1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV
In light of the fact that his readers had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV), and called to be holy just as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15), Peter expected them to live lives in keeping with their status as God’s chosen people. As sons and daughters of God, their behavior was to reflect the character of their Heavenly Father. God had paid an extremely high price to ransom them from the empty life they had inherited from their ancestors (1 Peter 1:18). He had sent His Son to die on their behalf. On the cross, the sinless Savior had offered up His life as the unblemished Lamb, providing them with forgiveness of sins and a guarantee of “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT).
But the recipients of Peter’s letter were wrestling with the realities of living in a culture that stood opposed to everything in which they believed. Their minds filled with doubt and despair as they struggled to reconcile their circumstances with their faith. The “good news” they had so eagerly embraced had resulted in some far-from-great outcomes. And while many of their trials were external in nature, they were also suffering from unexpected internal battles that left them demoralized and even doubting their salvation. Peter referred to these inner temptations as “worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).
These inner and outer battles were beginning to take their toll. The congregation to whom Peter wrote was experiencing a sense of disappointment and despair. When they had placed their faith in Jesus Christ, they had done so with an expectation that the good news would produce positive results. But now, they were having to endure unprecedented and unexpected troubles on both an individual and corporate level. That’s why Peter went out of his way to assure them of the unwavering faithfulness of God’s promises because they were backed by the reliability of God’s Word.
…you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. – 1 Peter 1:23 NLT
Regardless of what was happening around them, they could count on God. He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made. But they had their part to play as well. Peter encouraged them to stay focused and fix their hope on God and the reliability of His redemptive plan.
…prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT
But they were not to be content with waiting on the return of Christ and their eventual glorification. They were to take positive, tangible steps that would set them apart as God’s chosen people – His “temporary residents and foreigners” living in exile on earth (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). So he provided them with a formidable and seemingly impossible challenge:
…get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. – 1 Peter 2:1 NLT
The apostle Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Ephesus.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT
And he would provide the believers in Colossae with a slightly abridged version of the same list of off-limit behaviors.
…get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. – Colossians 3:8-9 NLT
Both Peter and Paul were advising their readers to put aside” or cast off those things that might hinder their spiritual walk. They were to be viewed as unnecessary burdens that weigh down and encumber one’s spiritual journey. Like the character, Christian, in John Bunyan’s classic tale, The Pilgrim’s Progress, believers too often journey through life still bearing heavy loads that were meant to be discarded when they came to faith in Christ. Peter describes these burdens as “evil behavior” and then gets specific by mentioning deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and unkind speech. These particular behaviors are attitudes and actions that can do serious and irreparable damage to a church. They can destroy and sense of community and stand in direct opposition to the “brotherly love” Peter mentioned in chapter 1.
Once again, Paul used similar language to encourage the Ephesian believers to put off the old and put on the new.
…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV
Their new life in Christ should be accompanied by new attitudes and desires. Peter puts it in the terms of “cravings.”
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk… – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT
Peter’s use of the image of a hungry infant longing for milk is powerful. It conveys the ideas of dependency and desire. In using it, he portrays his readers as innocent, helpless, and totally reliant upon the care of another. Since they had been “born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV) “through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 ESV), their lives depended upon the ongoing provision of their Heavenly Father. He had brought about their new birth and He would sustain their new spiritual life. But for them to grow, they would need to crave or long for the right form of nutrition. And contained in Peter’s admonition is the idea that they must develop a taste for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word. Even newborn babies instinctively learn to appreciate the benefits of their mother’s milk. In time, they develop an understanding that there is only one source that can satisfy their hunger. And the same should be true of every believer concerning the spiritual benefits of God’s Word.
Initially, a baby has no awareness of the nutritional value of milk. He simply eats because he’s hungry. But in time, his body begins to benefit from the nutrients it receives through each feeding, and it grows – slowly and, sometimes, imperceptibly. And Peter promises that a steady diet of God’s Word results in a believer’s spiritual growth.
…by it you may grow up into salvation… – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV
In Peter’s mind, spiritual growth in the life of the believer was as natural as the physical growth of an infant. It was a normal sign of healthy maturity. He even picked up on this same theme in his second letter.
…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… – 2 Peter 3:18 ESV
Peter’s reference to the milk of God’s Word is not meant to suggest a simpler, easy-to-digest diet of spiritual pablum. In other words, this is not intended as an indictment of their spiritual status. This passage is sometimes linked to the following statement from the apostle Paul written to the church in Corinth.
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT
Paul was criticizing the believer in Corinth for their lack of spiritual growth. They had not grown or matured in their faith. Their desire for the “meatier” things of God”s Word had never developed. But that is not what Peter is suggesting. He is not exposing a lock of spiritual growth among his audience. He is simply encouraging them to live their lives in total dependence upon the soul-nourishing milk of God’s Word.
Peter’s goal for his audience was their ongoing spiritual maturity, fueled by constant feeding on the truth of Scripture and the promises of God it contains. At their salvation, they had gotten a taste of God’s goodness. Now, it was time to drink in all the goodness that God’s imperishable seed could provide.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.