If there’s one thing I don’t have to teach my one-year-old son, it’s to ask for a bottle of milk when he’s hungry. His cravings came built-in. There’s been many a night where my wife and I have been woken up by his hungry demands. Now that he’s big enough to sleep in his own bed instead of a crib, he has the ability to come crawling into our bedroom in the middle of the night, pull himself up right next to my dozing head, and shout “MILK!!” straight into my ears.
We’ve been woken up by a week’s worth of these midnight cravings now. Prayers for sanity are appreciated.
It’s a natural fact of life that our toddler will have a powerful appetite for milk. Also natural is our love for him, which motivates us to get out of bed at 3 in the morning and feed him. But as adults, we know that there are other appetites that don’t come built-in — instead, they are cultivated. They grow based on what we regularly take in, until we start to crave things we didn’t before. For example, I didn’t like coffee at first, but once I went to college I developed quite the powerful appetite for it!
In 1 Peter 1:22-2:3, the apostle instructs his readers about how they are to be motivated by love for one another — a love that comes from the new family relationship they have with other Christ-followers because of the gospel — and how they need to learn to crave “pure spiritual milk,” like newborn babies.
Peter writes in verses 22-23, “Since you have purified yourselves by your obedience to the truth, so that you show sincere brotherly love for each other, from a pure heart love one another constantly, because you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God.”
In other words, believers should love one another sincerely, from the heart, precisely because such love is the fruit that should grow naturally from the seed of the gospel. The Christian faith isn’t just an individual, private matter. Peter is saying that obeying the gospel includes the call to community. We’re commanded to love one another as family, since we’ve been reborn into the family of God.
Continuing to build on this image of spiritual rebirth, Peter tells his readers to “crave pure spiritual milk” like newborn babies (2:2, NIV), because they need nourishment to grow in their salvation.
Some translations say “the pure milk of the word,” interpreting Peter to be referring to Scripture as the believer’s primary source of spiritual nourishment. But in Greek it’s “pure spiritual milk.” The word for “spiritual” is logikos, and even though it is derived from the root term logos (which means “word”), logikos denotes something that is “spiritual” or “metaphorical.” The only other use of logikos in the New Testament is in Romans 12:2, where the apostle Paul says that Christians are to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, which is their “spiritual” or “reasonable” response to the Lord’s mercies (in contrast to the literal, physical sacrifices of animals in the Temple).
So Peter’s point is that since his readers have been spiritually reborn, they’re now like babies who need milk — not literal milk, but the spiritual nourishment that only the Lord can provide. But what exactly is this “milk?”
In two other passages, “milk” is used as a metaphor for basic instruction for new converts — instruction in matters such as doctrine, morals, and the Jewish Scriptures (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12-13). It’s the discipleship that new believers need to establish a healthy foundation in their faith.
Here in 1 Peter 2, though, it’s probably even broader than that. Peter says to crave pure spiritual milk “. . . since you have tasted that the Lord is good” (2:3). In other words, because you’ve experienced God’s kindness and goodness, you should yearn for the nourishment that comes from him so you can grow in your spiritual walk. As Ramsey Michaels says in his commentary, “It is doubtful . . . that the significance of ‘pure spiritual milk’ for Peter can be summed up in just one word or concept” (pg. 88).
Thus, the spiritual “milk” that Peter is talking about is anything that comes from God that can nourish our spiritual growth. So it certainly includes God’s Word — we do need to be feeding our minds with Scripture in order to grow.
But it’s also more. It also includes things like worship, prayer, and spiritual disciplines. It could mean things like acts of service, fellowship with other believers, and exercising your spiritual gifts. God has given us many important means by which we can grow in our love for others and in our holiness toward God. The question is, will we take advantage of them?
Peter commands his audience to crave these things; to yearn for them as intensely and energetically as a baby cries out for milk. The term that gets translated as “crave” is a word for an intense desire or longing that moves you to action. And while it may sound strange at first to command someone to desire something, the reality is that appetites can in fact be cultivated by what you repeatedly take in.
An appetite for Scripture might start out as more of a discipline than a delight. But over time, it can become a desire as you cultivate it faithfully. It’s the same with other spiritual disciplines, or with serving. These appetites must be grown through continued habit, until eventually they start to become a craving. Then you can say along with the Psalmist, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God. I thirst for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:1), or “How sweet your word is to my taste— sweeter than honey in my mouth” (Psalm 119:103).
The more you store up Scripture in your mind, the more it will shape the way you think and the things you value. The more time you spend seeking God and worshiping him, the easier it becomes to start craving his presence. The more you practice serving, the quicker you are to meet needs as you see them and to delight in helping others.
And sure, there will be times when the appetite may grow dull again, and desire reverts back to discipline for a season. But just like my son is ever-so-slowly learning to walk on his wobbly little toddler legs, you too will gradually grow up in your salvation and become the kind of person who walks more steadily in holiness and love.
What desires are you cultivating today?
 For detailed discussion of the translation and interpretation of the phrase to logikon adolon gala (“pure spiritual milk”) in 1 Pet 2:2 and why it shouldn’t be translated “pure milk of the word,” see Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 130-141.