July 13, 2008

Love One Another Deeply: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men 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 stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 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 (1 Peter 1:22-2:3).

We can establish a connection between two of the instructions Peter gives us in this passage—love one another deeply, from the heart (1:22) and (2) crave pure spiritual milk (2:2). To fully accomplish the first, we must deeply desire the second. Let me explain.

We are a family (22)

Christians regard being born again (v. 23) as intensely personal and individual. And it is. But we also become part of a new family when we place our trust in our Savior. We have a new Father and new sisters and brothers.

And as on just about every page of the New Testament, we are reminded to love and care about each other. Peter tells us: "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers" (22). The term “Love” here is phileo, the word that was used for what we call brotherly love, that is, love that shows consideration and kindness. Peter writes that this love is to be “sincere,” meaning genuine, a love that is shown openly, a brotherly love that is without selfish motives, an unconditional love that expects nothing in return. Brotherly love includes the golden rule, treat others as we want to be treated, and it can involve self-denial

Think of the sincere kind of love for your own brothers and sisters-usually, no matter what they have done, no matter how wayward they have strayed, you still care about them; you may put time and effort in the relationship, endure rough times and times of correction and downright anger, and rarely break away from them or disown them.

Peter tells us we are in that kind of relationship as Christian brothers and sisters. We are allowed to be angry or exasperated sometimes, but God still wants us to genuinely and sincerely love and care about each other.

Peter also tells us to “love one another deeply, from the heart.” Here, he uses another word: agape, which means to love dearly, to be fond of, and to be contented with.” Not only does he tell us to love each other, but also he tells us to “love . . . deeply”: fervently, intensely, even energetically. The adverb “deeply” indicates intensity. We find the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament indicating an intense, fervent effort. For example in Acts 12:5, Luke writes that the church was not just praying for Peter when he was imprisoned, but they were “earnestly” (same word) praying. Similarly, the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was praying to the Father that what He was about to endure be taken from Him. Luke 22 tells us an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus, and Luke writes, in verse 44, “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly (same word), and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

That's how God wants us to love each other—not just with the consideration and kindness kind of love (phileo), but as if we were immediate family: agape love with the greatest intensity possible.

Peter adds that our love for each other should be “from the heart” (22). Literally, that means "with a pure heart"; pure, clean, without any pretense, selfishness, or ulterior motive. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, a friend of mine was an energetic witness for the Christian faith. He and his wife talked to many people they encountered about their faith and encouraged them to become Christians. I noticed, however, that every few months, they changed churches, leaving the one they had been attending and joining another, and a few months later, leaving that church and joining still another. They always seemed to fit in well, joined small group ministries, and developed good friendships in all the churches they attended. But for me, a new Christian myself in the early 1980s, I was somewhat confused by this behavior, because it was in my mind kind of unusual. So I finally asked him why they were always moving to a new church. He explained they were always trying to meet new people to recruit into their multi-level marketing business. That’s not loving “with a pure heart”; that’s befriending with a self-centered purpose.

We are an imperishable family (23-25)

Peter tells us that not only do Christians constitute a family, but also that that family is imperishable. Mortal families eventually perish: “All men 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 stands forever” (verse 24, quoting Isaiah 40:6-8).

But we were born again into a family that will never perish. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will spend eternity in that relationship: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (23) . . . “And this is the word that was preached to you” (25).

Our new birth was produced through the imperishable word. Jesus is called the word, the living, breathing presence of God among us; the agent of creation, and the source of life (John 1:1-4):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

The word of God, what we call the Bible, is the record that has been left for us about who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and the life He offers to everyone who trusts in Him. Like us, the Christians scattered in the rural areas of the Roman empire could not physically look at Jesus, hear His teachings from Him personally, and ask Him questions. God chose people like Peter to tell the story and to reveal God to us. And as people read or hear the word even today, the Holy Spirit acts through the word for people to reach a point of decision and to understand their need to trust in their Savior, and, having trusted in their Savior, to understand the mysteries of God and grow progressively more mature in their faith. Note in verse 23 that the word is not something trapped in ancient history, but is living (and it produces life) and enduring (the word will never cease).

Therefore, we must act like family (2:1-3)

Peter summarizes what being part of an imperishable, deeply loving family should lead to in our personal relationships: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (2:1).

He doesn’t leave much to our interpretation! “Malice” is a very strong word. It means ill-will, a desire to injure, willingness to get revenge from an attitude of self-righteousness. I think Peter is using the word malice as a kind of overstatement. The message is to let bygones be bygones among us; as brothers and sisters, don't harbor resentments, don’t dwell on our imperfections, and do forget words and actions that may have harmed us, intentionally or unintentionally. We are called on in the strongest terms to be completely committed to the family bond, which must prevail over all potential ill-will.

In verse 1, the term “deceit” means being deceptive for a selfish purpose. Some versions translate this term as “guile,” which is a more accurate translation and is defined as being cunning to achieve a selfish or secret goal, being tricky or crafty, misleading another person so that he or she will act in a way that benefits you. At its worst, being guileful may involve crime or fraud, but it also may be as seemingly innocent as what is called puffery in the sales world. Puffery means overstating the benefits of a product, or understating or even hiding its shortcomings, to influence the customer to decide to buy it. Even in our personal relationships, being guileful involves deceit, false assurances, insincere compliments; any attempt to influence that even skirts the complete truth. Again, I think of my friend from the past, whose smooth manner disarmed people as he moved from church to church and ultimately invited them to become distributors of his products.

Peter also tells Christians to “rid yourselves of all . . . hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy is insincerity; for example, when we treat people nicely and then reveal what we really think of them by criticizing and gossiping about them when they are not present. He also tells us to “rid yourselves of all . . . envy.” That term needs little explanation. When we resent the good fortune other because we want what they have, that’s envy.

And finally, Peter tells us to “rid yourselves of all . . . slander of every kind.” Slander is speaking evil of someone else, defaming them; any communication designed to harm their reputation. The term “slander” had a broader application in the first century middle eastern context than it does in our 21st century western culture. Even gossiping about someone by stating something that is true falls into the New Testament meaning of slander. Think of slander as any gossip or talk, whether or not the facts are true, that is designed to harm someone.

Acting like family also means we work on deeper relationships with each other (2-3)

Notice in verse 2 that we should “crave pure spiritual milk” (literally, “crave the pure milk of the word”). That craving is not for the purpose of just knowing more scripture or having a better intellectual understanding about God, but “that you may grow up in your salvation.”

In other words, we should crave spiritual growth so we will become progressively more mature in understanding and applying the characteristics of our Savior in the way we live and the way we related to the people around us.

The context of this instruction is our relationship with other Christians as brothers and sisters. That context is the connection I mentioned earlier between the two commands in the passage we are looking at today to (1) love one another deeply, from the heart (1:22), and (2) to crave pure spiritual milk (2:2). Although we find in other passages that milk is used as a metaphor for teachings suitable for immature or worldly Christians (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Corinthians 3:1), Peter is not using it in that way here. Rather, Peter sees the spiritual milk metaphor as the continual maturing which all Christians need in order to nurture their spiritual life in Christ and their relationships with each other.

(Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also compare the English rendering with the Greek New Testament. For those not fluent in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance in revealing the original nuances of meaning of words and grammatical structure. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to the Strong's for concise definitions of the original terms. The most helpful Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are extremely accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and are invaluable in providing the accurate scriptural backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines derived from the literal view of Scripture. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)

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