November 24, 2019
It was Thursday evening of Passion week – the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. He will be crucified the next day. As I told you last week, it was during the Passover, when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It was now time for their deliverance from slavery to sin. The hour for which Jesus had come had arrived. He spent that last evening celebrating the Passover with the Twelve. They had followed Him for over three years, becoming convinced He was the Christ. But they had no idea what that meant. He’d been telling them, I must go to Jerusalem, be betrayed into the hands of sinners, be crucified, and raised again the third day. But, they didn’t seem to get it.
That last evening, as they were preparing to eat the Passover meal, Jesus stood up, took off His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, took a basin of water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Most of you know that was a job for slaves – the lowest of the low. Of course, there was no slave at the dinner, and it seems none of the Twelve would stoop to that lowly position.
You remember the story. One by one He washed their feet, seemingly in stunned silence. Well, untill He came to Peter. “Lord, do You wash my feet? Never shall You wash my feet!” To which Jesus responded, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” That’s an interesting statement – why would Jesus say that? Jesus had called Peter, follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men. So, Peter had been with Him for three years, walked on water with Him, witnessed the Transfiguration. He got it right when Jesus asked who Peter thought He was – You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter was the first, the leader of the Twelve. What do you mean, no washing of the feet, this lowly, menial task, means no part with You?
Well, Jesus was demonstrating a major part of the Christian life – that it includes serving, and being served. Laying aside any sense of importance or entitlement or position we think we may have, and serving one another. He’ll get to the why of serving at the end of the meal. But after He washed their feet, put His garment back on, and taken His place at the table, He asked, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Some take that literally, and have as part of their tradition not only participating in Communion, but also washing one another’s feet. I have done so – it is a most humbling, yet loving act of symbolic service to one another.
But most see it as an example, as Jesus goes on to call it, of faithfully, sacrificially, humbly serving one another. Why? This is to be a characteristic of the Christian life – a life of humble, loving, mutual service. You see, later in that same meal, Jesus said to the Twelve:
33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ [of course, we understand now that meant He was returning to heaven after His death and resurrection.]
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. [How had Jesus loved them? Well, He’d washed their feet, but ultimately, in His self-sacrifice on the cross, He loved them to the uttermost.]
35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A further characteristic of Christian family is that we love one another – in fact, I would suggest it’s the reason we serve on another. More, I’m suggesting Christian family love is expressed and experienced in faithfully serving one another. Not just saying the words, I love you, but actually demonstrating that love in humble service. And so, here we are this morning, the first day of the week. From the earliest days, the church gathered on Sunday, to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. And I want to remind us today that He gave us a new commandment. He commanded us to love one another. So, how do you do that? Is community, family love only experienced during this one hour or so on Sunday mornings?
Remember, the Twelve were there, three of whom went on to write books that found their way into our New Testament: Matthew, John, and Peter. Which means, they were there when Jesus washed their feet. They were there when Jesus gave the new command to love one another. And it became central to their teaching, particularly John and Peter in the epistles – their letters. For example, John says things like this:
In chapter 3 – 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. Do you see – this message they heard from the beginning was at that last Passover, right after Jesus washed their feet – a new commandment I give you, love one another. How is it new? Wasn’t this command to love your neighbor in the OT? It’s new, because with a new heart under the New Covenant, your ability to love knows no bounds.
In chapter 4 – 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Don’t miss that – we love because we are born of God, and if we don’t love, we aren’t born of God, because God is love – it is His character, and so those who are His children, by their new nature, love.
Chapter 4 again, John makes it stronger – 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
So, it seems clear – those who are born of God, love God, and love His people. Of course, we remember when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, His answer was, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And He threw in the second greatest commandment at no extra charge, love your neighbor as yourself. Paul says the fulfillment of the Law is love – if you love God and love people, first, then you will keep the Ten Commandments. Of course, the problem is, in our sinfulness, we don’t always love God first, and people second. Sometimes we get in the way.
Well, this command to love, Peter says the same thing in his letter in our ongoing study of I Peter. Chapter 1 has been a great chapter. Peter started by reminding us of this great salvation we have – resulting in an imperishable, undefiled future inheritance. It’s a sure thing, even though now, for a little while, we are distressed by various trials. But, it’s all worth it, because it refines us and proves the genuineness of our faith – which will result in praise and glory and honor at the return of Christ. This salvation has been God’s plan since before the foundation of the world. It was prophesied in the OT, it was announced to us in the gospel, it is celebrated but not experienced by angels.
Therefore, we’ve found that we have some resulting responsibilities. We remember, this is the common practice of the NT – creed followed by conduct, doctrine followed by duty. Therefore, because of God’s great salvation, there are some things you should do. Not to earn salvation, but because we have been saved. Peter then launched into several commands. We’ve looked at the first three already:
- First, fix your hope on the grace to be yours at the second coming of Jesus Christ. We, of all people, should be most hopeful. Yes, we may struggle, but we are hopeful, knowing the best is yet to come.
- Second, be holy in all your behavior, because God is holy. Since the character of God our Father is holy, we, too, should be holy. Like Father, like son.
- Third, conduct yourselves in fear. There should be a reverential fear because of all God has done for us. After all, we’ve been redeemed not with perishable things like gold or silver – we’ve been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. There should be a fearful respect for God, leading to fearful, holy conduct.
Which brings us to the fourth command today – I Peter 1:22-25. Let’s read that.
This is interesting. Notice, these commands from verse 13 on, go from upward to inward to outward. What do I mean? We are looking up, toward God, awaiting the return of Christ. We are looking inward in the sense we want our conduct to be holy. And third, we look outward, which results in love to one another. This is much more fun to preach than last week. And yet, the command is just as challenging – the fourth command is to love one another.
Like the other commands, this one is surrounded with participles – those ing words that help explain or support the command. The main command is found in verse 22, fervently love one another from the heart. The participles before and after answer the question, how. How do we fervently love one another? Let me give you the outline:
- A Purpose of Faith: A Sincere Love (22a)
- The Basis of Faith: An Imperishable Seed (23)
- The OT Proof of Faith: Isaiah 40 (24-25)
- The Command to Love: Fervently (22b)
Hopefully, this will make sense as we make our way through the text. Peter starts with, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brothers…” That’s a long convoluted phrase. The participle is you have purified, or having purified your souls in obedience to the truth – it’s a perfect participle, which means, something happened in the past that has ongoing consequences. So follow what Peter is saying.
Having purified your souls – which is the real you – all of you. Now, don’t for a moment think this is something you’ve done – which is why Peter tells us how you’ve purified your souls: in obedience to the truth. This is a common way for the NT authors to speak of obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ – that is, by expressing faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, you have purified your souls. Yes, salvation is all of God, but it requires faith. Again, to be clear, this having purified your souls is not you cleaning up your act – it speaks of the act of faith through obedience to the truth by which we are justified. Not only are our sins removed, but we receive the righteousness of Christ, so our souls have been purified – through faith. Paul says it clearly, By grace you have been saved through faith.
To what end? For a sincere love of the brothers – for a sincere love of the Christian family. Peter is saying, our salvation results in not only eternal life, not only future hope, not only holy living – all of that, yes – but also, it results in a sincere love for each other. By this will all men know we are His disciples, by our love for one another. John says it clearly – if we don’t have a sincere love for each other, we are not really His disciples. In other words, you can’t say you love God, but don’t love His people. His people are family.
Sincere, by the way, literally means unhypocritical. It speaks of a genuine love for one another – without hypocrisy – meaning, without masks. It’s not fake, it’s real. I really, truly love you because you are my brother or my sister. The word, by the way, is philadelphia – a brotherly affection.
I can’t help but think of the video we watched at the beginning – reminding us we have brothers and sisters, family, around the world regardless of race and gender and ethnicity and color and age and nationality and education and occupation and socio-economic status and political affiliation – all those things which seem to be so important. They are our family. And so are the people in this room. Some of you would do anything for your biological brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter. I get that – I would too. But we are born into a new family with ties thicker than perishable blood and DNA – we’ll talk about that in a moment, but know this – we have received a new DNA. If we could some conduct a spiritual DNA test of believers in this room, guess what we’d find? We’re related.
We are family, and our love for each other should be sincere. But… Peter wants more. It’s more than just a sincere love. He was there that night when Jesus washed his feet. When Jesus said, a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this all men will know you are truly My disciples. To what end? That they will see something attractive and desirable – real, loving community. In the early church in Acts, they loved each other so much they couldn’t get enough of each other. They met daily in their homes, showing hospitality to each other. They sold their possessions to meet each other’s needs. This was not a forced communism, this was genuine community – built on familial love.
So Peter wants more – not just a sincere love, but a deep, fervent love from the heart. This isn’t just a mental assent to a biblical command. No, from the very core of our being – all that we are, we love one another fervently, deeply, intently, constantly is the idea. And he switches the word to agape – we shouldn’t make too much of that, but it seems we should have a intense, self-sacrificing love for each other. The command is to fervently love one another.
I’m reading a book right now by Rosaria Butterfield entitled, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. In it, she talks about radically ordinary hospitality. I just read this week where she talks about her weekly schedule – which includes almost daily prayer and meals together with her Christian family – brothers and sisters in Christ – and, listen, her neighbors. Her crazy idea is that when her neighbors see how Christians love each other, they will want to move from neighbors to family of God – they will want the gospel. I know, crazy idea. That’s exactly what happened in Acts 2.
We are family, having been born again by an imperishable seed. Look at verse 23 – having been born again – that’s a perfect participle again. In the past, we have been born again, and it has current impact, such that it changes the way we think, feel and act toward one another. We have been born again – that’s also passive by the way, which means it was something done to us. Having been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by perishable seed – that is, through the perishable procreation process. Imperishable is one of Peter’s favorite words. We have received an imperishable inheritance; we have been redeemed not by perishable silver and gold, but the implication is, by the imperishable, precious blood of Christ; now, we have been born again by the imperishable seed of God.
Everything that has life has received seed of another – but that seed is perishable as is evidenced by the truth that everything also dies. You can give birth to a child through perishable seed – but evidence of the seed being perishable is eventual death, just like your death to come. Whether plant, animal or human – every living thing has an expiration date.
But good news, we have been born again by God’s imperishable seed. And Peter defines it – the imperishable, living and enduring word of God. Now the word of God here refers yes, to the written word inasmuch as it proclaims the good news. More directly, it refers to the gospel, the truth – what Peter says in verse 25 was the word preached to you. The good news of the gospel is what causes us, by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, to be born again. Paul said it this way in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” – that is, the word about Christ, the truth of the gospel. And since that word is living and enduring, lasting forever – since we have been born anew or again into a spiritual family – we are born into eternal life. It’s imperishable.
Peter supports it with a quote from Isaiah 40, “For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the LORD endures forever.’”
Now, that seems clear enough, but it is even more meaningful when it’s understood within its context. Isaiah is writing to a disobedient people, and warning them of the captivity or the exile to come in Babylon. It was coming. But, God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and those promises would be fulfilled. They would return from exile to the land of promise.
Peter has no problem quoting a promise to the Israelites, and applying it to NT readers. Yes, you are in exile. Yes, you are suffering for your faith. But God is faithful and trustworthy. He has made promises, and they will be fulfilled. Look at Isaiah 40:
1 “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins.”
3 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
4 “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
9 Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
The entire chapter is glorious. Read it this afternoon – Isaiah 40. Peter applies its promise to you. You have been born again by this good news preached from the mountaintops. You are His forever. The last couple verses in Isaiah 40 read:
30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Do you think that was encouraging to believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, suffering for their faith in Asia Minor? It is meant to be encouraging to us as well.
Again, Jesus is about to leave. He’s spent about three years with His disciples, and one of the last things He says to them is, “love one another”. Please notice, it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. Which totally eliminates any idea that love is optional. I love you, I love you not is not an option for believers. Meaning also, this love is not based on feelings. It doesn’t matter whether I want to, or feel like it – I’m commanded to love you. And by the way, love requires more than just words – John will say later in his letter, “Little children, let us not love with word or tongue, but in deed and truth.” And in order to be obedient to Christ – I must love you – and whether you like it or not – you must love me. Can you imagine the kind of church we’d be, and the testimony we’d have if we loved one another fervently, deeply from the heart?
Think about this with me – there are lots of ways through the years people have tried to put their faith on display. In years past, it was by wearing certain clothing or even having certain haircuts. More recently, we’ve tried to demonstrate faith by sporting fashionable WWJD bracelets, or pasting Christian fish or bumper stickers on our cars, or perhaps carrying a Christian coffee mug. I don’t suppose there’s anything really wrong with those things – but Jesus said, the way people will know you are My disciples is by your love for one another. Let me close with this quote from Alexander Maclaren:
“Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant…sat down at one table, and felt themselves all one in Christ Jesus. They were ready to break all other bonds, and to yield to the uniting forces that streamed out from His Cross. There never had been anything like it. No wonder that the world began to babble about sorcery, and conspiracies, and complicity in unnamable vices. It was only that the disciples were obeying the new commandment, and a new thing had come into the world—a community held together by love and not by geographical accidents or linguistic affinities, or the iron fetters of the conqueror… The new commandment made a new thing, and the world wondered.”