Growing up in church circles, one of my least favorite messages was how Christians needed “milk not meat.”
Depending on who was sermonizing, the word “meat” might have been declared with an emphatic thud of the Bible across the pulpit. Modern versions replaced “meat” with “solid food,” but the digestive concept remains. At the time, I personally loved milk and drank it frequently. I also disliked meat. It was a rough experience.
As I got older, I started to assume that “solid food” meant more Bible study. If I studied the Bible lots and lots, I would be mature. So that’s what I did for a long time, until I burned out on the Bible.
Now again, and I’ll say this frequently: Not everything I absorbed in my childhood was the result of one particular person, and I’m never going to say any of my flawed thinking was someone else’s fault. My early understanding of Scripture was shaped by my pastor, my parents, my friends, my community, books I read, my limited adolescent wisdom and my spotty understanding of sin. So when I refer to “how I thought about things,” I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just pointing out that spiritual maturity is a process, and I can look back and note where there were gaps in my understanding.
As an adult and a (hopefully) more mature believer now, I’ve realized that this passage was not saying we needed to be better Bible-studiers. Instead, it’s pointing out that if solid food (meaning things of spiritual substance) is only given to those who, by time and experience, have been trained to distinguish between good and evil, then perhaps we should pause and ask if that’s the case for us. Are we leveling up in our faith, or have we stayed in the same place forever?
But this milk/meat passage tripped me up for a while, so I had to go back to Hebrews and review it. The author is actually addressing immaturity among believers:
“We have a great deal to say about this, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature — for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14, CSB)
In 1 Peter, after calling the Jewish believers to holy living among their Gentile neighbors, a similar teaching is shared:
”Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3, CSB)
Some of us have gotten this milk and meat message a bit mixed up, because of how conservative circles often use “pure milk of the word” to mean the Bible. In the last couple hundred years evangelicals have defined verses referencing “the Word” or “God’s Word,” to mean our printed Bibles. The problem with this is that we’ve only had printed Bibles since Gutenberg first compiled the holy writings and sacred texts and cranked them out in the mid-1400s. Early church fathers recognized that Jesus is also “the Word” made flesh, and referred to Old Testament Scripture as Scripture.
So let’s go back to this concept of “pure milk of the word.” The Greek word “logos,” which symbolizes “what has been said” and also references Jesus as “the word” made flesh, is not the same Greek term used in our 1 Peter 1:2 text. Its derivation, “logikos” is translated in the KJV as “of the word” here, but then used as “reasonable” in Romans 12:1, and modern translations agreed to render it as “spiritual, pertaining to the soul, agreeable to reason.”
But I’m not here to quarrel about words, or the words for “the word.”
Because in all of this, we’ve still missed the key message in both passages: As believers of a holy God, we should be maturing in our faith, which means we should be advancing in righteous living. Until we “rid [ourselves] of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander,” we will be spiritually stunted. Until those things happen, we are still spiritual infants who are living on milk, only able to absorb tiny amounts of spiritual teaching. Think of it like playing Mario Kart for decades and never passing level one.
When we feel stuck in our faith, it might be simply because we are choosing not to grow. Have we evaluated our lives for obedience? Are we filled with malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander?
Let’s start with just that list. We may not use those terms often, so here is how Strong’s Concordance defines these behaviors:
from the Greek word kakia
Definition: badness, i.e. (subjectively) depravity, or (actively) malignity, or (passively) trouble
Simply: Malice does bad things. God’s people have been called to good works from the beginning. God gives us abundantly good things, and we are to give other people good things from that overflow.
from the Greek word dolos
Definition: probably meaning to decoy; a trick (bait), deceit, guile
Simply: Deceit is conspiring to obtain something, without doing it the right way. The word dolos is related to the Latin word for pain or suffering. There’s a song, Via Dolorosa, describing “The Way of Suffering” where Jesus walked, carrying the cross for our sins. Sin’s deceit always leads to suffering. Jesus never spoke deceitfully, and nor should his people.
from the Greek word hypokrisis
Definition: acting under a feigned part
Simply: Hypocrisy is not being the person on the inside that you show everyone on the outside. God’s character doesn’t change, he is consistently good and holy and just. Jesus chastised the religious leaders for looking clean on the outside, but being filled with rot and decay on the inside, like a white-washed tomb full of foul, dead body parts. God purifies us from the inside out. We can’t clean ourselves from the outside in.
from the Greek word phthonos (try not to spit when you say that)
Definition: ill-will (as detraction), i.e. jealousy (spite)
Simply: Wanting what someone else has, to the point that you start “detracting” the person’s value in your heart. When we are jealous of others, we start to think “less” of them. God’s people are not to do that. Often, our envy of others stems from not realizing all the things God has given us already. When we realize he meets every need, we will no longer feel threatened by what others have.
from the Greek word katalalia
Definition: defamation, backbiting, evil speaking
Simply: Using your words to tear someone else apart, often behind their back. Christians are to build each other up, not tear each other down. We might not like someone, but we may not destroy them with our words–including the ones we don’t say to their face. In our modern tech world, this includes the words we say via text, email, and social media. God’s people don’t get to be rude.
Now, if we’re used to using the Bible to point out other people’s bad behavior, this list might seem enjoyable. It’s easier to point out other people’s vices, than realizing the headlock sin has us in. But have we stopped to realize that sin is referred to as a vice? We say someone or something has a “vice grip” when we can’t break free–that’s what sin does to us.
And these are some of those sins that Jesus died to set us free from.
Let’s be willing to rid ourselves of these sinful behaviors, so we can see what better spiritual growth (and blessings) God has for us on the other side. I promise you, it gets so much better.
Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash