No one likes to eat from a dirty plate or drink from a soiled cup. It’s about as simple as that. Granted, there is a large variation in tolerances between folks. Some are turned away by a speck of dried broccoli on a fork, while others put up with much more before a meal is ruined. This week’s lesson from 1 Peter forces us to consider the cleanliness of our own souls and how that affects what we offer to others.
Welcome to the seventh installment in our walk through 1st Peter. If you’re just joining us or would like to share previous lessons, they can be found on our website – lambchow.com. Peter has just called his readers to “be holy” and to conduct themselves while keeping the salvation and redemption of Christ always in view. Peter continues, “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, NASB95) Three things are in plain view in these verses, purity, love, and the imperishable seed.
When anyone accepts Christ’s offer. When they confess they are a sinner and express the desire to turn from it and accept the forgiveness offered by the cross of Christ their souls are purified. Or more fully said; they are reborn into God’s family and given a heart transplant. This doesn’t mean that their lives, their thoughts, their desires, their opinions, or their actions are perfectly pure. Followers of Jesus continue to grow into purity.
In a way, it is contrary to our experience. We all know that one bad apple will eventually spoil the whole barrel. We know that things, in general, go for working to dysfunction. But when a person submits their life to Jesus the opposite is intended to happen. Their life goes from grace to grace, from glory to glory, and from purity to purity.
So, Peter is not saying, “when you finally become pure do this.” Peter recognizes the spark of purity that is there and calls his readers to do something with it. He doesn’t want us to simply change our outward appearance but to walk with integrity. Perhaps Peter recalled these words of Jesus, “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)
Peter’s readers could no doubt, as we all can, point out the impurities that remain in our hearts, minds, souls, and feelings. The places where anger, jealousy, selfishness, greed, and unforgiveness still reign. None of these are excused, but there is an expectation that we to turn them over to Christ as they are brought to light. Why should we even care about these impurities? Because they get in the way of loving Jesus and others.
It is from that place of purity that Peter calls us to love. Not just any love but a fervent agape love. Jesus described this kind of love. “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13, NASB95) Jesus demonstrated agape love by laying down His own life for our sakes, and it is the same love we are to give to each other.
Even though Peter uses the phrase “one another,” indicating mutuality, agape love does not require love to be returned or even accepted. Agape love must be given freely, without strings, or it is something less. The “one another” also reminds us that we need to be receivers as well as givers. So often we hide in our doing and never stop long enough to be renewed, refreshed, and loved ourselves.
Peter’s call is not to love if and when we feel like it. He instead calls us to love fervently, unceasingly, continuously, and constantly. Agape love never quits or gives up. It doesn’t judge someone for rejecting love’s sacrifice but leaves the door open in hopes that one day things will change. This may all seem impossible. There is simply too much “me” still in the way, but Peter isn’t finished yet.
The Imperishable Seed
The plain truth is that we are incapable of living up to the call of fervently loving each other on our own strength. Yet, we can. The difference is the word of God that has been planted in our hearts. “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” I love that Peter calls this a seed. While a seed contains all the information needed to grow it also reminds us that there is a process, a pattern of growth that is inherent with following Jesus.
As we observed above, the way of the world is towards decay, dysfunction, and death. But the seed of God’s word is imperishable. A point that Peter underscores with a quote from the Prophet Isaiah, “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.” Sometimes it seems like things will never change. That a heart is to soiled, scarred, and stubborn to accept the gift of God. Perhaps we’ve planted seed after seed and nothing seems to ever take root. There can be a lot of reasons why, but the problem is not the seed.
Farmers just don’t throw their precious seed on the ground. The field is first tilled. The top soil is plowed. The compaction of time and traffic is loosened, and the larger clumps of dirt are broken up. The soil is tested and adjusted for Ph, moisture, temperature, and nutrients. What I’m trying to point out is that we often scatter our seeds of the gospel before the soil is ready to accept it. A heart needs to be prepared with love long before the seed is planted. What this means is listening to the Holy Spirit, the one person that knows the heart of another better than anyone.
We should also see to the soil condition of our own hearts. Yes, we have been born again, God’s Word has been planted in our hearts, our souls have been and are growing in purity. But there can be hard places where God’s love has not yet plowed, areas of our heart that are scarred and painful or that simply lay fallow and untouched. The seed is always good, but our hearts may need some field work for it to grow in us. As we give love, we must also be willing to receive love. But this means opening our hearts to others which is frightening. It means being honest with ourselves and with others. It means accepting their prayers and concerns without embarrassment. It means exposing our imperfections, our scars, our hurts, our fears, our failures of faith, and our sins to the light of God’s love. That’s the beauty of God’s kingdom. Want to love more? Then open yourself up to being loved by others.