Dearest Saints at Heritage,
God has much to say to his people concerning trials, tribulations, and suffering. It is extremely profound and formative that most of the instruction given in the Bible is centered around forging godly character in the face of affliction. Considering recent world and national events, and perhaps events within many of our personal lives, I want us to look at a passage in 1 Peter. I and others have referred often to this letter in previous weeks and months. There is good reason for it. Peter wrote this letter to comfort and encourage Christians in distress through persecution and testing so that they would persevere in faith to the end, living lives that honor God. This is extremely relevant to us. This applies to us. The passage I want us to consider is 1 Peter 1:22-25.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (23) since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (24) for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, (25) but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
At first reading, this may seem a strange passage in which to find comfort and hope. However, I pray that by the time you are done reading this your faith and resolve will be bolstered. I will be examining 5 points. The first point is a command: the command to love one another. Following that, are four foundational points for this command. 1. having a purified soul; 2. obedience to the truth; 3. new birth – being born again; and 4. the Word of God as the means God uses to effect the new birth.
First things first, Peter was calling his audience to love one another earnestly.
Verse 22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…”
The theme of this paragraph is the exhortation to love. Note that we see here that the command believers are given doesn’t come to them in a vacuum. It flows directly from the gospel. This is important to keep in focus, and we will be looking at those foundations for loving others as we go along. Here, we should see how important love is to the Christian life. It is interesting and significant that these suffering Christians are called to love. What is your first response to suffering? Is it to isolate yourself and wonder why something is happening to you? Is it to lash out at others? These are ways the flesh handles suffering. This call to love is a supernatural call, as we will see. Whether we are the one suffering, or comforting someone in their suffering, we are to love. This love is to be a “sincere brotherly love.” The Greek word translated “sincere” means without hypocrisy, real, not pretend. The Apostle Paul wrote similarly of this type of love. Romans 12:9-10 says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Genuine brotherly affection is called for here. In 1 Timothy 1:5, he connects love with “sincere faith,” “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” So true, genuine, sincere faith will produce true, genuine, sincere love.
This love Peter calls his readers to is phileo love. Phileo love flows out of a common spiritual life. Love that is manifest in kindness, goodwill, and benevolence. Peter was commanding his audience to love like this. This genuine love is sometimes difficult, isn’t it? It is love that gives without expectation of return. It leaves us open to be vulnerable. It may be required at inconvenient times. Therefore, we often hold back in this love for each other. We tend to keep people at arm’s length from us to avoid being hurt and inconvenienced. But Peter is saying, according to one preacher, that when we come to faith in Christ, we begin to “take the risk of learning to love one another really deeply, truly, and be known and know one another.” This is love that is straightforward and true.
Another thing Peter says about this love is that it is to be earnest. They were to love each other earnestly. That is, they were to be diligent and careful in their love. This love is not an on-again/off-again kind of thing. From other passages and other studies, we see that love is a manifestation of true saving faith – which we will explore as we look at the four foundations of this sincere brotherly love. Peter is saying that this love should be stable, strong, unpretentious, and sincere. Doesn’t this sound like the love that Jesus loves us with? Doesn’t this sound like God’s love? God’s people are created to love with the same love that God has. Peter calls God’s exiled people to unfeigned, real love for each other – love that gives of itself for the sake of the well-being of another. We can see that this is a high calling. So, given the reality that we must open ourselves up and become vulnerable in fulfilling this command, how do we do it?
Having Purified Your Souls
The rest of verse 22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” and “from a pure heart” bracket this command to love one another. The love Christians are to manifest cannot occur in the flesh. It flows from something. It is supernatural. The notion of having purified something has its roots firmly in the Old Testament. What was in view there was a ceremonial cleansing that enabled priests to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. It had in its meaning the idea of consecration, being set apart. Numbers 8:21 represents the idea well, “And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the LORD, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them.” It has a fuller expanded meaning here in 1 Peter. There is the idea of a true transformation. This is something that has already happened. It is a past tense occurrence with ongoing results into the future. The idea is that in a moral sense, Peter’s audience had been truly reformed. Intriguingly, they are said by Peter to have purified their own souls. But how? Isn’t that an odd thing to say? This leads to our second foundation of the command.
Obedience to the Truth
One purifies their soul by obedience to the truth according to this verse. What does this mean? There is some debate among commentators as to what this phrase means. To those of us who wholeheartedly affirm the sovereignty of God in salvation, this whole thing may sound rather foreign. After all, salvation from beginning to end belongs to the Lord and we are merely beneficiaries of it. But if we follow Peter’s logic both within this passage as well as throughout the chapter so far we can see that this obedience to the truth is synonymous with “belief in and submission to the gospel.”
Believers have their souls purified when they believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We can see in Paul’s writings that he sometimes refers to it like this too. Romans 1:5, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…” or later in Romans 15:18, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed…” Paul was talking about Gentiles being joined to the household of God through the Gospel and their belief in it. The obedience was faith in Christ.
Furthermore, the Gospel itself is often designated as the truth such as in Galatians 2:5, “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Ephesians 1:13 equates the “word of truth” with the gospel explicitly, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…” Many other passages speak about the truth and the gospel like this.
So, we can readily see that as Peter commands believers to this high and holy calling of sincere love, he begins to ground it in what has already happened to them. It’s as if he says, “OK, since you have believed, your faith will produce works. The primary work is love – love for God, as we have seen earlier in verses 7 and 8 of chapter 1; and now here, love for other believers. They have been purified through faith in Christ. They have a new allegiance. And as we continue, we see there is even more behind Peter’s command to love.
Beneath the Christian’s faith in Christ is something even more preeminent – the new birth. The first half of verse 23 continues, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…” Peter commands his readers to love earnestly, based on their souls having been purified, by their obedience to the truth – their belief in the gospel. But why and how did they believe?
Underneath their faith and love is this – regeneration. God has rescued them. In fact, the picture here according to Thomas Schreiner is this, “Peter’s argument is that they should love one another because they have been begotten by God.” In other words, this is the underlying cause: they have been born anew by God, not of the perishable seed of man, but of the imperishable seed of God. Peter uses these terms often. We have seen that believers’ inheritance is imperishable (chapter 1:4) and they are redeemed with Christ’s precious blood, not with perishable things like gold or silver (chapter 1:18). Later in chapter 3:4, he says that God is pleased when women exhibit the imperishable qualities of “a gentle and quiet spirit.”
Not to be too blunt, but Peter here is comparing earthly, perishable seed of an earthly perishable father who will die, as will his eventual offspring, with the undying imperishable seed of God himself – the Word, which we will look at in a moment. For now, this regeneration, this being born anew speaks to our former deadness. It speaks to our former inability to even believe. Paul writes well of this in Ephesians 2. Here are some select verses, Ephesians 2:1, 4 and 5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” And back to the beginning of our current letter, Peter wrote in verse 3 of God the Father, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
The Word of God
This brings us to our fourth foundational point underlying Peter’s command in this passage. What is the means God uses to cause His people to be born again? After all, Christians don’t come to faith in Christ in a vacuum. God uses means to accomplish His plans. Some see the Holy Spirit as the means used here to effect regeneration. And while this is true, nowhere in the immediate context do we see this. What we do see is the rest of our passage – the second half of verse 23 and verses 24 & 25 explaining it to us. And it is quite clear and quite stunning. Peter says that believers become believers by being born again, “through the living and abiding word of God…” (verse 23). And then we are presented with verses 24 and 25, “for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, (25) but the word of the Lord remains forever.” The living and abiding word of God! This is talking about the words of God to us in the Bible. And, as we will see shortly, it is focusing in on the good news of the gospel. The Word is living; that is, it is alive. In Hebrews 4:12, it is written of in this way, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This is in contrast with dead and inactive. The Word of God is efficient to do what God sets it out to do. In this case, it is the active agent in bringing spiritually dead people to life. The fact that the Word is also abiding means that it is imperishable, incorruptible. When we look at the Bible, God’s very words to us, we should be confident that it is what it says it is. And millions, perhaps billions, of people throughout human history have come to saving faith in Christ, have been born again, by the hearing of the word of God. After all, according to Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” God saves people through the preaching, hearing, and believing of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
To further solidify this in the minds and hearts of his audience as the new people of God, verses 24 and 25 quote Isaiah 40:6-8, which says, “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. (7) The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. (8) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” People can’t raise themselves to new life. Isaiah compares people to grass and flowers. The flowers and grass spring up through no action on their part. Humans are the same way. Furthermore, grass and flowers and humans, although wondrous and beautiful, all perish, whereas the Word of God will never perish, but carries on from generation to generation. God’s word is true, sure, certain, and faithful. You may wonder why Peter is quoting Isaiah here. I mean, isn’t it enough for him to emphasize the role of God’s word in bringing men and women to himself? Why the need to insert it here? Isaiah was writing to the nation of Israel in exile in Babylon. They needed comfort and encouragement. The entire chapter of Isaiah 40 was just that. Isaiah was proclaiming “good news” to them. It was that God would fulfill his promises and deliver them from that exile. Babylon and all the other nations around seemed strong and insurmountable, immoveable. But for God, they were like mere grass and flowers of the field. They seem permanent during the spring and summer, but all it takes is a few frosty days and nights and you would never know those flowers and grasses had been thriving. The nations were like that. And for Peter to quote this for his audience suffering trials, it would provide similar comfort, even as he is framing them as God’s people in exile among hostile people and forces. Only, their “good news” – their gospel is not only a spiritual deliverance from sin but an ultimate end-time deliverance from all suffering and death. They are being brought into an inheritance that is unfading, unending, and imperishable. Peter ends this passage with, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” This is his New Testament commentary on the Old Testament passage. Schreiner sums it up nicely, “The word of the Lord in Isaiah, which represents the promise that God will restore his people from exile and fulfill his promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1–3), is ultimately fulfilled in the gospel proclaimed to the churches in Asia Minor [to whom Peter wrote]. The new exodus, the return from exile, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel have become a reality through the gospel.” What a glorious thing!
What This Means for Us
Peter, in this passage, arrives at the beginning of how Christians are commanded to interact with each other. He has told us that we are to love one another earnestly and sincerely as we ourselves have become God’s people by believing the gospel, which we heard proclaimed through the preaching of the eternal and imperishable word of God. We believed it because our previously dead hearts were quickened to believe it through regeneration. Our hope, salvation, and future are glorious and secure and grounded in the very person of Jesus through God’s unfading Word! Furthermore, as we wait for our Lord’s return, our love for each other, which flows from genuine saving faith, will sustain and help us amid the trials we currently face and the future trials we most certainly will face. This is the great calling of God to His people here in this passage. Look for ways to love each other. Prefer your brother or sister over yourself. Let your faith manifest in the unfeigned actions of caring for the souls of your brothers and sisters in Christ with no thought of getting anything in return. After all, isn’t this what God has done for you? What a glorious hope and reason for encouragement as those who belong to another Kingdom! We are free to live, love, and serve as we proclaim the great Gospel to others that God has so graciously brought to our ears, hearts, and souls!