Living out our Hope: Loving the People of God (1 Pet. 1:22; 2:1)
We started our series in 1 Peter talking at length about the greatness of our salvation (1 Pet. 1:1-12). We then spent a few weeks from 1 Pet. 1:13-21 looking at our response to God for this salvation. Peter now moves on how we are to respond to the people of God and the Word of God.
All of these responses are good indicators that you are saved. I often get asked that question. How do you know you are saved? What we have been studying is a good way to know. It is not that these qualities are perfectly in you, but increasingly. If your faith has not changed you, it has not saved you. It is as simple as that. It’s like being married. Those of you who are married, if you were asked, “Are you married?” I am sure you will not say, “I’m not sure.” Your spouse would not be happy with that comment! Sure, you might be bad at remembering the actual date or even all the details of that day, but you know there was a time that “me” became “we.” Your life was changed. The same goes with knowing Christ. If your faith has not changed you, it has not saved you. Paul tells us in Corinthians to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). So what we are doing here in 1 Peter is a good checklist to do that, especially for those who are not sure if they are truly saved.
Now what changes does your faith make in how you relate to the body of Christ or the people of God? We are going to explore that today. The title of the message is “Living out our Hope: Loving the People of God” from 1 Pet. 1:22 and 2:1. You may have noticed that the verses are not together. This is because Peter’s application for 1 Pet. 1:22 is found in 2:1. He weaves two topics together here: loving the people of God and longing for the Word of God. They are connected, but for our purposes we are going to divide them up into two messages. Let’s start with this:
I. We must sincerely love the people of God (1 Pet. 1:22, 2:1)
Look at 1 Pet. 1:22. The command here is to love. Here’s a word that’s thrown around and misunderstood to mean warm, fuzzy sentimentality toward something. We will look at it from Peter’s point of view. Interestingly, he sounds almost like Paul (1 Cor. 13:13). He mentions faith and hope in 1 Pet. 1:21 and now love here. Actually, Peter commands to love four times in this letter, almost once in every chapter (1 Pet. 1:22, 2:17; 3:8; 4:8). Where did Peter learn it? From Jesus (John 13:34: 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). Paul says it often like in Rom. 12:10: “Be devoted to another in brotherly love.” The author of Hebrews says it too: “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). John, called the apostle of love, also says, “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). Though it is everywhere in the Bible, a lot of Christians act like the command is to “love yourself” and take care of yourself and look out for yourself. For many the saying is “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.” Or “I would be really good at loving people if it weren’t for the people around me!”
One commentator notes, “A changed life should also be evidenced by a changed relationship with God’s other children.” The mark of the changed life is love. Karen Jobes says, “One’s covenant relationship with God is never an individual matter. To be chosen by God and set apart by the Spirit for the purpose of participating in the covenant in Christ (1:2) means necessarily coming into relationship with others who are also so chosen. The Christian life cannot be lived authentically in isolation. Peter shifts his exhortation from how to live rightly in relationship with God to how to live rightly with one another in Christian community.”
The cross has two beams: One vertical and one horizontal. You can’t have a one beam cross. A lot of Christians think you can live the Christian life on your own, but it is impossible. It is impossible to set your hope, be holy, walk in fear, and appreciate the cross (1 Pet. 1:13-21) in isolation. Here Peter says the Father who gave you birth (1 Pet. 1:3) and has prepared a glorious inheritance for you, and sustaining you in trials (1 Pet. 1:4-12), also brought you into a family and asks you to live like His child (1 Pet. 1:13-21) with the rest of His children in love. But it is impossible to do this naturally so take note of this:
a) God enables us to sincerely love (1 Pet. 1:22a)
Peter starts with “having,” which means “since you have.” He is appealing to what happened at their conversion. He is not telling them to purify themselves. He is talking to them because they have already been purified. The truth of the Gospel came to them. The bondage of an empty way of futile living (1 Pet. 1:18) was broken. The falsehood of sin or passions of their former ignorance (1 Pet. 1:14) was replaced with the truth.
So these believers heard they were sinners and Jesus was their perfect Savior who died as a costly substitute for their sin (1 Pet. 1:18-19). They obeyed the gospel call, just as Peter said in 1 Pet. 1:2. Notice that Peter does not mention faith at all in discussing salvation. This is because he is defining what faith entails: obedience and cleansing. True faith is obeying faith. Once they obeyed, then Jesus came into their heart and transformed them. He purified them by washing away their sins. By the way “souls” here means your entire person, the real you. So they became a new creation. The old was gone. The new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
Salvation is also a purifying or a purging event. I wonder here if Peter is remembering when his feet were washed (John 13:1-20). Remember that? He initially refused Jesus until Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me” and Peter’s response was classic: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head! What was Jesus’ reply: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean…” What Jesus is saying is that upon salvation, it is like a bath, where you are washed completely. But when you are walking around in the world, your feet get dirty. In other words, you still sin and you need, so to speak, to “wash your feet” continually, through confession of sin (1 John 1:9).
But what happens at salvation is not only having your past cleansed and forgiven, you are also supernaturally enabled to live for God. A lot of people do not want to come to Christ thinking fear of failure. The purging of their past is attractive, they say, but what if I fail? You will fail because like a child learning to walk as he learns to put his weight entirely on his legs, but falling at times, so will you. When you are born again, you start to see you have legs now called the Holy Spirit (like Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16)). And you will be spending your lifetime learning what it means to put your entire weight on those legs, enabling yourself to walk. So when Jesus Christ comes into your life, He cleanses you and covers your sin, but this cleansing is also for enablement to live for Him. Look at Eze. 36:24 to see this.
Go back to 1 Pet. 1:2. Notice there the phrase “sprinkling with his blood” coupled with “obedience to Jesus Christ.” There we saw that this phrase meant that Jesus cleansed us to be part of a new community. In sum, Peter says, “Jesus saved you, transformed you and filled you with his love, so now you have the capacity to love.” Jesus says this about unbelievers’ capacity to love: “For I know that you do not have the love of God within you” (John 5:42).
Notice this is a command to love. Wait a minute, can you command someone to love? True, you cannot command emotional love, but you can command love of the will, because you can choose to love. This is what Peter is saying here. He is taking about the selfless, sacrificial, highest kind of love, the love of God. It is the kind of love “not determined by the beauty or desirability of the object, but by the noble intention of the one who loves.” But I cannot choose this on my own. On my own, I choose selfishness. I choose idleness. By the way, idleness is active selfishness, that’s all it is. On my own, I choose isolation and rugged individualism. So I can love because I have been given the capacity of the Ultimate Lover of Souls to love. I can love because I have been loved.
Listen to Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer: “How does one come to love? The heart of man is so base that it cannot love unless it has first seen the benefit of loving… God took His Son and sent Him into our mire, sin, and misery and poured forth the entire story of His mercy that we might boast of all His goods as though they were our own. He made Himself a beloved Father and He gave us His Son, poured out His great treasure most generously and sank and drowned all our sins and filth in the vast sea of His great goodness so that the heart cannot but let this great love and blessing draw it to love in return and then be prepared willingly to fulfill the divine commandments.
Otherwise the heart cannot love. It must find that it has been loved first. One cannot love first. Therefore God comes, takes hold of the heart, and says: Learn to know Me.– Why, who are you?– I am Christ. I have plunged into your wretchedness. I have drowned your sin in My righteousness. This knowledge softens your heart. Therefore you cannot but turn to Him. In this way– when one learns what Christ is– love is taught.” So I am not surprised that Peter says to love the brethren right after he mentions the redemption of Christ. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). God enables us to sincerely love. Secondly,
b) Sincere love needs constant cultivation from the heart (1 Pet. 1:22b)
God may enable you to sincerely love, but it means nothing without your cooperation. Look at the last part of 1 Pet. 1:22. So when you came to salvation, you became part of Christ’s body, the family of God and God gave you the capacity to love His children, even the strange ones. Notice the word “sincere.” It means without hypocrisy. He will say this again in 1 Pet. 2:1. Bruce Hurt says, “In classical Greek drama, the hupokrites (actor) wore a face-mask projecting an image but hiding his true identity under (hupo) a mask. Peter is saying that the Christian’s love should not be acting a part or wearing a mask, but should be an authentic expression of goodwill.”
How are we to love one another? Earnestly. Other translations say “fervently” (NASU) or “deeply” (NIV, NLT, NRSV). This word is a “physiological term meaning to stretch to the furthest limit of a muscle’s capacity. Metaphorically, the word means to go all out, to reach the furthest extent of something.” So it implies effort. It implies straining elasticity, lasting energy and perseverance. It is loving that stretches you to the limit. It is a love that stretches as far as it possibly can reach. You have to work at it. It doesn’t come magically. You can’t wait to feel it. It needs constant cultivation. The same word is used to describe how Jesus prayed in the garden (Luke 22:44). He was stretched to His limit in love for us wasn’t He?
Peter says the same thing in 1 Pet. 4:8. There he says love covers a multitude of sin. In other words, “God wants believers’ love to stretch way out so it graciously forgives and covers sin among believers.” So I need to try harder huh? Put more effort in it huh? Clench my teeth and love. No, actually, though it is all of you, notice the latter part of the verse: “from a pure heart.”
No, it is not an external legalistic requirement, but an internal overflow of your heart because the Holy Spirit lives in you. And if you walk by the Spirit, you will naturally bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). The first in the list of fruit that is borne is love. As we moment by moment surrender the control of our lives to the Spirit, He enables and expands our love.
We are about to have our second child. When we had Abbie and I saw her for the first time, it was an incredible experience. She came out and looked straight at me and said, “WAAAAHHH!” and I responded, “WAAAHHH!” There was such an overwhelming sense of love. I did not know I could experience love like that. Now that we are having our second, do you think I am thinking, “Well, I have loved to the limit with Abbie. I’m going to have to cut that in half to give to Annabelle.” That’s ridiculous. Do you know why? Because love is expansive. And I am sure all parents here with more than one child can testify to this. Love expands! And as long as Christ is in your heart and changing you, you can grow in more and more love. You can be stretched despite if people have hurt you or you have failed. But you need to constantly cultivate it.
How do you constantly cultivate love that stretches to the limits? I would say first of all, fight selfishness. Know that when you start to have that sense of entitlement creeping in your heart and you want to be idle, look for a way to serve someone. Again, this is not self-effort here. It is intentionally depending on the Spirit.
I can share from my experience. Mondays and Wednesdays I am home with Abbie. It is easy for me to be selfish. I am constantly fighting it on those days. This past Wednesday I woke up and that sense of entitlement came knocking. So I ran to the Lord for help. I remembered it was one of my brother-in- Christ’s birthday and I spent some time in the Word and sent him some verses of encouragement. It was a great blessing for me! It took time and energy, but it was so worth it.
So fight selfishness and not by saying, “No I don’t want to be selfish! Help me Lord as I lounge in my chair with this remote control not to be selfish!” but by, (here’s the second way to cultivate love): look for ways to be stretched. Love costs. Look for ways for love that will cost you time, money, energy, etc. In most families, you have brothers and sisters and then there is that strange cousin. You have those in God’s family too. If you want to expand in love, hang out with the strange cousins! Hang out with those who rub you the wrong away and those who are tough to love. And as you see how little your capacity is to love, God will then expand you to love supernaturally. Here’s another way straight from the text:
c) Remove relational roadblocks to sincere love (1 Pet. 2:1)
From 1 Pet. 1:23-25, Peter goes on a small tangent about the Word of God (though it is deeply connected to what he’s saying here about loving the brethren). But in 1 Pet. 2:1, he gives us his application to his point in loving the brethren by the use of the word “so” or “therefore.” Here are five relational roadblocks to sincerely loving the brethren. If you are not constantly cultivating sincere love, these five things will take place in your heart. Peter’s command is to “put away.” This phrase “pictures the believers as having cast aside or ‘gotten rid of’ the vices of the old life, as if they were a soiled garment.” It is often used in the New Testament for putting off sin or that which hinders Christian growth (Rom 13:12; Eph 4:22, 25; Col 3:8; Heb 12:1; Jas 1:21). Another commentator says, these sins “tear at the social fabric of the church, ripping away the threads of love that keep them together.”
Guess what happens when a community gets under pressure? Peter Davids writes, “There is a tendency to begin bickering and division, which only makes the community that much more vulnerable to outside pressure.” This is the last thing Peter wants for this community. So he lists five love-destroying vices in the Christian community that need to be discarded. Let’s look at them quickly.
First of all, malice. Though this is a general word in the original for wickedness, in this context it can mean “ill-will.” It is a desire to cause pain. It is thinking like “I’m going to get you back for what you did to me” and “You’re going to pay for that.” The root of it is anger. In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner writes: Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” It is holding grudges and then eventually acting on it. You get hurt from someone and the anger smolders within you, causing you to be resentful and eventually through passive aggressiveness or outward lashing out, it comes out! Very destructive!
Secondly, deceit. This word “indicates speaking or acting with ulterior (usually base) motives, that is, anything less than speaking the full and honest truth from the heart.” There is an interesting literal meaning to this word that may come from Peter’s life as a fisherman. It literally refers to a fishhook, trap, or trick all of which are various forms of deception. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead, trick, snare or "bait" (baiting the trap in attempt to "catch" the unwary victim) other people by telling lies. It is a desire to gain advantage or preserve position by deceiving others. A modern term in advertising is called "bait and switch" where the unwary consumer is lured in by what looks like a price too good to be true!
Think about the fishhook or bait imagery. Now that's a very deceitful thing to do to a fish...make the fish think you're going to feed him and you're really going to eat him! But this happens in relationships. People play tricks to get advantage over others. I remember students at Moody who were particularly nice to all the staff only to find out that they did those things to get them into specific classes or some special exemption they needed when they couldn’t hand something in on time. Do you have ulterior motives in your relationships? Do you deceive people? Anything less than the full honest truth is deceit. Husbands and wives, do you promise to do something your spouse asks you to do and you never get around to do it? Or do you promise to do something for your kids and never do it? Do you lie in your accountability groups about how you are doing? Do you promise to pray for someone, knowing you really don’t have the intention to do so?
Closely related to deceit is hypocrisy. He used the opposite word in 1 Pet. 1:22 talking about sincerity. It means to “play-act.” It is “any type of pretense or deception before God or man,” or any inconsistency between doctrine and practice, inward thought and outward action, behavior in the church and behavior at home or in the marketplace (e.g., Matt. 23:28; Mark 12:15; Luke 12:1; Gal. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:2; cf. the use of “hypocrite” in the Gospels, especially Matthew).” Jesus had the harshest words toward those in hypocrisy (Matt. 23). Nothing drags the name of Christ in the mud than hypocrisy. It is anything in your life that's a fabrication, that's a mask, that's phoniness, any cover up, anything not real, not genuine. The opposite is transparency and honesty. How can you truly love when you are spending so much time putting make-up on your fake mask for church?
Next on the list is envy. It is “an attitude expressed in a desire to possess what belongs to someone else.” Thomas Schreiner says, “Envy is also contrary to love, for instead of desiring the best for others, it hopes for their downfall or prefers the advancement of oneself to the joy of others.” It is anger and grief over the success of another. It is the direct opposite of “consider others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3) since you are considering yourself more significant than others. As a result, “this causes discontent and resentment as believers make unhealthy comparisons to one another. It also makes them unable to be thankful for the good that comes to others.” It is resentful discontent.
And envy comes out of the heart at times as slander. It literally means “to speak against someone.” It suggests running others down verbally. It is speech that deliberately assaults the character of other persons. It is any speech that harms another person’s status or reputation. Commentator Peter Davids notes, “Deceit is practiced to a person’s face, when one speaks only nicely of him or her, but for the person with envy and malice within, the insincerity will come out as he or she criticizes the person to others in that person’s absence.” Pastor Ray Pritchard adds, “It includes gossip, tale bearing, backbiting, spreading rumors, passing along a bad report, taking cheap shots, using humor to lacerate others, disparaging comments, unkind words. You can slander someone with the raised eyebrow, the unfinished sentence, veiled accusations, twisting the truth to make another person look bad, using subtle nuance to give a negative cast, judging others unfairly, and putting others down to make yourself look good. Slander is usually the fruit of envy, and because it is almost always done behind the back of another person, it is the seedbed of hypocrisy.”
Indeed, these vices are all inter-connected. Anger starts to grow in your heart and you leave it unchecked. Then you have to be at church so you put on a mask deceiving everyone. You are a hypocrite in reality. You compare yourself to others. Then to make yourself feel better, you slander others. What happens then? A community is destroyed. It does not take much. Peter knows this is what happens, especially under the pressure of persecution and so he says put it away decisively and completely. Notice three times he says, “all.” Don’t keep any of it lying around your heart.
But remember that the key to removing these roadblocks is not to focus on them, but to do the opposite, which Peter says first to do: “love one another earnestly because you have been loved.”
Believers, if we are not cultivating sincere love, the weeds of social sin start to grow. The cross has two beams. Some of us only have a vertical beam. Others have only a horizontal beam. It is interesting that Peter spent some time talking about the vertical relationship (1 Pet. 1:13-21) and now the horizontal (1 Pet. 1:22) and then vertical (1 Pet. 1:23-25), then horizontal again (1 Pet. 2:1) and then vertical (1 Pet. 2:2-3). You cannot separate the two beams!
In conclusion, I think this text would ask us first of all, to confess our inability to love naturally. Where has selfishness crept into our relationships? Where have we chosen idleness over intimacy? Where has malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander crept in? Let’s confess these sins and if peacemaking needs to be done, let’s do it. Secondly, if you feel your capacity to love is small, come to the one place where love was stretched: the cross of Christ. You look deeply at love that beyond any human limit for you. There you bring your small heart to Him and watch it expand before your eyes.
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