1 Peter 1:22-25, “22 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.”
There is a simple sounding command found in our text, a command that sounds simple because we have a high view of ourselves and more generally speaking, of humanity. Peter tells us in vs. 22 to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? We all like to think we are loving people. Our first reaction when conflict comes up is that it is the other person’s fault for not seeing that we are just you can finish that sentence however you want. What we fail to realize, unless we are thinking theologically, is that we are incapable of loving as we should apart from Christ’s work in our lives. So, this simple-sounding command is much more challenging to live out and drives us back to the truth of the gospel: that God so loved the world, that God loved us first so that we could love. It is, quite frankly, the impossible love. The good news, in addition to the good news of the gospel, is that there is a God who does impossible things and this impossible love is actually quite possible for those in Christ.
The first thing we notice in this section is that this command to love is couched in the truth of the gospel. Peter tells us that because we have had our souls purified, we are then invited to love earnestly. The sense we get in reading this is that such love is not possible without having our souls purified. Now, taking it a step further theologically, we can be sure that we did not purify ourselves. We did not stick our hands under one of those hand sanitizing dispensers they have in every hospital and just rub our hands together. On the contrary, God has purified our souls by drawing us into the living hope he refers to earlier in this chapter. The verses right before our text bring out some of the specifics of this, in that we were not purified through perishable means, but through the precious blood of Christ, which served both as an example to us and the means by which we can love.
Certainly not to contradict this first point, but the language of vs. 22 is ambiguous enough as to who is behind the purified souls that we ought not to leave it just at this. There is a divergence of commentators on this verse with some emphasizing God’s part in this and some seeing Peter as emphasizing man’s part. What is true in this is that God is the one who brings salvation, but in coming to faith, man has chosen to accept the truth of the gospel and is seeking to live out a God-pleasing life. So, the purification of their souls is both an act of God as well as a way of living that is actively followed.
The result of this work in our lives is what gives us the motivation and the power to love with a holy love. Peter describes this love as an earnest love from a pure heart. It is an interesting command, considering the circumstances surrounding the original readers. In the midst of intense and deadly persecution, Peter still comes back to the vital importance of maintaining biblical love as part of a unified body. Later in his letter, Peter reminds them again, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Peter desires that the church be a place that is characterized by sincere, enduring love, one that gives grace within relationships and seeks the best for all the people. One might think that a church that was enduring great persecution would not turn inward on each other, but from Peter’s words here, we can assume that they were just as liable to be unloving as church people are today. Because God has loved us with a saving love, we are called to live out that love.
Practically speaking, how do we live out that love? Before we give some suggestions, we must first recognize that Peter again brings us back to the foundation of such love: our new birth in Jesus Christ. Peter seems to know that we are not as loving as we think and need to be continually reminded that such love was impossible for us, but has been made possible through God’s work in our lives through Christ alone. The command to love is bracketed by a reminder of having purified our souls and that we have been born again by the imperishable seed, through the powerful and effective word of God. When we understand the high standard of the love we are called to, it really will seem like the impossible love. Yet, because God has redeemed us because we have been born again, such love is possible.
So, practically speaking, how do we live out that love? The Bible gives numerous commands and examples of a biblical love for one another. Here are just a few to consider:
Love that covers a multitude of sin. This is a love that extends grace to those who have sinned against us. It is a love that chooses not to return evil for evil but overcomes evil with good.
Love is patient. Patience is easy to talk about and difficult to live out, but real, biblical love is a patient love. It endures long with people and gives time and space for God to work. It allows others to be different than us and still have them be a warmly welcomed member of the family.
Love is kind. Love gives to people what is best for them, considering their needs and even their wishes. It seeks the best about the other person, rather than caring only for ourselves. Love also believes the best about people, giving them the benefit of the doubt rather than joining the chorus of critics.
Love does not envy. Envy can come in many forms, but it basically is weeping for those who rejoice and rejoicing for those who weep. It is wanting what someone else has or not wanting them to have it. In either case, it is thinking about ourselves rather than the other person. Love does not feel inwardly sad when things work out well for another person. Love does not feel inwardly happy when things work out poorly for that other person. Rather, love lived out is able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, all the while keeping the focus off ourselves.
Whether it is holy living or holy loving, the standard is outside our ability, but, thanks be to God, for He has saved us and made us able to love Him and one another.