Service - The Work of God Through Men - Part 1
R. Grant, Stevenston
Thus far in these papers we have considered the work of God for men and in men. The remaining section of the opening part of the Epistle is concerned once again with the work of God, but now with the emphasis on its expression. It is not now birth to a new life only - it is growth; not now redemption, but sanctuary service; not now only likeness to God, but the expression of that likeness before men. The order of divine operations in men is changed to treat first growth by the Word of God, then worship through the Son, and then witness to the glories of the Father. Spiritual well-being is necessary for service in the sanctuary of God; service in the world then follows the service of God in the holy place.
One general comment may be helpful to an understanding of the passage. Each paragraph contains a statement of fact and of intention; for example, "as newborn babes, desire . . . the word, that ye may grow thereby". It is useful to strip the paragraphs of all subsidiary clauses so as to concentrate attention on these central ideas. The first of three paragraphs deals with
i. THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, 2. 1-3
and of development by the Word of God. Peter, as a shepherd, is concerned here about food for the sheep, preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies, ensuring that the pasture upon which we feed is free from poisonous or harmful weeds and safe from the enemies of the flock. He is anxious that the pasture should be
Safe - He Warns about what Spoils the Appetite, v. 1.
God has never allowed men to eat without discrimination (see Gen. 2. 17; Lev. 11), and His prohibitions as well as His provision are always designed for the good of men. Here, Peter specifies some poisonous weeds which have to be rooted out. They are described in three groups, each beginning with the word "all".
(i) All malice, suggesting the root from which all the other evils spring, (ii) All guile and hypocricies and envies are then the plant produced by the root, (iii) All evil speakings, the fruit which the plant bears, the evidence of what it is.
Peter may have in his mind Ezekiel 34. 17-22, where the prophet, having roundly condemned the selfishness and neglect of the shepherds of God's sheep, speaks to the sheep themselves about what they did to the pasture and to each other.
They Trod down the Pastures. Certainly we are responsible to put all ministry to the test of the Word of God, to refuse what is unsound or unhelpful and correct what is false. But we have to guard against criticizing merely because what is said does not please us, or because we do not like the quarter from which it comes. Even if such ministry does not suit us, we have no right to spoil it for others.
They Fouled the Waters with their Feet. There is a real danger of bringing the Word of God into disrepute by "dirty feet". Our walk may so easily commend or bring disrepute on the ministry.
They Thrust at the Weak. There is something malicious in the activity here described - a refusal to allow the weak to feed in peace on the good pasture, its clear intention being to scatter and divide. How aptly do these words describe the attitude so often characteristic of ruthless brethren.
Peter himself illustrates in a lovely way the truth that he is here pressing on his fellow-believers. Despite a public rebuke by Paul, Gal. 2. 14, such as some of us might never have forgiven, he speaks of Paul's ministry and of Paul himself in such a way as to reinforce their authority. There is no question with him of "treading down the pasture" by denigrating the man or deprecating his ministry.
We do the flock of God a grave disservice if we engage in malicious gossip. It is possible that many children of believers are in the world today because they heard, at home, talk which destroyed their respect for certain brethren and sisters with whom their well-meaning parents would now dearly love to see them in happy fellowship! And the danger is especially real for brethren and sisters who have the true interests of the Lord Jesus and His assembly at heart.
Would that we realized the power of words for good or ill. On the one hand,, "How forcible are right words", Job 6. 25; on the other, "Behold, how great a matter (forest) a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity", James 3. 5-6. The following words are worth committing to memory, so as to recall them when tempted to engage in harmful talk:
Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can't do that way when you're flying words.
"Careful with fire" is good advice, we know!
"Careful with words" is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead,
But who can catch and kill them when they're said.
Peter is also concerned that the pasture should be
Sound - He Commends what Sustains the Life, v. 2.
We may be allowed to mix metaphors concerning the flock and the family of God. The principles of feeding are alike. He speaks about
Disposition -"as newborn babes". In the Epistle, new birth is linked with the future, 1. 3, with the past, 1. 23, and here with the present. The characteristics of verse 1 are most un-childlike. Children are characterized by transparent honesty, by implicit trust, by instinctive shrinking from evil -"of such is the kingdom of heaven".
Desire. Our longing for food should be as instinctive and as overwhehning as is a child's. It ought to be a passion with the children of God to seek, with a thought for nothing else, that food which alone can satisfy their yearnings. "How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!", Psa. 119.103.
Diet -"milk". There is, in the spiritual as in the natural, a danger of wrong feeding, of over- and underfeeding. The Psalmist recognized both of the latter - of overfeeding, "my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me", Psa. 131. 1, and of underfeeding when he contemplates what would have befallen him had he failed to nourish himself in the Word of God, "Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction", 119. 92.
As to the quality of the food, Peter speaks of the "sincere (pure) milk of the word". He is obviously using the metaphor of childhood in a good sense as distinct from the critical sense, cf. 1 Cor. 3. 1, and he speaks of food which is suitable for all ages. There is an obvious contrast with the impure food of Verse 1 of this chapter. It would be neither wise nor honest to deprecate the good and helpful writings of spiritual men, but we must remember that anything that men have written has the stamp of imperfection upon it. To read the Word, unadulterated by human opinion, bias, prejudice, fear or favour, is the safe road to progress in spiritual life.
Development-'that ye may grow thereby". Advanced or retarded growth are the results of over- or underfeeding. No one who cares for the well-being of the children of God would discourage the reading of the Word of God, but there is the danger of reaching out, in inexperience, to matters which need the maturity of experience, Psa. 131. 1. The holy anointing oil had to be compounded "after the art of the apothecary'* - such is not for inexpert handling or for experiment! And how much less those holy matters pertaining to the Person of the Lord Jesus! Development together with the sense of dependence implied in the weaning process of Psalm 131. 2 are not incompatible, and are in their combination becoming features of Christian growth. Retarded growth is equally tragic. We are faced, in our day, with the stark realities of human starvation at which we do well to be moved. But have we thought about the effects of spiritual starvation, the more tragic because it is so unnecessary and happens in the midst of such plenty? Small wonder that assembly life and testimony are often flagging when many suffer from spiritual malnutrition! Underfeeding and lack of growth result in unskilfulness, in dullness, Heb. 5. 11-14, in carnality with all its dire effects on assembly well-being, 1 Cor. 3. 1-3.
Growth should be seasonable as well as steady, "That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth", Psa. 144. 12. Youth is the time for growth, and young men and women who neglect the nourishment of their spiritual life are likely to live to regret their loss. May we urge upon our young brethren and sisters especially: "desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby". Pasture should also be
Sweet - He Describes what Satisfies the Taste, v. 3.
"If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious". Food should be palatable as well as nourishing and while ministry need not be exotic, it should never be insipid. The whole aim of the reading or the ministry of the Word of God should be to develop in the people of God appreciation of, affection for, allegiance and likeness to, the Lord Jesus. Unless it does that, the Word is mere letter, 2 Cor. 3. 6. The Word without Him is legality; He without the Word an impossibility. But the Word is vibrant with life when it begets in us a deeper knowledge of, and yearning for, the Lord Jesus. When the Word has that effect, all else in the way of obedience and loyalty to its precepts ought to follow as a matter of course.