Why We Read the Bible
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
– 1 Peter 2:2-3
The Object, The Call, The Motive
In these verses, God is commanding our hearts to want something. That is a bit jarring at first. We are used to commands to “do,” but perhaps not as comfortable with commands to “desire.” In this post I want to briefly examine three things we can draw from Peter’s words here. To do this I will first look at the Object of the call (what are we to desire?), then the Call itself (what is commanded), and finally the Motive for the call (what is the engine of our obedience?).
The Object: The Word of God
What is this “pure spiritual milk” that Peter is commanding us to desire? The answer that many scholars will give (and I agree) is that this “milk” is the word of God, specifically the gospel. Where do we get that? Notice that verse 1 of chapter 2 begins with “So” (or “therefore”), this indicates that Peter is building on something that came before and should point our attention backwards. And what do we find when we look backward? That Peter has just finished a discussion about how the Christian is born by the “living and abiding word of God” (1:23).
The word of God – here specifically being the gospel of Christ – is the “seed” through which the Christian has been born again. Building on this, Peter says in 2:1 that we should therefore put off sinful passions and instead desire the pure spiritual milk….in context, then, this “milk” is the word of God that he has just been discussing.
It is the word of God, and specifically the gospel of Christ, that “births” a Christian, and it is by that same word that the Christian grows (“so that by it you may grow up into salvation,” 2:2). This is our “milk,” this is our food, this is the source of our sustenance and growth: the word of God’s self revelation that climaxes in the good news of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. A Christian can no more survive spiritually apart from the word than an infant can survive physically apart from her mother’s milk.
The object of this command is the word of God and its climax in the gospel of Christ.
The Call: Desire!
Perhaps you’ve heard the proposition that God cannot command our desires, only our actions. However, this passage (and many others) indicates otherwise. With very simple terms, Peter – in the authority of the Holy Spirit – commands his readers to desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. He does not say, “read the Bible every day,” he does not say, “memorize this many verses each year,” he does not say, “attend this many Bible studies….” All of those things could be done in the power of our own disciplined flesh. Instead, he commands the impossible, he says, “DESIRE – like a hungry newborn infant – DESIRE the milk of God’s word.”
Can God command what is impossible for us to do apart from Him? Certainly. We have all seen Jesus command the lame to walk (Matt.9:6) and dead to rise (John 11:43). These commands are impossible for the person to obey apart from the enabling work of God. In fact, the command to do anything is impossible for us to obey apart from God since, implicit in any command is the expectation that we will exist long enough to obey it, and our very existence is sustained only by the will of God (Hebrews 1:3).
No, the command to do the impossible should not surprise us, rather, it should drive us in desperate and faith-filled dependence to the God who commands whatever He wills and gives what He commands.
“Father, I do not desire your word this morning, MAKE ME desire your word,” is a Christian prayer…Isn’t this exactly what we see the Psalmist praying when he says, “incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain”(Ps.119:36)? The realization that we can (and must) ask God to sculpt the affections of our hearts is a sweet, freeing, and humbling thing. And, I should note, that even the prayer for God to give us a desire for His word while it is currently absent is in itself evidence that the seed of desire has already been given.
And notice also that Peter calls us to desire God’s word as an infant desires milk, that is to say: desperately, ravenously, hungrily, even greedily. One of the reasons that God designed babies to cry and scream for their mother’s milk, and then settle into a quieted contentment upon receiving it was to teach us how our souls should relate to His word. May He grant us the grace to have such a longing for His self-revelation in the gospel….He has commanded it and He will enable it.
The Motive: The Lord is Good
Lastly, notice the motive that Peter gives for our hungry pursuit of God’s word:
“If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
The goodness of the Lord, the kindness of God, the character and nature of YHWH Himself is the “flavor” of the spiritual milk of the word, and it is because we love this “flavor” that we hunger for the milk.
The primary motivation that the Spirit gives us for seeking God’s word is the goodness of God Himself that we “taste” therein. The Bible is not primarily a rule book, it is not primarily a love letter, it is not primarily “basic instructions before leaving earth,” rather it is primarily God’s communication of Himself to us for our good and His glory (which encompasses and surpasses all of the aforementioned definitions). In the Bible we meet God – THIS is why it is sweet to us, THIS is why we long for more, THIS is why we – like newborn infants – clamor and hunger for scripture, because in it we see the heart and mind of YHWH God, and He is GOOD.
And, of course, we taste the character of our God most acutely in the gospel of Christ. The Christian cannot be long without the gospel, just as an infant cannot be long without milk. And why is that? Because in it – in this “good news” – we meet our God eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart. God is the food of the human soul and the gospel is His richest banquet, God is water to our parched hearts and the gospel is the gushing spring of His self-communication, God is the song we were made to sing and the gospel is the all-harmonizing crescendo.
We desire the word of God because, in it, we taste the goodness of the Lord, and to know Him in His Son is the joy and satisfaction and eternal life of our souls.
A Prayer for Hungry Saints
So, may we all grow in our heart-felt desire for God’s word. And may that desire arise not from a sense of self-righteous duty – as if reading scripture earns us points with the Lord – nor from a sense of obligation – as if God’s gracious self-revelation is a medicine that must be ingested daily – nor from a sense of purely academic interest – as if stuffing our heads with knowledge is of any benefit apart from heart-change – instead, let us desire God’s word because we have tasted that He is GOOD and our whole beings are beginning to long for Him more and more. May we go to the scriptures, and may we hear the gospel, as hungry infants go to their mother’s breast, and may we be ever increasingly awed by, satisfied with, and conformed to the One whom we meet therein – in Jesus’ Name, amen.