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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
 www.smithvillecanrc.ca
 
Preached At:Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
 Yarrow, BC
 yarrow.canrc.org
 
Title:The Reborn Love eachother Earnestly
Text:1 Peter 1:22-2:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2009-10-04
Added:2009-12-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 93:1,4    

Ps 14:5

Ps 34:3,4,5

Ps 16:1,5

Ps 119:37,38

1 Peter 1:22-2:3

John 13:1-17

1 Peter 1:22b

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

We all find ourselves repeatedly confronted with this pressing question: how is a Christian to live in this world?  It’s not a new question, for it’s precisely this one that prompted Peter to put pen to paper and write his first letter.

In the last number of weeks, we have been following Peter’s answer as he developed it through his first chapter.  As they live in the ups and downs of this broken world, Peter would have his readers delight in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3) because of the rebirth He has granted and the wonderful redemption that follows.  That delight in turn should prompt us to set our hope on the grace that will come when Christ returns, the day we’ll receive the inheritance God has set aside for us (1:13).  This delight in our God prompts a lifestyle, one characterized by fear of God, and that’s to say that we have so much respect for Him who has given us so much in Jesus Christ that we dare not offend Him in any way – and that, of course, is something people around us see.  This God-centred focus of Christians’ lives actually makes the people around us think we’re odd, aliens from another planet, and so they consider Christians ‘strangers’ – and they’re correct, for we’re passing the time here as we await the New Jerusalem.

This focus on the Lord and the inheritance He’s prepared for us raises another question.  It’s this: how shall Christians relate to other people?  It’s fine to be focused on God and the coming glory, but does that mean that Christian living in this world are so many individuals standing shoulder to shoulder with their focus on God, and so never paying attention to each other?  Is that how Christians are to live in this world?  Peter addresses this question next, and gives the answer in our text: “love one another deeply, from the heart.”

I summarise the sermon with this theme:

PETER INSTRUCTS THE REBORN TO LOVE EACH OTHER EARNESTLY.

1.       Why the love is possible,

2.       What this love looks like,

3.       How this love grows.

1.  Why the Love is possible.

Peter’s instruction in our text to “love one another” did not come from nowhere.  Peter was present when the Lord Jesus Christ on the day before His arrest and crucifixion had taken off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water into a basin, and begun to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13:1ff).  Peter had protested Jesus’ action vehemently, but Jesus had insisted on this washing.  His action was, of course, an illustration of what He was about to do for His own through His coming sacrifice on the cross.  This was love, and this was the love that Jesus’ disciples were henceforth to show to each other (John 13:15).  This instruction is well-known to us, even as it was to Peter.

In point of fact we do not find such love for each other an easy thing to do.  Giving of self so completely that we’ll wash the others’ feet seems so over-the-top; we’d prefer to tone it down a bit.  Similarly, we find it a bit awkward to be on the receiving end of such love; we’d prefer to give than to receive.  Both those points demonstrate that we have our struggles with putting into practice the sincere love for one another that Peter commands.

It’s encouraging, then, to note that Peter’s command in our text is surrounded by an explanation of why this love is possible.  He doesn’t simply say: Christ loved you, and so you need to love the other – and now get to it.  The Lord is more pastoral than that, for He knows our struggles to give and receive the kind of love Christ commanded in John 13.  So Peter in our passage details why love is possible in the first place.  It’s all got to do with the mighty work God has already done in their hearts.

Consider the words of vs 23: “for you have been born again.”  It’s a phrase we recognize from Peter’s words in 1:3, and brings up again the picture of the womb from which one has been delivered.  The womb: it’s a confined space, a small world, very comfortable in its own way.  The child inside the womb is not aware that there’s a bigger world outside of the womb.  But once a child is born, he slowly but surely discovers that the world is so much bigger than the womb, learns that there’s far more to reality than the narrow confines of the womb, that there’s much more opportunity than he could earlier have imagined.  Outside the womb there’s room to drink, space to crawl, opportunity to learn to run, to explore and discover.  That, we’ve learned in previous sermons, is the picture to which Peter refers as he describes what has happened to the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.  These people have been born not just once, but they’ve been born again; they were not just born from their mothers’ wombs to enter this physical world, but they were born spiritually through the gracious and mighty working of God so they could know the wonderful blessings that result from Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  While they were spiritually unborn they were dead in sin, and one dead in sin does not wish to take God seriously; his view of reality is limited to what the eye sees or the mind can analyse.  The spiritually unborn live in a small world, one with limited opportunity, one restricted by the opportunities of this broken life, and so one whose conclusion is death.  To the unborn, this life is necessarily what it’s all about, this is as good as it gets, and so you may as well make the most of it.  It’s a view of reality that leads to worldliness, living for the here and now.

But those who have been born anew have entered a bigger world, have entered a world that believes the existence of the living God, a world that’s bigger than earth and what the eye sees here, have entered a world that includes heaven and its throne.  This is a world in which sinners have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, so that these sinners are children of the Almighty Creator and they may call Him their Father.  They’ve been born again – to be children of the God who is enthroned in heaven above!  So they’re His heirs, and He has an inheritance in heaven for them.  What perspectives that gives, and what hope in the midst of the aches and pains of the life the eye sees.  It makes the Christian so rich, so delightfully rich!

And no, this privilege that comes with being born again is not a short term thing.  When one is born, one enters a broken life, a life that eventually ends up in death.  That’s because we’re born of “perishable seed” (as vs 23 has it), and that’s seed affected by the fall into sin.  But the Christian has been “born anew”, and what generated his spiritual birth was not “perishable seed” but “imperishable” seed.  The seed that brought him forth is this time not the sperm of a sinful, earthly father but is instead a heavenly seed.  The seed that gives new birth, the seed that gives faith, is “the living and enduring word of God” (vs 23b).  That word, that heavenly seed that gives new life: it’s so different from human seed.  Vs 24, quoting from Isaiah 40: “all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”  We see with our own eyes what becomes of grass and flowers; drought and old age kill off the grass and the flowers so that they just do not last, and that observation points out to us that grass and flowers are “perishable”, more, they actually do perish.  And people are like that.  Then one can be born, be a new life, have good health and a favourable growth rate – and so the future looks promising.  But the new born baby has death within him already because he’s born of “perishable seed”; no matter what science does, the child will one day die.  That’s a reality one can never change.

But the child of God, says Peter, has been born again, and the second time he’s born of “imperishable seed”, seed not touched by the fall into sin, because this seed is “the word of God” which lives and endures (vs 23b), more, which “stands forever” (vs 25a).  That’s the word that was preached to the elect of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, and through the mighty working of this word these people have been born again, born “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).

All these Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, then, born again as they are of a heavenly seed, address the same God as ‘Father’ (vs 17) and are all in turn “obedient children” (vs 14).  But that means that those who are born again are all members of one family, are all brothers and sisters together.  And what is more natural than that brothers and sisters, members of one family, love one another?!  Especially those born of God shall invariably love one another, even as the God who gave us rebirth has loved us in Jesus Christ. 

There, congregation, you have Peter’s explanation for why this love is possible.  Christians, those born of heavenly seed, are all brothers and sisters together, children of one and the same heavenly Father.  Their heavenly identity not only makes love for each other necessary, but also makes love for each other possible. 

 

That this love is possible for the reborn child of God is drawn out further by what Peter says in vs 22.  He reminds his readers that they “have purified [them]selves by obeying the truth.”  The term translated for us as ‘purified’ is the word for ‘holy’, and the point is that the elect people Peter is addressing have sanctified themselves, have made themselves holy.  This was the command of vs 15: “be holy in all you do” because God is holy.  Well, Peter now says, you have been made holy, thanks to your being born again.   Since you are holy by the renewing work of God, since you are children of the heavenly Father, born of imperishable seed, you have within you what it takes to love one another.  That’s the mighty and effective work of the Holy Spirit within you.  OK then, since He has worked so mightily in you so that you are purified, are sanctified, be what you are – and that’s to say, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.”

Should Peter’s readers, then, conclude that the command to love one another is pie-in-the-sky stuff, an unreachable goal for sinners living in this broken life?  Not so!  Peter’s readers are to know that “the living and enduring word of God” that caused their rebirth is powerful to change them, more, this mighty word has changed them.  They can now love one another, and that’s why they must love one another.  The word of our text is not a wish, is not a preference either, but is a command – and it’s a realistic command because of what the Lord has done for them in the rebirth He’s granted from heaven.

That in turn is why, congregation, there both can be love in our congregation and must be love in the congregation.  More, that is why there is love in the congregation and that love must keep on growing.  But before we get to the growth in love, we need to consider another question.  What does this love Peter’s Christians can bring forth actually look like?  It’s our second point:

2.  What does this love look like.

Peter addresses this point in the opening part of 2:1.  For Peter explains what the result of being born anew might be.  Says our translation, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”  We understand: these terms are the opposite of love.  The term ‘malice’ catches the notion of evil, any kind of evil.  ‘Deceit’ is treachery, craftiness, trickery.  It’s an attitude and a form of conduct that undermines trust and good relations.  Peter allows no place for ‘hypocrisy’, for pretending to be friendly and reliable when in fact you’re not; hypocrisy is simply not honest, not straight forward.  He condemns ‘envy’, being jealous of what the other has, for envy has a way of undermining your appreciation of the other and sets you up for trying to outdo the other.  Finally, the apostle allows no place for any form of ‘slander’, and the term he uses catches any form of talking another down.  That, of course, is what you do when you want to make yourself look better.  All of these –straight out evil that hurts the other, deceit that tricks the other to his disadvantage (and your own advantage), hypocrisy that belies inner dishonesty for personal gain, envy that sows seed of hate, down talking the other to make yourself look better– all of these characterize the unbeliever, the spiritually unborn of this world. 

The reborn, though, give no place for such conduct.  They’ve been born of heavenly seed, and there is no malice with God, and no deceit, no hypocrisy, no envy and evil talking.  God is the opposite of that, for God is love – so much so that He gave up His only Son for our sins.

What, then, does love look like?  Why, that’s what it looks like.  The spiritually unborn of this world illustrate daily in their conduct what malice is, what deceit looks like, what hypocrisy is, what envy is, what talking each other down sounds like.  The pubs and the publications of Peter’s day had the same flavour as the pubs and the publications of our day have, and in the court cases of Peter’s day and in the conversations one could overhear in those long-ago halls of power one heard the same malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander as we hear in the courts and parliaments of our land.  For that’s the way of this fallen, sin-filled world.

But the way of love looks so different.  The way our translation renders 2:1, Peter wants his readers still to make a point of ridding themselves of all malice and deceit – as if it’s something that still needs to be done.  (And that’s indeed true, as numerous other passages of Scripture make clear.)  But the Greek doesn’t say that Peter would have his readers still to rid themselves of all evil, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and down-talking.  Peter’s emphasis lies not of what must yet be done; the way the Greek is put together makes clear that Peter would have his readers know that they have already put away all malice and deceit.  Here’s again the imagery of birth.  One is either not yet born or already born; the process of travelling between the womb and the outside world does not take a life time.  Well now, these Christians have been born anew, and that’s to say that they are no longer what they used to be; they’ve been so changed by their new birth that they are able to love.  So: evil isn’t part of their life anymore, and neither is treachery to the neighbour, nor being double-tongued in what you say, nor envy of what the Lord has given to another, nor talking the other down.  The verb translated as ‘rid yourselves’ is the same verb that gets used for taking your coat off.  That’s the effect, says Peter, of being born again of heavenly seed; you have taken off –not your coat– but you’ve taken off the malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander that characterises the spiritually unborn.  With these evil characteristics gone, you can, you must, you do love one another.  That love, free as it is of malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander, sticks out in this world as different, even as odd – and those who show that love are strangers to this world.

I mentioned that the way the Greek is put together, Peter wants his readers to know that they have already rid themselves of all sorts of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander.  We’re not to conclude from that that Peter thinks his readers have already been made perfect.  The point is that his readers have been born again from a heavenly seed, and in this bigger world one is alive, has really and truly entered a new phase of living that is distinctly different from life in the womb.  That new way of living is obvious to everyone; a child outside the womb is no longer curled in a foetal position and is no longer dependent on the umbilical cord.  That’s obvious.  So it is too with the attitudes of the sinner reborn through the imperishable seed of the word.  That person doesn’t think in terms of evil to the other, but loves the other.  That person doesn’t practice deceit to the other, but loves the other.  That person isn’t hypocritical in attitude to the other, but loves the other.  That person doesn’t envy what God has given another, but loves the other.  That person doesn’t talk the other down, but loves the other.  In contrast with the practices of the spiritually unborn of the world, the child of God is obviously different, he sticks out because of the mighty work God has done in him.  No, that work is not perfect, as if he never sins anymore.  But that change is radical and obvious, and it’s a change Peter can describe as complete; you have already rid yourself of malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander, and anybody who sees a Christian can see it’s so.

This is a point, my brothers and sisters, that we need to incorporate better into our thinking.  It seems to me that we too quickly think in terms of not yet being perfected and so there’s place for not being too different from the world around us – ‘cuz we’re sinners still’, we say.  Though it’s certainly true that we are not yet perfected, Peter leaves no place at all for Christians still being similar to the people of the world.  Reborn is reborn, and so there’s zero place for evil, for treachery, for talking out of two sides of your mouth, no place for envy or making mush of another’s reputation.  Instead, there is place only for love, simply the kind of conduct and attitude to another that Jesus Christ displayed in His self-emptying for the other’s benefit.  That sort of love on the part of the reborn sticks out in this world, is notably and obviously different.  It’s inevitable, it must be there, and if it’s not it’s because you’re not born again after all.  It’s something we need to insist on in relation to ourselves, our families, our friends, our congregation. 

That leaves the third matter Peter brings up,

3.  How this love grows.

 The love that characterises those born through heavenly seed has a distinct and obvious look – but it is not automatically mature, let alone perfect.  In keeping with Peter’s analogy of rebirth, this is something we can relate to very well.  A newborn child still needs to grow yet so very much before he reaches maturity.  True, he’s come a long way already; the change from being in the womb to life outside the womb is profound.  But birth doesn’t mean maturity.  Maturity requires time, effort, growth.  The first thing the newborn needs to do to set himself on the road to maturity is to drink, is to crave milk.

That’s equally true, says the apostle, in relation to the spiritually reborn.  They’re born anew of heavenly seed through the mighty working of the word of God, but the fact that they’re born anew doesn’t mean that they’re mature; they need to grow, and that growth happens through craving milk.  Yet the milk that’s needed is not the milk of a physical mother, but, in keeping with the analogy, it’s the pure milk of the word of God.  By drinking in that milk, as it comes through the preaching and through Bible study, one grows to become an adult in God’s salvation.

It’s a picture we understand well.  Once a baby has tasted milk, it wants more, more, several times a day, day after day.  It’s the stuff of growth, something a parent is happy to see – and alarmed if the appetite isn’t there.  Well, says Peter, “you have tasted that the Lord is good,” is it not??  Does that taste –like the taste of milk to an infant– not awaken more appetite, more hunger to drink?  If in fact you have tasted that the Lord is good, crave the word more and more.  That’s inevitable for the newborn; it’s the stuff of growth!  You, then, would grow in the Lord, would become ever more mature in what God’s service is all about, in what love for your brothers and sisters looks like?  There’s an obvious way to grow, and that’s to make sure you have an appetite, a craving for the word.

Parents can be frustrated when their newborn doesn’t have the appetite it needs, and every parent in her time has told their Johnny how important eating is; “C’mon, baby, drink, otherwise you won’t grow.”  But we all know too that giving this instruction is a waste of time; baby Johnny doesn’t yet understand.  Peter, though, takes for granted that his readers do understand what a command is.  For he tells them plainly in vs 2 that they must crave.  It’s a command, without options; they must develop an appetite, a craving for the word.  That, brothers and sisters, is the responsibility of those spiritually reborn, your responsibility and mine.  To grow so that we love the way the Lord wants us to love requires that we make sure we have good appetites.  To want the Word is our duty.

 

How shall a Christian live in this world?  He shall love the other.  That love shall stick out in this world as different, as odd, for it’s a love that comes from heaven.  In a world of little love, there’s a temptation for the Christian to skimp on his love for the other too.  But it will not do.  Christian love is sincere, is from the heart.  By the mighty work of God, Christians are born anew so that they are able to love, and that’s why there’s love in the midst of this congregation and in our families.  But this love needs ever to grow, and that growth requires craving for spiritual milk.

There, beloved, is the mighty work of God in your life as you await the coming of Jesus Christ.  And there is the responsibility that follows from what God has already done in your life.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. C. Bouwman

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