“I am continually overcome with longing for your judgments.” (Ps. 119:20, emphasis mine).
“And this word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you. therefore, rid yourselves of all malice deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the Word, so that you may grow into your salvation” (1 Peter 1:25, 2:1-2, emphasis mine).
This is a prime example of how the artificially generated (yet helpful, nonetheless) chapter and verse divisions in biblical text can prove to be an obstacle.
I’ve quoted Peter’s passage in whole, omitting these divisions because ultimately the subject matter remains the same throughout, which is God’s Word. From the last verse of ch. 1 right through to verse 2 of ch. 2, the theme is how the Word (the gospel proclaimed to you) is “the power of God for salvation.”
The Word of God is not just the seed that germinates into salvation (1 Peter 1:23), it’s the nourishment that sustains salvation.
But does the Word of God always exercise its power and produce its promises in our life the way we need it to?
Let me rephrase:
Are you walking as close to God as you are able to? Are you as victorious over your sins as you ought to be? Are you as fruitful as God’s Word promises you will be if entirely yielded to its purposes, promises, and precepts?
If your answer is “no” (as I can honestly attest is the case with me), then what you are probably lacking is “desire”.
These two texts are essentially suggesting the same thing. It is in and by the profound power of ‘desire’ that victory over sin is attained, and a deep abiding appetite for God’s Word is obtained — “…so that you may grow up into your salvation.”
Duty Without Desire
No doubt we’ve all had adequate experience in the life of faith and therefore we understand that, when duty and desire compete, desire ALWAYS wins. It doesn’t take long in one’s Christian walk to learn that trying to generate obedience and holiness (without which NO ONE shall see the Lord) from motives that are not rooted in deep desire, is a fool’s errand and will always end in defeat. Doing “good” simply because it is “good”, is an achievement that’s beyond the ability of mere mortals, to whom the letter of the law is death.
So how does anyone rid themselves “of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander”?
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection!*
It isn’t Peter’s intention that we must fight a war against our flesh simply on the grounds of duty.
Of course, we Christians ought to emulate our Master and rid ourselves of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, etc.. It is simply the right thing to do. But unless your strongest desire is to do so, all motivation generated from law will prove paper-thin, fleeting, and ineffectual.
Let’s follow the sequence of Peter’s thought.
“And this Word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you. Therefore, rid yourselves of all…Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the Word” (redaction and emphasis mine).
Note the two verbs that stand out calling for Christian obedience (“rid yourselves” and “desire”). These two actions are one and the same. In fact, to make it even clearer one can add a simple preposition and say “rid yourselves” BY “desire”.
This is how a new affection exercises its expulsive power. Too often Christians set themselves to strive after a greater degree of holiness by focusing on all the sins in their life; feverishly seeking to eradicate them. It’s possible this may be occasioned by some success, but the way Peter shows us is FAR better. It is always more prudent to starve an old fleshly affection, habit, or desire by letting our desires feast on something far better.
Therefore, “Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the Word…”
I used to love preaching on this phrase, until I received a rude awakening once I became a father! I’d preach this passage and talk about how beautiful and wholesome this peaceful, pure desire for the Word is. Then I had my own children and I was able to witness first-hand what Peter was referring to, “Like newborn infants…” and I was immediately stunned and sobered to the reality.
Have you ever witnessed a newborn’s longing? Have you observed this desire that will NOT be denied? I’ve seen it with my own eyes; the shaking and screaming of a newborn, writhing in its crib, demanding its milk with every fiber of its being. I know all the parents reading this have seen it too — try as they may to suppress the image. I’ve seen a newborn taken out of its crib (almost beside itself with longing for satisfaction) and as it’s lifted to receive its nourishment, it’s shaking, clawing, fighting even its mother who is trying to calm the child long enough to get it attached and suckling. It’s an eye opening experience, and that is exactly what Peter is trying to describe.
How should we long for the pure milk of the Word?
Just like a newborn who is single-focused, refusing-to-be-denied, indefatigable in its pursuit.
How should we gain victory over our sins?
By striving after the Word, just like a newborn.
How should we grow up into maturity and Christ-likeness?
By feasting on the living, abiding, ever-satisfying Word of God — “…so that you may grow up into your salvation.”
Then we’ll know the secret of this profound self-description:
“I am continually overcome with longing for your judgments” (Ps. 119:20, emphasis mine).
* The compelling title of Dr. Thomas Chalmers book. (https://www.amazon.com/Expulsive-Power-New-Affection/dp/1935626531)