The Seed of the Word and the Fruit of Love
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. For, "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever." And this is the word which was preached to you.
After a four-Sunday interlude we are back to this great book of 1 Peter. Our focus today is on 1:22–25. At the center of this text is the command to "fervently love one another from the heart." The most important thing we will see in this text is that the power to love comes through hoping in God.
To really feel the force of this truth about hope and love, we need to step back and get the big picture of chapter 1, and then look closely at what Peter is saying in verses 22–25.
A Chapter All About Hope
Chapter 1 is overwhelmingly about hope. Verse 3 sounds the note: "God caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Being born again by the power of God means becoming a person with living hope. I would go so far as to say, in view of what we will see, that the essence of the newness of the new person who comes into being at the new birth is that the new-born person relentlessly hopes in what God can do rather than what man can do. And what verse 3 says is that God raised Jesus from the dead to give us that kind of hope. Death is now no terror. The worst enemy of our future is destroyed.
In verse 4 Peter underlines the certainty and greatness of our future by telling us that as God's newborn children we have an inheritance with four hope-filled characteristics; it is "imperishable," "undefiled," "unfading," and "reserved" in heaven. The future God has laid up for us will be there. It will not perish or spoil or fade. It is "guarded" by God.
Verse 5 strengthens our hope by telling us that not only is our inheritance kept for us, but we are kept for our inheritance: we are "protected by the power of God through faith." God sees to it, with omnipotent power, that our faith does not fail.
He confirms this in verse 7 by contrasting gold which perishes with our faith which does not. If gold is refined by fire even though it's perishable, how much more will something as valuable as your faith be refined by suffering—but it is not perishable. That's the note of hope. It will redound to praise and glory and honor at the coming of Christ.
Verse 9 presses for more hope by telling us again (like v. 5) that the outcome of our faith will be the salvation of our souls. We will not perish. We will be saved, forever.
Then verses 10–12 are meant to increase our anticipation for this future by telling us that the great prophets of old wanted to see the hope-filled truth we see and couldn't see it, and even angels love to look into the gospel of our salvation.
Then, after 12 verses of exultation in what God has done to give us hope, Peter gives us four commands in the rest of this chapter. The first one is in verse 13, "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." In other words, you have seen all these reasons to hope; therefore HOPE! And hope fully! Hope in the grace of God.
The second command comes in verse 15, "Like the One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior." The first command is, "Be hopeful in God." And the second command is, "Be holy like God." If you really hope in God, you can't be indifferent to whether you love what God loves—that is, become holy as he is holy (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:12f.).
The third command is a jarring one. But it really is rooted in hope. Verse 17b: "Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth." Fear? How does that relate to hope? But look at the basis of this fear in verse 18: conduct yourselves in fear, "knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold". . . but (as v. 19 says) with the precious blood of Christ. Odd logic: Fear! because the ransom paid to rescue you is not perishable. It's the permanent and precious blood of Christ. The point is this: don't treat the ransom paid for your soul with contempt. It's a fearful thing to treat the blood-ransom of God with contempt. That is, it is fearful to act as if the future God is making for us is not sure and satisfying. It's a fearful thing not to hope in God. So as odd as it sounds, the point of the third command is: fear not hoping in God.
Finally, we come to the fourth command in today's text, verse 22b: "Fervently love one another from the heart." What I said at the beginning is that the most important thing we will see in this text is that the power to love comes through hoping in God. And what we have seen is that virtually everything in chapter 1 relates to hope. Peter is exulting in all that God has done and is doing to make the future of his people infinitely and infallibly happy. And he is describing how people live who are captured by this truth and really believe it.
So its not surprising then that this fourth command—to love each other—is sandwiched between two reasons to love that are both descriptions of the birth of hope. Love is encased in hope. It gets its life from hope. If we are not a hope-filled people, we will not be a loving people.
Let's see this together now in verses 22–25.
The Power to Love Comes from Hoping in God
Notice that there is a reason to love given in front of the command to love (v. 22a) and there is a reason to love given behind the command to love (v. 23). Let's make sure we see this clearly.
Two Reasons to Love
Verse 22a: "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren"—there's reason number one. You've purified your souls by obeying the truth . . . THEREFORE (v. 22b) "fervently love one another from the heart."
Then comes the second reason to love. "Love one another from the heart . . . FOR (v. 23) you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God." Love one another because you've been born again by the Word of God.
A Lamp Supported by Two Pillars
So the command to love stands between two reasons to love. Picture it like a lamp in the window of the church. Supporting the lamp are two large pillars so that it doesn't fall and break and so that it is high enough for the world to see it. The lamp is the love of Christians for each other. ("Let your light so shine that men may see your good deeds.") There are two pillars holding up the lamp. One pillar is obedience to truth which purifies the soul (v. 22a)—soul-purifying obedience to the truth. The other pillar holding up the lamp of love is verse 23, new birth by the Word of God.
So if there is going to be love among us at Bethlehem (or in any church) these two things have to be our experience: we have to be born again by the Word of God, and our hearts have to be purified by obedience to the truth.
You should be asking right now, Where is the hope you said was so important in this text? You said that the power to love comes through hoping in God. Where do you see this?
Born Again by the Living and Abiding Word of God
Let's take the second pillar first, and see what it really means to be born again by the living and abiding Word of God. Look at what Peter really emphasizes in verses 23–25. He doesn't just emphasize new birth by the Word. He emphasizes something specific about that Word. And he really draws it out, even with a supporting Old Testament quote (Isaiah 40:6–8). What is it about the Word that he emphasizes?
The Point at Every Stage Is Hope
Verse 23: "For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable." Peter loves this truth: Our inheritance is not perishable (v. 4); our faith is not perishable (v. 7); our ransom is not perishable (vv. 18, 19); God's Word is not perishable (v. 23). What's the point? The point is: it lasts. It will not be proved wrong. It will stand as long as God stands. And those who stand on it will not fall—ever. The point is hope!
Keep reading in verse 23. Peter defines the imperishable seed as "the living and abiding word of God" (or makes the Word the instrument of the seed). So there's the point again. It is not only imperishable, it is living and abiding. That is, it lasts. It will not fail you. If this seed—this Word—has brought you into being by the new birth, you will stay in being. Again the point is hope.
Keep reading. He is going to say it again with Old Testament authority. Verse 24:
For, "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord abides forever." And this is the word which was preached to you.
That is as plain as he can make it. The Word of God that he is talking about is the gospel that has been preached to them—the good news that we have been reading about in this chapter—the ransom of the blood of Christ (vv. 18–19) and the resurrection of Christ (vv. 3, 21), and the keeping power of God (v. 5), and the inheritance of God. All this good news was preached to them. And the point now in verse 25 is that it is not like grass and flowers: it doesn't wither and fall; it abides forever. If this Word is your life, you live forever. The point is hope.
So here's the pillar holding up the lamp of love in the church—fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again by a seed, a Word, that is imperishable, that is living and abiding, and that is not like grass but abides forever.
The Word's Permanence
But what's the point of making such a big deal out of the Word's permanence? The point is that when you are born by someone's seed, you take on the character of that seed. It constitutes your nature. And what Peter wants us to see is that the seed that created us, that caused us to be born again, was the Word of God that is imperishable, living, abiding, and lasting forever. And therefore that is who we are. We are forever. And what is it to believe this? It is hope.
Hope Freeing Us to Love
Which means that the pillar which holds up the lamp of love is the Word-created, born-again heart of HOPE. A hope that is set free from all the grass and flowers of the world. One thing that keeps us from loving is the fear that if we pay the price of love, we will lose out on the bright things that life in this world is supposed to offer us. "All its glory like the flower of grass" (v. 24).
- If we endure wrong meekly;
- if we renounce boasting and calling attention to ourselves;
- if we spend time and energy supplying the needs of others without fretting over our own;
- if we risk making necessary reproofs that are almost surely to be interpreted as something other than love;
- if we receive reproofs without animosity and defensiveness;
- if we cover a multitude of sins and put away our list of grievances;
- if we rejoice when others prosper while we don't;
- if we bless those who curse us and do good to those who despise us . . .
if we "love each other earnestly from the heart," it will be costly and the price will be that we lose some of the cherished glory of the grass and flowers that people in this world live for. The power to overcome this fear is the power of HOPE—that the glory of this world is passing away and we who are born again through the Word of God, and hope in the Word of God, will endure forever.
Soul-Purifying Obedience to the Truth
Just a brief look at the other pillar holding up the lamp of love. Verse 22: "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren" (that's the pillar—soul-purifying obedience to the truth), therefore, fervently love one another from the heart (that's the lamp).
The truth in view here is the Word of God, the gospel of verse 23—all the hope producing truth that we have been looking at in this letter. Obedience to this truth is faith. What the gospel demands is faith. Therefore faith is obedience to the gospel. Peter confirms this in Acts 15:9 where he says that God "cleansed [the Gentiles'] hearts by faith" (cf. 1 Peter 3:1; 4:17). Here it's obedience to the truth that cleanses; there it's faith that cleanses. Therefore, obedience to the truth is probably faith. But faith is inseparable from hope. But if you have faith that the Word of God will abide forever, you are hoping in the Word as well as believing in the Word.
Therefore the pillar of verse 22a that holds up the lamp of love is soul-purifying hope in the Word of God. And what is the dirt that this hope cleans out of the heart? The answer is that hoping in God cleans out hoping in the glory of grass and flowers. Hoping in God cleanses out the futile, empty hopes of the flesh. It convinces us that if we live for the bright flowers of money and comfort and fame and sex and leisure, we will wither and die. And when this new hope cleanses out these old, futile hopes, and banks on the imperishable, living, abiding, eternal promise of God, then and only then can we love one another earnestly from the heart.
The Completed Picture
So the picture is complete: the lamp of love is held up and made possible by two pillars. One pillar is God's sovereign act—his causing us to be born again through the living and abiding Word of God. The other pillar is our response to that divine act: as newborn children of God we hear the Word of our Father and obey by putting our hope in him. And when we hope in him—that the future he plans for us is greater than all the glory the world can offer—then our hearts will be clean, and we will be free to love each other earnestly from the heart.