His name was Howard Hughes. As an aviator he once held every speed record of consequence, and was once considered the greatest flyer in the world. At various points in his life he owned an international airline, two regional airlines, an aircraft company, a major motion picture studio, mining properties, a tool company, gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, along with a medical research center and a vast amount real estate.
It is believed that when Howard Hughes died in 1976 he was worth over $2 billion dollars, making him the richest man in the world.
When he died he was being cared for around the clock by 15 personal attendants and 3 full-time doctors. He had the best health care money could buy; and yet, you may be shocked to know what killed him: malnutrition and dehydration.
Howard Hughes was so eccentric and psychologically disturbed that he refused all food and water because he was afraid it would kill him. He was so obsessed about absolute purity in food and water that he would no longer eat or drink. But He forgot one simple fact: no food and water, no life./1/
The Christian Life
We can see the similarities to the Christian life: We can’t make it without food and water; in the case of 1 Peter, we can’t make it without the “pure, spiritual milk” of God’s word (2:2).
That’s how many scholars translate our passage today: We can understand the adjectives “pure” and “spiritual” better as “word of preaching” or “word of instruction: Just as the promised land flowed with milk and honey for the children of Israel, so also the “milk of God’s word” flows as a foretaste of God’s salvation for those who believe in Christ./2/
In short, this spiritual milk helps newborn Christians grow toward salvation as a mother’s milk nurtures infants toward maturity.
Therefore, as First Peter states, as Christians, we “grow into salvation,” and live with the promise of the fullness of God’s mercy and with a foretaste of what that mercy will be (2:2), for it is only by God’s mercy that we are Christians in the first place (2:10), that we are part of a royal priesthood (2:9)./3/
The image of “milk” is simply that image that helps us with the whole range of God’s good gifts for the Christian life: “pure, spiritual milk” is the opposite of guile and slander and malice and insincerity (2:1).
That kind of selfishness is what we leave behind for new life in Christ: as a newborn infant desires milk, so the Christian desires the Word.
The Greek word for desire here is important: epithymia. It means longing or hunger. It’s similar to what we hear in Psalm 42: that “as a deer longs for flowing streams so my soul longs for the living God (42:1-2a). First Peter tells us that there is a longing in the heart to know what is true and pure: as children of God, we all have a desire to know God./4/
That’s a little different from what the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians when he distinguishes between milk and solid food, with milk being for the infant or selfish person and solid food for the adult or mature person. Paul writes: “I fed you with milk not solid food, because you were not ready for solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2).
We can also find the same emphasis in the Letter to the Hebrews: Milk is for the unskilled person of faith and solid food for the skilled or trained person of faith (5:12-14).
Peter, on the other hand, wants to see every Christian have a desire for the “milk of God’s word,” regardless of age or status.
Hence, the question: Got milk?
Perhaps you have seen the billboards and commercials: Got milk? There are pictures of famous persons like Michael Jordon and Paul Newman with white ‘milk’ mustaches advertising the importance of drinking milk.
There are even a couple persons at Grace Church with them! Pastor Bob? Got milk? Bob’s is a little more permanent! Pastor Jenothy? Got milk? And Roger and Sarai? Got milk?
And you? Got milk?
Actually, a better or more accurate description would be “Do you have a hunger for God’s milk, for God’s word?” Do you have that desire to grow closer to God?
That’s what Peter is really after: Peter wants to see Christians taste the goodness of the Lord (2:3). He wants to see persons in his congregations come to Christ and allow themselves be built into a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (2:5). He wants to see believers, after receiving God’s mercy, offer sacrifices in return, though not as on the altar in the Temple, but rather as the sacrifice of faithful obedience and the life of love that goes with it (2:5): a life without the vices of malice and deceit and envy and hypocrisy (2:1).
That’s the kind of sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2:5): a life of faithful obedience, a life marked with promise and mercy.
But note the connection: Without the desire for the milk of the gospel, there can be no life of sacrifice and obedience. No milk, no life.
I don’t know if you are a milk drinker. I know some persons are allergic to milk. I know as a family we drink a great deal of milk every week. I grew up drinking milk, and I love the taste of ice cold milk; and without sounding too much like a commercial, I will say it is good for you. And so, I hope you can drink milk!
But I also hope there is a desire for the kind of milk we are talking about today: the gift of God’s word. I hope there is a hunger for that.
The human heart desires many things. Many of those desires, when out of step with God’s purposes, can lead to downfall, to a life without mercy and peace. As Peter says, our desires can go in many directions: they can go toward slander and malice, or toward envy and hypocrisy and evil speaking (1 Peter 2:2, NKJ). They can lead us, if allowed, down the road to becoming ensnared in power-games or ego-trips. Our desires are in constant need of God’s grace and judgment, for it is only by God’s Spirit working in us that those desires can become the fruit of holiness.
I share that because it is so easy to say things and do things that can hurt others, even without being aware of what we have said or done.
When left to our own devices, our hearts are lost; or, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, when we forget God’s covenant our hearts become “wicked” (44:9). We forget whose we are and who we are.
It’s why the words of Saint Augustine still ring true: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.” That is, our hearts will look to fill the void with other “spirits,” with other things, unless they find assurance in God.
Our souls, our hearts – our spiritual stomachs, if you will – will look for nourishment elsewhere if they are not actively pursuing or longing for the milk of God’s word. Hence the question: Got milk? Or more precisely: Do you have the desire for the milk of God’s instruction, of God’s word, of God’s mercy?
With so many options today for choosing what to believe, we need to ask ourselves: What are we seeking to eat and drink? What kind of food – spiritual food – are we going to eat?
The famous writer and author G. K. Chesterton once said that the purpose of having an open mind is the same as having an open mouth, so that we can close it on something nourishing.
May 21st, 2011 was supposed to have been the end of the world. A pastor by the name of Harold Camping and several other persons have been predicting that major other calamities would destroy life on earth as we know it, thus bringing about the rapture at 1:00 in the afternoon (Eastern Time or Pacific Time, I don’t know). Apparently, he had decoded the Bible and calculated that the world would end at that moment.
Not to make light of the suffering in the world due to recent events, and not to dismiss the hope of God’s future (which we all have), there is a report that God has continued to sustain and provide life on this earth as we worship!
And yet, the news of this kind of ‘gospel,’ of this kind of message, raises questions: Is this the kind of milk God wants us to have? Is that the kind of food we are to eat?
In several recent studies on American culture and religion, it is clear there is a deeper problem: Persons may say they revere God’s word, but they know very little about it: Fewer than half of all adults in the United States, for example, can name the four Gospels in the New Testament. Sixty percent of adults and youth cannot name five of the Ten Commandments. And twelve percent of adults believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. I think you get the picture.
If we don’t know the basics, what will fill the emptiness?
It’s a big cafeteria out there! There are so many different religious options from which to choose. And now with the internet it’s almost impossible to keep track of the different kinds of spiritual food on sale.
What’s the old adage: You are what you eat! With so much junk food out there – spiritual and otherwise – it is becoming more and more difficult to eat well and live well. It’s becoming more and more difficult to digest what is on offer, to find food that is spiritually nourishing.
And yet, the good news is that God has given us a better offer, a better hope of what is pure, what is good, what is whole, what is holy: God has given to us Jesus Christ, rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight – a perfect offering (2:4), without whom we would remain in darkness but with whom we can live in light (2:9-10).
God has given us that precious gift out of his great love and mercy!Hence, the question: Got milk?
Dear friend, receive this invitation: Come and see; come and see and taste that the Lord is good!
1. Thanks to Reverend James Merritt for this story (Collected Sermons: Christian Globe Networks, Inc.).
2. See The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 264.
3. Ibid., p. 264.
4. Ibid., p. 264.