How Do I Receive the Word?
Passage: 1 Peter 2:1-3
Last Sunday, Pastor Kris preached vv. 22–25, and one of the emphases of this passage is the significance of God’s Word. In particular, it emphasizes that God’s Word is enduring and extremely valuable. In light of this, vv. 1–3 command us hunger for this valuable Word. Frankly, there may not be a less debatable idea in conservative Christianity than the value of Scripture and the importance of studying it. But while we all agree, I hope, that studying the Bible is important, I wonder what kind of results we would get if I took a simple “yes” or “no” survey of the question, “Are you content with your study of Scripture?” My guess is that an overwhelming majority would answer “no” even though we all recognize the importance of Bible study. There are a number of reasons for this discontentment. For some, it’s a matter of discipline. You don’t manage your life well enough to spend time in Scripture. For some, it’s a matter of life situation. You are extremely busy with young children, school, work, or a combination of these. You are running so hard that it’s difficult to find a quiet time when your mind is sharp enough to really engage with God. Others study God’s Word regularly, but you don’t seem to be getting as much out of your study as you would like. How can we overcome these challenges? Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic pill that will immediately and easily solve your problem. Life is busy, our minds and bodies get tired and distracted, and the sin nature resists a proper hunger and response to Scripture. There’s no simple way to remove these challenges. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to stay sharp and to improve our intake of God’s Word. Peter recognized this need, and he challenges us to press forward. In so doing, he gives us a great challenge and some helpful instruction that I doubt we consider as much as we should.
Before we begin, it’s helpful to note that Peter clearly indicates his central concern through the grammar of the text. Verse 2 commands us to “desire the pure milk of the word,” and the remainder of the text supports this command. It’s also important to note that the “therefore” that begins v. 1 ties this text closely to 1:22–25. These verses teach that God’s Word brought us life and has enduring value. If you are a child of God, the Bible has already proven its worth in that it led you to salvation. Therefore, we must seek to know it more and more.
So how do we go about fulfilling this command? Before Peter gives the command to desire the Word, he first gives a condition that is necessary to proper desire.
The Condition for Receiving God’s Word: We must purify our relationships (v. 1).
Participle: Verse 1 tells us to “lay aside” five evil practices. It’s important to note that this verse is set up grammatically as a condition that we must fulfill before we can properly receive the Word, and the NKJV reflects this dependence with the translation “laying aside.” We must lay aside these things in order to properly desire the Word. But while v. 1 supports the central command of v. 2, it still bears the force of a command. Verse 1 is not merely a strategy for improving your reception of the Word or a recipe for success. God commands us to “put off” these practices. The verb gives the basic picture of taking off clothes; therefore, Peter is commanding us to strip our lives of the sinful practices listed. We are to make a complete break from them.
Let’s talk about the sins Peter lists.
Malice: This is a general term that encompasses all forms of evil desire and action, but in this context it is especially concerned with evils against other people. This is because the other four sins listed (deceit, etc.) all describe relational sins, and when malice appears in this type of context it refers to any evil desires and intentions that we may have toward other people. Peter commands us to put off “all malice” or every evil intention and action toward other people. Peter is specifically thinking in the context of the local church. We know this because our text continues the thought of the previous paragraph, and 1:22 specifically mentions love for the brethren and for one another. These are both references to life in the local church; therefore, Peter’s primary concern is that we remove malice and the other vices from the life of the body, though it is safe to assume that the principle applies broadly to all relationships.
God then adds…
Deceit, Hypocrisy, and Envy: Peter repeats the word “all” at the front of the list to drive home the fact that these sins have no place in the church. “Deceit” refers to any form of dishonesty intended to gain an advantage. Honesty and integrity must characterize our relationships. Next, God commands us to put off hypocrisies. A hypocrite is someone who lives an inconsistent life in order to hide an evil heart or a sinful lifestyle. It’s the father who is always angry at home, but as soon as he gets out of the car at church transforms into a kind, caring leader. It’s the person who says all sorts of terrible things about a fellow church member to his friends but then treats him like a close friend when he is in the room. Hypocrisy is closely related to deceit because a hypocrite is living a lie to save face or to gain a selfish advantage. It is wicked, and we must live consistent lives that demonstrate genuine godliness. We cannot be content to put on a show of godliness that is ultimately a lie. The next sin is “envy.” Envy is the anger we may feel over the good others experience. For example, a friend gets a promotion and a pay raise, and rather than being happy for them, you are quietly angry that they can enjoy things you don’t have. Or maybe someone gets recognition that you desire and rather than rejoicing with them you are quietly angry that you were not noticed. Envy is a terrible cancer in any relationship. Most of the time, it isn’t expressed. We wouldn’t dare say that someone shouldn’t have nice things because that would sound terrible, but even if envy is never verbalized, it kills deep relationships and effective unity. It makes our hearts cold, and while we may smile at each other and exchange pleasantries, we don’t function like the deeply interdependent body God intends for us to be. Deceit, hypocrisy, and envy often work quietly, but they will kill the health of a church like few other things.
Finally, God forbids…
All Evil Speaking: The Greek term means “slander.” Slander refers to efforts to tear someone else down through our speech. Oftentimes, slander involves saying things that are untrue or that manipulates the facts in such a way that it portrays the other person in a dark light. But it’s also possible to slander someone while being quite honest. Maybe you feel like someone is looked upon a bit too highly and you have some legitimate dirt on him, so you find ways to slip it in so that person is brought down a few notches. There are constructive times to discuss the faults of others such as if you are talking about how to help them grow or whether or not they are qualified for a job. But most of the time when we talk about the faults of others, it’s not about helping them; it’s about pumping up our ego or getting something off our chest. It’s certainly not about love. We slander someone anytime we are critical in an unconstructive context that isn’t motivated by love. It’s not always true, but there is a lot of truth to line we tell our children, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Slander has no place in the life of a Christian or in the relationships of the church. God commands us to put it off.
Summary/Application: Peter lists five relational sins that have no place in the church or anywhere else in the life of a Christian. Don’t tolerate these sins. Don’t make excuses, and don’t couch pride and selfishness in a cloak of righteousness. Be a person of humility and sacrificial love that puts others ahead of yourself. As well, protect our church from these sins. If you observe dishonesty, hypocrisy, and slander in a brother, don’t listen quietly or be amused by it; lovingly confront it. Keep our body healthy and free from cancers that will hinder or destroy our effectiveness. But before we go on, we need to ask ourselves why Peter brings up this list in a text about receiving the Word. What does envy or slander have to with my devotions or my ability to listen to a sermon? Clearly, God believes they are closely connected. The fact is you cannot receive the Word with its full benefit if your heart is filled with selfishness and hatred. Love is at the center of God’s nature, and if we are unwilling to obey God in this area, we don’t truly have a heart to receive God’s Word. Because of that Peter states that a necessary condition to receive the Word with its full benefit is that we must purify our relationships. As I mentioned in my introduction, it might be that you are not happy with your hunger for the Word and your reception of it. It might be that part of the problem is that you are disobeying God in your relationships. Put off hatred and put on love, and your intake of the Word will improve.
With this condition in view, let’s consider the command.
The Command to Receive God’s Word: Desire God’s Word Fervently (v. 2).
The Command: As I already mentioned, the center of this passage is the command to “desire the pure milk of the Word.” Peter is clearly thinking of Scripture based on the context of 1:23–25. But to appreciate the command, we must reflect on the illustration that plays a crucial role in the verse.
The Illustration: Peter’s basic illustration is that we are to desire the Scriptures like a newborn baby desires milk. This is an illustration that all of us can identify with to at least some extent. If you are a parent, you may get tired just thinking about it as you remember the sound of a screaming baby at 2:00 am who wakes up hungry for fresh milk. Whether you’ve been there or not, all of us can understand the dependence infants have on mother’s milk. They are completely helpless to get their own food. The only power a small baby has is his shrilly cry. Without his mother, an infant would starve. As well, an infant is dependent on milk because he is unable to digest anything else. Milk is his lifeblood, and so he desires it desperately, and he will not be quiet or content until he gets enough to be satisfied. God designed babies to have this urge because milk is necessary for their growth. It gives them immunities and enables them to grow and mature.
Grow to Salvation: Similarly, Peter states that the Word is essential for our growth to salvation. The NKJV does not include the word “salvation” because it is not included in some manuscripts; however, most scholars agree pretty strongly that it should be included. Here as in 1:5, 9, 10 it refers to the future completion of our salvation. When Christ returns, we will be made completely perfect, and we will receive our full inheritance. And this hope is closely connected to God’s present work of spiritual growth. This verse says that as we grow through the Word, we are moving toward the completion of salvation. Specifically, our present intake of the Word produces spiritual maturity that will culminate in glorification. This is a sobering perspective on Scripture intake. When you read the Bible or listen to preaching, you are moving toward glory as God transforms you. God’s Word is incredibly valuable. It is pure as, v. 2 states, in contrast to the sins of v. 1, and it is powerful and transforming. It’s good for us to remember often how valuable this book is. This book is your life, and nothing else can replace it. Jesus himself said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).
Desire for God’s Word: Because of that, Peter commands us to desire this Word like a baby desires milk. In other words, we’ve got to sense our need for the Word and hunger for it. Do you recognize your need for the Word? Do you see that you cannot live without it, and that it is more necessary to life than physical sustenance? Of course, it’s one thing to listen to a sermon like this and to affirm that the Word is important, but living that way is entirely different. Do you live like the Word of God is essential to life? Do you crave it and cry out for it like a newborn cries out for milk? Let’s reflect on your day so far? Did you come to church this morning hungry to hear from God and having intentionally prepared your heart to hear from him? Or are you merely fulfilling the duty of a good Christian? What does the remainder of your life say about your desire for the Word because attending a 75 minute service once a week does not seem to measure up to the urgent desire God demands of us in this verse. I realize that a variety of circumstances make it difficult for many of you to be here all of the time, but does your church attendance reflect a hunger for the Word in keeping with this text? What about your daily habits of Bible study? Again, some of you have crazy hectic lives, but in our day we have such easy access to Scripture. You can have the Bible on your phone, you can listen to it in the car, and there are all sorts of good sermons available for free. With such easy access it’s hard to imagine how any of us couldn’t fulfill a hunger for the Word if we really have it. If your life is hectic are you making creative efforts to be in the Word? As I mentioned in my intro, some of us (and I’m including myself) are pretty good about regular time in the Word, but it can easily become little more than a task on a to-do list. My challenge to all of us is to remind yourself often of the value of what you hold in your hands. Remind yourself that you cannot live without this book. Without it, you are a helpless infant on the brink of starvation. And remind yourself often that the Bible is not just a book and reading it is not just a discipline. The Bible is God’s speech to you. It is wisdom and life. When you read it, you are hearing from God as he feeds you essential nutrients. I know that it is has been very good for me to reflect on these simple facts while I have been preparing this message, and I need to remember them often. Folks, the Christian life is not a casual walk along the beach; it is a war. Your flesh never sleeps and neither does Satan. The world is constantly trying to pull us away from God’s values, and we’ve got to see this war. We’ve got to see that we will starve without the Word, and we’ve got to hunger accordingly. May God help us to feel the weight of the war, to sense our need for his Word, and to desire it as newborn babies desire milk.
The text then concludes with...
The Motivation for Desiring God’s Word: God’s Goodness (v. 3)
Condition: Verse three begins with “if,” but Peter’s point is not to call into question whether or not his readers had experienced God’s grace. Rather, the point of the condition, as it was in v. 17, is to make us reflect deeply on what is about to be said. Peter wants us to ponder how we have already experienced the goodness of God so that we desire it even more.
OT Reference: Peter draws this statement from Psalm 34:8, which states, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in him.” In this psalm, David reflects on how the Lord cares for his people. He had seen the Lord direct his steps and provide for his needs, and so he calls on God’s people to look to him and to experience this goodness for themselves. David was confident that if we drink deeply of the Lord’s goodness it will satisfy.
Tasted: I mentioned drink deeply because he doesn’t just urge us to take a sip or a bite so to speak. The word translated “tasted” implies a full experience. Obviously, it’s an analogy from eating food, and so picture yourself enjoying your favorite meal. I love steak, when I am eating a good steak, I chew it well and I want to experience the flavors. As Christians, we are able to have a deep experience of God and of his grace.
Good: We experience his grace and goodness in many different ways. This began when he saved us and forgave us of sin. We experience his grace as he helps us overcome sin and pursue godliness. His Word is wisdom that guards our steps. It gives peace and joy. The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. We experience the joy and camaraderie of a church family. We could go on. Being a Christian is not always easy, but as we walk by the Spirit, we have constant experiences of the Lord’s grace and goodness.
Significance: Peter’s purpose in this verse is to call on us to reflect on the goodness of God that we have experienced. I want to challenge you to do just that. Consider all of the ways that you daily benefit from the grace of God. As you reflect on these experiences, Peter desires that it would increase your hunger for more. Build a hunger for God by reflecting on the blessings you have received from him. Ultimately, Peter desires that as you build a hunger for God that you will build a hunger for Scripture. This is because when you read the Bible or listen to preaching that is driven by the text, you are hearing from our God of grace. It’s so important that we embrace Peter’s mindset as we think about Bible study. Sometimes we can look at Scripture as nothing more than a list of rules, as God’s means of curbing our fun. We can dread Bible study because it’s convicting and potentially painful. Bible study and biblical preaching should cut at times, but an essential aspect of spiritual maturity is the ability to see the goodness of God not just in the promises of Scripture or the comfort it gives but also in the commands and rebukes that help us relate rightly to the God of the universe and protect us from harm now and for eternity. I’m very thankful for how I have experienced the goodness of God in my Christian life. I’m thankful for how God has give peace when I have lost people I love. I’m thankful that God has opened my eyes to his glory so that I am not blindly living for temporary pleasures while being condemned to hell. I’m thankful for the wisdom and correction of Scripture that has guided me toward a healthy family and many wonderful relationships. I could go on. The Lord has been good to me, and he has been good to you. And since we meet him in the Bible, may God increase our hunger for his Word, and may he remove the relational sins that would threaten our reception of the Word. If you are a Christian, I hope that it is your prayer that you would receive God’s Word with a pure and hungry heart.
Before we close, I want to note that not everyone is able to receive the Word and grow through the Word in the manner Peter describes. This is because receiving Scripture is not the same as reading a self-help book. The Bible teaches that we are born into the world rejecting God’s truth and blind to the core realities about God that are revealed in Scripture. But God’s Word is powerful. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to give new life. Notice 1:23. God causes dead sinners to be born again through his living and abiding Word. This new life is the first step to truly experiencing the goodness of God our text describes and to receiving the Word with the purity of v. 1. If you have never been born again, I want to urge you to do so today. Admit that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself, and put your faith wholly in what Jesus accomplished on the cross. If you do so, you can be forgiven of your sin, you can receive new life, and you can experience the full goodness of God. If you would like to be born again, I hope that you will talk with me afterwards about how to receive this gift. Don’t reject the goodness of God or the wisdom of his Word.
In a moment we are going to close by singing #76 “O Great God.” Verse 2 reflects on how the Spirit opens our eyes to the truth of God’s Word. Let’s rejoice in this, and let’s commit ourselves to living it.