Yesterday I said that Peter, in 1st Peter 1:21-25, says that a church family must love one another deeply from the heart. What is this love Peter is talking about? We all know what love is, right? It’s obvious. Love is love! Well even though there is one English word for love, Peter uses two words for love here:
First is the word, philadelphia. In the Greek language that Peter wrote in, it is literally the word philadelphian, one who practices brotherly love. Peter is referencing here the love that a Christian should have for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, for their church family.
But notice that Peter tacks on another word to this. He adds the word “sincere,” and thus he is talking about brotherly love that is genuine, lacking in any pretense or show. It is real. This is the love that those Christians had for one another, flowing from their obedience. They had real brotherly love.
Peter says there is another kind of love too. This other love is called agape, and he uses the word agape in the phrase, “love one another deeply from the heart.” The word “deeply” means “unceasing or earnest.” But what is agape love? Scholars define it as “affection and high regard.” Peter is also using the imperative tense here, thus teaching the people that they must love like that. He is saying to them, add this love to the brotherly love you already have shown. And it is not just agape, but it is agape love that flows deeply from the heart.
Sounds great, right? Just love one another! No problem, right? The reality is that that kind of selfless love can be difficult. 1 Corinthians 13 is considered the love chapter in the Bible. “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, never gives up, etc”? 1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the best description of agape love anywhere. It is beautiful. It is used in weddings, because husbands and wives should love each other like that, but if you look at the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll see really quickly that the author, the Apostle Paul, was not talking about weddings or spousal love. He was talking about how people should love one another in the church family. That’s same group of people Peter refers to in 1st Peter 1:21-25. What both Peter and Paul describe is a sacrificial, selfless love. It’s beautiful, but that kind of love is not easy to give.
One author that was quoted at our week pre-sermon roundtable Bible study remarked that it is easier to love Jesus who we cannot see, than it is to love our brothers who we can see. Isn’t that ironic?
But think about it. What do we think of when we think of Jesus? His love for us, his self-giving sacrifice on our behalf, his perfection. It’s easy to love that.
On the other hand, what do we think of when we think of brothers and sisters in Christ? Some we love deeply, some are easy to love. Others in the church family are difficult, and they rub us the wrong way.
Sounds like a family to me. Families are comprised of people with differing personalities, styles, emotions, and habits. And man oh man, can we rub each other the wrong way. Same goes for the church family. Think about your church family. My guess is that there are people whom you find very difficult, people you probably don’t want to spend time with.
When I say that, it could be easy to think, “Is he talking about me? Surely not me! Everyone would want to talk with me and hang out with me! I’m likeable. I’m easy to get along with.” If you are thinking that, think again. None of us should think that everyone would find us easy to get along with. Not me, not you.
Before we can love one another deeply from the heart, we need to admit that it can be hard. But let that not be an excuse!
As Howard Snyder says,
The church today is suffering a fellowship crisis.… In a world of big, impersonal institutions, the church often looks like just another big, impersonal institution.… One seldom finds within the institutionalized church today that winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds—where there is literally the fellowship of and in the Holy Spirit.
Is Snyder right? Well, before we answer that, let’s see how Peter finishes out the chapter.
In verse 23 he says, “you have been born again of something that is not perishable, but the imperishable word of God.” Then in verses 24-25 he quotes a passage from the Old Testament that agrees with and supports what he just said in verse 23. From Isaiah 40:6-8, the quote affirms the perishability of humanity, but the imperishability of the word of God. That imperishable word of God, he says, in verse 25, is the word that was preached to them.
There you see the continuity between the OT and NT. To people who are being persecuted, to people who are uncertain about life, this is a statement of the one certainty in life, the word of God.
So let’s put it all together. What can we conclude about Peter’s teaching?
Peter envisions a transformed community of believers. Peter is saying that a church is a group of people who have heard the imperishable word of God and are reborn into a new family which is marked by loving one another deeply and radically.
Peter isn’t just making this stuff up. Jesus taught it to Peter. 30 years before Peter wrote his letter, we can read a story in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) about a time when Jesus said something that could have been interpreted as being really cold to his family. He was in a town, healing people. Preaching. Crowds were following him. Huge crowds. Everyone wanted to see this Jesus guy. In this town Jesus was at someone’s house. We’re not told which town it was or whose house it was. But the crowd was packed in the house so tight, hoping to get close to Jesus, that people couldn’t squeeze their way in anymore. Guess who shows up? Check out Matthew 12:46-50. Be forewarned, when you hear who shows up, and then what Jesus says to them, it might shock you. Go ahead, click the link and read the story.
Now how about that? You see what Jesus is saying? In Jesus’ Kingdom, your family identity is not based on genetics, not based on blood, but based on how you respond to him! There is a new family for those who have been reborn in Christ.
This command was very much in the hearts and minds of the original 12 disciples because look at how the early church started out. In Acts chapters 2:42-47, 4:32-37, and 6:1-8. I think you’ll see in these chapters how the early church took Jesus very seriously and attempted to create a new family.
What we can conclude about this is that what happens during the one hour we gather on Sundays only scratches the surface of what it means to be a church family. One Christian organization I appreciate has started using the phrase “Seize the 167!”
The 167? What do they mean? There are 168 hours in a week. Most churches gather for worship on Sundays for approximately one hour. What about the other 167? The rest of the week is where we live out our faith! What we read in these passages in Acts, and what Peter describes is a practice of loving one another as a church family in the other 167 hours of the week.
Peter has to teach these new Christians how Christians are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply. That same calling exists for us. Faith Church we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family. But we can’t do it in one hour per week. A church family that loves one another deeply will have to do so in the other 167.
Check back in tomorrow as we start to look at how we can Seize the 167 and love one another.