Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent in 1 Peter, Part 3 (1:22-25)




We are in Advent Season, and it might seem strange that we are spending this time expositing through 1 Peter.  However, there are both explicit and implicit connections between this chapter and this season we are in.  The explicit connection is found in 1 Peter 1:20, which reads, “He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifest in the last time for the sake of you.”  The way in which he was manifest was through his incarnation and earthly ministry that culminated in his death, burial, and resurrection.  The implicit connection is the fact that everything in this chapter hinges on the hope of the coming grace, which is ultimately tied to the truths we celebrate during Advent and at Christmas.


Now we are thankful that God has acted in history to redeem us.  Indeed, this is one of the main features of the Christian religion that sets it apart from other religions.  Ultimately, our religion is not just another manmade philosophy but a hope based upon what God has done on earth for us in the person of his Son.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” for which we thank God.  However, he did not just come and then leave us to interpret the meaning of his life and death.  We should also thank God for that.  We should be thankful that God himself through the apostles has interpreted these events for us.  He has done so through the gospel, the good news that communicates the divine intention behind the person and work of the Son of God.


It is extremely important for us to grasp the seriousness of this, because a lot of people have gone wrong through the years by failing to let Scripture interpret the events of redemptive history for them.  They will talk loudly about how God has spoken in history in acts and events but downplay the place of the written word of God.  The reason for this is obvious, of course.  They don’t like what Scripture has to say about Christ.  In the pages of Scripture, he is not the tame person they would like him to be.  Sometimes they want him to be just another good man, or even a well-intentioned prophet.  Sometimes they want him to be an ally in their own particular political cause.  What they don’t want him to be is the eternal Son of God who once for all purged our sins and apart from whom there is no eternal life.  They certainly don’t want him to be their Judge.  They don’t want him to be their King.  They don’t want to be told they must place their faith and hope in him.  They don’t want to be told that the only way we can truly believe in God, that he is for us, is through Christ (1:21).  They don’t want to surrender their self-sovereignty over to Christ.


But if we are to have any hope of really understanding what God has done for us in Christ, we must have God’s word to us to interpret it.  To talk of God’s acts in history and then to think that God has left us to figure out its meaning on our own is a bit ridiculous.  We should not think that God is so dumb as to leave us to figure it out ourselves.  He has spoken to us.  And the place where he has spoken to us in the Scriptures.  And the gospel, in particular, is what we call that aspect of the Scriptures that narrates to us and interprets for us God’s redemptive acts in history through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 


It is this that Peter refers to at the very end of this chapter: “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (25).  The phrase “good news that was preached” is actually a single verb in Greek, the verb euangelizo, from which we get the word “evangelize.”  It means to “preach good news,” and is related to the noun “euangelion,” or “good news, gospel.”  It tells us that God has done two things for us: he has given us news to interpret the redemption accomplished by Jesus, and he has arranged for it to be preached or announced to us through the apostles and those who preach the gospel so that we will believe it and embrace it.  And we need to listen to it.  We need to hear what God has to say about the meaning, the purpose, and the effects of our Lord’s atoning death followed by his victory over death.


However, the word of God not only informs us, it changes us.  Peter tells us that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . .  And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (23,25).  Now I grew up in a tradition that stresses the fact that the new birth is something that is an immediate work of God upon the heart, apart from means of any kind, including the preaching of the gospel.  What theologians in this tradition mean by “new birth” is the initial impartation of spiritual life by the Spirit of God, so that we are able to hear and respond to the preaching of the gospel in faith and repentance.  And if that’s what you mean by “new birth,” then I agree.  Only God can give life (cf. Eph. 2:1-10), and this must at least logically precede any response to the gospel.  However, Scripture does not always use terms the way systematic theologians use them, and this is just such an instance.  “New birth” here almost certainly refers to the complex of events that not only includes the initial giving of spiritual life so that we have a heart to receive the gospel, but also the conversion that inevitably follows receiving the gospel.[1]  Understood in that way, you cannot separate new birth from the word of God, which is preached in the gospel.  Peter very clearly says that we are born again by the preached word of God, the gospel.  The gospel, received by hearts made alive by the Spirit of God, has power to transform our lives like nothing else has so that’s its effect is like being born anew.  It is what Paul is referring to in 2 Cor. 3, when he writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).  How do we behold the glory of the Lord?  We do so in the gospel, which Paul calls “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 4:1-6).  Just as the word of God in the creation of the world called things into existence that did not previously exist, even so the word of God in the gospel – which is just as much the word of God – is able to create faith and repentance when accompanied by the work of the Spirit in the heart.  This is why the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16), not because it tells us how to save ourselves, but because it creates life and salvation where before there was no life or salvation.


But it is important to see why God has chosen the gospel as the means to change us.  It changes us precisely because it is the good news about the Son of God.  It is the good news that God has come into our world to save us.  God has ordained that the word about his Son, when embraced by faith, will change us forever.  Why?  Because when we believe the gospel, we look away from ourselves and to Christ alone to receive in him what we do not have – righteousness and life.  Gospel faith does not look inward but outward.  God has ordained the gospel to have this power because it is in this way that God in Christ is seen by us to be gracious and gloriously powerful to secure our salvation.  Thus, it is by the embrace of the gospel that God is not only glorified in us through gracious justification, but is also glorified by us through personal faith.  Note that Paul in Romans 1 connects the power of the gospel with the content of the gospel: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).  Again, this is not because the gospel tells us how to save ourselves, but because it directs us to the only one who is able to save us: Jesus Christ.  The gospel is not a new law, a list of things to follow so that we save ourselves, but rather a life jacket that we grasp in order to be saved by Another.


When we trust in Jesus Christ, as he is revealed to us in the gospel, we are united to Christ and his righteousness from whom every saving blessing flows.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  It is only with him” that we receive “all things” that are necessary for life and salvation.  And we embrace him and are united to him, by faith.  This is not because faith is meritorious it itself, any more than the cup that brings the water to your mouth is what quenches your thirst.  It is because God has ordained that we receive the blessing of salvation in Christ when we cling to him by faith.


Do you want to be changed?  Do you feel powerless against the power of sinful impulses and desires?  The first step is to be born again, to be given new life.  But this life only comes to us in Christ, and Christ is only received by faith, faith in the good news which is preached to us in the gospel.


Now Peter calls our attention to new birth because it is the basis of his exhortation in verse 22 (note the connecting word “since” in verse 23).  The sequence of thought in this paragraph goes therefore like this: we hear the good news in the gospel, good news which is inextricably linked to the redemptive acts of Christ (25).  Then hearing and believing, we are born again (23-24).  This then gives us the power and the spiritual basis upon which we obey the exhortation of verse 22.


I mentioned last time that we should celebrate three advents of our Lord: his first, by which he entered into human flesh; the second, by which he will return the second time without sin unto salvation; and a third, by which he enters into our hearts and thereby connects us to the blessing of his salvation.  Peter is talking here about this personal Parousia, the new birth.  It is connected to the first coming of our Lord into this world, because the reason why he came was so that we could be saved. But we cannot be saved unless we personally receive him as Savior, and this cannot happen apart from the new birth.


This is why Charles Wesley wrote in his famous hymn:


Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

That means that the exhortation that the apostle gives in verse 22 is inextricably linked to this Advent Season.  It is also linked in the same way that the previous verses are: for all the exhortations in this book are based on the hope of the grace that is to be brought to us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (13).  And that hope is hope which is anchored in the coming of our Lord into this world to redeem us from it.  Today, I want to focus on this particular exhortation found in verse 22.  Here that apostle exhorts his readers and us: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again . . .” (22-23a).  This is a simple and straightforward exhortation to love the brethren, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  To love the brothers is something fundamental and essential if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ.

This is relevant to the current season we are in for the following reason.  We need to consider who they are who are called to worship the incarnate Christ: the peace of God is toward those with whom he is please (Luke 2:14).  And with whom is God pleased?  Is it not with those who love God and who love others?  Is it not with those who show love to “the least of these my brethren”? (Mat. 25:40).

And so I want to consider two things from this text.  First, how does Peter support this exhortation to love the brothers?  In particular, how does the word of God function in supporting Peters exhortation?  The word of God appears both in verse 22 as the truth that we obey, and in verses 23-25 as the word of God that brings new birth.  In both instances, it functions as a reason why we are to love the brethren.  The question is, how?  Second, how should this exhortation function in our lives?  How do we apply it to our lives?

How this exhortation is supported from the nature of God’s word.

So first of all, I want to begin with the connection between verses 22 and 23-25, where the word of God which gives new birth is celebrated as the foundation of our call to love each other.  It is true that new birth is essential for all the Christian life, including the duty to love our brothers and sisters in the church.  But the interesting thing here is that Peter makes much of the fact that the word of God by which we are born again is eternal and imperishable.  This point is made in both verses 23 and 24 which includes a quotation from Isaiah 40: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’”  In other words, the point seems to be that since God’s word by which we are born again is imperishable, therefore we should love our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  But how is this a ground for the exhortation?

It is instructive to compare this to other things the apostle calls imperishable.  Our future inheritance is imperishable (5), the blood of Christ is imperishable (18-19), and the word of God is imperishable (23-25).  In each instance the apostle is calling our attention to something which is far exalted above the things of this earth and the present order.  Our glorious inheritance is far exalted above any earthly possession.  The blood of Christ is infinitely more precious than silver and gold that perishes.  And the word of God is far more enduring than grass and flowers which are there for a brief moment and then vanish away.  In other words, this word not only points to the permanence of the word of God, but also its superior value in comparison to the things of this world.

Throughout the NT, flowers and grass are used as a parable for the impermanence of the present age (cf. Mt. 6:28-30; Jam. 1:8-11).  In contrast to things which are at best temporary, the word of God is “living and abiding” (23) and “remains forever” (25).  But again, the question is, what is it about this property of the word of God that provides a foundation for Peter’s appeal to love the brethren?

I think the reason verses 23-25 provide the ground for verse 22 is that the love we are called to is not some passing fad, but to relationships that will last forever.  Thus the word of God which brings new birth brings us into the family of God.  It is this family with whom we will spend eternity in the age to come.  Since the word of God which creates this relationship lasts forever, the relationship that it creates must last forever as well.  It follows that our commitment to loving the brothers and sisters in Christ must correspond to this permanence.  The obligation you have to love fellow believers is as permanent and lasting as the word of God is permanent and lasting.  I think that’s the connection.

I know that we are to love the lost.  We are to love our own family members, whether they are believers or not.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us just how broad we are to take the connotation of “neighbor.”  But the fact of the matter is that our highest obligation of love, under God, is to love those who share our love of Christ.  For it is an eternal commitment.  The question is, do we view it like that?  And do the priorities of our lives reflect that?

How this exhortation is supported from the intention of God’s word.

But verse 22 itself contains a support for the exhortation to love.  Note that the purification of the soul by obedience to the truth is “for a sincere brotherly love.”  In other words, one of the primary goals of being purified by obeying the truth is to love the brothers.  One thinks of what Paul wrote to Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).  Here again we have the word of God in the reference to truth.  It is the truth of God’s word that we obey.  God’s word not only renews us but also continually purifies us as we obey its commands.  But it is important to see that our obedience to the truth is inseparable from our love and commitment to the brothers.  We are kidding ourselves if we think that we are spiritually-minded and growing in grace if we are graceless towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And we cannot be truly committed to God’s word if we are not being shaped by God’s word to love believers. 

So that is the connection here.  The word of God which brings new life is a word whose entire tendency is to create the love of the brethren.  That’s the point of verse 22.  And since this tendency is an eternal tendency, our love to the saints ought to reflect that in an undying commitment to them.  That’s the point of verses 23-25.

Thus one of the main evidences of the new birth, of belonging to God’s family, is that we love the saints of God.  The apostle John is insistent about this in his first epistle especially.  For example, in 1 John 3:14-15, he writes, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.  Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 

It’s clear to see why this must be so.  For one, the God who regenerates us is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8); thus, if we are partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), we will also love.  Second, if we who are born again are brought to love God, then it is inevitable that we will love those who bear his image.  This, in fact, is John’s argument in 1 Jn. 5:1 (cf. Eph. 4:24; 1 Jn. 3:12,15): “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”  It is no wonder that the apostle would expostulate, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn. 4:20).

How do we apply this exhortation to our lives?

That then brings us to our second point.  How should these realities be reflected in our lives?  To properly answer this question, we need to consider more carefully what is means here by “a sincere brotherly love” and what it means to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”  And that means we need to drill down to the Biblical definition of brotherly love.

Of course, we should remind ourselves what Paul says to the Corinthians in chapter 13 in his first epistle.  This is particularly relevant here, because this was a church which, despite its unusual giftedness, was rent asunder by ugly divisions.  So Paul had to remind them that there was something far more important than their spiritual gifts they were flaunting about.  Let’s remind ourselves what Paul had to say there:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.  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.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Nothing is as important as love.  Nothing!  Now that doesn’t mean these other things aren’t important, even necessary.  But apart from love, they are useless.  I’ve been reading in Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.  It’s still shocking to me, that a church that went through not one, but two periods, of incredible revival and the power of God became so lacking in love as to unjustly send probably the greatest pastor in New England packing.  We should not think that we are below that happening to us.  Of course, I’m not concerned about you guys ejecting me from this pulpit!  But the point is that we should never take for granted the reality that we are always just one step away from becoming a church where love takes a back row seat and we become a church destined to lose its candlestick from a lack of love (cf. Rev. 2:1-7).

What kind of love are we to live out with one another?  Paul goes on (and we would do well to meditate on all these properties and ask if they are really true of us):

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (4-6a).

Another way to see if we love the brethren, is to look at all the “one another” passages in the Bible.  For if 1 Cor. 13 tells us anything, it is that a loving person is someone committed to the true happiness of their brother or sister in Christ.  So what does the NT tell us about “one another”?  It tells us to prefer one another (Rom. 12:10), to receive one another (Rom. 15:7), to serve one another (Gal. 5:13), to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), to forbear with one another (Eph. 4:32), to forgive one another (Col. 3:13), admonish one another (Col. 3:16), to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18), to edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11), to consider one another (Heb. 10:24), and to exhort one another (Heb. 10:25; 3:18).

This of course means a commitment both to the spiritual and physical well-being of the saints (1 Cor. 13:6 with 3 John 4).

Now I think it is important to note that Peter is very interested here in how we exhibit this love: we are to do so sincerely and earnestly.  The exhortation to sincerity reminds us that it is often very easy to be fake in our profession of love to the brothers.  It is not enough simply to profess that we love the brothers.  It has to be backed up with the love of our hearts and the actions of our hands.  That can be very difficult sometimes, but let us remember that the basis of this command is the imperishable word of God that powerfully works in our hearts to create conformity to Christ.  We have no excuse to settle for anything less; indeed, we must not.  For an insincere love is no love at all.  Sincerity is essential because if we are not, then our love will not last very long.  A. W. Pink once said, “False love is glad of any specious excuse for the throwing off the garb that sits so loosely and uncomfortably upon it.”  So let us be sincere.

Second, we are to love the saints earnestly.  The apostle in fact comes back to this in 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  Our love is not to be fake, neither is it to be half-hearted. Peter’s reason points to the fact that we are sinners still; redeemed sinners, sanctified sinners, but sinners still.  And because of that, we are going to sin against each other.  Now I don’t think that covering sins here means that we ignore them.  But even when sins are dealt with, unless we are earnest in our love, it is so easy to let bitterness invade our hearts and as a result shut the brother or sister who sinned against us out.  We cannot let that happen.  If that is happening in your heart, it is because you are simply not obeying this simple exhortation.

If you tell me you cannot obey it, I have one word for you: if that is true, then you are not born again.  It’s as simple as that.

So let us love the brethren.  As it is put simply and succinctly in Heb. 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.”  Don’t let it stop.  Love is the thread that is intertwined throughout the entire fabric of the Christian ethic. It falls apart without it. The apostle Paul ends his first epistle to the Corinthians with the words, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).  And as we remember and celebrate our Lord’s coming into this world, and remember the love that he has for us, let us also remember that that love is meant to be replicated, first and foremost in the church.  Our Christmas celebrations are hypocritical feasts if our hearts are not decked with love towards the saint.  Let it be so in our church, Amen.





[1] John Gill, whose views are representative for many in this tradition, citing 1 Pet. 1:23, writes that, “The instrumental cause of regeneration, if it may be so called, are the word of God, and the ministers of it. . . .”  He goes on to differentiate, however, between the initial implantation of spiritual life and its manifestation in conversion: “. . . and now as God made no use of any instrument in the first and old creation, so neither does it seem so agreeable that he should use any in the new creation: wherefore this is rather to be understood of the exertion of the principle of grace, and the drawing it forth into act and exercise; which is excited and encouraged by the ministry of the word, by which it appears that a man is born again.”  From his Body of Divinity, Book VI, Chapter XI.

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