The runners are at the line. They have carefully positioned their hands and feet and waited for the starter’s call. At “set” they have risen from preparedness to readiness; their whole being coiled to spring forward at the next sound. The starter pulls the trigger, the pistol barks, the runners step, push, and stride forward with all their might.
In the two previous sermon articles, we examined 1 Peter 1:13-25 using the metaphor of race and the starter’s call of“on your mark” and “get set”. This article covers the last portion of that passage, verses 22-25. These verses cover the “go” portion. Or to put it another way, the action that all of the preparedness of the previous verses has led up to.
As a reminder, let’s read through the verses that we have covered so far. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:13-21, NASB)
This article focuses on the next few verses, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:22-25, NASB) To that end we are going to consider three actions, stepping forward to love, pushing toward fruitfulness, and striding in God’s Word.
Stepping Forward to Love
We have a love/hate relationship with masks. On one hand, they make life easier by hiding the pain of conflict and discomfort behind a mask of acceptance and tolerance. Call it conformity, professionalism, or just plain being polite. The masks we wear, and those we see on others, take some of the stress out of everyday life. But they are masks after all and we know it. When things go bad, when anger flair, we tend to either proclaim that someone is a hypocrite because of their mask or we declare them to be intolerant because they have taken their mask off.
As we look at 1st Peter we read, Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart. The reason we need to consider masks in connection with these verses is the phrase, “sincere love of the brethren”. A sincere love is one without masks. Not hypocritical; portraying something on the outside that is different than the inside. Jesus warned the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (Matthew 23:25–26, NASB95) Looking closer at Peter’s use of the word “sincere” we find that the literal meaning is “without play-acting.” This goes beyond simple hypocrisy and into those areas, we often justify in ourselves. Things like people-pleasing, having a martyr complex, going along to get along, or practicing so-called “sloppy agape.” Paul says it very succinctly in Romans 12:10, “Love without hypocrisy.” Basically, any time we put up a false front we need to check our motives and our heart. Why are we putting on this mask? Is it because I want them to love me and the only way that happens is if I fake it?
Peter’s point is that if we have purified our hearts we can honestly, genuinely, sincerely, and fervently love one another. But that is a mighty big if. At this point some folks will trot out Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” So, could it be that our masks are necessary? I mean I can’t trust your heart or even my heart. The problem with their argument in that they neglect the promise of the Gospel. Peter didn’t say “if you have… purified your souls” he said, “since you have.” Before Christ, before being born again, before becoming a new creature in Christ, before having our hearts cleansed by God’s Word, Jeremiah’s declaration stands as truth. But through Christ, that has changed. Yes, the work of getting our hearts cleaned up is ongoing and often hard – but it is not impossible. You see, the reason we prefer masks is it means that we don’t have to exert much effort.
In order to love fervently and with sincerity requires work. Not only do we have to scrub away at our own hearts through the elbow-grease of confession, repentance, and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We also need to step forward, risking much because of our sincerity, to love each other. While statements of love and expressions of love are good, they are not the true mark of love. Love is instead known by these things: laying down our own lives, giving preference to one another, serving one another in the Lord, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, praying for one another, helping through the giving of our resources, practicing hospitality, blessing those who we see as enemies, honoring, respecting, striving for peace, throwing away the records of past wrongs, walking in humbleness, encouraging one another, giving and receiving correction, and accepting one another. Saying “I love you” and exchange handshakes, hugs, and kisses are all good in the appropriate settings. But, living love, striding forward in love, requires so much more. Let’s not simply wear a mask of love, let’s sincerely, fervently, and diligently love our brothers and sisters in Christ with all integrity and genuineness. Knowing that when the masks come off we will need to reconcile things long hidden, forgive things long buried, and forget things long remembered.
Pushing Toward Fruitfulness
How can we love like that? Because of the seed. Peter wrote, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Seeds fulfill a basic law of God that was established on the third day of creation. “Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9–12, NASB95) Today we understand the basics of how this works. We know that God placed in each seed the code of DNA. And that because of DNA a wheat seed will not grow up to be an oak tree. The harvest will be that which was planted.
How can we love like that? Because we have a new seed in our hearts, one that yields the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Peter declares that it is an imperishable seed. Or to put in another way, an unfailing seed. A seed that will always yield a harvest. In the same way that God spoke and the earth sprouted, He speaks into our heart the seeds of His word. What is at issue is not the quality of the seed nor the outcome of the seed, but at issue is the quality of the soil. In other words, the receptiveness and readiness of our heart to receive the words of God.
One of Jesus’ well-known parables is that of the sower found in Luke 8:4-15. In Jesus’ parable, the variable was the soil, the seed was the same, the weather was the same, the soil made all the difference. In His explanation to the disciples Jesus said, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:15, NASB95) How can we love like that? By softening our hearts to God’s word, by persevering while the harvest is maturing, by weeding out those things that crowd out the good seed. Jeremiah said, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3, NASB95) Hosea wrote, “Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NASB95) Take the plow to the hard places in your heart, break up the ground that has laid dormant, growing nothing but weeds and thistles. Receive the Word of God implanted in your heart – then you will be able to love like that.
At least once or twice someone has said to me, “but I tried all of that and it didn’t work.” I loved this person and all I got back was hate. I gave and gave but I never received. Not too many verses after Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit he wrote, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:7–9, NASB95) The problem is not the seed. When we struggle and see no results there are three possibilities, 1) our heart is hard or shallow 2) We have planted a lot of other seeds alongside God’s seed. 3) We haven’t waited long enough. Farmers understand that there is a delay between planting and harvesting. While they can be pretty sure that about 120 days after planting corn they will harvest, we only know that the seed God plants in our hearts will yield “in due time.” Until then we keep sowing, we keep breaking up the fallow ground of our heart, we keep pulling out the weeds that we have planted, and we wait for “in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Striding in God’s Word
The runner leaving the blocks at the sound of the gun has one major desire for that first couple of steps – that they don’t slip. That the ground beneath their feet is solid. For today’s runners, that’s pretty much a given. Modern tracks are constructed using rubber covered asphalt. But not so long ago track surfaces were much more treacherous with surfaces of clay, cinders, or plain old dirt. It took practice to learn how to leap from the blocks without falling flat on your face.
We can seek many things to plant our feet on, different ways to stand. Peter quoted, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Everything that is not the Word of the Lord will eventually fail. Its glory withered like a flower, discarded like grass clippings. Some works of man will last for a bit, some even a bit longer, but eventually, time and decay will eat cause every work of man to fall. Every idol, every pretense, every supposition, every attempt to rest on the strength of mankind will eventually fail. The psalmist wrote, “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.” (Psalm 40:2, NASB95) When we get tired of spinning our wheels in the muck and mire of our own making and turn our hearts toward God He lifts us out and sets our feet on the rock, the firm foundation, the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. Jesus whom John proclaims as the Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5,14 NASB95) The imperishable seed, the rock upon which we stand is Jesus Christ.
Striding in the Word is not simply reading the Bible. It is deeper than that. Many men and women have read the entire Bible, some have even studied it and are counted as theologians. While they may understand the words on the page, know the language, the history, and the culture they have not received its truth. Striding in the Word means opening our hearts to its truth even when it hurts or disturbs our sensibilities. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts with God’s Word. Striding in the Word requires openness, honesty, humility, prayer, and obedience. Our true goal is to get to know Jesus more and more each day, the Bible is that doorway. Striding in the Word is like looking in the mirror, through it we see our own faults; the places where our feet still slip instead of standing on the Rock of Christ.
The gun has sounded, the race is on. Not a race of competition but one of going, doing, and being. Sincerely, fervently, diligently, honestly, openly, humbly, rightly, continually, love one another. Sincerely, fervently, diligently, honestly, openly, humbly, rightly, continually, plow the hard places of your heart. Sincerely, fervently, diligently, honestly, openly, humbly, rightly, continually, plant the seed of God’s word in your heart knowing that you will harvest in due time.
There is one final encouragement for the race, one final warning. Judging someone else’s progress or distance in this race of love may very well cost you the race. Runners, especially sprinters, don’t watch the other runners. They don’t turn their heads to see where everyone else is at. Doing so takes away their forward momentum, diverts their energy away from the goal. That doesn’t mean that we are unaware of others. It does mean that we focus on Jesus instead of judging how well we are running by those around us. Jesus is our goal, He is our example, He is the only standard we are allowed to compare ourselves with.
In this race of love and faith, it doesn’t matter if you are in the lead or coming in last. What matters is that you have prepared yourself for action and stepped out of the blocks. That you are stepping forward to love, pushing towards fruitfulness, and striding in God’s Word. On your marks, set, go!