For me, 1 Peter 1:22 may be one of the most difficult commands not only in this letter, but in the entirety of Scripture. Here's what Peter says: "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart."(ESV)
That's a lot to unpack regarding love, but let me first give you some quick context. Peter is writing to believers who are suffering. Life isn't easy as an exile (v.1 ), and this audience is experiencing things that many Western Christians wouldn't be able to comprehend.
It would be tempting for Peter to simply say, "Hang in there" or "Keep your head high," but rather, Peter is giving them marching orders. His letter is filled with commands that challenge their standard of righteous conduct.
For example: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" (vv. 14-16).
It's in this context that Peter calls the "elect exiles" to love one another.
THE STRUGGLE TO LOVE
I don't know about you, but I struggle to love others on my best day. Even when I feel closest to the Lord and when things are going my way, I somehow find a way to fall short in a relationship where I'm called to love another person. It may be with my wife, my kids, a co-worker, a fellow believer, or a lost neighbor.
But then, if you add in suffering ... do I even need to go there? If I'm having a rough day, where the pressures of life in a fallen world are knocking down my door, or if my body is experiencing its brokenness, the struggle to love becomes much greater.
Let me make a brief theological annotation: suffering does not produce sin; suffering exposes sin. You can't blame your suffering for producing sinful responses; rather, the external suffering simply revealed the internal sin that might have been temporarily dormant in your heart.
This is Peter's message to the church: in even the darkest, most difficult of days, God still calls you to love others.
Let's break it down. There are four key characteristics to love that Peter lists:
1. SINCERE LOVE
Christians and non-Christians alike are great at expressing what I call "cultural niceness" - like superficial greetings. Have you ever said, "Hi, how are you?" Or "So great to see you!" when you actually don't care about how the other person is feeling and you'd rather avoid that interaction? I'm guilty of that.
This love that Peter is describing - a sincere love - comes from a genuine heart, a heart that recognizes how much we've been loved by God and that now wants to splash that vertical love horizontally upon others.
Are you faking love in any of your relationships?
2. BROTHERLY LOVE
I live in Philadelphia - "The City of Brotherly Love" - and the word is actually used in the original. I find that ironic, since my city is typically infamous for not loving its own residents or welcoming visitors, but the word "philadelphia love" in this context means familial.
Brotherly love stands alongside another person and shares common ground. As Christians, we all have one identity: saved by grace, and now works of grace in progress. Maybe the best way to phrase it is by calling it "level-playing-field love."
It saddens my soul to look across the church and see how little brotherly love exists. In its place is self-righteousness and "holier than thou" attitudes. I wish I could say I wasn't part of that problem, but I am.
3. EARNEST LOVE
The love of God is zealous, actively looking for ways to serve. Instead of waiting for opportunities to drop into our lap, we should earnestly seek out those opportunities or create them ourselves.
Let me give you a really simple and practical way to express this earnesty. Don't wait for your church to request babysitting volunteers for its next event. Instead, find a family in the church with young kids. Buy the parents a gift voucher for dinner, and offer to babysit their children for the night. What a blessing that could be for a mom and dad!
The same earnesty should be expressed with non-Christians. Instead of waiting for the annual street clean-up, round up your family and find someone in your neighborhood who struggles to keep up with yard maintainence. Mow their lawn, pull their weeds, and bake them cookies. They might look at you funny to start, but they'll wonder what's motivating your behavior.
Our God loves actively. He pursues and enters our world. How can you earnestly and proactively incarnate the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in a situation, relationship, or location?
4. PURE LOVE
Purity and sincerity are similar when it comes to love. When you ask someone, "How are you doing?" you should be sincerely interested in what's happening in their life and where they're struggling. In the same way, pure love has no hidden interests or mixed motives.
I know my love isn't always pure. Maybe this will resonate with some of you: you haven't seen someone in a while and you don't have any interest in building a relationship, but then an opportunity arises where they could do something helpful for you. All of a sudden, you're eager to express "love" towards them, but in fact, you might only be loving yourself in that moment and using them to further your self-love.
Peter challenges us to love with a single motive: because we should want to be a part of God's good work in their life. We don't "love" others because we want something from them, or to place them in our debt for future bargaining. No, we love with purity.
AN IMPOSSIBLE CALL
I don't know about you, but when I read 1 Peter 1:22, I think it's impossible. Often times I finish typing up these Articles and think, "Do I even have the right to post this?" I hold these truths in my hands and feel so unworthy. If you were to scan my life, you'd quickly discover that Paul Tripp is such a poor example of sincere, brotherly, earnest, and pure love.
And, I would be right - this call would be impossible - if it weren't for the next verse. Check out 1 Peter 1:23 - "Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God."
You see, you never get your ability to love in this way from within yourself or from the person you're called to love. No, when God calls us to love one another, he always gives us himself.
May this Article remind you to love sincerely, in a brotherly way, with earnestness of heart, and purity of motive for the sake of God's people and for the furtherance of his Kingdom.
P.S. - ELECT EXILES
If you're interested in listening to my sermons from 1st Peter, check out the "Elect Exiles" series.
You can also subscribe to my Sermon Podcast on iTunes.