1 Peter 1:22-25 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
In my experience, suffering is one of the most inward-turning experiences we can have. If we’re honest, most of us tend to be pretty selfish people to begin with. On good days we acknowledge and fight against it. On bad days we reluctantly give in to it. But in suffering most of that goes out the door (the fight and even the reluctance). On those days we feel as if our selfishness is certainly understandable, likely reasonable, and possibly righteous.
Remember, this letter, 1 Peter, is about helping God’s people honor God in their suffering. And remember, one of our main means of honoring God is by living in ways that provide significant contrast with the ways the rest of the world lives. Belief in the God of the bible means (necessarily) living differently from those who do not in every area of our lives. It means eating differently, working differently, marrying differently, parenting differently, learning differently, neighboring differently, and it certainly means suffering differently.
In each of these aspects of our lives the “differently” highlights the fact that our trust is in God rather than in the things of the world. In each of these “differentlys” we demonstrate our belief in the superiority of God’s ways above all other ways. In each of these “differentlys” we make clear that we are not citizens of this earth, but citizens of heaven. And, therefore, in each of these “differentlys” we honor God by providing contrast between the way we respond to our circumstances in light of the gospel and the way the world around us responds to the same circumstances in light of the wisdom of this earth and the desires of their flesh.
Again, though, this is especially true when we suffer differently. There are few things that are able to provide the kind of contrast that suffering is able to provide. When everyone else would despair in their suffering, we stand out because we are hopeful. When everyone else would be angry in their suffering, we stand out because we are peaceful. When everyone else fears death in their suffering, we stand out because we know that to die is gain. When everyone else would be fearful in their suffering, we stand out because we have confidence. And where everyone else becomes increasingly selfish in their suffering, we stand out because we increasingly love. That’s Peter’s point here: we suffer well when we love well in our suffering. That is, when we lovingly turn out in our suffering we provide an amazing contrast from those who selfishly turn in. And that contrast, Peter writes, honors God.
Let’s pray that God would help us to be people of contrast, particularly in our suffering, and particularly by loving well in our suffering.
SUFFERING WELL BY LOVING WELL
I hate to admit this, but I’m a bit of a baby when I’m not feeling well. This doesn’t tend to happen all that often, but when it does my tendency is to turn into a 10 year old little boy.
Possibly the worst example of this came many years ago. Gerri was at the hospital being diagnosed with meningitis. If you know anything about meningitis you know that it involves an infection of the brain that tends to produce swelling which tends to produce pain and headaches that are barely survivable.
The details are a bit fuzzy for me, but the gist of the story is that I was watching the boys (the girls hadn’t even been born yet) while Gerri was at the hospital. With the help of my trusted sidekick, Matt, we took them to McDonalds in North Branch (it has a play house). When we were finished we started to make our way home. Before we even left the parking lot my son Daniel decided to unleash his just-consumed meal inside the back of our van. In a state of mental chaos and survival mode I dropped Matt off and headed home to clean Daniel up. After having him disrobe I placed his clothes in the washing machine and got him in the bath. Feeling overwhelmed and a bit ill myself by the whole event I tucked Daniel in and fell asleep. I felt I’d earned a good night’s sleep for all my suffering.
Well…upon getting home from the hospital (head pounding with all the power the meningitis could muster) Gerri smelled the van in the garage and knew some type of demon had attacked it. She also knew that it had to be cleaned up…so she did. After completing that job (did I mention with meningitis?) she made her way into the house in pain and exhaustion only to smell the familiar smell of our son’s stomach contents in the laundry room. (I had thought enough to put the clothes in the washing machine, but not enough to turn it on.) And so she (still with meningitis) had to do a load of laundry.
I can honestly say that I didn’t remember the van or the washing machine. It wasn’t as if I intentionally left those things for her to handle. It is, however, that I turned inward in my suffering such that I didn’t think beyond my own hardship and suffering.
Suffering tends to unleash our selfishness—which is always dishonoring to God. And that brings us back to 1 Peter and the point of this passage. There is another way to suffer—which is always honoring to God. Instead of turning inward in their suffering (as we easily tend to do), Peter calls his people to turn outward in love (as only the purifying work of the Spirit can do in us).
To this end, Peter makes four points of remarkable significance. Let’s look at each.
Purification Must Come Before Love
The charge or command is to suffer well by loving well. However, the first thing Peter would have us understand is that only those who have been given new spiritual life are able to do this. That’s his point when he writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth … love one another…” (1 Peter 1:22).
Before expanding on the idea that it is only the people of God who can love in suffering, I need to quickly explain something. Though it sounds in the ESV as if Peter attributes the purification of their souls to the obedience of his readers, he most emphatically is not. Instead, the phrase “by your obedience,” means “by faith”. That is, by your obedience to the commands of Jesus and his apostles to trust in the blood of Jesus, you are purified and able to love. Again, then, it is only after coming to faith in Jesus that it is possible to love at all—much less love in suffering.
Jesus echoes this sentiment in John’s gospel (5:42) in speaking to the unbelieving Jews, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you.”
John himself teaches this in his first letter (3:10), “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
True love only comes on the other side of true conversion.
For this reason, before speaking of the nature and recipients of suffering-love, Peter reminded his readers that it was only on account of the purifying work of Christ that true love was possible. It is only because their souls had been purified that Peter placed upon them the expectation of love, and more significantly, love in suffering.
Non-Christian, the commands of God are only able to condemn you. You cannot truly obey them. Even when you obey on one level, you are disobeying on a much deeper level. That is, even when you try to love others (whether during suffering or not) and find a measure of success, you are not truly loving them because loving them means giving them what’s best…but you don’t have what’s best to give them: the love of God. You must turn to Christ before you can obey any of God’s commands, including this one. But know, that if you turn to him, he will receive you and give you life and love and strengthen you for obedience.
Christian, find rest in the fact that while you too lack the power to obey on your own, the power lives within you. Having been purified by the blood of Jesus, the Spirit dwells in you. Therefore, as you consider the high command to love in your suffering, know that it is already being worked out in you.
Purification Comes to Bring About Love
We must be purified through faith in the blood of Jesus before we can love (particularly in suffering). But there is more. Peter gives a second remarkably significant point regarding suffering well by loving well. He writes that one of the primary reasons God purifies/saves his people is “for a sincere … love…”.
God loves us and purifies us so that we can love others. Again, that’s Peter’s point in using the crucial conjunction “for” in the middle of v.22. “For” indicates reason or purpose. It teaches us that what follows it—”a sincere love”—is the ground for what’s before it—”having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth”.
Grace, we are saved to love. While many think in terms of being saved to live, saved to be satisfied, and saved to glorify God, we must also learn to think in terms of being saved to love. Consider for a moment how many of your thoughts and actions and feelings are driven by love. One of the reasons God saves and purifies his people is so that our answer would be…all of them!
Again, too many in the church have bought into the notion that the gospel is merely the good news of a get-out-of-hell-free card. It is that. All who have been saved by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus escape the fiery torments of hell. However, it is also much, much more. The gospel is also the good news that we are being made pure, that we have fellowship with God, that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, that we will be glorified, that all of God’s works are for our good, that we will have strength in this life for all that God calls us to, and that we can love others even in our suffering. We were saved so that we can love continually.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. … 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Grace, we are saved to love. Let us love well.
The Purified Are to Have a Particular Love for Christians
The next things to see are the objects and substance of our purification-induced love. Who are we to love? Of course, Christians are to love all people. That’s the second greatest commandment. The bible is filled with additional commands to and examples of loving our neighbors (Christian and non-Christian) well. However, while this is certainly true, Peter notes that Christians are especially called to love the saints.
His specific commands to the suffering Christians is that they are to have a “sincere brotherly love” and to “love one another.” That is, they are to have a particular love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Look around this room, Grace. The people in this room, even above your unbelieving family and friends, and neighbors are to be the objects of your love. Although that’s not the way many of us function, that is God’s design for his people in this world. There is meant to be a unique and higher love that God’s people have for one another.
How, then, are we to love other Christians? Or, what kind of love are we to love them with? Peter says that our saint-particular love is to be defined by its sincerity, earnestness, and pure motives.
That it is to be sincere means that there is no place for posturing and no place for hypocrisy. When someone in our church is suffering, Peter isn’t calling you to “suck it up” and “take one for the team” by visiting them or bringing them a meal—putting on the outward garments of love without the heart of love. Wherever we find such a lack of love we must make war. God is calling us to find real joy in blessing others. He’s calling us to have deep affection in pursuing that which is best for others. Our love for the saints is to be honest and genuine and from the Spirit.
That it is to be earnest means that we are to love with oomph. It means that we are to do so by fully extending ourselves. Loving in this way is not soft or easy. It requires sacrifice and determination. I hope what I’m about to say encourages you, and does not sound like boasting, but a significant part of the final push that helped me to realize the goodness of adopting Presley is this verse and this clause in this verse. It doesn’t feel like we can handle this in many ways, but what could be a greater expression of loving those whom God loves in earnest than this. It means straining to the end of ourselves to bring blessing to God’s people.
That it is to be from a pure heart is similar to loving sincerely. However, while loving sincerely means loving authentically and genuinely, loving with a pure heart means loving in holiness and godliness. Our actions of love are to be genuine and our motives pure.
And, to be clear, this kind of love isn’t reserved merely for the saints in this room. It is also for the brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom are experiencing severe suffering and persecution beyond our comprehension. Loving them means, as we just did, sending them teachers. It means, as we just did, sending them resources. It means, as we have done and are about to do again, sending people to encourage those who work with them full time to bring the gospel. Perhaps, above all, it means praying for them and entrusting their souls to the loving care of the Father.
When we love like this, we strengthen the Church, honor Christ, and testify to the world of the glory of God. That is, we provide remarkable contrast. It is written (John 13:35), “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Purified Are to Love Because they Have Been Born Again
Finally, in the last few verses (23-25), Peter gives the reason for all of this. Because we have been purified by an imperishable seed through the gospel, we must love others who have been purified by the same imperishable seed. We are to love others in this way because/”since we have been born again”.
“…love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…”
We are purified in order to love and we love because we have been purified.
Our new life in Christ demands that we love differently and radically and continually. It is who we are and so it is what we do. In Christ we are new people. We have new, godly desires and plans and purposes. We have new joys and longings and satisfactions. Among these is love for the saints even in our suffering.
This happened to us, Peter writes, through the imperishable seed of God’s living and abiding word; that is, through the gospel of Jesus Christ (which was preached to them from the beginning (25b)). God’s word and God’s Spirit combined in us to give us life. And the fruit of that life is crazy, suffering-love.
To give even more oomph to his instructions, Peter quotes Isaiah 40 (verses 6 and 8) and in so doing demonstrates that what he is saying has been true from the beginning.
Isaiah 40:6-8 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
The point of this passage, as Peter quotes it, is that God’s word never fails and never diminishes and never dies. People and plants and all created, physical things die, but God’s word does not. It is certain and undiminishing. As such, the salvation of those saved by it is equally certain and undiminishing. And as such, the love it produces in us for all the saints is equally certain and undiminishing.
We are to love Christians with sincerity, earnestness, and purity. However, we are only able to do so once we have been saved. We are saved in order to love the saints and we love the saints because we are saved. That’s the first half of Peter’s message.
What’s more, though, the second half of Peter’s message, which I spoke to in the beginning, is that we are to love like that especially when we are suffering for our faith in Jesus. Loving like that is challenging under ideal circumstances. It is made even more difficult when we are being battered down.
The great news of the gospel, however, is that as Christians we have the Holy Spirit working in us to create this desire and give us strength to obey God. Through the prophet Ezekiel, communicates the love and obedience-producing power of the new birth beautifully,
Ezekiel 36:25-27 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Simply, Peter calls God’s people to honor God in their suffering by loving other Christians in a way that would be impossible apart from his presence to purify and empower. But, Grace, as children of God, we are never apart from God’s presence to purify and empower.
Therefore, let us fight in the Spirit’s power to love with sincerity, earnestness, and purity…especially when we are sick or lonely or in pain or tired or in financial peril or being persecuted for our faith or covered in vomit. Let us find real ways to love as we’ve been loved. Let us plan and plot and scheme, individually and collectively, even when life is the hardest, to love the saints, near and far. Let us honor God in our suffering by loving in ways that don’t make sense apart from the reality of the God of the bible and aren’t possible without the unity of the Church and the power of the Spirit.
Let us, therefore, refuse to look inward when life is hard, but to look outward all the more. When we feel most helpless, let’s give the most help. When we feel the weakest, let’s love greater with God’s strength. When we feel like we deserve to be served, let’s serve with greater unction.
Grace, do not miss this: you have not heard this sermon rightly if you are not already planning a specific way to love some specific Christian in a new specific way with sincerity, earnestness, and purity. If you are not, you are just “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). If you are not, you are “like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror” (James 1:23). But we are not those things, Grace. We are children of God. We have been purified by the blood of Jesus, and so we love.
Above all, though, let us remember that the greatest suffering and the greatest love came together to produce the greatest glory in the cross of Jesus. We suffer well by loving well with the cross as our backdrop and example and strength. We love like this only because Jesus did so first. Grace, find great help in loving the saints in your suffering in the knowledge that doing so broadcasts a living picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.