Gospel Love and the Abiding Word
We live in a world that seems to be filled with a lot of hate - whether it is the Middle East; or Ferguson, Missouri; or our own hearts. But today I am talking about love. It comes from God, and believers in Jesus are to show it to other believers so that God would be pleased and the world would be attracted to Christ.
1 Peter 1:22 says "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart." Peter is talking about loving other Christians. This passage is talking about Gospel love that exists between brothers and sisters in Christ because of the living and abiding Word of God. There's something kind of amazing, and almost startling, when you think about that verse and the context in which it was first given. Let's remember who Peter was writing to. We ought not forget. Peter is writing to suffering Christians.
In the first 12 verses he encouraged them with the beautiful gospel truth by which they are saved. He is being very understandably God-centered and he engages them in this process and now from verse 13 to 25 he begins to tell them how they should respond to the gift of salvation. Peter is calling for a proper response to God's gift of salvation. He has given 3 commands. He is about to give a 4th. 1st he says to fix your hope on God's future grace. 2nd he says to be holy in all your behavior. 3rd he says fear your Heavenly Father. And now the 4th thing: highlighted in verses 22-25, Love your bothers and sisters in Christ.
He doesn't just tell them what to do, he tells them why they should. He is telling them that while they are in deep trouble, not because they had done anything wrong, but because of their faith in Christ, they needed to fix their hope on God and what He's going to do in future; ans live a pure and holy life because God is holy and He is in process of making them more like Christ; and have a healthy fear of displeasing God and therefore incurring His discipline on their lives. Then he tells them "you must, you need, to love each other".
Isn't it true that sometimes in our toughest moments we begin to get stressed out and frustrated and maybe even angry and we fight and argue with those who are our closest allies? Peter knows human nature, knows himself, and he knows what they would be inclined to do, and so he tells them to love each other, to stick together, to cling to this community that God has birthed and created and is developing and sustaining and protecting. Fix your hope…Be holy…Conduct yourselves in fear…and Love deeply. The Greek verbs are all imperative…Calls for a specific, immediate, decisive choice. So this is a response to the gift of salvation, we are to love one another. Gospel love is proof of growth in holiness.
WHAT IS GOSPEL LOVE AND HOW IS IT POSSIBLE? How was it made possible?
1. People had been changed by Christ.
God brings about conviction and change. Verse 22 says "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls". What does it mean to purify your soul? Can you purify your own soul? I thought we say that only Jesus cleanses us from sin? Obedient to truth = Hyper-hearing. Hearing the Word by faith and obeying it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians will put it this way: Here is what the Bible says, we love because He first loved us; and He loved us and sent His son to be a sacrifice for our sins; and Because of His love for us He caused us to be born again to a living hope, a real hope. And this was all done when we were dead in sin. He made us alive in Christ. We are talking salvation. Having placed your faith in Christ alone for salvation...you love Him...you believe in Him. Believe means to put your whole trust in something or someone. To lean fully, rely, trust, Faith. Therefore, you are now able to love other believers. We may also be talking sanctification. Having purified your souls by your obedience to these commands to holiness...love one another earnestly.
Either way, Peter is saying that growth in holiness leads to deeper love among Christians. If you are trusting in the finished work of Christ alone in shedding His blood for sin on the cross. You know you've been saved by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God's glory alone. Basically, you are trusting in the Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible for your salvation. You've been born again. And because you've been born again, your new life should be evident in how you love. It's one thing to say you love Jesus, it's another to have a proven biblically. 1 John 3 says that everyone that is born of God loves his brother. Everyone that is born of God experiences the love of God, the love of Christ. 1 John 4:7 says everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 5 says whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him, by this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments.
2. You become committed to Christ's Community.
1 Peter 1:22 says to "earnestly love one another from the heart". Sincere means truthful. Truthing in love.Verse Peter says this love is a sincere love. Having been purified, having obeyed the truth, having been born again, we display sincere love, unhypocritical, not fake, real, genuine, without hypocrisy (like Romans 12:9 says). There is a lot of superficial, shallow love but that's not Christ's love. We throw the word love around so easily. Like a rubber ball. We say I love you so quickly and so often it loses meaning. We will even say you know I love this person and then launch in to gossip about them or even slander. True love is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. Fruit, proof, of the Spirit at work in us, Galatians 5, love, joy, peace, patience. We were given the ability and responsibility to love at salvation. We are to love Other believers. Implies closeness and community.
How are we to love? Verse 22 says "Earnestly" . What does it mean? It's the Greek word ektenes. It's really a anatomical word, it is used to speak of a horse, it is used to speak of a person. It means to stretch a muscle to the limit of its capacity, to literally stretch to the very furthest point until that muscle reaches its maximum limit. It is a very graphic term. It means metaphorically to go all out, to reach the very limit of love as far as you can reach. To get on your tippy toes and reach as far as you can, stretch yourself to the furthest point in loving. That's a very important word to Peter, he uses it again in chapter 4, verse 8? "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly" Why? Because "love covers a multitude of sins." Love floods over all transgression. So many people hold grudges. So many people become bitter and unforgiving. Love covers a multitude of sins. Cover means to be like a hut or cabin over something. A shelter. Protection.
God wants us to love in a covering way so that our love is dominant. He wants us to love earnestly. So Peter says it twice, earnestly. We are to love so that our love reaches very far, stretches to the limit and covers any iniquity and any transgression with loving, gracious forgiveness. Like Saran Wrap. Like a car cover. Like an umbrella. Overarching and far-reaching, this love. It flows from the heart and is evidenthere's our life. It's one thing to say we love Jesus, it is quite another to say that we love His Bride. If you love Jesus, do you need to love His church? Ah yes, these two things are connected. Put more clearly, if you say you love Jesus then you must love his bride. It doesn't work to say you love Jesus and hate the church.
You can love your neighbor actively without really liking them I guess...but what about when you get beyond the neighborhood to the brotherhood? That's a whole other thing, a whole new ball game. As 1 John says, how can you claim to love God whom you have not seen if you do not love your brother who you have seen? Commitment is assumed. Not just assumed, it is commanded. Jesus said in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give you that you love one another. By this all men will know if you are my disciples if you have love one for another".
3. The change and commitment come about by God's Spirit, through His Word.
In 1 Peter 1:23-25 Peter makes it clear that the change that has happened has been brought about by God using His Word to change people. We don't create change. We haven't just been given the capacity or ability to change, but while we were dead in our transgressions and sins God made us alive together with Christ. He has resurrected our poor lifeless souls that were unable to do anything of eternal good. God brings about spiritual life and inspires us to love and we in turn respond by actively doing what we have been called to do. And it is always done in His strength.
The bottom line is this, if you have had your heart and life changed by Jesus, you will be committed to the community of faith that He has put together. And you will develop close relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ that would be evidently characterized by a love that goes beyond natural affection, and supernaturally goes further than you think it can. God uses those expressions of love to encourage and spur His people on to more love and good deeds, for His glory and other's good. That is cause for praise and adoration to be directed to God for His goodness and grace and mercy in Christ.