Treasuring Jesus together is one of the core values of St Paul’s. We have this value because St Paul’s is a community of men, women, boys and girls who have been saved according to the Bible alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. All of this means we exist for the glory of God alone. We exist to make much of Jesus and not ourselves because through faith in the Lord Jesus we have been forgiven, cleaned of guilt and shame, and adopted into the family of God’s much loved people.
In 1 Peter there is a verse that needs more reflection as it bears on St Paul’s in so many ways. More than anything this verse is calling us to a commitment to love one another. 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. (1 Peter 1:22 NIV). On one level it is pretty simple; being a Christian means I should love. There is something a little deeper here. The obedience to the truth of which Peter speaks is the initial submission to the claims of the gospel of the Lord Jesus that we accept in faith.
The part of the verse that stands out for me is how Peter links the first part of the verse Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth with the next part so that you have sincere love for your brothers. Peter links the purification of the heart through obedience to the claims of the gospel WITH a love for the family of God (a “brotherly love”). If that is true then what he is saying is love for the Lord Jesus and love for the family of God are inseparable.
When you think about it, it does make sense that the two are inexplicably connected. But then again, how many of us have responded to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, become Christians, in order to live a life of love for your brothers? What this verse is saying is that everybody should come a believer with a view to joining a family, and therefore, never with a view to isolation. There is no becoming a believer and cleansing your heart to independence. It is always to brotherly love. There is a profound thought in this verse that I can but scratch the surface of - when you became a Christian you became a Christian to a family. That is what it means to become a Christian. Christians are not just bound to the Lord Jesus but they are bound together.
This verse has a lot to do with evangelism and discipleship. When we proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus is commitment to the local church, the body of Christ, the family of believers, just an optional extra? Is church just something you can give or take? I think Peter argues that it isn’t. In fact, Peter would seem to suggest that the evidence of a purified heart by the gospel is in fact love for the ‘family’. Peter requires love for fellow-Christians as the mark of true holiness.
It makes a lot of sense then that Peter would follow his statement with a command to love... love one another deeply, from the heart. The command to love here goes beyond the ‘brotherly love’ earlier in the verse - it is now agape love. Sacrificial love. It is a solely Christian concept of love. It is not mere tolerance or acceptance, and even less so a formalised distance. Agape is the Christian’s motivation for the alleviation of poverty, inequality, suffering. Agape is the radical love of the Lord Jesus Christ where he lays down his life for his enemies so that his enemies might live forever. The moral source of all Christian love is the gospel of the Lord Jesus. The Christian doesn’t love to bolster our sense of self-worth or superiority. It’s the exact opposite. Christians are motivated to love because Christ’s love humbles us, shows us that we are much loved sinners. It is inconceivable for someone to declare that they are saved by the grace of God and yet not have a love for other people.
This verse calls for a sincere love without pretence or hypocrisy. Even sincerity is not enough: our love must be deep and intense. The word translated deeply here means stretched or strained. It is the same word used to describe the earnestness of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). The love to which we are urged to pursue, and for which our hearts have been purified for, is in no way artificial. It is a love that unites the family of God. It is a love that endures wrong with humility; renounces boasting and calling attention to oneself; spends time and energy supplying the needs of others without fretting over our own; risks making necessary rebukes and corrections that are almost surely to be interpreted as something other than love; receives rebukes and corrections without animosity and defensiveness; covers a multitude of sins and put away our list of grievances; rejoices when others prosper while we don't; blesses those who curse us and do good to those who despise us.
Peter also gives clarity to this love that we are to pursue by showing us the opposite of it a few verses later at the beginning of chapter 2: Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. The call here is to rid ourselves of the things that characterise the ‘pre-purified by the gospel’ life. The evils from which Christians have been converted are the very opposite of the strenuous love that Peter has pressed upon them. They are contrasted with the fruits of the Spirit and the outworking of sound teaching. If you practice these things, and see no problem with them, then don’t be too confident that your heart has been purified by the Lord Jesus. That is, don’t be too confident that you are a Christian.
Friends, we need to heed this verse calling us to love one another. St Paul’s is a diverse church - cultures, traditions, ages, theological convictions, positions and status -and we fall way short of God’s glory when we simple tolerate each other. If we simply tolerate each other then when our difference clash we don’t tolerate anymore. Our commitment is to be to each other, under the gospel of the Lord Jesus, in a transcultural church community. A transcultural church is a community of believers in the Lord Jesus that reflects, embraces and enjoys the diversity of its mission context (for us it’s Chatswood), but by the power of the gospel it transcends it’s cultural context and creates a new community in Christ. Our vision statement tells us why this is so essential for us to pursue at St Paul’s - we are united in our desperation for the world around us to encounter Jesus.
Our love is not expressed by a cool indifference, a distance, or an acceptance of all behaviours and values being of equal importance (this is the modern view of tolerance). Our love is displayed when we treasure the Lord Jesus as of supreme value over everyone of my personal and cultural preferences.
Our love for God and each other is displayed when we sacrifice, as Christ Jesus has sacrificed for us. It will always be a journey to love each other
more. What risks are you taking to treasure Jesus together more at St Paul’s? Some of us need to join a community group and keep going even when
the schedule makes it hard. Some of us need to join a team to serve. Some of us need to say a tough word to a brother or sister who is gossiping
of causing division, or straying from Christ. Some of us just need to turn up at church regularly. In Christ we are a corporate community, a new
people, not merely a group of individuals sharing a common faith.