RPM, Volume 16, Number 8, February 16 to February 22, 2014

The Enduring Word of God

1 Peter 1:22-2:3

By D. Marion Clark

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. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

24 For,
"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord stands forever."
And this is the word that was preached to you.
2 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

We have been reflecting on the great redemption of God. Peter now turns back to commands of how we are to live. He has given three imperatives or commands so far. They are: one, to set our hope on the full salvation we are to receive when Christ returns; two, be holy; and three, fear God. The primary command among the three is to be holy. We to set our hope securely so that we will be holy; likewise, we should have a healthy fear of God for the same reason. Our passage today presents the second great command — to love one another.

Verse 22

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.

How about a grammar lesson? Verse 22 starts off with a long participial phrase. A participle is a verb that is used as an adjective. You know what an adjective is. That's the word that describes a noun. Consider the sentence, "Florida has many tourists." "Many" is an adjective describing tourists. Take another sentence. "Florida has many people visiting its attractions." "Visiting" is a particple — a verb acting like an adjective. What kind of people? People visiting. "Visiting its attractions" is a participial phrase that describes the people.

Peter starts off with a participial phrase describing his readers. They are the people who have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers. Let's break this phrase down.

It appears that what Peter has in mind with the phrase have purified yourselves is conversion, i.e. redemption applied. Jews would have understood the phrase as referring to the ritual process one goes through in order to appear before God, so to speak. John 11:55 mentions the activity: When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. The cleansing may have involved a number of activities, including sacrifices. One thing it definitely would have involved was purification with water.

My wife and I had the privilege of touring the Holy Land. One interesting part of daily life we learned about was the practice of ritual purification. There were buildings with private purification rooms, one side containing a small pool of water, in which an individual could dip his whole body as an act of purification. Let's say, for example, you became unclean by touching the body of a dead person. You would go through this purification process to become clean again. In front of the temple mount, there were hundreds of these purification rooms for worshippers to purify themselves before they entered the temple courts. (Have you ever wondered how 3,000 people could be baptized in one day at Pentecost?)

Note, how did the people purify themselves? By covering themselves with water. How is it that people become purified in Christ? By covering themselves with the blood of Christ. And how do they cover themselves? By exercising faith in Christ. This is the obeying the truth. You can read the opening line this way: "Now that you have purified yourselves through the blood of Christ by your faith in him…" Truth, in this case, is the gospel or even Jesus himself. By obeying the truth of the gospel of Christ, we experience redemption applied to us, our very souls being purified. The Greek has the word "souls" and places it first in the sentence to emphasize that a real purification, not a mere outward showing has taken place.

The next section of this long participial phrase is not difficult to understand: so that you have sincere love for your brothers. The phrase love for your brothers is actually one word, "philadelphia." It is the formation of two words — philia (love) and adelphos (brother). Philadelphia is brotherly love. "Sincere" is literally "not hypocritical" or, taking it from its secular setting, it is "not play-acting." Peter's point is that as saints, i.e. those who have been set apart or purified in Christ, the believers now possess a natural affinity for their brothers and sisters in Christ. That's the kind of love philia signifies. It is love that family or friends naturally have for one another.

What is interesting here is how Peter links purification with love. You would naturally think he would link it with holiness, and he easily could have. But he has already exhorted his readers to be holy, and it seems he now wants to give just as strong an exhortation to them to love one another. Love for each other, as with holiness, is not an extra element of the Christian life that we add as we are able. It is a natural condition of being born again into the family of God.

So now, having entered into this state of family relations through spiritual purification, Peter impresses upon his readers to love one another deeply, from the heart. Again, it is not difficult to understand what Peter is doing; he is being a parent.

"Children, can't you be nice to each other?"
"You need to play with your sister."
"You should let your little brother tag along."

You need to show the love that you have. How many times have we heard adult siblings laugh about the bad way they treated each other when children, and then add, "I wouldn't let anyone else treat him that way." They acknowledge that though they did not show it then, they really did have a sincere love for one another.

Peter is saying, "Show that love and show it with feeling." The word for love here is a different Greek term; it is the word agape, the common word for Christian love. It is a love that is intentional, active in seeking the well being of the other person. It is a love that you put your heart into. The good of your brother or sister in Christ matters to you.

Verses 23-25

So to recap verse 22, Peter exhorts his readers to love one another deeply because of the relationship they now have as God's family purified in Christ. In verse 23 he reinforces his exhortation to love by further impressing upon the people their present state. In verse 3 he spoke of the hope into which they had been born again. He refers back to this new birth, but this time not to point to their future hope, nor to the costliness of the past act of redemption as in verses 18,19, but to the enduring nature of their redeemed state.

23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
"All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord stands forever."
And this is the word that was preached to you.

What is the physical life like? You are born, you live for a period of time, and you die. A number of years go by and you are forgotten. Whether seed here is referring to what you are made of or the means of giving you life, it doesn't matter. It is perishable seed and you in your flesh will perish. Verse 24 more literally reads, "All flesh is like grass."

But what is the spiritual life like into which you have been born? The seed of new life planted in you is not perishable, nor is the means of sowing the seed — the word of God. The word of God is not like our flesh, which fades away, but instead stands forever. Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8 for special effect. And then he adds that the word spoken of in Isaiah is the word that was preached to his readers and has resulted in their new birth.

Do you follow along with what the point he is making? The word of God is the message of God that goes forth. It may go directly from God himself and create, such as at the creation of the world. It may go through the spoken words of a prophet such as Moses or Elijah. It may go through the written words of a prophet such as Isaiah. It may go through the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, who further spoke the word. It may go through Christ's apostles who preach the gospel. Whatever the case, it is God's word; it does not change; it carries out its purpose, and it does not die. From that word, all of you have been born again into an enduring life. You are not of this perishing world, but rather the imperishable kingdom of God; therefore, take each other seriously through your heartfelt love.

Verses 2:1-3

The next three verses carry the argument further. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

What do all these bad vices have in common? They involve relationships, how we treat others. To love, we must rid ourselves of malice, i.e. ill will against others. We must rid ourselves of deceiving others, of being hypocritical in our attitudes and actions, of being envious of others, and of slandering others through gossip and criticism. Peter is saying now that we have in a sense put on the clothes of Christian love we must rid ourselves of our unrighteous clothes that show malice and deceit.

But the form for "rid" is another one of those participles. The real imperative or exhortation is in the next verse: Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk. This may be the only time Scripture encourages us to be babies! Peter is still drawing from his new birth terminology. What has he been saying? You have been born again through the sowing of the Word. His point now? Feed on the Word. Crave it like newborn babies. Why do babies crave milk? That they may live and grow. Thus Peter goes on to say, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

This is that complete salvation of which we have spoken. We are saved, yes, but our full redemption is still to come. There is our growth in sanctification, which will continue until the Lord calls us home, and our glorification, which occurs when the Lord returns. Meanwhile we need the milk of God's Word to nourish us.

Then Peter adds the reminder: now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. They are not being asked to drink cod liver oil. It is the Word of God's good promises; the Word that reveals his good character and works; the Word that presents his good commands; the Word that fed us the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The milk is not mere Bible information; it is composed of these life-sustaining elements that come forth out of God's Word.


Let's review this whole section about how we are to live in 1:13-2:3. I want you to see the pattern in Peter's instructions to be holy and to love:
1:14 as obedient children
15 be holy
18 for you have been redeemed
not by perishable silver or gold but by the precious blood of Christ
19,20 Christ is a lamb without spot or blemish chosen before the creation of the world
20 but revealed for you
22 obeying the truth
love your brothers
23 for you have been born again
not of perishable seed but of the imperishable, living and enduring word of God
24-5 the word stands forever 25 and was preached to you

As those who are obedient to God, you live holy lives and love your Christian brothers and sisters. You pursue holiness and love others when you further reflect upon the greatness of your salvation — the redemption of the spotless Christ revealed for you, the new birth through the enduring Word preached to you. These different elements all work together in the Christian life. Their individual strengths are dependent on one another.

We are often guilty of departmentalizing our lives in a way not recognized by Scripture. We are guilty of isolating an element of the Christian life and exalting it over others. Take love. Scripture is quite clear about the essential role of love.

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

Even so, love does not exist alone. It exists in truth and holiness. Indeed it is only as strong as these other two elements exist with it. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth you have sincere love. Now that you have believed the truth of the gospel and have faith in Jesus Christ, now that you walking in obedience, you can have and exercise real love. Your love is as strong as your knowledge of the truth presented in God's Word. It is as genuine as your walk in holiness.

But then, to be holy you must be loving. If we measure holiness by how well we keep the commandments of God, let us remember the summary of the law:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).

We will refer to someone who shows devotion to God and lives a moral life as a godly person. Scripture makes clear that a godly person will be known by his love for his neighbor.

Both love and holiness are essential for knowing God's Word. If by his Word we know what love and holiness are, it is through living out love and holiness that we understand clearly God's Word.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).

You cannot understand what the Bible teaches about God if you do not live out the commands of God. God is holy and loving, and if you do not practice these qualities, you cannot understand God. You may know nice doctrine, but it is empty of power. Anyone who knows God will be changed by God, and that change must include love.

How do we measure a Christian? How do we measure a church? By a three-fold test: Do you uphold the truths of God's Word? Do you obey God's laws? Do you love God's people? Excelling in one and not another will not cut the test. You can't do really well in one section of the test and let those points make up for the poor section.

But I do have a comment about the love section, since that is the topic of Peter's text. Remember the illustration about older siblings laughing over their relations when they were younger? "I remember the tricks I would play on you." "I remember how I would get you in trouble."

What if we had shown heartfelt love when we were young? What if we had listened to our mothers and we had other memories? "I remember how you would cheer me up when I got down." "I remember how you would let me tag along with you and your friends."

That's what our Father is telling us. "Yes, yes, you are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and you know that you really do love each other. You would help each other if there was an emergency. But be more intentional; be more intense about loving your family. Yes, in heaven you can have a big laugh about your differences. 'I remember how we fought over whatever; how we wouldn't talk.' But, really, wouldn't it be better if you could look back to those times when you showed heartfelt love? 'I remember how you invited me to your home.' 'I remember how you took an interest in my children.' 'I remember how you…'

Well, what will it be? Before the end of this week, who is going to look back to this time and say, "I remember" about you?

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