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TEXT: I Peter 1:22-2:3
SUBJECT: I Peter #4: Why and How to Love Others
Several years ago, I attended a debate at the University of California, Davis. The question before the house that night was, 'Does God exist?' Affirming His existence was a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, and denying it was Edward Tabash, an attorney with the ACLU.
The debate was pretty dull, I thought, because the opponents were so unevenly matched. Bahnsen clobbered him, and I don't say that because I agree with Bahnsen, but because I was there. In the words of the Howard Cosell, it was--
The atheist could do nothing that night but recycle old, tired arguments, arguments that were decisively answered centuries ago. Boring. No other way to describe that debate.
Until the end. After all the arguments were presented and and responded to, Tabash closed the meeting by telling the audience to--
Love one another, because that's all we've got.
As the son of a carpenter, the first word I thought of was...skyhook! After two solid hours of telling us there is no God, no law of God, no accountability to God, and we're nothing more than molecules in motion, Edward Tabash tried to hang a Christian duty on a hook he said wasn't there.
The hook was there, of course, because there is a God to whom we're accountable, and this God commands us to love one another. In a word, you can't hang ethics in the air.
What the atheist did in a laughable way that night, Christian pastors do every Sunday--and that's not laughable. They come to the pulpit with a list of duties, but they've got nothing to hang them on other than 'self-interest'. 'What's in it for me' is an unworthy motive for Christian living, and not only that, it is also ineffective.
We need something more solid to hang our duties on. And Peter gives it to us in today's text, I Peter 1:22-2:3. Now, he doesn't do this here only, but has already done it repeatedly, and will keep doing it all the way through his letter.
This kind of reasoning is not unique to Peter. All of the prophets and Apostles did it, and every pastor, teacher or private Christian in the church ought to do the same.
'Just do it' sold a lot of tennis shoes, but you need more than that to grow in grace. The passage before us contains three indicatives, which is a fancy way of saying, 'statements of fact'. Three times in the verses, Peter says 'what happened to us', and from these things, he tells us what to do.
SINCE YOU HAVE PURIFIED YOUR SOULS IN OBEYING THE TRUTH THROUGH THE SPIRIT IN SINCERE LOVE OF THE BRETHREN...
The first thing that happened to us is that we were purified. Under the Old Covenant, no common or unclean thing could be brought into the service of God. Whether it was a man or cup, it had to be ritually cleansed to enter the Tabernacle or put to some holy use.
What happened back then to men and cups and other things ritually, has happened to us spiritually. We have been cleansed, that is, forgiven, renewed and qualified for God's Presence.
When did this occur? Peter says it's when we obeyed the truth. This is somewhat troubling, isn't it? Aren't we justified by faith alone--and not obedience to the Law? Yes we are. No one commends himself to God by doing good things or not doing bad things.
And so what does this mean? According to v.25, the truth was the Gospel, and we obey that by believing it. The Law tells us to do a great many things, but the Gospel only one--
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Our souls were purified when we believed the Gospel--and Peter adds--through the Spirit, or perhaps we could say, 'through the Holy Spirit's work of convicting us of our sins and need, of revealing Christ to us, and enabling us to exercise faith in Christ.
Our invisible faith in Christ soon takes visible form, Peter implies, because it quickly produces brotherly love. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we were purified by faith in Christ and this produced--
A sincere love of the brethren.
By brethren, Peter means our fellow Christians, and this is significant because--truth be told--not every brother or sister is to our liking. If we were not both Christians, we would not like them at all, and might well despise or hate them.
This is not theory to Peter. The churches he wrote to were in Asia Minor, and that means they were composed of both Jews and Gentiles, people who had long histories of scorning each other. That's what they used to do, but not anymore, because Jesus Christ now means more to them than race or custom or their former religions! They found their unity in Him--and not in politics or music or hobbies or the kind of food they liked.
If there was a Jewish/Gentile divide in the churches, you mustn't think this was the only one. The Jews themselves belonged to different 'denominations' you might say, with Pharisee and Sadducee looking down on each other, and both looking down on less-committed Jews.
Asia Minor was a crossroads in the Roman Empire, and this means Europeans, Asians, and Africans, and variations among them all lived there and--in the church--loved one another.
This is what faith in Christ had already done in the Early Church. It had united the people who were formerly separate and hostile to each other.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER FERVENTLY WITH A PURE HEART
They were already loving one another, but Peter knows there's plenty of room for improvement. He doesn't say, 'Well done! Now do something else!' Rather, after acknowledging their brother love, he goes on to say--
Love one another fervently with a pure heart.
We can never love each other too much, too sincerely, too practically. He wants that love to be two things: pure and fervent.
Pure means 'real' or 'without hypocrisy'. Not to pretend to love each other, talk about loving each other, but to love each other. It includes courtesy, but it's more than that.
Fervent means 'stretched' or 'strained'. Luke uses it to describe how our Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Most of our prayers are relaxed affair, saying a few nice words at the dinner table or kneeling alongside the bed--and there's nothing wrong with this.
But in the Garden, Jesus stretched or strained Himself to pray; He grappled with God, like Jacob, He wrestled with the Lord all night.
This is the kind of effort Peter wants us to put into loving each other, to spare time, energy, comfort, and money we don't have to serve them.
HAVING BEEN BORN AGAIN
We're to love others because we've been purified by God's grace through the work of Jesus Christ. That's the first reason. In v.23, we have a second reason--
Having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible through the Word of God which lives and abides forever.
Loving one another fervently and from the heart demands more than natural life. It requires 'spiritual life', and that's what God has given us through the Gospel, which Peter calls--
The Word of God.
God has given us spiritual life, and He wants us to use that life to love each other. We can do that, he adds, because, unlike the natural men, grass, and flowers, spiritual life endures forever.
It is Eternal Life, or what the Puritan Henry Scougal called--
The life of God in the soul of man.
If we really have this life--which all believers in Christ do have--we can love one another with a fervent love and from the heart. No, we cannot muster this love on our own, but we don't need to: it has been given to us and the One who gave it wants us to use it.
It is at this point that preachers often go wrong. If the Word of God confers and maintains spiritual life, then we ought to read the Bible every day.
Is this true? Of course it is. I read the Bible every day and I'd urge you to do the same. But when Peter says that spiritual life is given and nourished by the Word of God, he does not mean 'by reading the Bible every day'.
In v.25, he tells us what he means by the Word of God--
Now this is the word by which the Gospel was preached to you.
As a devout Jew and Christian, I am sure Peter believed in reading the Bible as often as you can and meditating on it--
Day and night.
But as important as this is, sincere and fervent brotherly love depends more on reading the right parts of the Bible in the right way than on merely reading it. The Law tells us that we ought to love one another, promises blessing when we do and warns of chastisement when we don't. These are useful things to know, but they don't enable us to love one another. Only the Gospel does that. How?
In the first place, the Gospel says that God loves all Christians, not just the ones you like. Now if God is not too good to love a woman whose opinions differ from your own, who are you to put yourself above her? Have you any right to be pickier than He is?
In the second place, the Gospel says that God will conform all Christians to the Image of His Son. This means the person you can't stand now won't always be that person. Through God's Word and Spirit, he will be changed into something beautiful, partly in this life, fully in the life to come.
Would you hate a butterfly because he used to be a caterpillar? If not, you mustn't hate Christians because one day, they'll be more glorious than the angels.
In the third place, the Gospel frees you to love others because God loves and accepts you. Let's be honest: some of our ill feelings for each other are born of envy. We think evil of them--not because they're evil--but because we don't think we measure up to them, and we assume they don't think so either.
The Gospel eliminates all comparisons. It tells us that everyone is so bad that nothing but the death of Christ could save him, and because He died for us all, every one of us is fully--
Accepted in the beloved.
We don't have to jockey for positions. Whether you're smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, popular or unpopular, sparkling or dull, well-spoken or inarticulate, you are loved in Heaven, and Heaven is on its way to earth.
Because we are born again and sustained by the Gospel, we can and ought to--
Lay aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking
If the Gospel makes us loving people, we have to renounce and resist every non loving act or attitude, a sample of which Peter provides in 2:1.
Malice is wishing others ill. Maybe you don't have the guts or opportunity to take someone down a notch or two, but you'd sure love to see it. That's malice, the devil's favorite sin.
Here, Guile is saying or insinuating things about people to make them look bad.
Hypocrisy is pretending to love others without loving them.
Envy and slander speak for themselves, resenting and gossipping about others.
MILK OF THE WORD
How do we resist these forces inside of us? V.2 tells us, by--
Desiring the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby.
This takes us back to the Word Peter cited a few verses back, the Word that caused us to be born again, that is, the Gospel. The Gospel not only gives us life in the first place, but it sustains the life we have, in enables us to resist the hateful attitudes we're prone to entertain.
IF YOU HAVE TASTED
In v.3, Peter takes us back to the facts that move us to love one another--
If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Have we experienced the goodness, the generosity, the patience of God for ourselves? Every Christian has. Well if we have received it ourselves, we're to pass it on to others. In a word, we're to love others because we are loved.
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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