David Helm shares a story when he was a middle school student living in Illinois, just after the Vietnam war. His father taught at Judson College and his father’s office overlooked the Fox River. It was there that David watched as one young man would care for the ducks during the cold winter months.
He fed them, cut open the ice for them to drink from. In short he did all he could do to sustain their life. Curious, I asked my dad why that young man cared so much for ducks. I will never forget the story he told. ‘He had just returned from the war in Vietnam and that ducks had saved his life. His unit had been ambushed. Many of his friends had been killed, and while he hadn’t been shot, he had laid down to look like he had. He hoped they would go away, but they didn’t. The enemy kept coming. Through the fields they came. They’d put one more shot in every fallen man to ensure that he was dead. But suddenly a covey of ducks flew overhead, and the attention of the soldiers was diverted. In their excitement they began running after the ducks to shoot at them instead. In the end, they stopped checking the field for men and left. That’s how the man down by the river escaped. And how he has a special love for ducks. He loves because he lives.[i]
It was Leonardo Da Vinci that said: “A life without love is no life at all.” Jesus reveals to each of us God’s amazing love. The ultimate demonstration of that was his willingness to go to the cross and die for each of us. As John tells us: No greater love can be demonstrated than that a friend will lay down their life for their friends, and Jesus calls us his friends (cf. John 15:13). Can we ever fully grasp the love God has for us? But then Jesus lays down that amazing command for each of us. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).” You and I are to love each other to the same degree that Jesus loves us. We must be willing to give up our lives for each other. Earlier in his gospel, Jesus is demonstrating that love by humbling himself as a servant and washing their feet. Jesus then tells them that he is leaving them a new command.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.[ii]
The evidence of genuine faith in Christ is demonstrated by our love. We could say this spiritual equation: Love toward others is the outcome of our faith in Christ. An unbelieving Greek writer, Lucian who lived in the second century (120-200 A.D.), observed the way Christians related to each other.
It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it into their heads that they are brethren [family].[iii]
If we are truly part of God’s family, then we will reflect who He is toward each other. People will be able to see that the inner transformation of the heart produces external behaviors that reflect that change. We become like Jesus We love like Jesus. Yet, as we know, times of difficulty often reveal areas in our lives that need to be addressed. Often in trials, feelings of abandonment can overwhelm a person. Believers are tempted to gradually turn away from God and allow their minds to be closed toward Him, possibly blaming God for not caring.
It was the prophet, Isaiah, who was called by God to speak words of comfort to the people of God, who found themselves in exile. They needed to be reassured that God had not forgotten them and that they would be restored. It is this theme of being like exiles in this world, that Peter now applies to these first century believers who may have felt that they had been forsaken by God. They needed a word of reassurance, comfort and grace. Peter is going to remind them that God’s promises are eternal and will endure despite the trials they are now facing. It is the same word that each of us need to hear when we feel that we are in exile by the trials we are experiencing. Where we question where God is in this moment in our lives.
Here in 1 Peter 1:22-2:3, we have a movement away from a word to the specific individual’s calling to live a holy or wholesome life toward how each of us should relate to each other in the community of faith. In other words we are directed for the moment away from our focus on our personal responsibility toward God and to see how our calling impacts the people around us, particularly fellow believers. Here we will discover the motivating element of what holds communities together, especially Christian community. Peter leaves us with two commands that come from a life that has experienced God’s favor and grace.
THE FIRST COMMAND THAT WE NEED TO OBEY IS TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER EARNESTLY
It is interesting to me that we have to be commanded to love. The nature of human beings is that we are fickle. We are highly emotional in nature and allow our emotions to guide us in how we treat others. However, the love that is being spoken of here is God’s kind of love, which is unconditional not determined by feelings, but rather by the command of God. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).”
The New International Version here makes it seem that because we have experienced purification because of our obedience to the truth we have already attained love. Many scholars believe that the RSV and other translations relate the idea that love is not the result as if it had already happened but it is one of the purposes of their conversion. We could say that it is the goal of our faith as the apostle Paul states to Timothy (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5). What should be flowing from the community of faith are people who are demonstrating God’s love to each other. But what does that mean?
Righteous behavior toward others defines love. For Peter, obedience to the truth of the gospel is not merely intellectual assent to doctrine but must result in a transformation of how Christians treat each other, because moral transformation is a central purpose in Christ’s redemption.[iv]
Wayne Grudem agrees that this is a post conversion work of grace which we participate in as believers.
The sense of the verse is therefore, ‘Once you have begun to grow in holiness so that you have a genuine affection for one another, make your love for each other earnest, deep, and strong.’ This is Peter’s first specific application of the general commands to holiness in verses 13-21. It is a reminder that one of the first marks of genuine growth in holiness in individuals and in churches is earnest love for fellow Christians. It also gives encouragement that human personalities, far from being immutably fixed early in life, can be dramatically and permanently changed through the power of the gospel.[v]
This brings incredible hope that we can change by a power working in our lives that is greater than ourselves. God’s grace does change people.
I recently watched the movie, ‘I can Only Imagine,’ which tells the stirring story of Bart Millard, of the group, ‘Mercy Me,’ who tells of the challenges that he experienced growing up. Unlike the movie, Bart’s parents divorced when he was 3 years old. Bart and his brother lived with their mother until Bart was 13, when it was decided that it was best for he and his brother to live with their father, as his mother now married her third husband. Bart was then raised by an abusive father that took out his frustrations on Bart, and it deeply scarred Bart. Later, Bart’s father came to faith in Jesus Christ, and the transformation was incredible. The impact upon Bart was so great that it helped Bart to rekindle his own faith. It guided his life, his music, and the choices he’s made as a result. He told a magazine reporter: ‘I guess I grew up thinking that if the Gospel could change that guy [speaking of his father], it could change anybody. There was no denying it.’ As emphasized in the movie, Millard says that his dad ‘went from a monster to the guy I wanted to be like when I grew up.’ Genuine faith brings as a result a loving heart. The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that the end result of faith produces love.
or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work – which is by faith.
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.[vi]
Notice that love comes from a changed heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Love is the outcome of the gospel at work in our lives. Peter in his letter is challenging believers to be actively involved in God’s purifying work in their lives by doing what He asks of in His word. Why? So that when the pressure comes, they will continue to demonstrate care for one another. That is what we need to hear and respond to. We also need to realize that trials are the very vehicles that reveal to each of us as believers areas that need growth and development. Often under pressure carnal, worldly attitudes surface. Blaming, criticizing and polarization become evident.
Time and again the weakness of the church in facing the problems of the world lies in its own internal dissension. …What is more worrying is the way in which Christians tend to divide over issues of peripheral importance, taking rigid stances in matters on which Scripture has nothing to say or is ambiguous. And more worrying still is the failure of Christians to love one another and so to create the atmosphere in which some progress might be made toward the resolution of conflicts.[vii]
A. This command to love is ground in something eternal: God’s word living within our souls.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’
And this was the word that was preached to you. [viii]
Peter is reminding his readers and us that what brings about this internal transformation in our lives is God’s imperishable word. Consider all the things they were dealing with. Yet, all these things would fade away as their difficulties and trials were transitory. That was also true of their persecutions and struggles. What was true of God’s people in the past is equally true for us in the present. Paul Achtemeier shares this insightful and encouraging remark:
While the citation from Isaiah confirms the imperishable and abiding nature of the word of God, which is the seed by which Christians have been rebegotten, the contrast between what is transitory and what is permanent embodied in the quotation would be highly appropriate for a beleaguered community of Christians facing what gave every appearance of being the permanent, even eternal, power and glory of the Roman Empire. In such a situation, the announcement that the glitter, pomp, and power of the Roman culture was as grass when compared to God’s eternal word spoken in Jesus Christ, available through the gospel preached to and accepted by the Christians in Asia Minor, would give them courage to hold fast to the latter while rejoicing in the former. Even the hostility of that overwhelming power becomes more bearable when its ultimately transitory nature is revealed and accepted.[ix]
Often in our struggles we look at our weakness rather than God’s abiding power and strength. We often falter because what is coming against us seems so powerful, and momentarily it may be; however, what we are building our lives upon, God’s word, will long endure when whatever we are faced with today is gone.
Now more than ever we need to be reminded of this. In this time of restriction and limitation, when it seems that we are stuck with Covid, it is a temporary aspect to life. What is eternal is God’s word. Allow the Word of God to redirect your focus. May it bring hope and strength to sustain you. May this be an hour of incredible spiritual growth and development. How often in our lives does it seem that what we are experiencing in this world is the ultimate reality, but the truth is that it will all fade away. What is anchored on God’s word is what is eternal. What sustains us in these challenging moments is that we have a spiritual life that is eternal.
THE SECOND COMMAND THAT WE NEED TO OBEY IS TO GROW IN CHRIST BY CRAVING GOD’S WORD
We are now directed as to what our focus and desire in life ought to be. Peter begins by stating it negatively. We are to put off certain unloving behavior. Then we are told what we should embrace, the means of bringing about a loving attitude toward others. We are now challenged to put aside all the things in our lives that would hinder God’s love from flowing from our lives. This love that was fashioned in our lives by God’s empowering word.
A. What we are told to rid ourselves from.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind (1 Peter 2:1).
‘Therefore’ is a word that points us back to what has been said, and now as a result of what God has accomplished in us through his word we need to be responsible to address certain issues that nullify healthy relationships. These are the things that destroy relationships with others. When we allow love to rule it builds up others and strengthens relationships.
The first thing that we need to address in our lives is the issue of malice. R. C. Sproul describes malice as “a purposeful desire to wound or hurt another person.”[x] This is a heart generally that has been wounded and wants to strike back at the offender or others in order to wound. Yet one of the cornerstones of a genuine Christian faith is the idea of forgiveness. Considering our experience of God’s forgiveness in our own lives, a spirit of forgiveness must become the central element of our lives. In teaching the disciples to pray, Jesus explains the critical nature of forgiving others when he states in Luke 11:4, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
The remaining aspects that Peter lists are all expressions of how malice operates.
Deceitfulness is borne of malice. Deceit involves a definite attempt to distort, hide, or undermine the truth. It is done intentionally.[xi]
Hypocrisy is a form of deception as a person is trying to appear something other than what they really are. The word actually comes from the ancient Greek theater where people wore masks in order to play a part.
Envy is also contrary to love, for instead of desiring the best for others, it hopes for the downfall or prefers the advancement of oneself to the joy of others. Slander is not limited to spreading false stories about others but also disparaging others.[xii]
B. The key to continued transformation in our lives is to continue to ingest God’s word.
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.[xiii]
While in other N.T. texts the idea of milk is as a drink for the spiritual immature, here the metaphor is not a rebuke but rather an expression of the kind of desire that we should have toward God’s word. Think of the baby who longs for food, and cries until it is fed. It is the longing or strong desire for God’s word that is being encouraged here.
J.N.D. Kelly in his commentary on 1 Peter,
suggests that the power of the perceptual metaphor is best served by translating, ‘since you have tasted that the Lord is delicious.’ Of all the sensory metaphors, tasting is the most intimate and the only one that involves ingestion. Seeing God, hearing God, even touching God, does not carry the powerful connotations that ‘tasting’ implies – making the experience of God internal to oneself.[xiv]
Here we are encouraged to receive the life of God by taking into our lives his very nature through the word of God. God’s word is the food to our souls that brings about transformation when it is acted upon. James reminds us of this in James 1. Notice the parallelism of what James is saying and what Peter has just said to us.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.[xv]
The result is that God can then bless our lives. Notice in verse 26, James repeats the need to rein in our words. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).” So then James reminds us that loving others particularly those who are in the greatest need is the true expression of religious faith. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows, in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).” Real love is expressed in practical ways.
Both James and Peter are explaining the way of spiritual growth and maturity. We know we are spiritually growing by how we are treating other people. We become loving like our Lord, Jesus. One of the most profound aspects of God’s nature is love. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).” Just like in the physical aspect of life, we grow by ingesting food. In the spiritual arena, that food is God’s word. We feed and nurture the spiritual man by feeding our souls God’s incredible word. It produces growth, which is manifested by the way we relate to others. I love the story told of some South Sea Islanders who proudly displayed a bible to a G. I. during the Second World War.
The G. I. responded by saying, ‘We’ve outgrown that sort of thing.’ The Islander smiled back at the soldier and said, ‘It’s a good thing we haven’t. If it were not for this book, you would have been a meal by now.[xvi]
Are we ingesting God’s word? Are we developing an intimacy with God? Are we growing more loving toward others? How are we handling the disappointments of life? Do we live with a sense that all that we see is actually transitory, and the ultimate reality is what is unseen?
R. C. Sproul relates of his concern about preaching before his mentor, that he might make a theological mistake. But as he was reminded, a greater one is always present in the moments of our lives.
Coram Deo is the two-word phrase that means literally ‘before the face of God.’ the idea is that even though God’s face is not visible to us, every second of our lives is lived before His face. We cannot see Him, but He can see us. We need to cultivate a kind of God-consciousness in which we realize that everything we do is done before the face of God.[xvii]
[i] David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 65.
[ii] John 13:34-35, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Michael Green, ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 225.
[iv] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 124.
[v] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 17, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989, 89-90.
[vi] 1 Timothy 1:4-5.
[vii] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: I. V. P Academic, 1991), 57.
[viii] 1 Peter 1:23-25.
[ix] Paul J. Achtemeier, A Commentary on 1 Peter, Hermeneia-A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 142.
[x] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, Fl: Reformation Trust, 2019), 43.
[xii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 98-99.
[xiii] 1 Peter 2:2-3.
[xiv] J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude, (New York: Evanston: Harper & Row, 1969), 86; as quoted by Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 139.
[xv] James 1:19-22.
[xvi] Michael Green, ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 29.
[xvii] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, 33.