Practical Salvation, Part 2: Love the Brethren – 1 Peter 1:22-25

Having purified your souls by the obedience to the truth in order to love without hypocrisy from the heart, love one another earnestly because you’ve been begotten again not from perishable seed but imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God, for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory is like the follower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord abides forever.’ Now this is the word evangelized to you.


The practical implications of God’s glorious salvation (vv. 3-12) continue in these next verses, though they begin to go down a slightly different track. Peter’s first implications pointed to the relationship between believers and their God (vv. 13-21) and here turn to believers’ relationship with other believers. The change noticed here is from the vertical demands upon Christians to their God (vv. 13-21) and the horizontal demands upon Christians to each other (vv. 22-25).


As Peter turns from the vertical relationship with Yhwh to the horizontal relationship with fellow believers, he first delivers another strong imperatival command in v. 22 and then explains the grounds and foundation for this command in vv. 23-25.


The Command to Love the Brethren (v. 22)


By now we should take note of how Peter instructs these Christians of Asia Minor. He does not shy away from giving strong and pointed commands. All the imperatives at this point have been given in the aorist tense which does not speak to time so much as to immediate action. Yet before each command, Peter takes time to explain exactly how his readers are to prepare themselves to obey these commands and then he explains the necessary reasons for these commands. The text before us is no exception.


The Necessary State of Love (v. 22a) – “Having purified your souls by the obedience to the truth


The term translated as “purified” (ἡγνικότες) comes from the same root as “holy” (ἅγος) in vv. 15&16. The command to love (which will come at the end of this verse) is couched in the reader’s current state as a purified and holy people. Peter does not refer to any ceremonial cleansing, but the purification of the soul. It is necessary to note at this point that Peter, a Jew who grew up with a thoroughly Jewish understanding of the Scriptures and the world, is not using the term soul (ψυχή) as the pagan Greeks did. He is not referring to a mystical and immaterial portion of man but uses this term to reflect the Hebrew idea of the נֶפֶשׁ or the totality of a man. To have a purified soul is to say that his readers are holy in their whole being. In other words, Peter first addresses the fact that his readers are Christians who have been redeemed.


The readers have purified their souls by the obedience to the truth. This truth (ἀλήθεια) is synonymous with the gospel message or the Scripture which was taught. Any discussion of truth in the Scripture always points back to Word of God (Ps. 19:9b; 119:160; Jn. 17:17). The “obedience” to this truth points to the fact that these readers have repented, confessed, and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter makes this point inescapably plain by repeating the same root for “obedience” (ὑπακοή) from vv. 2&14. This obedience is linked with the redemption of Christ’s blood and their status as God’s children. This is no works-based holiness, but purification that comes through repentance and belief. Only Christians can love as Christ commands.


The Necessary Command to Love (v. 22b) – “in order to love without hypocrisy from the heart, love one another earnestly


Peter adds another conditional state for his audience before coming to the overarching command. This “sincere love” is literally “love without hypocrisy” (φιλαδελφίαν ἀνυπόκριτον). The brotherly love that is given and enjoyed not because someone is like a brother but because they are a brother.[1] This is the purpose of our redemption in the context of the brethren. We are saved from hell’s fire and God’s wrath so that we might love all of those who have been spared a similar fate.


This love must be unhypocritical love or love that is genuine and from the heart rather than existing in pretense only. The word from which we get hypocrisy or hypocrite (ὑπόκρισις) describes a mask used by actors. The characters they portray are conveyed by this mask. To change from one character to the next only required changing masks. This love must not be a mask that one simply puts on to provide the appearance of love. This love comes from the heart, the center of man, as opposed to coming only from his lips. Now that Peter has set the stage, he turns to the command.


The imperative to love utilizes the Greek ἀγαπάω rather than the brother-love φιλέω which Peter has just used. The brotherly love in which believers are to unhypocritically show to each other is here defined by this love that considers the benefit of others without consideration of oneself. This love is a “love of full intelligence and understanding coupled with corresponding purpose.”[2] This is no one way street, for Peter commands the whole of Christ’s church in Asia Minor to love each other and to do so earnestly. The idea is a love that is strenuous and is conducted with great effort. The command is given with the same strong aorist tense that implies a state of constant and ceaseless obedience. This is the business of Christ’s church: to love the brethren. Not in words. Not from warm sentiment. But from the control center of our will we must choose to love our brothers and our sisters. For we come from the same Father.


The Reason to Love the Brethren (vv. 23-25)


It is at this point that we realize how important it is to understand Peter’s opening words as referring to redemption and conversion. The fact that Peter’s readers are all redeemed children of God (v. 14) whom He has begotten again (v. 3) is the foundation and reason for this command to love.


Because of Our Common Birth (v. 23) – “because you’ve been begotten again not from perishable seed but imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God


Peter is quite fond of these negative/positive comparisons. Almost as much as he enjoys the comparison of the perishable to the imperishable. The seed to which he refers is the seed a father provides in procreation. We are all joined in relation. We are brothers and sisters begotten by God (v. 3) and together are heirs of an imperishable inheritance (v. 4). But this relationship was not produced by the normal means of copulation.


This verse introduces the reason for Peter’s command to love. The brethren come from a common source. As Christians we are more closely connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ than we could ever be to our closest blood relatives. Though our physical family is joined through physical seed, our family within the body of Christ is joined by imperishable seed. A human father provides seed that produces children, but this seed is perishable, and his offspring will one day perish. The means of our rebirth is an imperishable seed that produces life everlasting. This seed is the living and abiding Word of God.


In a few short words, Peter expresses his understanding of the intrinsic connection between the God of the Word and the Word of God. His Word is living (Heb. 4:12) because it comes from the one true and living God (Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; Ps. 42:2). His Word abides, remains, and endures (μἐνω) because God Himself has no beginning and no end (Dan. 6:26). If God lives and remains to be relevant to all peoples everywhere, then His word will never become obsolete or irrelevant and will continue to rule over all people in all periods of time never to be superseded by human will or philosophy. What we say about God is indicative of His Word as well.


Peter shares Paul’s theology of the necessity of God’s Word to both save (Rom. 10:9-17) and sanctify (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The gospel of Jesus Christ and the totality of God’s most holy Word is the imperishable seed that produced every Christian on the planet. We must love because we share an everlasting bond in our supernatural birth.


Because of Our Common Security (vv. 24-25) – “for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory is like the follower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord abides forever.” Now this is the word evangelized to you.


Peter here refers to Isaiah 40:6-8 to drive his point home. On the surface it may not seem as if these verses require much explanation. Isaiah compares all of humanity to the flowering grass that is quick to sprout and quick to perish. Humanity is transient at best. Yet the Word of the Lord abides forever. Is this not the same point Peter has made by the comparison of perishable seed to the imperishable?


While all that is true, there is more going on here. The reader must get in the habit of returning to the original context. Whenever the Bible quotes previous revelation we must ask the question, “why is the author quoting from that specific passage?” There are a few things that we must take note of.


First, there are several word choices that Peter is making use of. The LXX of Isaiah does not use λόγος to describe this word of the Lord but utilizes the noun ῥῆμα. The difference is subtle, but noteworthy. Λόγος is a comprehensive term that describes the words spoken as well as the thought behind those words. Ῥῆμα on the other hand, is a more concrete term that describes the very words spoke or the utterance itself.[3] The emphasis is upon the very words expressed.


Second, the phrase “the word of the Lord” does not express the source of this word so much as the content of this word. In other words, this is the word about the Lord that abides forever. This becomes more obvious when we see that Peter has changed the translation. The OT passage of Isaiah 40:8 read, “but the word of our God stands forever.” Why would Peter change “our God” to “Lord”? While we understand that κύριος (Lord) was used in the LXX to translate the divine name of Yhwh (יהוה), that does not fully explain Peter’s actions here. There is one specific individual who has come to lay claim on this title, Lord. A person whom Peter knows intimately. The person of Jesus Christ. Peter makes clear to his audience that the word about Jesus (the prophecy of His first and second coming) will never pass away but will endure and abide for all time.


Third, the context of Isaiah 40 allows all these pieces to come together in our minds. We are familiar with vv. 3-5 from our reading of the gospel accounts. The NT quotes these verses to describe the ministry of John the Baptist. If this is true, then Isaiah 40 obviously has strong Messianic implications. The chapter begins with a proclamation of comfort to the surviving clan of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (vv. 1-2). The reason they can take comfort is the fact that (1) God’s judgment has passed and (2) because their Messiah shall come. This promise of good news (v. 9) is backed by God’s strongly worded affirmation of His sovereignty (vv. 12-26) and the chapter concludes with a call to believe and a promise to those who trust (vv. 27-31).


The point then is this: Peter points his audience back to Isaiah 40 to assure them not only of the everlasting nature of God’s good Word but to also tie his exhortation back to the gospel message. If Isaiah could demand repentance and promise future restoration to a bedraggled Judah, then Peter can call for love among the brethren based upon the same promise. The same Lord, who is Jesus Christ, who will one day restore Israel and Jerusalem, has redeemed the Christians of Asia Minor. This same word which Isaiah spoke concerning this coming Lord is the very gospel preached throughout the world. This was preached to you. This gospel of glad tidings has not changed since the days of Isaiah, and therefore can be considered as abiding. We share a common heritage, and we share a common security. Therefore, love the brethren.


Conclusion


It is interesting that Peter, who has already placed so much emphasis upon our faith (vv. 5, 7, 8, 9, 21) and hope (vv. 3, 13, 21) now turns to love. This is the golden triad of Christianity. Faith (πίστις) points to our trust in Christ’s historic accomplished work of redemption. Hope (ἐλπίς) points to the future and our confident expectation of what Christ will do. Love (ἀγάπη) points to the present and commands our lives with the brethren. This is how we are to spend our time as elect aliens and chosen sojourners. While we are anchored by our faith and motivated by our hope, we must busy ourselves in our love. This is the purpose of Christ’s church in this age: to love the brethren. Let our hands not be idle in this task.


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 112. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 72. [3] Hiebert, p. 117.