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Born to Grow - Study 10, 1 Peter

Last Sunday evening, Rev James MacIver preached on 1 Peter 2 v 1-3, the tenth study in his series on 1 Peter. This sermon was entitled: Born to Grow

Since this passage begins with ‘so’, which could also be translated as ‘therefore’,  it is evident that it is a logical progression from the preceding verses.  These, as we have seen in previous studies, exhorted believers to love one another and to be holy. Here, then, we have Peter addressing what the fruit of that love and holiness ought to be.

As we are reborn to love, everything contrary to that must be cast off, just as you might divest yourself of old clothes in order to put on new. Further, because we are also reborn to holiness, anything which might jeopardise that must also be put aside.

Spiritual rebirth is the beginning of spiritual growth, which will in time lead to spiritual maturity. Ultimately, we are growing towards that moment when Christ will return and His people will be united with Him.

Growth, of course, requires nourishment, hence the reference in verse 2 to spiritual milk. Nourishment is only effective, however, if we have an appetite; if we crave that food and take it with relish.

In this study, Mr MacIver looked at Peter’s two pieces of advice – the shedding of old clothes; and the necessity of regular nourishment.

Swapping old clothes for new is not always an easy thing to do. We become used and attached to familiar garments and, even when new ones have been bought, frequently find ourselves returning to the comfort of the old ones. This is a good illustration of how we can be with sin, slipping back repeatedly into habits and ways of life which are known and comfortable. These, however, do not fit the new person and ought to be utterly discarded once and for all.

Peter lays out a list of the things which must be cast off and it is interesting to note that, for the first two, he uses singular nouns and, in the case of the final three, he uses plurals. The use of the singular, in the case of malice and deceit, denotes a general attitude, while the three plurals are indicative of more specific problems.

Malice is not easy, either to define or get rid of, but it refers to having an ill-will towards others. As such, it is the direct enemy of love and can have no place in the heart of a Christian.

The word used here for ‘deceit’ in the original language refers to the practice of fishing with bait, in which you deceive the fish into thinking that he is receiving food, but conceal the barb which will catch him.  Deceit is the spiritual equivalent of this.

Then, Peter moves into using plural nouns, and writes of ‘hypocrisies’.  This word comes from the practice of actors in stage plays donning masks to conceal their true identity. It follows, therefore, that the apostle is counselling Christians against such concealment, or pretending to be what they are not.

He also counsels against harbouring ‘envies’, or coveting what other people have that we do not. The Bible repeatedly commends contentment to God’s people and this is essentially what Peter is saying here.

‘All slander’ certainly encompasses all evil speaking, but Peter should also be understood as proscribing lying about, mocking, and misrepresenting people.

We see all too much of this taking place against the Christian in today’s society.  Unbelievers who pursue the secularization of everything in public life are guilty of Pharisaic mocking of Christians for their beliefs. The proper response to that kind of slander, Mr MacIver said, is to defend one’s Christian position with vehemence, but also with respect.

It is evident that the main form of persecution with which Peter’s readers meet is evil-speaking. His advice is still good for modern-day Christians: get rid of the old clothes, because they do not honour your Lord and, even in defending His cause and His people against slander, be as Christlike as possible.

The importance of getting regular nourishment is the thrust of Peter’s second piece of advice to his readers. His reference to newborn infants here should not be read, therefore, as regarding new converts, but all believers.  He is exhorting all Christians to conform to the image of the infant which cries out for its food and does not stop until it is fully sated.

Christians must pray, then, Mr MacIver said, that we will not lose our spiritual appetites, otherwise we will receive no nourishment from the Word. If you feel any loss of appetite for the Gospel, therefore, take it to God in prayer and ask him to restore it. We should be asking Him to increase our appetite every time we approach His Word, in any case.

The apostle also speaks in terms of pure spiritual milk. This is a reference to Christian teaching and all the things which help us grow, including what we receive from other Christians, but particularly the Word of God.

It is described as ‘pure’ which literally means ‘undeceitful’. One may take from that an assurance that it will not mislead the believer, or direct them onto a wrong path. It is not in any way watered down, but exists in its undefiled and wholesome state.

This is significant because Peter and especially John both emphasise the detriment of false teaching.  They highlight it as being a threat to the Gospel and to people’s spiritual growth and salvation. It is wise, therefore, to carefully weigh up what we hear and read, taking no one’s word for it, but testing and measuring everything against the plumb-line of scripture.`

The word, ‘spiritual’ used here to describe the milk which should be taken, is used in Romans 12:1 in the same sense as ‘reasonable’. Where Paul goes on to connect this to the renewal of mind and the testing that leads to discerning God’s will, we see that Peter is talking about the conscious engagement of the believer. That is, Christians should not be engaging in unthinking ritual, but engaging their mind in this process of spiritual growth. ‘Milk matches the mind, was suggested by Mr MacIver as a way of remembering this. He then quoted from Grant Osborne’s Cornerstone Commentary:

Every church must provide multiple opportunites for Christians to interact with and learn the deep truths of the faith. I believe there are two foci of a truly biblical church; (a) the centrality of the word of God in both the preaching and teaching ministries, and (b) the deep relationships that make the church a family.

Peter is saying to the church that it is a spiritual family and so believers must seek to promote in themselves and one another a longing for this spiritual milk which is so perfectly adapted to their new mind.

He then goes on to say that, since His people have indeed tasted that the Lord is good, nothing else will match His teaching, or sate their appetite so completely. That is what is wrong with atheists – they have not tasted that God is good. There are those that will say, ‘oh, I tried church and it wasn’t for me’, but that is not the same as tasting Jesus.

Peter then says ‘as you keep coming to Him’, which signifies the believer’s full conviction that nothing else will beat the nourishment that God provides.

Mr MacIver asked, ‘Is that how it is with you? Have you really tasted that the Lord is good, or is a formal adherence to Him enough for you? If so, please listen to the Lord speaking through Peter, asking you to put Him to the test; to taste and see for yourself’.

Then, you can be like the people who were able to tell the woman of Samaria, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world’.