‘Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.’ 1 Peter 2:1-2
Today two young friends of ours are in hospital in Shropshire. In the mercy of God they are not there because of Covid-19 but because this is the day for their latest baby to be delivered. This will be number four so they know what to expect, not just in the delivery room but in the months and years that lie ahead. Now it is quite some time since Daphne and I last had they joy, the worries, the fun and the sleepless nights associated with a newborn baby but I do remember one thing very clearly: the little one had needs which had to be met and you knew all about it if they were not! One end of the baby required feeding and the other end cleaning.
That seems to be what is in St Peter’s mind as he writes today’s scripture passage. He thinks of his readers, new Christians, as newborn babies and there are things they need to take in and things they need to get rid of. Peter, as a down to earth fisherman, has no problem getting back to basics in giving illustrations which would make his readers smile and which they would remember.
He deals first with the things that have to go. Things which may have been part and parcel of their lives and lifestyles before they came to faith in the Lord Jesus but which were not appropriate now they were Christians. The principle that runs through verse one is this:
There was to be no place for play-acting in the Christian life. They had to be genuine. Daphne and I love watching Bargain Hunt and some of the other Antiques programmes on TV. Frequently the question is asked “Is it real?” it doesn’t matter whether it is gold, silver, diamonds, amber or Japanese porcelain, there are fakes out there and you don’t want to be caught out. So in the Christian life Peter urges his congregations to get rid of the fake; to jettison those attributes that do not belong in the thoughts, words and actions of Christian people.
That is especially true of their relationship with God and with one another. So out goes malice: the harbouring of a settled ill will against someone. There is to be no place for deceit: the pretence that tries to take advantage of of another person. Hypocrisy is a term borrowed from the theatre and means to act a part…as one might a soldier, a labourer, the Prince of Denmark etc. It is not one’s real personality, simply a costume donned for a performance. Our Christian faith has to be genuine, all the way through. Envy is linked to a lack of satisfaction with who we are and what we have coupled with the imagination that if we were like someone else, or had what they have then everything would be wonderful. Not only does the tenth commandment deal with this “You shall not covet your neighbour’s…..” but it simply isn’t true. The thing we imagine will make life complete if only we have it rarely does.
Jesus proclaims himself to be the Bread of Life, the one in whom all our hungers are satisfied. Christians across the world whose physical and economic circumstances may be very different can testify that in Christ there is a satisfaction that no recession can take away.
There is to be no place for slander: that misuse of the tongue about which St James rightly says so much and speaks so plainly in his Epistle and which destroys both reputations and relationships. It is not only the destructive articles in newspapers and magazines which ruin the lives of those in the public eye. It is also the gossip passed round at a school gate, a dinner party, phone call or email exchange which does so much damage not only to those spoken about but also to those speaking and listening.
All this, says Peter, is for the trash can. None of these things enhance our Christian lives, our relationship with God or our neighbour, the very people we are commanded to love.
As we move to verse two we change from the things that we need to clean up to the nourishment we need to take in.
Babies leave you in no doubt when they want feeding. You can’t miss that piercing newborn baby cry. Parents get tuned in very quickly. My Mother loved to tell the story that after my birth in the South London Hospital for Women on London’s Clapham Common (Now a Tesco’s supermarket) she could pick out my cry from the babes in the shared nursery down the corridor…..and she was right! Babes are programmed for growth! Peter tells us it should be just like that for us as Christians. It’s really important that our children get the right nourishment, the ‘five a day’ fruit and veg once they have grown beyond milk, and all the other good things that make for a balanced diet.
In the Christian life we are to scream for sustenance just as loudly and consistently as does a newborn babe. What is that sustenance? Peter tells us it is “Pure spiritual milk” (New International Version) or “The pure milk of the Word” (Authorised Version.) Two words really matter: Pure means “Unadulterated”. Milk that is free from imperfections equates to Bible input that is free from culturally contrived excuses for making the Scriptures say something that they clearly don’t say. After one sermon a lady asked her friend ‘Why did the preacher spend 20 minutes trying to explain why the passage didn’t mean what it clearly does mean?” The second is the one the old Authorised Version translates “Of the Word” and the NIV translates “Spiritual.” The Greek means “Spiritual” but is very close to the term “Of the Word”. My favourite commentary on this passage says “Milk of the Word seems to express the intention more accurately.
What Peter is telling the new Christians is simply this: They need the Scriptures to grow, so they should scream out for the pure Word of God and don’t be fobbed off by politically correct man-made counterfeits.
Get real…..and get rid of the things that don’t belong. Grow up….and don’t be satisfied with anything less than the Word of God whether read at home or faithfully preached Sunday by Sunday.
Our children, like children in every family, loved to have their height measured….”How much have I grown, Mum?” God grant us the same hunger to grow up in our faith and in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Very Revd Robert Key