This post was first published in September, 2019. —ed.
Babies crave milk, and only milk. Parents care about the color of the blanket, the pattern of the curtains, the decorations in and around the crib, and the way the child is dressed. The baby doesn’t care about any of that. Babies don’t scream because they’re offended by the color of their pajamas. They scream because they want milk. The only thing that matters to them is milk—from the moment they’re born, that’s their only priority.
It’s amazing that everything about a baby is so wonderfully soft and cuddly and inviting—except for their voices. A baby’s scream can be piercing and horrific. It’s almost completely alien to everything else about the baby; such an awful sound shouldn’t come out of that adorable mouth. But it’s necessarily so—those irritating screams are designed to ensure that we don’t forget to feed the baby. The child will scream his head off to make sure we know it is time to eat. Moreover, babies don’t care about the convenience of their needs or how they fit into the rest of our plans. There is no negotiation—until his needs are met, that baby is going to let us hear it.
That is the imagery the apostle Peter uses to describe how believers should hunger for God’s Word: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
Do we have that singular craving for the truth of Scripture? Do we get to the place, like Job, where we desire God’s Word more than our necessary food (Job 23:12)? It would be hard for most people to think of anything they desired that strongly—especially in our culture of instant gratification. Nearly anything we want is never more than a few dollars, a short drive, or a couple mouse clicks away. But the helpless hunger Peter describes isn’t satisfied so quickly.
Making Sense of the Metaphor
There is no mistaking the apostle’s intention here; the term artigennēta brephē refers to a suckling infant in the first moments after his birth. This isn’t just any nursing baby—Peter is reaching all the way back to the moments just after a child emerges from his mother’s womb, and the immediacy and intensity of his hunger. The moment that baby is born, he cries for his mother to provide the pure, uncontaminated milk he desperately needs. That milk is vital to the baby’s survival, providing both nourishment and antibodies to protect and sustain his little life.
It’s important that we don’t confuse the point of Peter’s metaphor with others in Scripture. He is not merely talking about newborn babies in Christ—this isn’t limited to new believers. All Christians, regardless of their spiritual maturity, need to cultivate a singular craving for God’s truth. Likewise, Peter is not talking about the milk of the Word versus the meat (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12–14). That’s a separate metaphor used by other authors to illustrate a different point. Here, Peter is simply exhorting his readers to hunger for the whole Word of God.
We ought to be thankful for such a clear, graphic analogy. A newborn baby longs for his mother’s milk because he cannot survive without it. And in God’s design, various mechanisms go off in that precious little baby to create agitation and irritation when his primary need is not met. This is not just a mild hunger—it’s a critical, all-consuming need.
This is a hunger that should be apparent in the life of every believer. However, many Christians have instead cultivated an appetite for spiritual junk food. They prefer shallow sermons, feel-good stories, worldly entertainment, emotional experiences, and sensory overload to clear, verse-by-verse Bible teaching. Many in the church have cut themselves off from the source of true spiritual food, choosing instead to perpetually languish in an unhealthy, underdeveloped state.
Others are simply starving. My heart goes out to those true believers who can’t find a reliable church that provides real spiritual food. I hear from people in that situation all the time. They’re committed to their local church, but they’re not being faithfully fed. They have to survive with weak teaching, scrounging for morsels instead of feasting on the riches of God’s Word. And in that malnourished state, they develop deficient immune systems, succumbing to heresies and errors they would otherwise know to avoid. That’s the cost of weak preaching and weak pastors—they leave the people under them exposed and vulnerable to lies that wouldn’t afflict stronger believers. Today, too many pulpits are occupied by hirelings who don’t know the first thing about how to feed their flocks—they’re either incapable of feeding God’s sheep or unwilling to do so. My prayer is that believers caught in such situations would find faithful ministries to help supplement the spiritual sustenance they require from God’s Word.
The Only True Source of Spiritual Sustenance
Ultimately, Peter wants his readers to understand their dependence on the truth and develop a proper hunger for it in light of that consuming need. There is no alternate supply of spiritual nourishment. We don’t have the luxury of options—there is no buffet table or smorgasbord. In a world full of corrupting influences and contaminating ideas, there is only one source of the pure spiritual milk we require: Scripture.
And while Peter is commanding us to have that kind of longing for the Word, the longing itself is not the product of external forces or legalistic fears. Nor should our hunger for the truth be a function of begrudging religious duty. It is to rise out of our hearts because of our profound need for it, the way the cries of hunger rise out of a baby’s need. There should be such a compelling discontent that we cry out for divine truth as the food for our souls.
That’s far from the conversations some Christians have from week to week as they try to locate their Bibles in time for church, or debate whether they should bother going at all. Such attitudes deprive believers of their spiritual sustenance and stifle their usefulness and joy.
Sanctification doesn’t happen by osmosis. We can’t starve ourselves spiritually and still expect to grow in the likeness of Christ. All the facets of Scripture—all its rich benefits and blessings—are not available to those who fail to open it and study.
Others do want to see the Word at work in their lives. They simply need someone to point them in the right direction, to show them how to cultivate such a longing for and ability to understand the truth, and to spur them on to pursue the riches found only in God’s Word. For believers like that, Peter offers good help. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he lays out the critical components for developing a deep hunger and desire for the Word of God. And we’ll consider each of them in the days ahead.
(Adapted from Final Word)