I Peter 1:22-2:3
When I was attending seminary, we spent one summer with a mission trying to discern God’s future direction in our life. As a result, I knew that when school would start, we wouldn’t have enough money. One day after we got back from our summer ministry, we were opening the mail and were pleasantly surprised with a tellers cheque from a brother or sister in Christ, we still don’t know who, for the amount of our tuition. That act of love was one of many which we have experienced because we are members of the body of Christ.
We have known you little more than three months. You have shown us love by dropping in, by encouraging us, by saying that you are praying for us and by bringing flowers and food. How can it be that complete strangers can enter into such a caring relationship so quickly?
Two weeks ago, we were reminded that we have been born again into a living hope and that we have an inheritance which is kept in heaven for us. Last week, we were challenged to remember that the consequence of having received such a gift is that we are to live in holiness before the Father.
Francis Schaeffer has written a book entitled, “The Mark of the Christian.” In the first paragraph he writes, “Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling. But there is a much better sign – a mark that has not been thought up just as a matter of expediency for use on some special occasion or in some specific era. It is a universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back.”
Besides holiness, another consequence of what we have received through Christ is that we are to be a people marked by love. Let us read I Peter 1:22-2:3. The challenge to us today, is to be a people who love one another.
I. The Command To Love
For most of my life, I have heard about Protestant and Catholic Christians fighting each other in Ireland.
This cartoon expresses what we have seen in some churches. To an empty church, broken by hatred, the pastor announces that they have achieved doctrinal purity.
I have had people come to me and tell me that other members of the church refuse to come up to them and speak to them. When they see them in the foyer, they make an effort to walk around another way.
I have been involved in churches that were formed because they split off from another church and the feelings toward that other church were still strongly negative.
I know about people who don’t come to church because of an experience they have had in business or in public relationships with church members that have not been carried out in love.
Archbishop Usher was once wrecked on the coast of Ireland, and almost destitute of clothing he wandered to the house of a clergyman. The ecclesiastic was quite wary and somewhat cold and incredulous. “How many commandments are there?” he suddenly asked, thinking to detect an impostor.
“I can at once satisfy you that I am not the ignorant imposter you take me for,” replied the archbishop, “there are eleven commandments.” “No,” was the sneering comment, “there are but ten commandments in my Bible. Tell me the eleventh and I will give you all the help you need.” “There it is,” said the archbishop, pointing to this verse: “ ’A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. ’ “
Jesus repeatedly spoke about the new commandment to love one another and church history and our own experience tells us that too often love is missing. Because of this, it is necessary for Peter to not only designate love as the mark of a Christian, but also to command love. The imperative in this passage is “love one another deeply from the heart.”
The love he speaks of here is agape love. It is not a love of feeling as much as it is a love that is given because of choice. Love that arises because we have warm feelings for one another is easy. Everyone even the most unloving person can love when they want to because it is to their advantage. The love commanded here is a love that is to be present in all circumstances to all people. It is love like that expressed by Jesus.
It is commanded here specifically for one another. Although we are to love all people including our enemies, it is particularly important for those who are members of the family of God to have love for one another.
It is also commanded as something held deeply. We cannot just say we love. We cannot just pretend we love. We cannot even love merely on the surface. The love which is between us must be deep. Normal human love easily goes to the point of reciprocal benevolence. I will love you if you love me. Love between brothers and sisters goes much deeper than that. It extends to all situations. I have seen people who embrace newcomers to church so warmly and so quickly that it was evident that a deep love was extended to them.
Furthermore, this love must be from the heart. It must be a love that is not superficial but from the core of reflection and will. I read about a woman who was an actress. In one movie, she portrayed a missionary who was pure and holy and in another movie she played a prostitute. Neither role was who she really was. The sincere love we have must be love without the actors mask. Not pretending, but genuine, from the heart.
As we hear about such love, we may agree with the idea, but when we think about doing it, we know that such love is near to impossible. How can we love with such depth and sincerity for all our brothers and sisters?
1. Purified to Love
Let me ask you, Can a pail hold oil when it is holding water? No matter how much oil you pour into the pail, it will never hold the oil. The oil will always rise to the top and spill out. Neither does our heart have the capacity to hold love for others because another love is resident in it. That is the love we have for ourselves. As long as our hearts are filled with self love, we will not have the capacity to love others. When our heart is filled with self love, our actions will always be motivated for what we can get out of it, how we will be impacted. As much as we might want to love purely, our hearts are deceptive and confusing, often filled with mixed motives. All we do, our relationships and our work and all our actions are impacted by this overriding motive to do the best for ourselves.
The capacity to love comes when we are changed by the work which Jesus has done in us when we become Christians. I Peter 1:22 says that we “have purified ourselves by obeying the truth.” By accepting the forgiveness of Christ, we attach our affections to a new master. He purifies our hearts by His Holy Spirit and our first love is no longer ourselves. In Christ, a new thing has occurred. We have had our motives purified. No longer is our first priority, our highest goal pleasing ourselves, rather, it is pleasing Christ. We have been purified so that in having our highest goal pleasing Christ, we are able to have pure motives in our love for others as well.
So because of such a change in our hearts, it now becomes possible for us to have sincere love for our brothers.
2. Reborn to Love
Verse 23 adds more power to this command. It is attached to the command because of the use of the word “for.” How is it connected?
The only reason that we can love one another deeply from the heart is because we have been born again. God has not only filled us with a new affection, he has changed our heart so that a new love is possible from the depth of our being.
Our rebirth is described here as being through the imperishable, living and enduring word of God. Peter quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8 to demonstrate the power of the word of God which has changed us. The word of God refers to the gospel message. It is a powerful message which does not change and has the ability to change lives because it is living and enduring. The background of this verse is the dry winds called scirocco which were hot dry south winds which when they blew withered all plants. The Word of God is seen to be a living word in that it does not fade like flowers. Unlike people who are very temporal, and easily change their mind, God’s word does not. It is this word, this powerful, living word which has changed us. God’s word is always life giving and creative. In the beginning, His word created the heaven and the earth. This same word, which abides forever, is powerful to change our hearts so that deep love for one another is possible.
The question we need to ask is, has my life been changed by God’s word or am I still filled with selfish desires. Have my motives been purified by God’s truth? Has my heart been changed so that I do not love myself as much as I love God? Paul warns in II Timothy 3:1 that in the latter days people will be lovers of themselves. Is that where we have come today? Are we people who have been born again or have we just purchased spiritual fire insurance? The evidence of true rebirth, of having had our hearts purified will be the ability to love one another deeply from the heart.
We are not a new community because of compatibility, but because of who we are and how we have been changed. “Love for those who are not literally brothers and sisters is impossible without purification of the soul, and that mutual love even in a community of shared belief is impossible without the new birth of which Jesus had spoken in the Gospel.”
II. Growing In Love
And so because it is possible by God’s renewing power, we are commanded to love one another deeply from the heart. How can we obey this command?
A. Putting Off
The first step which Peter mentions is to put off any actions which destroy love. If we refuse to act with unloving acts, we will find that we have no choice but to act with love. All of the sins listed in 2:1 are relational sins. My garden tiller blows oil smoke right at me when I till the garden. My feet get dirty and my clothes get smelly and when I am done, I can hardly wait to get out of those dirty clothes and have a shower. Like a dirty garment we must put off the sins which destroy relationships. Peter mentions five of them.
Malice or wickedness is any inclination to harm another person. It refers to the evil that men do among one another. Love will not do those things which hurt others.
The Greek word for deceit was originally used to describe bait for fish. With malice in our hearts we may seek to trap our neighbour in order to get even or to harm them. Such actions are totally unbecoming to a believer.
Hypocrisy is devastating. It is pretending to be who we are not. In hypocrisy, we first of all pass judgement on another person. Then we treat them differently in different situations.
There is a fable wherein the Devil once was crossing the Libyan desert and met a group of friends tempting a holy hermit. They tried seductions of the flesh, used doubts and fears, etc. But to no avail. The holy man was unmoved. The Devil then stepped forward: “Your methods are too crude. Permit me one moment.” Going to the hermit, he said, “Have you heard the news? Your brother has been made the Bishop of Alexandria.”
According to the fable, a scowl of malignant jealousy clouded the serene face of the holy man. Rene Girard “has identified envy as a root cause of human conflict and violence.”
The final unloving act which is mentioned is evil speech or slander. We do not tolerate sexual sins or monetary sins, but we sure don’t mind telling one another if someone gets caught in these. Slander or gossip is mentioned as another of the relational destroyers we must get rid of.
If we are to obey the command to love one another deeply from the heart, the first step must be to throw relational sins off like dirty clothes. Then we will have hearts that are free to truly love one another.
B. Loving In The Lord’s Love.
We know that this is true and necessary. We know that these things are wrong, but we also know that we continue to do them. How can we have victory?
The secret to learning to love, is to immerse ourselves in the knowledge of the Lord’s love for us. Look at the text, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk…now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” That’s the answer. We read that since we have been born again, we are like new born babies and like new born babies crave spiritual milk, so we must desire to nurture ourselves on the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. Since we have had a taste of the goodness of the Lord, it should be natural to desire more of the Lord’s goodness and to long to fill ourselves with more of the understanding of the Lord’s love. The text promises that if we nurture ourselves on the Lord’s goodness and experience and feed on his word, we will “grow up in our salvation.” As we feed on the Lord’s love, we will not only crave it for ourselves, we will share it with others and we will learn to love by getting rid of unloving acts.
Let me illustrate. Every year we used to enjoy a block party with our neighbours. One year, a new family moved into the neighbourhood. When block party time came, the wife brought over a crab appetizer. Well, let me tell you, my mouth waters just thinking about that appetizer. With its creamy base, its topping of finely chopped green onions, tomatoes, crab meat and seafood sauce it was such a wonderful taste sensation that once I had tasted it, I had a hard time stopping eating it. I let the lady know how much I liked it and after that, I always looked forward to block parties just for the crab appetizer. Not only did I enjoy eating it, but we learned the recipe and shared it with other people. When we taste that the Lord is kind and loving towards us, we will want more and more of his love and as we feed on His love, we will also want to share His love with others by loving them.
Thus we learn that the key to obeying the command to love is to develop a close and intimate relationship with the one who loves us.
Tom Olson writes, “This is how one dear man learned to love the Lord. He said: “One morning as I was going to work, I was thinking of the words, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?” and wished with all my heart that I could answer them as Peter did. I felt sad that I could not. Then this thought came to me, “Well if I cannot say so much as Peter, perhaps I could turn it around a little and find something easier.”
“So I began to think there was one thing I could not say. I could not say, “Lord, you know that I do not love Thee,” and I found some comfort in that. At last, I grew bold enough to look up and say, “Lord, you know that I want to love Thee.” Then I began to think of His great love for me. I thought of His life, of His words, of His cross, and almost before I knew what I was doing, I looked up and said, “You know that I do love You.”
If we will learn to say “I love you” to God, we will also learn to love one another deeply from the heart.
When Wycliffe translator Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulnio Indians, he was referred to simply as “the white man.” The term was by no means complimentary, since other white men had exploited them, burned their homes, and robbed them of their lands.
But after the Melands learned the Fulnio language and began to help the people with medicine and in other ways, they began calling Doug “the respectable white man.”
When the Melands began adopting the customs of the people, the Fulnio gave them greater acceptance and spoke of Doug as “the white Indian.”
Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, bloodcaked foot of an injured Fulnio boy, he overheard a bystander say to another: “Whoever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot before? Certainly this man is from God!” From that day on, whenever Doug would go into an Indian home, it would be announced “Here comes the man God sent us.”
May we, as we learn to understand the love of the Lord, having been changed by Him so that we can love, grow in our love for one another so that others will see us as people whom God has sent.