One most essential exercises of our Christian lives is the continual examination of our attitudes towards the Word of God. Not only do its promises cheer us and its hopes encourage us, but do its precepts compel us and its principles direct us in all that we would seek to do, both with regards to our individual lives and also in connection with all that we would seek to do within the churches of Christ where He has placed us? The apostle Peter gives an "examining" word along these lines in the first few verses of the second chapter of his first epistle, where he urges us, "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." It's a very striking word of examination, indeed, for in it the apostle Peter is not only telling us to assess our spiritual condition through our attitude to the Word of God but to look at our very spiritual origin itself.
Very often we find the Bible contrasting our spiritual childhood and our spiritual manhood. It has some very strong things to say along that line, e.g. - "At a time when ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again ... and have need of milk and not of strong meat." "Milk" belongs to babes, we are told in the course of God's word, "strong meat" belongs to those who are of a mature and manly age in the things of the Lord. We are called on time and time again to care for the spiritual development of our spiritual systems, so that our systems are kept healthy - learning to feed more and more on the wholesome and vital things of our salvation - growing out of the first stages of our spiritual existence into spiritual men and women who can come forth and take their adult place in the affairs of Christ's household. They are great exhortations; such exhortations are as badly needed in our own days when it seems that in so many ways, the church must have toys and baubles from the nursery to keep it amused like some spiritual infant that has never left its childhood.
Now, there is that kind of thrust in Peter's words that he holds up before us; but it is not the primary purpose in Peter's usage of the picture of a newborn babe. It is not here a baby as opposed to a man, but it is a baby with regards to the reality of its desire for the milk of the mother who first gave it its birth - and that is most challenging! "Desire the sincere milk of the word," says Peter. In what way? Like a newborn babe desires the milk of its mother's breast. It's not the spiritual age of the professing man or woman that Peter has here under review, but the spiritual appetite; and not only the spiritual appetite, but the very spiritual origin itself.
If you look back into the total context of Peter's words, you'll see from the previous chapter that he is speaking about those who have been "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." He then goes on to speak about that word, until, when he begins chapter two he begins with a "Wherefore;" "Wherefore, laying aside all malice etc. ... as newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word.” What word? The one by which they were “born again.” Their origin and their appetite are one; the mother that begets them – the incorruptible seed of the word – is the mother that then sustains them and for which they seek – the sincere milk of the word. The "examination" which Peter here invites us to conduct with regards to our attitude to God's truth in our lives has not only to do with our "age," but with our healthy spiritual "appetite;" and, indeed, not only our appetite, but the very birth of the spiritual life itself. So that, in one respect - according to one emphasis of God's word in the matter - let us continually strive to reach that adult stage of Christian profession that the Bible holds out before us; yet, in this present respect, in Peter's letter and context, let us desire to be for ever "babes" in the things of our Christian lives - ever desiring the sincere milk of the word of God that first "begot us again unto a lively hope."
Dear old Robert Leighton has a lovely word about our continuing development in our spiritual lives upon this earth, and yet, our constant remaining as "babes" for all that. Speaking about the degrees of growth in grace in this life, he says, "If one measure of grace is called infancy in respect of another, much more is allgrow in grace; and those first years of my Christian life are like the infancy of it compared to the number of years I spend as a Christian thereafter.
In "natural" terms: what are the one-to-three years we spend as infants compared to the three-score-and-ten years which constitute the rest of our natural lives. But then, what are all the years of our spiritual lives - be it ten, twenty, sixty or whatever - compared to eternity? And in the light of eternity what is our spiritual life on earth, no matter how long, but an "infancy?" That is what Robert Leighton means when he says, "if one measure of grace is called infancy in respect of another, much more is all grace infancy in respect of glory."
It's the same kind of thing that lies behind Paul's words in First Corinthians 13; "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now, we see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face ...." the apostle Paul had no difficulty whatsoever in seeing himself in the role of an infant yet in the light of the coming revelations of eternity. On the one hand, he is forever the maturing believer in his love and attitudes towards the word of God given to him as well as through him. But, on the other, he is ever an infant for all his days on this earth compared to that day when he shall know even as he is known. An infant - a babe - such as Peter sets before us; one whose appetite not only bespeaks its health but the very source of its life in the first place.
How essential then, it must surely be for us to exercise ourselves with regards as to how the word of God features in our lives. Individually or collectively as the Lord's people, in all its parts for all our hearts until our eternal three-score-and-ten years begin.