November 22, 2011

The Hunger: Is It in Y’all?

by Alex Crain
Editor, Christianity.com

"...like newborn babies, [you all] long for the pure milk of the Word, 
so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation..."
1 Peter 1:1, NAS

A recent Crosswalk Devotional (“The Hunger: Is It in You?”) highlighted the passage above and encouraged us to take an honest look at our personal degree of hunger for God's Word. The command in 1 Peter 2:2 seems simple and clear enough: "Long for the pure milk of the Word." But not so simple and clear in the text is the fact that the command is a second-person plural. So it actually reads: “You all long for the pure milk of the Word…”

If it seems like I’m dwelling on the tiniest detail of grammar, hang in there. Remember that Jesus affirmed every detail of scripture is significant. So, let’s take a closer look at this.

At first glance, we see 1 Peter 2:2 as directed toward the individual, as if to say, I cannot grow and I cannot have a healthy appetite for God's Word as long as I harbor any of the sins mentioned in the text (i.e., malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander). And while that’s certainly not a false idea, such an emphasis on the individual leads us away from applying the passage to its intended place—the whole church community.

Since the "you" pronouns in 1 Peter 2:1-3 are all plural, the Scripture is actually emphasizing the church’s collective experience of growth. In other words, healthy growth ought to be the normal course of life together. The Christian life is not a solo journey, but about being involved in each others’ lives. It’s about each believer being nourished by the truth of God’s Word and ministering that Word to others. My friend, Jonathan Leeman, puts it well when he says that the Word ought to reverberate throughout the body.

While regular corporate times of teaching and worship are important, a church isn’t to be merely a “Sunday service machine.” That kind of thinking can produce an unhealthy assembly of strangers. First Peter 2 says that wherever we find an unhealthy church there must exist some degree of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and slander. These are relational sins, and they quench the collective body's craving for spiritual nourishment. There can be a lot of well-crafted speech, fine music, and maybe even increasing numbers; but if there is no community of healthy relationships there will be no real growth.

Idealistic? Maybe. But it certainly seems to be affirmed by Scripture. Churches really do work, thrive, grow, and reproduce when they collectively put away relational sins, collectively long for the pure milk of the Word and collectively see it reverberate throughout the entire body.

The place of restoration in all of this is the gospel, not a “do more, do better, try harder” works attitude. If you’ve led or have been part of an unhealthy, machine-like congregation, draw encouragement from this week’s reading in Francis Schaeffer’s book, True Spirituality. He discusses the path to healing at the close of chapter eight:

“Most Christians find that the first step in the substantial healing that they can have in the present life is the substantial healing of the separation from themselves that is a result of the Fall and of sin. Man is first of all separated from God, then from himself, and finally from his fellow men and from nature. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ will give an absolute and perfect restoration of all these things when Jesus comes.

But in the present life, there is to be substantial healing. If we call our sin sin, and bring it under the blood of Christ, it is forgiven. This is the reality of restored relationship. Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

Intersecting Faith & Life:  
Do you see your own spiritual health as something that either helps or hinders your fellow believers? Or do you tend to see it as something that affects primarily you?

What receives more attention at your local church: healthy relationships or “the Sunday machine?”

Further Reading

1 Corinthians 12:14