Sermons

Born Again Through the Word to Love One Another

September 22, 2013 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Passage: 1 Peter 1:22–1:25

Born Again Through the Word to Love One Another

Toward the end of his life, Jesus gathered together with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. It was Passover season, and there were still things to be said to his disciples before Jesus faced a Roman cross. After having washed their feet, and after seeing Judas leave to betray him, Jesus began to speak to the remaining disciples. He spoke of his impending death as his moment of glorification. Then he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The account of that evening is found in John 13, and it was such a momentous evening in John’s life that much of his latter writing is a reflection on that commandment to love one another.

In our passage this morning, Peter writes to his readers, repeating this command that he received from Jesus. In vv22-25, Peter commands his readers to love one another, just as Christ commanded the disciples to do the same. Now, I think that we all know that Christians should love one another. But here’s the reality that I just want to address head on – it’s hard to love others! Isn’t it? It is difficult to love your neighbor as yourself. It is hard to put someone else’s interests ahead of my own. It is difficult to lay down what I want in order to pursue the best interest of someone else.

That, I think, raises a question that we must answer. If loving others is so central to the Christian life but also so difficult, how exactly are we able to do it? What enables us to pursue such a radical course of action as loving one another? In God’s grace, our passage this morning answers that question. In these verses, Peter gives the command to love others, but before unpacking what that looks like, Peter answers that foundational question – how are we able to love others, when such love is exceedingly difficult? Now, in next week’s text, Peter talks more about what it means to love others, but in this week’s text, he’s answering that foundational question. As you listen this morning, keep that in mind. These verses are the foundation for loving one another, and next week will unpack more what it means to love one another. With that in mind, let’s read the passage together. Turn in your Bibles with me to 1 Peter 1.22-25, and follow along as I read the text.

 

The Power of the Gospel to Produce Love

In v22, Peter begins by describing what has happened to these believers through the gospel. Look at how he opens the paragraph: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love.” This phrase describes what has happened to believers through the gospel. They have purified their souls. The word for purified carries the idea of being consecrated or set apart. Believers have been consecrated and set apart for a purpose. And this purification affects their entire person. That’s what Peter means when he says they purified their souls. The soul represents the entire self, their complete person, not just a spiritual component that is separate from the body.

How has this purification happened? Through obedience to the truth. This is another way of saying through believing the gospel. Throughout the NT, that phrase the truth refers to the gospel, the message of Christ crucified and resurrected for sinners. To obey the truth is to believe that message, to trust that Christ is the Son of God and Savior of all who believe. When a person obeys the truth in this sense, they purify themselves through the blood of Christ. This is what the NT refers to as the obedience of faith. It’s not a work that we add to the gospel, but our faith in the work of Christ. These believers have purified their souls through faith in Christ.

What’s the purpose of this purification through the gospel? A sincere brotherly love. That is the goal of the gospel’s work in their lives, that they might love one another. Peter opens this paragraph by reminding believers that they have been purified by the gospel of Christ, with the goal of that purification being brotherly love.

Following this, Peter gives them his command – love one another earnestly from a pure heart. This is the main idea of the passage; believers are to love one another. With this command, Peter shifts focus slightly. Instead of commands directed primarily at individuals, this command to love another focuses specifically on life in the church. His previous commands – set your hope fully, be holy, conduct yourselves in fear – were all things that I need to pursue in my own life. Obviously, those commands affect my relationships with others, but they are primarily directed at my own life. This command to love one another shifts the focus slightly. And that is important to note. Peter’s command is directed at the church. Christians are called to demonstrate love to all people, but there is a unique kind of love – brotherly love – that is to mark the church. It’s the kind of love that should mark members of a family, and since the church is the family of God, it is entirely appropriate for Peter to focus on that kind of love within the church.

Now, in next week’s passage, Peter will give more specifics on what this brotherly love looks like, so we won’t note too many specific applications this week. But we should note a couple of points from v22. First, note that this brotherly love is to be earnest. The word translated earnestly carries the idea of perseverance or constancy, and I think that is what Peter is getting at. There should be a constancy, a consistency to brotherly love that perseveres even in difficult times. In other words, we are supposed to pursue brotherly love even when it is not easy, maybe we could say especially when it’s not easy. It’s not our natural bent to love others more than ourselves. And that is precisely why we must pursue brotherly love with perseverance. Second, note that this brotherly love should flow from the heart. The idea here is genuineness. It’s the same idea as earlier when Peter said believers purified themselves for a sincere love. Sincere and genuine, not marked by pretense or hypocrisy. Whatever it means to love others, it must flow from the heart. It must be genuine.

After the command, Peter again returns to the gospel, this time describing it from God’s perspective. Look in v23 – “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Once again, Peter recalls his own words from v3 of chapter 1, where he said that believers have been born again to a living hope. That idea of being born again is the controlling idea for this entire chapter, really the entire book. And what Peter says here is that the new birth is the reason why believers can and should love one another. Believers should love one another because they have been born again as God’s children.

And how have believers been born again? Not through perishable seed, but through the imperishable seed of the word of God. The word of God is the means of the new birth. This is how people are born again – by hearing the gospel, through which God grants them new life according to his will and mercy. As the source of all life, God is the only being in the universe who could bring about the new birth. Because he has life in himself, he is able to give life to dead sinners. Yet, how does the life-giving God choose to do this work? Through his people proclaiming the gospel. And this new life that is born from the seed of the word will never perish. Peter uses a contrast between the normal means of human conception and God’s work in the new birth. Every life produced through human conception will one day die. By contrast, the new life brought about by God is imperishable. It will never die or fade because it is produced through God’s living and abiding word.

Now we are equipped to summarize Peter’s teaching in vv22-23. I think we could summarize it like this: Since you purified yourselves through belief in the gospel, love one another, because you have been born again through the gospel! This is important. Note how Peter surrounds the command to love one another with the realities of the gospel. Before the command, he describes the gospel as purifying God’s people through the obedience of faith. That’s describing the gospel from the perspective of our response – we obey the gospel by trusting in Christ. And then after the command, he recounts the gospel as God’s work of causing us to be born again. That’s the gospel from God’s perspective – he causes us to be born again so that we might obey the gospel by trusting in Christ. Before and after the command, there is the reality of the gospel.

What we must see from this is that the command to love one another is an overflow of the gospel. It flows from the gospel, and it is built on the gospel. The two are closely connected. The gospel and loving one another are tied together. We see this throughout the NT. Whenever an author discusses the reality of the gospel, he usually follows that up with a call to love one another. We see it in the book of Romans. In chapters 1-8, Paul describes the reality of the gospel. Then, in chapter 12, he calls Christians to love one another. In Ephesians, Paul beautifully writes of the gospel in chapters 1-2. Then, in chapters 4-5, he calls the Ephesians to love one another. It’s the same in Hebrews as well. In chapter 9, the author describes our redemption through Christ’s blood. Then in chapter 10, he calls Christians to stir one another up to love and good works. Throughout the NT, the gospel produces love within Christ’s church. In large part, Christ redeemed us as so that we might genuinely love one another. And in doing so, we follow the new commandment that Jesus himself gave his disciples. This kind of brotherly love is one of the key distinguishing marks of the gospel. Remember Jesus said, “By this love, all people will know you are my disciples.” Those who have been born again and purified by the gospel love one another.

Now, we can answer that foundational question from our introduction. How are we able to love one another, even when such love is difficult? Through the love-producing power of the gospel. It is the gospel that enables us to love one another. Without the gospel, there is no way that we could love one another. Like we said earlier, loving others is hard work. This is because such love is against our nature as sinful human beings. Sin not only alienates us from God, but it also alienates us from one another. Sin creates hostility between man and God, and between man and man. If you don’t believe me, look what happened in Genesis 4, right after sin entered the world. Cain killed Abel. What has mankind been doing ever since then? Acting like Cain and killing our brothers.

What enables us, then, to love others when by nature we are inclined to love only ourselves? The gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember the two aspects of the gospel that Peter emphasizes in these verses – purification and the new birth. Those gospel realities enable us to love others. How are we able to love others when such an action goes against our nature? Because in the new birth, we have received a new nature as God’s children. We’re no longer defined by the sinful nature, by what we received from our father Adam. Instead, we now share in God’s own nature because we are his children. And God is love; therefore, we are able to love one another as an expression of our renewed nature of God’s own children. Our hearts are changed and purified through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and as a result, we are now able to love one another genuinely from a pure heart. The gospel enables us to do what by nature we were not able to do.

See, then, what is happening here. Through the gospel, God is working in us that which is pleasing to him. Remember, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God, and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself. Through the gospel, God is working these things out in our lives. He caused us to be born again, so that we might love and cherish him as our Father. And through the gospel, he is working in us so that we might love one another as ourselves. This is the power of the gospel – to produce in us a the kind of life that is pleasing to God. He saves, and he transforms us, all for his glory and for our good.

We see here once again that it is God’s work on our behalf that enables us to live as his people. His work in the gospel is the ground of our obedience as his people. Because of the gospel, we are able to live as God’s new people. Remember Jesus’ words from John 13 – “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” God loved us first, and his love is the ground of our love for others. To love one another is an overflow of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In terms of application at this point, I think Peter would say to us: Learn to love one another by being firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The more rooted I am in God’s love for me, the more I will love others. The gospel produces and sustains the love. Let me encourage you to read and meditate on passages like John 13 or 1 John 4. Those passages make clear that the gospel produces the love. As you meditate on those texts, God’s love for you will grow your love for others.

 

The Power of the Gospel to Preserve us in Hope

That brings us to our second point – the power of the gospel to preserve us in hope. After calling believers to love one another because they have been born again, Peter closes this paragraph in vv24-25 with an OT quotation. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah, and Peter clearly thinks that this OT passage will encourage his readers as they seek to hope in Christ and love one another. What we need to do, then, is take a closer look at this OT quotation in order to see just how Peter intends to encourage his readers.

The first step is to understand the context of the OT passage. Peter quotes from Isaiah 40, so we need to understand what was going on in that chapter. If we go back and look at Isaiah 40, we find the people of Israel in exile in Babylon. They live in a country that is not their home, and they live among a people whose lives stand in stark contrast to God’s word. In such circumstances, we can easily see how the Israelites would have been discouraged and tempted to despair. They were oppressed by a foreign nation to such an extent that it seemed as if God’s word had failed them.

So as Isaiah 40 opens, we find the prophet speaking a word of comfort and hope to the exiles. Those are the first words of the chapter – “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” What is this word of comfort? Something quite unthinkable to an Israelite in exile! Isaiah says that the powers of this world will fade like the grass of the field. Those powers may seem strong and glorious today, but they will soon wither up like a flower. But, Isaiah says, God’s word remains true and endures forever. What God has spoken will never wither or fade. What God has promised will never pass away. Nothing – not even powerful Babylon – will be able to stop God’s word or thwart God’s promises. And in this testimony to the power of God’s word, the exiled people of Israel should take comfort.

That’s the context of Isaiah 40, but how does that compare with the context of Peter’s letter? If we step back and compare the two, we see that there is a striking level of overlap. Recall that Peter opened his letter by calling his readers exiles and strangers on the earth. Like Israel of old, believers also dwell in a land that is not their own. And like Israel of old, believers seem out of step with the world because of their allegiance to God. And because of this opposition, Christians are also likely to be discouraged and even tempted to despair. There is a similarity in that both groups – ancient Israel and Peter’s recipients – were in exile.

And in the context of exile, faithfulness becomes very difficult. It becomes difficult to live as God’s chosen people in the midst of exile and oppression. Amid such circumstances, we might even begin to ask, “Why pursue holiness? Why love one another earnestly? Why hope fully in Christ? God’s word seems to be null and void. God’s promises seem to have vanished before our very eyes!” Faithfulness in that context becomes very, very difficult.

And that is precisely why Peter quotes Isaiah 40 to his readers. Peter is making the same point as Isaiah made hundreds of years before. Just as Isaiah said, everything in this world will fade, even the things that seem powerful and mighty now. Every power that opposes God and oppresses his people will wither away. For Peter’s recipients, this would have been unthinkable. They lived under the Roman Empire, a power that dominated the known world for the most part. To think that such a power would fade away was unthinkable. Yet, that is exactly what Peter says at this point – every earthly power will fade. But God’s word will endure. God’s promises will blossom and bloom, while the powers of this world will fade like the passing flower. Peter wants his readers to see that God’s word is trustworthy and true. It is reliable and sure. These Christians who are exiles on the earth can stake their lives on God’s word because it will not pass away. It is a sure foundation for their lives, a solid anchor for their hope. Discouragement and despair are driven out by the reality of God’s enduring, unfailing word.

But Peter even takes this quote from Isaiah 40 one step further. Not only does he use the quote to make a similar point as Isaiah made, Peter also goes so far as to claim that what Isaiah promised so long ago is now being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is the most striking claim of all – that Isaiah’s promised comfort was unfolding for God’s people in the work of Christ. Look in v25, where Peter writes, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” Peter claims here that Isaiah’s word of comfort is the good news of the gospel. Note how this works out from Isaiah all the way to Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 40, comfort comes ultimately when God visits the earth, when he manifests himself for the world to see. Listen to how Isaiah described it in vv9-10 of his prophecy: “Get up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” The ultimate comfort is that God would visit his people.

And what does God do when he visits his people? He tends to them in their oppression. He cares for them. Listen to v11 from Isaiah 40: “The Lord will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah’s promised comfort is that God himself would appear and save his people. He would come and shepherd them himself.

Now, what exactly has been announced to us in the gospel? That God has come near in the person of Jesus Christ, that he has visited us in the person of his Son. The gospel is the good news that the Son of God took on human flesh in order to save and shepherd God’s people. God revealed himself in Jesus Christ in order to bring comfort to us in our affliction. Isaiah’s comfort is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

What Peter wants us to see at this point is that Christ will come again to gather and care for his people. Because the gospel is God’s sure word of comfort, what it promises will most certainly come to pass. And that includes the return of Christ, the establishment of his kingdom, and his people’s eternal joy in his presence. Christ was manifested for us and our salvation, and he will manifest himself again in order to finish what he started. The Good Shepherd will not leave us as exiles, Peter says! Because the gospel is trustworthy, we can have confidence that Christ will come again and finish what he started.

What’s the result of Peter’s use of Isaiah 40? In short, the result is hope in the midst of exile. Remember, hope is Peter’s key theme. Throughout chapter 1, he has pointed believers to the hope they have in Christ. And now, he directs our gaze once again to that same hope. We have been born again to a living hope, and we have God’s trustworthy word that sustains our hope. There is no need for despair in the midst of exile. Instead, there is ample reason to hope in Christ. And this hope leads us on in faithfulness. Hope is the fuel of faithfulness. With this unshakeable hope, we are able to persevere in the faith. Hope encourages us to continue hoping Christ, to continue pursuing holiness, and to continue loving one another, even when the circumstances make such things seem foolish or pointless or difficult. We can keep going because we have a sure and unfailing foundation for our hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let the power of the gospel enable you to love others. We love because he first loved us. And let the power of the gospel persevere you in hoping in Christ. Hope leads to faithfulness, and faithfulness leads to love. Faith, hope, and love, actually, all produced and sustained by the powerful good news of Jesus Christ.

More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

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Stand Firm in God's Grace

February 23, 2014

Humble and Vigilant

February 16, 2014

Shepherding the Flock of God
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