Love One Another Deeply
1 Peter 1:22-25
October 31, 2004
I have three things on my mind that I want to talk to you about. These are really three different things, and apparently unconnected, but perhaps by the end of the message, you will see there is a common thread running through all of them.
1) The Election on Tuesday
There is a deep divide in American society and unprecedented bitterness as we approach the presidential election. John Kerry has said that this election will determine the future of our nation. Others call it the most important election in our lifetime. Without a doubt, great issues are at stake. The next president will probably appoint two and perhaps three new Supreme Court justices. The people he appoints will set the direction for our country for the next generation. Whoever is elected president must lead us in the war on terror, a war with no clear frontline against an enemy who would kill all of us if he could. Then there is the issue of abortion and the issue of gay marriage. The next president will either be pro-life or pro-abortion. He will either defend traditional marriage or give aid and comfort to those who wish to radically redefine it.
Here is my request. I want Calvary to be a 100% church. That means that everyone in our church who is eligible to vote on Tuesday will actually go and vote. If you are registered, go and vote. Do not put it off and do not make excuses. The future of America will be decided two days from now. Go and vote. I cannot tell you how to vote. But I ask you to remember the things you have been taught. Go and vote, and take your Christian convictions with you.
This week two passages have been ringing in my mind. The first is Psalm 75:6-7. In this psalm the people of God are worried because arrogant men threaten to take over the land. Here is God’s word of comfort to his fearful people: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” We believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God. He is the “invisible hand” that moves through history, bringing down one man and raising up another. Neither George Bush nor John Kerry can win on Tuesday unless God wills it so. This truth ought to save us from giving way to fear or to anger.
The second passage comes from I Timothy 2:1-3 where Paul exhorts young Timothy to pray for those in authority: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” Christians have a sacred responsibility to pray for those in authority, and for those who may be elected to positions of authority. We have a weapon from the Lord that the world does not have. God has entrusted the weapon of prayer to his people that we might use it at all times, but especially in times like these. Accordingly, we are having a concert of prayer for the election in the Dining Room at 6:00 p.m. tonight. If this is truly the most important election of our lifetime, then you should join us as we seek God together. I hope we fill the Dining Room and the Parlor to overflowing tonight.
2) Reformation Sunday
Do you know what day this is? If you say Halloween, you are right but that’s not what I’m thinking of. Halloween is the world’s holiday. I’m thinking of a day that belongs solely to the Christian church. This is Reformation Sunday. It is always celebrated on the Sunday closest to October 31, and this year it happens to fall on that very day. But why October 31? Because 487 years ago today, a hitherto-unknown Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper containing 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was a professor at the local university. You could hardly imagine a less auspicious way to begin a revolution. Luther had no idea he was igniting a movement that would change the world. He merely intended his 95 theses to lead to a public discussion about certain abuses in the Catholic Church of his day. Posting such a document was an accepted way to do that. Today you might post on an Internet discussion board or make an entry on a weblog. In the providence of God, those 95 theses shook the Catholic Church to the core, led to Luther’s excommunication, and that started the Protestant Reformation.
That’s important because Calvary is a protestant church. Today we celebrate Luther’s act of defiant courage. We agree with Luther that the Word of God stands in judgment over the traditions of the church, and where Scripture and tradition are in evident conflict, tradition must give way to Holy Scripture.
The 1998 book, 1000 Years, 1000 People, ranked the 1,000 most influential people of the last millennium. The number one “man of the millennium” was Johannes Gutenberg, father of the printing press. From his invention came forth the world of books, magazines and newspapers. The number two “man of the millennium” was Christopher Columbus who was “the agent of Western civilization.” The third name on the list was Martin Luther. Why is Luther’s act so important in the history of the world? Lutheran theologian Michael Sydow says that the Reformation was about three core issues:
1) Justification by Faith Alone. Luther called this the central teaching of the Bible. The church stands or falls depending on its faithfulness to this truth. What exactly does this doctrine mean? It means that God declares the believing sinner righteous solely on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ. The sinner is saved by faith alone, not by any good works that he may do.
2) The Priesthood of the Believer. Before the Reformation, church members depended on the priest for the sacraments that ensured their entrance into heaven. Luther argued from I Peter 2:9 that all believers are priests and can go directly to God without having to go through a human priest or pastor. Christians can read the Bible for themselves and discover what it says without going to the church for the approved interpretation.
3) The Translation of the Bible into German. We can hardly understand how monumental this was. Before the Reformation, the Bible was generally printed only in Latin, and thus available only to those with advanced training (usually only the parish priest). Luther’s German translation made the Bible available to the common man. This meant that the masses no longer had to depend on the priests to tell them what God’s Word said. They could read it for themselves.
Do you have a Bible in English?
Do you read your Bible on your own?
Do you come to God in Jesus’ name, without asking permission of the church?
Do you trust in Jesus Christ by faith alone as your Lord and Savior?
If you answer yes, then say a word of thanks to Martin Luther. Translating the Bible into the language of the people meant that the gospel was now freely available. Justification by faith alone meant that sinners could find true freedom by trusting in Jesus Christ and not in their own good works. The priesthood of the believer was based on the notion of soul liberty, personal freedom and individual rights. All these things were truly revolutionary concepts. Certainly there were many others before and after Luther who taught these concepts, but Luther towers above them all. He shines as the brightest star in the constellation of the Protestant Reformation.
Now fast-forward 250 years to a brick building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There a group of brave patriots are declaring their freedom from England. As they write, they include these stirring words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Where did these noble ideas come from? They come in part from Martin Luther. Following the Reformation, the concepts of liberty and individual freedom were developed and expanded by many other thinkers. Luther’s bold act on this very day 487 years ago paved the way for the development of democracy. And where did Luther get his ideas? From the Bible. There is a direct line that stretches from the Bible through Martin Luther to the framers of the Declaration of Independence to the privilege we have on Tuesday of casting our votes. That’s why Martin Luther was the number three “man of the millennium.” The freedom you will exercise to cast your vote is in part a Reformation freedom.
Your vote is no small thing. It’s an American right and a Christian privilege. And it’s a freedom we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. Many people around the world do not have the right to vote. A few weeks ago Afghanistan held its first national election since the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Remnants of the Taliban had warned that they would blow up polling places as an act of protest. In the town of Bamiyan, a group of Muslim women got up at 3:00 a.m. on election day, performed the ritual bathing, and said the prayers of those facing death. They walked for an hour and then stood in line waiting for the polls to open at 7:00 a.m. They decided they would risk death rather than give up their right to vote. (“Reelect Bush, Faults And All,” George Will, October 31, 2004).
So it is not a coincidence that Reformation Sunday comes just before the most important election in our lifetime. They are joined by a common thread of personal liberty and individual freedom.
3) Our Text from I Peter 1:22-25
So we come at last to our text for the morning. The first chapter of I Peter 1 contains two parts. Verses 3-12 describe the blessings of a salvation that remains secure in spite of our fiery trails. Starting in verse 13, Peter tells us three ways we should respond in light of that salvation.
Be holy (verses 13-16).
Fear God (verses 17-21).
Love one another deeply (verses 22-25).
We have already considered the first two commands. Today we’re looking at the final command. Perhaps the best way to approach this passage is to look at it as a series of twos. The text itself has two different parts:
Love one another deeply (verse 22).
The imperishable Word of God (verses 23-25).
It is not easy at first glance to determine the connection between those two subjects. Let’s take a look at verse 22 and see what it says about love: “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.” The phrase “love for your brothers” translates the Greek word philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” And this word is composed of two other Greek words: philos, meaning warm, affectionate love, especially the love of a family member, and adelphos, which means brother. But the original meaning of adelphos is “one born from the same womb.” I have three brothers—Andy, Alan and Ron. The four of us are brothers because we were all born of the same womb. This is true in the spiritual realm also. Everyone who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is my brother or my sister because we are all “born from the same womb.” That’s why Peter speaks of being “born again” by the imperishable seed of the Word of God (v. 23). Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me and I belong to them. And just as I truly owe Andy, Alan and Ron brotherly love, even so I owe an even deeper kind of affection to my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Peter offers two qualifiers that help us understand what brotherly love means in the family of God. First, our love should be sincere. The word literally means “without hypocrisy.” Love doesn’t wear a mask or put on airs. It doesn’t pretend to be something it is not. Has this ever happened to you? You happen to meet someone who clearly was not expecting to see you. They turn their head for just a second and then turn back to you with a smile pasted on their face. They turn away to put on their mask so they will appear to be glad to see you, but it is not true, and you know it and they know it. Sincere love doesn’t wear a mask. Second, our love should go the distance. The word translated “deeply” occurs only here in the New Testament. It can sometimes mean “fervently” but that’s not the most likely meaning. Outside the New Testament, the word was used for galloping horses. You might think of a football player stretching out to reach the goal line. The word has the idea of love that lasts and lasts and lasts. It is like God’s mercy that endures forever.
Peter adds two conditions for this brotherly love—our part and God’s part. Our part is “obeying the truth” (v. 22), which is really a synonym for faith. God’s part is to cause us to be born again by the “seed” of the Word of God (v. 23).
And there are really two “seeds” in view in this passage. There is the perishable seed that produces perishable human life. “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” (v. 24). We are born to die. This is our destiny on planet earth and we cannot escape it. In contrast there is the imperishable seed of God’s Word. When that seed takes root in us, it reproduces itself in us. Like produces like. You don’t plant peaches and harvest watermelons.
This is the real connection of the passage and it is incredibly powerful if you think about it. The imperishable Word of God that produces new life in us also produces in us an imperishable love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. True brotherly love that is sincere and not hypocritical, that goes the distance even with difficult-to-love people (and those people are all around us) ought to flow from us as the result of God’s imperishable Word planted in us.
There is one final pair to consider. Peter shows us two different kinds of brotherly love. There is earthly brotherly love for our earthly families. Last Sunday morning after the third service, Marlene and I left Oak Park and started driving south. We spent Sunday night in Nashville with Marlene’s brother Mark and his wife Ruth. On Monday, we drove to Birmingham to see our son Nick, a sophomore at Samford University. On Tuesday, we drove to Tupelo, Mississippi to see my brother Alan. On Thursday, we drove to Florence, Alabama to see my brother Andy, his wife Betty, and their daughter, Kathleen. On Friday, we drove back to Oak Park. That’s a lot of driving in a short period of time. It really didn’t make sense to take the trip. But I told Marlene that it had been over a year since we had been south, and if we didn’t go now, another year would pass before we made the trip. With the passing of the years, I feel an increasing need to stay in touch with my family. My parents are already gone, Marlene’s father died when she was young, and her mother is 82. What Peter said is so true. The grass withers and the flowers fade away. No one lives forever. It is good to stay in touch with your earthly family.
We also have a spiritual family made up of all true believers in Jesus Christ. Since we will be in heaven together forever, our love for each other ought to be deep and lasting here on earth. That’s Peter’s whole point.
Fading Glory of the World
So I come now to the end of my message. Here is how it all comes together for me. On one side of life, there is the world with all its fading glory. Even the leaders we elect on Tuesday will be gone before we know it. It just hit me that there have been 11 presidents in my lifetime, and I’m only 52 years old. If George Bush wins, he will only serve four more years, and then someone else will take his place. If John Kerry wins, he can’t serve more than eight years, and someone will take his place. The world that is so much with us, and the noisy clamor that fills our ears as the election campaign draws to its climax—that world will not last forever. The world itself is fading away, and all of us are fading away with it.
On the other side, we have God and his imperishable Word that will last forever. God’s kingdom is forever, and those who are in his kingdom will live forever. Though we are in the world by physical birth, through the new birth we are now part of God’s forever family. And what has made the difference? The last phrase of verse 25 has the answer: “This is the word that was preached to you.” What “word” is that? Peter is talking about the gospel of God’s free grace, the good news that God forgives sinners on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by faith alone apart from human works. That’s the gospel that Martin Luther proclaimed when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, 487 years ago today.
As we journey from this dying world to the eternal world, God has called his church to be a community of undying love. In the midst of rancor, clamor, accusation, bloodshed, warfare and hatred, we are to show the world a better way, the way of brotherly love that is sincere and deep and willing to go the distance. We will never do it unless our hope is in the Lord alone. The world pulls us, seduces us, and promises us all manner of reward. Against all the world offers us, we are called to …
Renounce worldly glory.
Forgive those who sin against us.
Return good for evil.
Bless those who persecute us.
Turn the other cheek.
Love our enemies.
Bear one another’s burdens.
Preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Refuse to seek revenge.
Give ourselves for those who can never repay us.
Reach out to the lowest of the low.
Stand up for those without a voice.
Befriend the fatherless and the widows.
Go the second mile.
Refuse to retaliate.
Accept rebuke without complaining.
It’s not easy to live that way. Apart from God, it is impossible. Unless you hope in God, you will never live that sort of countercultural life.
So how does God teach us to love? By putting us around unlovely people. There is no other way to learn to love. If you only hang around nice, sweet, fun people, you’ll never learn to love. That’s why God has some of you in marriages to some very difficult people. That’s why you’re working around some people you don’t particularly like. You can only learn to love by being around hard-to-love people. And God is the one who arranged it.
I told you a few weeks ago that your marriage isn’t about you or your spouse. And it’s not about your happiness or your sexual fulfillment. Your marriage is about God. The next week I told you that your sexuality is not about you. It’s all about God. Today I’m simply adding the fact that true brotherly love isn’t about you or your friends or your family. It’s not about the people you like or don’t like. It’s all about God. Until you see that and come to believe and rest upon it, you’ll never have the sort of brotherly love that really goes the distance.
And so with God’s help, we will never stop loving, never stop believing, never stop serving, and we will never stop standing for the truth. It’s not about us. It’s all about God. Amen.