“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
1 Peter 2:2-3
I remember a friend telling me about some special times he had reading scripture with another friend. With a look of wonder in his eyes, he talked about how they “drank from the pure milk of the Word”.
It “sounded” good, but a few things struck me in that moment that I put in the back of my mind for future reference. Today it’s the topic.
First off, “the pure milk of the Word” isn’t even a thing. The scripture he was referencing in 1 Peter does not mention scripture at all. In fact, scripture does not refer to the collection of writings we know today as the Bible as “The Word of God” at all. In the opening of John’s Gospel we see him refer to Jesus as the Word of God, but scripture (which was still being written) was never referred to as that. A “word from the Lord” didn’t mean scripture but rather meant a message a prophet believed he was given by God to give to others. There were many of those, but not all were written – sometimes it was acted out, sometimes it was implied. The “pure milk of the Word” is not a thing.
Secondly, what they actually elevated as “The Word” was their own thoughts – in that moment – as they read scripture. Their thoughts may have been true to some extent… or not. But one’s thoughts about scripture passages do not equal “The Word of God”. God’s Word according to scripture is Jesus – his life, his example, his message. His WAY.
Thirdly, the “spiritual milk” in Peter’s letter is a starting point, not a destination. It’s where babies start. Middle-aged men raised in church shouldn’t be drinking milk, as the author of Hebrews opined:
“…by this time you ought to be teachers,
you need someone to teach you
the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.
You need milk, not solid food!
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,
is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves
to distinguish good from evil.”
The “elementary truths of God’s word” are milk. The basics. What are the basics that Jesus taught and lived?
Love. A love willing to endure suffering for the sake of others. This is what we refuse to do. We’d rather avoid the pain altogether and focus on trivial things – the distant future, the distant past, esoteric notions, atonement theories, nationalism and political battles – anything other than the basics of what Jesus actually cared about. Sacrificial love.
It’s hard to do. We don’t naturally want to do it. But when we actually get a taste of God’s love – that merciful, gracious love that accepts us right where we are warts and all – we see that the Lord truly is GOOD and we want more. More than milk, though that’s where we all start. More than the “elementary truths”. Solid food – the tough stuff you have to chew on for a while as you with self-discipline train yourself to distinguish between actual good and evil.
Not what the church tells you is good and evil – that more often than not has a vested interest to it and a lack of trust that the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus will actually do what Jesus promised – “guide us into all truth”. Churches tend to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit as they try to constrain behavior with their silly little child-proofing rules and avoiding being exposed for missing Jesus’ point on what is truly good and evil.
The religious conservatives of Jesus’ day are the main ones Jesus had harsh words for. They had all kinds of rules, excluded all kinds of people who didn’t fit their profile, and used scripture to burden people rather than to free them. People who thought their understanding of scripture was automatically correct and condemned anyone who didn’t agree. It’s still the same today.
These people miss the point. They should be teachers helping people to see true good and evil but instead they sip their milk and cannot see how they could possibly be off base. They cozy up to powerful people thinking that there is something stronger than sacrificial love when there isn’t. They cozy up to famous people thinking that better marketing is the key to changing the world rather than sacrificial love. They cozy up to wealthy people thinking that money is the resource they desperately need when it’s actually sacrificial love.
Then they get all butt-hurt when someone implies they are off-base or dares question their system.
- When someone writes a book asking age-old questions about heaven and hell, they lose their minds and immediately boycott, protest, castigate, demonize, and write books in response to double-down on their system.
- When someone calls them out on their support of political figures who claim to follow Jesus but whose lives make it clear they don’t, they insult, accuse, condemn, and use every other non-Jesus tool to silence their detractors.
- When great injustices are done against groups of people and the environment, they side with the abusers without an ounce of compassion or sacrificial love.
Whatever “pure milk” they think they’ve been drinking… it’s obviously soured a long time ago.