This outline continues a series preached in 2002. For my own edification (and hopefully yours), I’ve restudied the passage and made some improvements to the outline. This one is probably now a two-part sermon, maybe even three.
An old French proverb (14th century) says “love and a cough cannot be hid.” Certainly it’s true that ultimately, like a cough, you can’t really keep love a secret if it’s the real thing. Remember Jesus’ observation: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples …”
As Peter wrote to the suffering believers of his day, he reminded them of their foreignness in this world, their belovedness to God, their new birth, their responsibilities. He urged them to live with a healthy, sobering fear of the right things instead fearing suffering itself.
In the final verses of the portion we know as chapter 1, Peter calls believers—even suffering believers (maybe especially suffering believers)—to genuine Christian love. In the process, he reveals four truly great opportunities believers have in the area of love.
Of course, I could have called these “four duties” or “four imperatives,” and that’s still true. But it’s also true that these are opportunities. Love isn’t quite like anything else; it’s a unique blessing in human experience and certainly a unique blessing for disciples of Jesus Christ. As evidence, consider this: there is nothing else quite like the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. And very few qualities are linked to God in “God is” statements like John’s “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). And who can deny that love is woven through the gospel in a vital and essential way, as in the famous words of John 3:16?
So any biblical command to develop and live love is an invitation to participate in someting glorious, something transcdendent.
Layout (ESV, 1 Pet. 1:22-2:3)
1. Believers have the opportunity to get love right (1:22)
Peter shows us four features that Christian love includes if we’re doing it right.
Feature 1: It’s familial (φιλαδελφία… ἀλλήλων)
Two terms in 1:22 reveal who is to be loved: “love of the brethren” (ESV and others: “brotherly love”), and “love one another.” The first phrase translates the Greek philadelphia—and usually carries the idea of an affection and commitment of the sort that goes with kinship. (Pulpiteers ofen present it as inferior to the famous agape love, but there is really not much evidence for that. It just has a more familial connotation.)
The second phrase “love one another” uses agape and links to our Christian family: “one another.”
The familial quality of Christian love is more important and profound than it might seem. We’re all somewhat selective about whom we love, especially in the intense and deep way this passage describes a bit later. So on what basis do we “discriminate”? Peter says every Christian in the body should be loved just because they are brothers and sisters. They’re family. We don’t love because someone is a blessing to us, because someone is smarter, more talented, better looking, richer, or even holier.
It’s because he or she is our brother or sister in Christ. We’re linked. We’re in this together.
Feature 2: It’s genuine - “sincere” (ἀνυπόκριτος)
The KJV uses a wonderful old word here: “unfeigned.” The word has fallen out of use, but still works well in this context because the Greek here is the word for hypocrisy, but with the equivalent of “not” or “un” tacked on the front. This is unhypocritical love. “Unfeigned” also sounds a bit like “unfaked,” and that captures the idea pretty well too!
When we’re getting it right, Christian love flows from a “real” place in our values, convictions, and longings. But it’s quite often not “real” at all in the popular sense of “feels completely natural and effortless”!
Feature 3: It’s intense - “fervently”/ “earnestly” (ἐκτενῶς)
Christian love is an expression of beliefs, commitments, and values, but it’s not supposed to be cold—not at all! If you’re wired more for abstraction and analysis (like me) you find this part difficult. Christian love done right reaches the emotions. It doesn’t begin there, but it gets there.
Note the only two other places this particular word for “fervently” occurs in the NT.
- Jesus in Gethsemane - “He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood” (NKJV, Luke 22:44)
- Believers interceding - “Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (ESV, Acts 12:5)
Do a survey some time of how emotional Paul is about his love for the churches and you’ll see the point even more clearly. Christian love is not merely emotional, but it truly reaches as far as the emotions.
Feature 4: It’s deep - “from a pure heart” (ἐκ [καθαρᾶς] καρδίας)
If the point isn’t already clear, Peter makes sure we understand that Christian love is not superficial. Some translations leave “pure” out of this phrase because a few of the older manuscripts lack the word. But the evidence for the word belonging there is quite strong. In any case, the idea of being purified is clear at the beginning of 1:22.
So this is love that springs from a transformed part of our being—not from ordinary human sentiments and feelings.
2. We have the opportunity to understand why love is so important (1:22-25)
Reason 1. Our souls have been purified for this purpose (1:22a).
To see this reason, we have to look carefully at the text, break it down, then put it all together again. The key phrase is back at the beginning of the passage: “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth … love one another earnestly …”
The command to love one another has a reason attached to it: “having purified your souls.” Peter is also clear about what he means by purifying our souls: “by obdience to the truth.” This is almost certainly a reference to the gospel—“obedience” to the command to repent and believe.
Peter himself uses “obedience” language in reference to the gospel in 1 Peter 4:17.
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (ESV)
Paul uses similar language.
since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thess.1:6–8)
So the point is that believing the gospel has a built-in purpose of producing brotherly Christian love in us. The little phrase I skipped over earlier makes this even more clear:
“Having purified your souls … for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly”
Our love for one another is so important because it was part of the purpose of God in saving us in the first place.
Reason 2. We’ve been born again through the enduring word (1:23a-25).
These verses deserve a sermon of their own. But doing that risks losing sight of the connection to Christian love here. God wants us to understand that not only were we purified for purpose of brotherly love, but our new birth was of a pure and enduring quality, and this too demands that we grow in love.
The connection running through these verses is purity: we’re purified by obedience to the gospel so that we can love from a pure heart, because we’ve been born again through the “imperishable” seed of the Word of God. “Imperishable” has the idea of “not subject to the corruption of decay” (see 1 Pet. 1:4, 3:4 as well as 1 Cor. 9:25 and 15:52!). It’s another expression of the idea of purity.
As believers, we’re born again into an eternal life—and that eternal, decay-proof life requires that our affections have that pure, decay-proof quality as well. Only love fits that description.
Love never ends … faith, hope, and love abide … but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-13)
3. We have the opportunity to pursue love by subtraction (2:1)
I love that the NT so often takes a huge, profound, lofty truth and gives us boots-on-the-ground practical steps for pursuing it. Here, Peter helps us see that we can grow in love by getting rid of five incompatibilities.
He says “put away” or “lay aside”:
If we’re honest with ourselves, we easily recognize what these words mean—not really because they’re so obvious in others but because we see them up close in ourselves on a regular basis. By grace, we refrain from following the impulses a good bit of the time and move quickly away from the attitudes. But they’re constant companions.
And rejecting them has powerful results.
4. We have the opportunity to grow up (2:1-3)
These verses link the laying aside (2:1) with desiring the “pure milk” (there’s that idea of purity again!) so that we “grow thereby” (2:2).
The simple truth here is that the five “incompatibilities” we’re to reject are actually degenerate appetites. When we reject them, it’s like saying no to a big tasty bowl of ice cream when we’re hungry. Saying no to that appetite leaves a lingering hunger.
And that lingering hunger can be strengthened and shaped in wholesome and healthy directions:
like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk
I used to wonder how God could command us to “desire” or “long for” something. I mean, either you long for it or you don’t, right? It isn’t something you can just decide to do.
By rejecting lower desires, and intentionally cultivating a taste for “spiritual milk” instead, we grow up into more and more brotherly love—and other good things. People talk about “acquired tastes.” That’s exactly the idea.
We shouldn’t look at Christian love as an overwhelming burden or an impossible ideal. Rather, it’s a gracious opportunity to relate to others with a bit of the same awesome stuff God has poured out on each of us in Christ by saving us!