I've been uploading some sermons from 1st Peter to my website, and I wanted to use this article as an opportunity to reflect upon one verse that I find incredibly challenging.
For me, 1 Peter 1:22 may be one of the most difficult commands not only in this letter, but in the entirety of Scripture.
Here's what Peter says: "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart." (ESV)
That's a lot to unpack regarding love, but let me first give you some quick context. Peter is writing to believers who are suffering. Life isn't easy as an exile (v.1 ), and this audience is experiencing things that many Western Christians wouldn't be able to comprehend.
It would be tempting for Peter to simply say, "Hang in there" or "Keep your head high," but rather, Peter is giving them marching orders. His letter is filled with commands that challenge their standard of righteous conduct.
For example: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" (vv. 14-16).
It's in this context that Peter calls the "elect exiles" to love one another.
The Struggle to Love
I don't know about you, but I struggle to love others on my best day. Even when I feel closest to the Lord and when things are going my way, I somehow find a way to fall short in a relationship where I'm called to love another person. It may be with my wife, my kids, a co-worker, a fellow believer, or a lost neighbor.
But then, if you add in suffering ... do I even need to go there? If I'm having a rough day, where the pressures of life in a fallen world are knocking down my door, or if my body is experiencing its brokenness, the struggle to love becomes much greater.
Let me make a brief theological annotation: suffering does not produce sin; suffering exposes sin. You can't blame your suffering for producing sinful responses; rather, the external suffering simply revealed the internal sin that might have been temporarily dormant in your heart.
This is Peter's message to the church: in even the darkest, most difficult of days, God still calls you to love others.
Let's break it down. There are four key characteristics to love that Peter lists:
1. Sincere Love
Christians and non-Christians alike are great at expressing what I call "cultural niceness" — like superficial greetings. Have you ever said, "Hi, how are you?" Or "So great to see you!" when you actually don't care about how the other person is feeling and you'd rather avoid that interaction? I'm guilty of that.
This love that Peter is describing — a sincere love — comes from a genuine heart, a heart that recognizes how much we've been loved by God and that now wants to splash that vertical love horizontally upon others.
Are you faking love in any of your relationships?