(Preached 4-26-15, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Morganton, NC)
For years before his death in 2013, Pat Summerall broadcast NFL games and other sporting events on television. Many of you would recognize his voice to this day. Some of you also know that Summerall’s life had been devastated by many years by alcohol. At one point, later in life, he checked into the Betty Ford clinic, but he said what really turned his life around was that while he was in there, he picked up a copy of the word of God, the Bible. He read it every day. And he said the more he read, the more wanted, and soon his thirst for alcohol was replaced by a thirst for the word of God. When he got out of the clinic, he was baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ, and his life was never the same. The word of God had changed his life.
This kind of hunger for the word is what is described in our passage for this morning, I Peter 2:1-3, where the Bible says:
“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
We are continuing this morning the study, “The Disciplines of Disciples.” We saw last week that God commands us as followers of Jesus Christ to “discipline (ourselves) for the purpose of godliness.” Just as it takes discipline to practice for a good band performance, and discipline to exercise, it takes some discipline to live a successful Christian life. It is not going to just “happen”; you have to learn to exercise some disciplines.
This morning we are going to look at the first, and arguably the most important of those “Disciplines for Disciples” — the discipline of the word. Our focus is going to be on :2, where God commands us through Peter, “Long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
I. The Essential Role of the Discipline of the Word
:2 says “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
What that is saying is that God’s word is as essential to your spiritual growth as milk is to a baby’s physical growth. The pure milk of the word will cause you to grow in your salvation. When it speaks of “the word” here, it is speaking of the scriptures, the word of God. It is by partaking of the truths of the Bible that you will grow spiritually. And it compares the essential role of the word of God to the mother’s milk that a newborn baby needs in order to grow physically.
We were recently reminded of the importance of milk for growth, with the birth of our grand babies in North Carolina. As soon as they were born, one of the very first priorities the hospital staff had was to make sure they were able to nurse. That mothers’ milk is vital for them to be able to be established and grow. Studies indicate that it is perfectly balanced with just the right amount of carbohydrates and fat, and vitamins, and it also carries with it protection from all kinds of illnesses and allergies — it is obvious that it was designed by God to be the perfect nutrient for a baby!
How significant is it, then, that this passage says that just like a baby needs that milk to grow, so you and I need the word of God in order to grow spiritually. Just as God designed a mother’s milk to be the perfect nutrition for a newborn baby, so God designed His word to be the perfect source of spiritual growth for His children. Are you a new Christian, or wanting to grow in your faith? How can you grow? You need the “milk” of the word of God.
Others of you may say, well, I am not a new believer, but I want to grow spiritually. What do I need to do? The answer is the same. In order to grow spiritually, you need the word of God. At whatever stage you find yourself spiritually, the answer for what you need in order to grow spiritually is the word of God!
— Here Peter says that young believers should “long for the pure milk of the word”, that by it they may grow in respect to salvation.
— in Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” So God’s word is not only the “milk” that a new believer needs, it is also “daily bread” of ALL believers.
— Then the Book of Hebrews talks (5:12 & 14) about the “strong meat” (KJV) or “solid food” of the word, indicating that it is more complex food which which the mature need in order to grow.
So the bottom line is: what we see in scripture is that whatever stage you are in your life spiritually, you need the word of God as your food in order to grow:
— if you’re a baby, you need the milk of the word to grow
— if you are a developing Christian, then you need the bread of the word to grow.
— if you are mature in the faith, you need the meat, the solid food of the word in order to grow.
The bottom line is, at whatever age you are spiritually, if you want to grow, you need the word of God! You never outgrow it!
We need to really grasp hold of the indispensable, and irreplaceable place that the word of God holds for our spiritual growth. It is not like at first, when you are a new Christian, you need the Bible, but as you get older, you need commentaries or “deeper” daily devotions, or something “more.” That’s one of my reservations about the devotional book Jesus Calling: the author writes in the introduction: “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” Her pretext is wrong from the beginning: there is not anything “more” than the word of God!
— you aren’t going to get anything more pure than the pure milk of the word of God
— you won’t find anything more true than the truth of God’s word.
— you aren’t going to experience anything that will get you closer to God than scripture.
— you aren’t going to find anything that will grow you better than the word of God.
II Timothy 3:16 says “All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” It says the word of God is adequate; the word of God will equip you for every good work.
You don’t need to seek some extra-Biblical book, or an extra-Biblical “mystical experience” to “get more” in order to grow spiritually. Jeremiah 23:28 says, “The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” He’s saying, listen, there is nothing that compares with My word. There isn’t “more” than the word of God! If you get something “more” than the word of God you do not have “more”, you have LESS! There is no equal to it.
God’s word is your milk; God’s word is your bread; God’s word is your meat — at whatever stage you are spiritually, you never outgrow your need for the word of God! It is the indispensable agent of spiritual growth.
II. The Essential Ingredients of the Discipline of the Word
:2 says, “like newborn babes, long for the PURE MILK of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
As we said, “The word” is speaking of the word of God; the Scriptures. It is significant that he uses the phrase here: “The pure milk of the word”. What is “the PURE MILK of the word”? It means just the word of God itself; nothing added. That just makes sense: If someone told you to give your baby “pure milk”, what would you give them? Milk, right? What would you add to it? NOTHING! If they told you to give that baby pure milk, you would make sure they got nothing but 100% milk! It means no additives; nothing in addition. In the same way, we need to understand that the “pure milk” of the word here means the same thing: it means JUST the word of God, with nothing added!
Now, please do not misunderstand me as saying that there is no place for commentaries, or Bible Studies, and devotionals. These all have value in their proper place. But one common problem I have seen repeatedly in American Christianity today is that we have substituted many of these other things for the pure milk of the word. When I talk to people about the importance of their daily quiet times, often they will say something like: “Yes, I am doing a Beth Moore Bible study”, or “I am reading John MacArthur’s Bible commentary” or “I read “My Daily Bread” or “Open Windows” or some other kind of devotional or Bible study. Again, I am NOT saying that these are not good things; many of them are. I myself write a daily devotion on my blog at http://www.shawnethomas.com. These certainly have their place — but that place is AFTER you have had your own, personal time in “the pure milk of the word” — just the pure, unadulterated word of God, without any human teacher or filter.
There is no substitute for just you, and God’s word, with God’s Holy Spirit speaking to your heart and showing you things that He wants you to know, and that you need to apply to your own life.
That is “the pure milk of the word.”
A DAILY MORNING TIME IN THE PURE MILK OF THE WORD:
So what does this look like in real life? Let me just open a window into my life, and tell you what it looks like for me, and for Cheryl, on a daily basis:
I get up, first thing in the morning, and I go to my chair in the living room, and begin reading from the Psalms, to “tune my heart” to the Lord in His word. Then I put on my shoes and go out for my prayer walk, where I sings some worship songs, and pray through an outline of the Model Prayer (we will talk some more about that in the coming weeks) and then I come back and read from the Old Testament, and then from the New Testament.
Cheryl does it a bit differently: she starts with a worship song, and then with a Psalm, and then she reads from the Old & New Testaments and takes notes in a little journal on what God teaches her. She also prays for people and things that God prompts her to pray for as she reads.
You might ask what Bible reading plan we use. For the last several years, we have used a very simple plan. I learned it on a mission trip I went on years ago in college. I asked the leader of the trip, an Associate Pastor in Texas, what his Bible reading plan was, and he surprised me with his simplicity. He said “I read in the Old Testament until God speaks, and then I read in the New Testament until God speaks.”
(Now by “until God speaks” I don’t mean until I hear an audible voice. I have never heard God speak audibly. But what I am referring to when I say “until God speaks” is that you read until God teaches you something you need to learn: it could be a sin to confess (“Lord I shouldn’t be worrying about that, help me trust You like this scripture says), or a verse to pray for loved ones, or something you need to do differently, or a verse to memorize, etc. It means to read until God shows you something that applies to your life.)
That simple plan really appealed to me, and for the last several years I have used it. So I read consecutively in the Old Testament (I am reading Proverbs right now) and I read until the Lord shows me something that I write down, and pray for, and apply to my life. Then I turn to the New Testament, wherever I am (right now I am in Romans) and I read until the Lord shows me something there that I need to learn. I have found that reading “until God speaks” keeps your focus more on what you might get out of it, than just “getting the reading done.” If you are just reading 4 chapters a day, or whatever, you can tend to just “breeze” through them, check it off as “done”, and often not get that much out of it. But if you are reading “until God speaks”, then it focuses your attention more closely on what is there, because you are not going to leave until God’s Spirit has spoken to you in some way. Sometimes I will read only one verse, and the Lord will just stop me, and show me something I need to camp on, and I might stop and pray and write about that one verse for 30 minutes. That’s ok; it is not about “how much you read”, but about listening to God, and making sure that you hear from Him through His word.
So the “essential ingredients” for the discipline of the word are:
— Your Bible
— The Holy Spirit of God
— and let me add a 4th thing: something to record what you learn — pen & paper, journal, notebook, computer, iPad, whatever. You need to be ready to write down what God shows you.
I believe this is another essential element in the Discipline of the Word:
— for one, even if you never go read it again, the fact that you wrote it down will help you remember it, as you processed it through your mind and wrote it down.
— secondly, you can go back and find it, and review it and share it with others in your teaching and discipleship times.
— it also shows God that you are serious, if you are ready to write something down. When I went to Pauls Valley as interim pastor, thee youth minister came into my office for a meeting, and he had a pen and paper in hand. I thought, “OK, this guy is serious about hearing what I have to say, and he is going to write it down!” It is the same way with us and God. I believe it says that we are serious about getting something from Him.
In that same way, I think that having something ready to write down what God teaches you is an act of faith. You are saying, in effect, “I believe that God IS going to show me something” — because you are ready, pen in hand, to write it down. What does it say if your journal and pen, or computer, or whatever, is halfway across the room while you are reading your Bible? You are virtually saying, “I don’t think I am going to get anything out of this” — and if that is the way you approach it, you probably won’t!
I believe that all four of these ingredients are important to The Discipline of the Word: present yourself, before the Holy Spirit of God, in the “pure milk” of His word, with something to write down what He gives you.
So ask yourself this morning: “Am I getting ‘the pure milk of the word’?” Do you have a time every day when it is just you and the Holy Spirit and His word, and recording what He is showing you? If not, you need to ask Him today to help you discipline yourself to start doing that this week. God commands you here: “Long for the pure milk of the word …”.
III. The Essential Response to the Discipline of the Word
“So that by it you may grow”
The emphasis here is that God’s word, when taken like the “milk” — or “bread” or “meat” that God intended for your life — will cause you to grow spiritually. This is an important point. We are not merely to “read” the word of God, or study it, or memorize it — we are to look to GROW in it. That means that we are to look to be changed by it. Growing is changing!
Our little grandbabies are SO cute, and we love them — but we don’t want them to STAY that way. Some of y’all may have seen on Facebook the other day that our granddaughter Corley picked up a toy and pretended it was a phone, and said, “hewwo? Hi!” and started in with a bunch of chatty gibberish. It was really cute. But as cute as that is, I don’t want her to STAY that way! If she is still talking like that when she is 16, or 26, or 46, we are are going to be sorely disappointed! We want her to grow!
And that is the way it is with many of us as Christians and church members too. We are not just to come to church and do Bible studies, or read our Bibles at home, endlessly “learning things” but never really changing. James 1 calls that being a “hearer of the word” only. And he says that those who are “hearers of the word and not doers” are “deceiving themselves.” God’s purpose for you getting into His word is not just that you read it, or study it, or even memorize it, but that you may DO it, and be changed by it in the process.
I love this quote by former pastor and professor Eugene Peterson:
“But as it turns out, in this business of living the Christian life, ranking high among the most neglected aspects is one having to do with the reading of the Christian scriptures. Not that Christians don’t own and read their Bibles. And not that Christians don’t believe that their Bibles are the word of God. What is neglected is reading the Scriptures formatively, reading in order to live.”
In other words, it is not enough to just own a Bible, say we “believe” it, or even read it — we are to read and study and memorize it in order to be changed! If we are not growing because of our time in the word we are missing the purpose for which God gave it.
Unfortunately even many disciplined Christians are missing that. I appreciate a number of discipleship programs that have come out in recent years, emphasizing reading your Bible every day (MasterLife for example, among others) but we need to understand that The Discipline of the Word is more than just “checking off boxes” that you have “read your Bible daily.” There are undoubtedly people who “read their Bible daily” who are spiritually dead! I guarantee you, the Pharisees could have checked “read Bible daily” on their envelope! The Discipline of the Word is not just about “reading your Bible daily”, but LIVING your Bible daily; GROWING in your Bible daily; being CHANGED by your Bible daily.
I mentioned Donald Whitney last week, the Southern Baptist Seminary professor and author, who has done a lot of work in the spiritual disciplines. One of my favorites of his books is “Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health”, which is a great book on evaluating your spiritual growth. One of the things I appreciate about his book is that his chapter on The Discipline of the Word is not just entitled something like, “Are you reading your Bible” but “Are You Governed Increasingly By God’s Word?” That word “governed” is the key. We are not merely to “read” or “study” or “memorize” the word of God. We are to turn to it that our lives may be changed by it.
In light of that, would you ask yourself:
— is my life being changed by my time in the word of God?
— When is the last time you did something differently than you were going to do, because of something you read in your Bible?
— When is the last time you said something differently (or did NOT say something!) because of the time you had spend in God’s word?
— When is the last time something in your lifestyle, actions, or attitudes changed, because of what you read in scripture?
These are not insignificant questions; GROWING is an essential response to The Discipline of the Word.
IV. Two Essential Caveats to the Discipline of the Word
NOTICE: finally, two important caveats to all that we have said so far. A “caveat” is a “warning or caution, clarification or qualification.” These 2 caveats come from two verses in this text, one immediately preceding, and one immediately following verse 2:
1) You must put aside sin in your life in order to grow in the word.
:1 says: “Therefore putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the word …”.
The context that verse one gives to the second verse is important. It is not only important that you TAKE the “pure milk of the word” in order to grow, it is also important that you put ASIDE the sins in your life which would hinder your absorption of the truths of the word.
I was reading an article recently on why grass won’t grow under pine trees. You might think it was the lack of light, or something like that, but the article said it was because the pine needles have a high acid content, and the rain washes it into the soil, and makes the soil too acidic for grass to grow there. You could plant seed, and water it, and do all kinds of things for it, but it is not going to help. You have to get those needles — and most especially, that acid — out of there for it to grow.
The same thing is true of growing in the word of God. If you have some blatant, unrepented sin in your life, or bitterness, or hatred towards others, it is like an “acid” in your life, that will keep you from growing spiritually. Even if you do discipline yourself to spend time in the word, you will not grow like you should. You’ve got to get that “acid” out like I Peter 2:1 says, and be “putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
2) You must genuinely be saved in order to grow in the word.
:3 says: “IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” In other words, the word will only help you grow IF you are really saved.
I had a secretary in Louisiana who shared the testimony that before she was saved as an adult, she had tried to read her Bible, but it didn’t make sense to her. She couldn’t get anything out of it. But after she was saved, it was like her “eyes were opened” and she could understand its truth.
Well, that testimony is scriptural. I Corinthians 2:14 says “But a natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We can’t understand the Bible without the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God. But Ephesians 1:13 says when we believe the gospel and put our trust in Jesus as our Savior & Lord, we are “sealed with the Holy Sprit of promise” who comes into our lives. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can then begin to understand His word. In fact, just like a baby hungers for milk, you will have a hunger for the word of God.
Thus one of the best tests of whether you are a genuine Christian or not is whether you have a hunger for the word. This does not mean that you will never have to discipline yourself to read/study/memorize it; but there will be a basic hunger/thirst for the word of God in your life.
The problem that some of you have this morning about the word of God is not that you need a new Bible, or a new study, or a new teacher, or anything else — you need to genuinely be saved. You need to repent of your sins, and put your trust in Jesus as your Lord & Savior, and the Holy Spirit of God will come into your life and give you a desire and understanding for His word.
That’s why this scripture commands us: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word … IF you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”