“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…”
1 Peter 1:22 (ESV)
If someone were to ask us how our walk with God is going, we would be likely to analyze a short list of particular sins we have avoided. The problem with this is that the obedience we are called to is not chiefly about the prohibitions. To summarize the Law, the Lord Jesus gave two positive commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37–39). The negative imperatives of the Law flow out of these positive imperatives, not the other way around. In this key section of the letter, Peter reissues the central imperative of the Christian life: love. According to 1 Peter 1:22, this is the end for which we were saved.
Notice very carefully the order of Peter’s thoughts here. Notice his starting point. Peter, having reminded us of the greatness of our salvation seen in the quality of the price paid for our ransom (1:18–21), describes the starting point of his command as, “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” Evangelical obedience has a lot to do with your starting point. You are not attempting to purify yourself by loving others. That’s getting it backwards. You have been purified by your “obedience to the truth.” The obedience referenced here is the response to the command given to all men to repent and believe in the truth, the gospel (Compare the way Paul speaks of obedience in Romans, especially Romans 6:17–18.) Now that we have this starting point, now that, in Peter’s language, we have been purified from the passions of our former ignorance (e.g., our pride, our self-centeredness, our anger, our envy, our slander), there is one and only one thing to give ourselves to. It is the very thing for which we were saved: love.
While Matthew 22 mentioned above calls us to love others in general, the instruction here is specifically aimed at love in the context of the local church, and the love we display in that setting is brotherly love. That is, we are called to the kind of love usually reserved for blood brothers and sisters. Peter is calling them here to both affection and appropriate action towards their Christian brothers and sisters. Let us observe then the key dimensions of the command: its breadth and depth and length.
We are called to “love one another,” so the expression of love should be as broad as the diversity displayed in the church. It is expected and natural that we will display love for those who are like us in the church, but we cannot fulfill this command unless we include those who are not like us. So make use of the membership roll, commit to love all your brothers and sisters, and resolve to extend to them the belongingness usually reserved for blood relations. Your very salvation is for the purpose of this kind of love.
If the breadth of our love is described by “one another,” then its depth is measured by “sincerity.” The purity of our action is of foremost importance to Peter. And here he calls for love that is without pretense, untainted by hypocrisy; this is not just skin deep. It is easy to toss around words like “brother and sister” while our hearts harbor attitudes towards each other that contradict our lips. We can love with purity and sincerity like this, for our hearts have already been purified by the gospel. We strive for sincerity of love by guarding against those old passions that keep creeping up. Envy, pride, jealousy, self-centeredness are never too far behind, but the gospel that purified us in the past can continue to purify us today as we seek to love the church sincerely.
Lastly, we are to love one another earnestly. To what lengths will we go for our brothers and sisters? Here we are called not only to eagerness and fervency but also to constancy. You and I can love some of the people some of the time without having to put our hope in the grace that is being brought to us. But the command that we are being called to obey here involves earnestly loving. This demands dependence on something greater than our niceness. Emmanuel Baptist, we were saved to live a life of love. God has guaranteed us glory tomorrow that should inform our hesitation to sacrifice comfort, recognition, rest, or any other thing that would hinder our pursuit of love for others. So this week, think upon your great salvation and thoughtfully love someone on the membership roll, without demanding a relationship with them other than belonging to the same household of faith. Your holy Father requires it of you.
- What sins have kept you from loving others this last week? Who have you denied that love to? Thank God that He saved you from that pattern of life and ask him to purify your heart from your sins this week.
- How can you show brotherly love to specific members in the church? Invite a friend in the church to help you extend that love to others this week.
- Pray that our congregation would grow in displaying sincere and earnest brotherly love to one another.