying, “Since you have become obedient to the truth and received the imperishable seed of God’s word, therefore, do this…”
Ok, I’ll admit that I’m not very good at putting things away. I’m definitely not a neat-freak, or even a neat wanna be. No excuses, no regrets. No, I don’t feel better when everything is put away, it just seems sterile. I guess I’ve accepted that life is messy. But I do take Peter’s instruction to put aside or away malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander very seriously.
Peter’s list is obviously not inclusive of everything we as followers of Jesus are to put away. See also Mark 7:21–22; Rom 1:29–31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10; Gal 5:19–20; Col 3:5, 2 Peter 2:10–14. The particular items in today’s verses have a couple of things in common.
First of all, Peter is including every expression of the five vices by either stating “all” or by indicating the plural (something lost in the English translation). For instance, hypocrisy and envy could be read as hypocrisies and envies with an implicit “all.” Basically, there is no room for these thoughts, feelings, and expressions as we follow Christ.
Secondly, each of the five is adulterated, confused, or impure in some way. Malice, for example, may be based on truth but adds the poison of anger and the desire to do harm. Deceit proposes to present the truth, but it is really a lie for its own ends. Hypocrisy is two-faced, thinking one way while acting another. Envy sees the good someone else has and desires it for themselves instead of celebrating with them. Slander is like malice except words are the agent of harm. Malice is in your face; slander stabs you in the back. It’s important to see that all of these could have a nugget of something good or true that has been coated or mixed with something selfish and evil.
In contrast to the five confused, mixed, and adulterated sins Peter instructs his readers to, “long for the pure milk of the word.” This is more than just a preference for God’s word. Or a choice of ethic and religion. We are to long for, desire, hunger, cry out for, be satisfied with nothing but the Word in the same way that a newborn infant longs for, desires, hungers, cries out for, and is satisfied with pure and unadulterated mother’s milk.
So let’s back up for a moment. If God’s word is pure then why are there so many interpretations, so many conflicting ideas, theologies, and doctrines from the same words on the same page? In thinking this through we must be very careful lest we fall into malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Let’s recognize the different ideas, theologies, and doctrines but put them aside for now and concentrate on ourselves.
We must be careful not to add to or take away anything from God’s word. With great care, we should search for what is God saying and avoid pouring our own meanings into the words. Accepting what is plain even if it is contrary to our experience, our emotions, or even the evidence. Recognizing that some things are hard to understand and seemingly unreconcilable this side of heaven.
In light of Peter’s words consider this from a Psalm of David. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7–10, NASB95)
Peter’s contrast between what is adulterated and unadulterated has a purpose, “so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” So often salvation feels like the end game, the person has crossed the finish line, they are saved, and heaven bound. But the language of Peter and elsewhere likens salvation to new birth, it’s not the end of something but the beginning.
Just like a baby has to grow into their body we too are growing into our new life in Christ. Babies have all the necessary parts at birth. Even though they may have two hands and ten fingers they can’t play guitar, mold a pot, or cook dinner. Even though they have two legs, infants can’t walk or even crawl. They grow into their new life. In a similar way, we have all the parts of new birth in Christ, but we must grow into them.
The purpose of putting away the five things Peter lists (along with the things mentioned in other verses) and feeding on the pure milk of the word is so we can grow and thrive in Christ. Sure, we’ll go through seasons of brokenness, of vitality, of harvest, and of rest. It will seem at times that we’re not growing at all, or worse, moving backward. But the promise is that if we pursue integrity, truth, and faith; if we feed on God’s word (both the logos of the written word and the rehema of the revealed word in our hearts) we will grow.
Peter adds to this pattern, “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Coming late in his premise it seems like an afterthought. You could very easily replace “therefore” with this phrase. It’s almost like Peter is adding a disclaimer like we see in advertisements or hear on the radio. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!” Disclaimer in fine print or hastily read – “Not valid on all states, void where prohibited, this is not an offering to invest.” Sometimes the disclaimer has more words than the actual advertisement. I see “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” not so much as a disclaimer but a statement of assumption or a reminder. So often we either forget or bury God’s kindness and grace in the mess of community, the trappings of religion, or the pain of our struggles.
Pehaps it is no coincidence that Peter connects milk and taste so close together. So often we read and experience God’s word only as a sword that cuts and divides. It is a sword, but it is also a mirror that shows us the truth about ourselves, it is the hammer that breaks our idols, it is the water that cleanses our souls, and it is the milk that gives life and growth.
Notice that Peter didn’t say, “if you have tasted the goodness of the word.” He instead ended with a strong reminder that the word leads us to Jesus. The word is good, we need it, but knowing Jesus is what growing in faith is all about. So, what about you? How are you doing at putting away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander? Have you tasted God’s kindness and grace? Do you long for God’s word like a newborn baby desires milk? How can we at Lambchow encourage or pray for you in these areas?