1 Peter – A Holy People in a Hostile World
1 Peter 1:22-23 – Serious Love, Serious Longing
Sermon Preached at Christ Church Dusseldorf, 30th September 2018
Brothers and sisters, become serious. That was the ending of the sermon last time, and it is the beginning this time, because we are picking up where we left off. We saw then that becoming a Christian and living as a Christian is serious business. We saw then that there are three realities that determine how a Christian behaves: serious hope, serious holiness, and serious fear. So we need to stop playing at being Christians and become serious about it, if we want to know the inexpressible joy that will get us through the most fiery trials and the most serious suffering. In this section, we have two more things to add that shape a Christian, and in particular shape the way we live our lives together, as a Christian family: serious love and serious longing.
- Serious Love – 1:22-25
Love is a command- v22c
We are commanded to love one another. So this isn’t an optional extra for Christians, it isn’t the icing on the cake of the Christian life; it is the cake. Nor is love merely a feeling that might sometimes sweep over us; it is an order, we are commanded to love one another, whether we feel like it or not. So what will this look like? What sort of behaviour is God commanding here?
Well, notice first of all that Peter says “one another”; so he is only talking now about the special love that exists between Christians. In v22 he calls it “brotherly love”, the love that binds together people who belong to the same family. Interesting bit of trivia for you: the Greek word here for brotherly love is “Philadelphia”. So the city in America is literally the city of brotherly love! Whether it lives up to its name or not, I have no idea. But it’s churches like this one that should be the true Philadelphias.
So let’s try and imagine a church family that is a true Philadelphia. What will it be like? It’s easy to think first of big, dramatic displays of love, and overlook the more mundane, every day ones. But in any family, those are the ones that really matter. One way in which a family shows love is by spending time with each other, and helping each other out. So we show brotherly love for other Christians by coming to church every Sunday, and not missing that time because the weather’s nice and we want to go cycling, or because the children have a football game. Just by being here, we are loving and serving our family. We love each other by turning up on time, before the service starts, and by not dashing off afterwards, but by staying to talk to one another. And by having meaningful conversations, about our real joys and sorrows, where we encourage each other to grow as Christians.
We also love each other by meeting during the week in Vine Groups, where again we are supporting each other, and spurring each other on to grow as Christians. We have three going now, and I would love to start some more- please speak to me afterwards if you want to be part of that. And we love each other by serving each other, often in ways that don’t seem glamorous. As you may know, we have had a lot of trouble finding people to serve tea and coffee after the service. That’s a great shame, because that time we spend together is an expression of love, and serving coffee your brothers and sisters is a way of loving them. Those are just a few ways in which we can love one another. There are many others, and I know that many, many of you in this church are loving and serving each other in quiet, unspectacular ways.
This is partly about the mind-set with which we approach church. Remember that in 1:13, Peter told us to “gird up the loins of your mind”, to prepare our minds for action, and do some serious thinking? We need to do that with regard to our Christian family. A lot of us- and I’m guilty of this- come to church thinking “What can I get out of this?”. Or, a little better, “What can my children get out of this?” Wrong question. The point of coming to church is not for us to get something out of the service. The point first of all is for us to bless and praise and honour God for what he has done for us, as Peter does in 1:3. And then second for us to love one another. Because love is a command- “Love one another”. And that means that:
Love is hard work- v22c
Peter says that we are to love one another “earnestly”, or “deeply, or “fervently”, or “constantly”, depending on the translation. In other words, this is to be a strenuous, active love. Not just a passing emotion or a liking for those who are like us. We are not supposed to lie back and hope that one day we will wake up loving other Christians. This will cost us something- it will take some effort. Our love is to be an earnest love- a serious love. So how is this possible? Where does this serious love come from?
Love comes from a pure heart and soul- v22ab
So Peter says that something has already happened, in the past, which has ongoing effects in the present. And because of that we should love one another. He is, I think talking about conversion, about what happens when someone becomes a Christian. He says that his readers have “purified their souls”, and that they have clean hearts. When a person becomes a Christian, he is washed clean from all the dirt and moral filth and shame that went with his old, pagan way of life. He doesn’t merely clean up the way he lives, and change the way he behaves. His innermost person, his soul, his heart, becomes clean and beautiful in God’s sight. Remember that Jesus said in Mark 7 that it’s from within, from the heart, that sin and impurity come. But when someone becomes a Christian, his heart is washed clean. But what can wash away our sin? Peter has already told us in v19- the precious blood of Christ which he shed to wash us clean.
Peter says that this happened when we “obeyed the truth”. What truth? The answer is v25: the good news, the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel says “Believe that Jesus Christ died to wash your soul clean”. So when a person believes that, she obeys the truth. When you become a Christian, if you like, you take Jesus blood, and you scrub your heart and soul clean with it. And that cleansing, when we obey the truth and believe in Christ, has to take place before we can begin to love one another- it makes love possible. That’s why those people who say “well, it doesn’t really matter what we believe, so long as we love one another”, are so badly wrong. Obedience to the truth comes first, then love.
Peter also says you did this “for a sincere brotherly love”. I’m not sure, and a lot of good commentators and preachers disagree with me here, but I think what he means is: “What first attracted you to the truth, and made you want to obey it, was the genuine love you could see among Christians”. I guess that is the case for many of us, that what first drew us to the Gospel was the love that we could see among Christians, and we wanted to be part of it. So I think Peter’s message is: “Love is what you wanted- so love one another. Continue as you started”. So love comes from a pure soul, and…
Love comes from new birth- v23ab
Loving one another earnestly and strenuously is tough. It tires us out, we fall into compassion fatigue, and sometimes we just wish that everyone else would go away. Love is a delicate flower that easily withers and drops off the stem. So where do we find the strength to keep on loving each other? Peter assures us here that this is possible, that we are not just left to our own strength and resources. Even before we obeyed the truth, a great, supernatural work of God took place within us, and we were born again. We left our old self-centred, cut-throat life behind, and God gave us a new nature. He planted a seed of life within us, and we began a new life- a life of love. And that seed is imperishable- it cannot die. Even if the flower of love withers and drops off, new flowers will always grow from the seed. So Peter is I think saying to us “you can do it”. He is telling us to act not in accordance with our old, selfish, dead nature, but to act in accordance with the new, living nature that God gave us when we were born again. So love comes from new birth, and…
Love come from the word of God- v23c-25
What is the seed that God has planted in us to give us life? It is the word of God. Both the written word of God- Peter quotes these haunting words from the Old Testament, from Isaiah 40:6-8- and the preached word of God- he says that this word is the Gospel that was proclaimed or preached to them. Look at how he describes the word of God- he says that it is living and enduring. Sometimes we think that the Bible and preaching are just words, dead the words; so we have to add something to them, if we want people to become Christians. Some have thought that we have to add the Holy Spirit, or signs and wonders; others that the church would only grow if we side-lined the Bible, and entertained people. But Peter says here that the word of God is alive, not dead, and life-giving- it’s the word that transforms people and makes them Christians. And it is enduring: it doesn’t bring a temporary, but a permanent transformation. All other earthly hopes and dreams may fade and whither under suffering, like grass in the hot sun. But God’s word gives us a hope that can’t perish, and a transformation that lasts.
Those of you who were at the weekend away will remember the five convictions that Kingsley talked about. Remember conviction no.2? It was that disciples are people who are learning and being transformed, becoming more like Jesus, which includes love. How does that happen? Remember conviction 3, and the first “P”? Through the preaching of the word of God. And churches, where the word is preached, are where that transformation into loving people happens. That’s God’s method of giving us life, and changing us, so that we love one another.
- Serious Longing – 2:1-3
Peter begins “Therefore” or “So” in some translations- but so what?
Last time, I said then when you a “therefore” in the Bible, you should ask what it’s there for. Well, when you see a “so” you ask “so what?”, what is God saying by this? Peter has just commanded us to love one another, that’s the main point, the big thing that he wants. And he’s said that this loves comes from being born again by God’s word. Now he says “so” or “therefore”. So, this is the conclusion that comes from 1:22-25- this is what we should do, given that that bit is true. And what we should do is be filled with an intense, serious longing.
Longing is a command- v2b
This is the second main point, the second major command after “love one another”- “long for milk”. What does Peter mean by milk? Obviously not literally the stuff that comes from a cow, or our mothers. Some translations of the Bible say “spiritual milk”, others say “reasonable” milk. I think that the old King James Bible, and the Christian Standard Bible, capture the meaning when they say “the milk of the word”. After all, that’s what he’s just said that we need to live as new-borns, people who are born again. And the actual word he uses means something like “wordy” milk, in my very clunky translation. “Reasonable” isn’t a bad translation: it’s a reminder that God’s word can and should be understood with our reason.
So the milk that Peter is talking about is the word of God. First and foremost the written word of God, but also the preaching of the Gospel that is based on that written word. And he describes this milk as “pure” milk. Obviously, no one would give their children milk that’s been contaminated by germs and viruses. Well, God doesn’t give his children a contaminated word. That word “pure” mean “free of deceit and lies” and “free from mistakes, from anything that would lead us astray”. The technical term for that is “inerrant”- the Bible contains no errors, it is pure, like refined silver.
Longing should be intense like that of a baby for milk- v2
Babies take their milk very seriously. I learnt that over many sleepless nights when our kids were small. If a baby can’t get their milk what do they do? She cries, and cries, and cries. When her milk is coming, her head moves to and fro, as she tries to latch on. And when she finally gets her mother’s breast, or a bottle, she sucks and sucks and sucks, trying to get all the nourishment she can. That’s how God has designed babies, so that they get the goodness that they need to grow.
Now that is what God wants us to be like with his word the Bible. First of all, it means that we shouldn’t be content with little sips of the Bible, anymore than a baby is content with a few drops of milk. We should long for lots of it. So in our services, we should long to hear the Bible read. Not just in little snippets, but in big dollops. Our prayers and our songs should contain lots of Bible. One of the saddest things about a lot of modern liturgies and songs is that contain so little Bible, compared to older liturgies and hymns. And in preaching, we won’t be content with little 10 minute talk. That’s why at this church we preach for 25 minutes, so we get lots of the milk of God’s word, lots of the richness that is there within it. Of course we won’t be content with only hearing the word on Sundays, and starving in between. We will want to read the word every day, at home and in our Vine Groups. That’s a sign that someone has been born again: that he longs for word of God, like a baby longs for milk.
Not only will we want lots of Bible, we will want to suck all the nourishment that we can out of it. That means that if we are on our own, we won’t just read the Bible, we will meditate on it and think hard about it. When we are in church, listening to the word being read and preached, it means we need to prepare our minds for action, and take an attitude of active listening, not passive listening. So we might read the passage before the service, we might read it again afterwards, and during the service we will use our minds to try and understand and suck all we can out of the word. And remember, this isn’t just a personal preference for those who like this sort of thing. It is a command of God to long for the milk of his word. But why does God want us to long intensely for the word? To where does this longing lead?
Longing leads to growth- v2c
That makes sense doesn’t it? Babies need to drink lots of milk because they are growing rapidly, developing bones and muscles. If a baby has know desire for milk, his parents start to worry, and think that he might be sick. Well, in the same way, it is a sign of spiritual health when Christians long for the milk of God’s word- and a sign of spiritual sickness when they don’t. We need the milk of the word so that we will grow and develop as Christians- and part of that growth is growth in love for one another. But notice that the Bible says that we grow up “into salvation”. Salvation in 1 Peter is something that happens when Jesus returns. So until then, we need the milk of the word. We are not going to grow up and reach a higher stage of the Christian life where we can do without. Until we die, or Jesus returns, we will be babies who should long for the milk of the word. So where does this longing come from?
Longing comes from a pure heart- v1
Malice- the desire to hurt others. Deceit and hypocrisy- lying to other people and pretending to be something we are not. Envy- not just wanting something that someone else has, but resenting them because they have it. Slander- trying to blacken someone’s character and good name. This is just the opposite of loving each other. So these are the weeds that we have to pull up from among us, so that the flowers of love can grow. Or the blockages in the pipes that have to be cleared so that love can flow from one to another. And Peter is saying that we have to do it- we have to take serious, strenuous action to kill the weeds.
But I think there is something else here. Because of where he says this, I think Peter is also saying that these things will stop us from longing for the milk of God’s word. You know that if you go to a wine tasting, you have to cleanse your palate? Between glasses of wine, you might eat a piece of bread or fruit, to take away the taste of the old glass so that you can appreciate the new one. I think that’s what Peter is telling us to do here: to cleanse our palates. You see, if your mouth is full of the bitter taste of malice and resentment, or of the sickly-sweet taste of vanity and hypocrisy, you won’t appreciate the goodness of the milk of God’s word. So if you feel no longing for God’s word, that may not be because you find it hard to understand. It may be because you prefer the taste of malice, and deceit and so on. And you need to take action to cleanse your palate of those things, so that you can taste the sweetness of God’s word. Because that is where a longing for the milk of God’s word truly comes from.
Longing come from tasting the Lord’s goodness- v3
Peter assumes that if someone is a Christian, then they will have tasted the goodness of the Lord, the Lord Jesus. How does that happen? Given that, as Peter says in 1:8, none of us have actually seen Jesus. It happens through the word. When we obeyed the truth of the Gospel, we tasted the goodness of the Lord. We tasted his goodness in all the truths Peter has talked about in 1:3-9. We tasted his goodness when he put that seed of life in us, and our souls were washed clean by his blood. This isn’t just an intellectual conviction, or a theory: in God’s word there is a real experience, a taste, of the goodness of the Lord Jesus. That’s why we don’t need anything else, we don’t another revelation, or a second blessing, to enjoy the Lord’s goodness and closeness and kindness. We just need his word.
And once we’ve tasted it, we will want to taste it again. And that taste will overwhelm and drive out all the bitterness and sourness that stops us from loving each other. Have you tasted the goodness of the Lord Jesus? Would you like to taste it again? Or maybe you would like to taste it for the first time? Then you need to develop your taste for God’s word- you need to long for the milk of the word.
Is you love for other Christians a serious, earnest love? Is your longing for God’s word as intense as the longing of a baby for milk? Brothers and sisters, become serious.