Love One Another, Long for the Word
Section 2.4 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 1:22-2:3)
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.
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
The fourth sub-section of the second section of the First Letter of Peter takes on the same concept as the third section, however, it approaches it from a different perspective. While the third section speaks of being Redeemed (1 Peter 1: 18-19) by the Blood of Christ, and this being why they should be Holy, the fourth section speaks of being Born Again (1 Peter 1:23) by the Word of God, and this being why they should love one another and long for the Word of God. Both sub-sections describe what should not be done any more, and what should be done and why.
In sub-section three of section two, it mentions the following as what we should not do:
“…do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance…”
In this sub-section, it mentions this:
“…putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…”
As Christians, these are the things which we are to “turn away” from. This is the meaning of “Repentance.” Peter starts this section returning to the term “obedience.” This first verse (1:22) speaks of having been purified by obedience to the truth. The concept of being “made Holy” is similar to the concept of “being purified.” Understanding this, we can see how Peter is driving home the point regarding obedience to God. If you are obedient to God, then you should have purified your soul through obedience to truth. Through your obedience to truth, you can be Holy as God is Holy, that is, set apart from the world, and from our position we are set apart for God in particular. This naturally begs the question, “But why should I do this?”
In the third sub-section we are given the following reason why we should:
“…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…”
In this sub-section, we are given the following reason why we should:
“…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…”
The concept of being “born again” is important to understand this, as well as the Jewish perspective on birth. The Jews were very much aware of what results in the conception and birth of a child, that being the seed of a man. However, it is clearly understood that this seed is perishable, it is of the flesh. Being “born again” then necessitates an answer to the question, “If we are born in the flesh through the seed of man, then by what seed are we ‘born again’?” The answer is the seed of the word of God. When we come to accept the word of God as truth, and are obedient to it, that is, we place our faith in it, we are then born again into the spirit, the everlasting essence of our nature. Here we see something of a reference to the Gospel of John in his first verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It is most likely that we are seeing here something that was a common phrase preached regarding the nature of the Word, that it is living and enduring, and that Jesus was Himself the living embodiment of that Word which continues to this very day.
To add validity to this statement, Peter cites Isaiah 40:6-8, but in a unique way. It was common during these days to cite quotations from the prophets in a manner that focuses on what can be drawn out from the words of the prophet. Here, we can see Peter doing this. The full content of Isaiah 40:6-8 is:
“A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (NASB)
We can see that the additional information that is contained in the quotation is not necessary or relevant for the point Peter is making here. The omission of the additional information does not alter the meaning of the passage being cited, and we can see that the context that Peter is placing it in his writing improves upon the understanding of the words of the Prophet. The whole chapter of Isaiah speaks regarding the might and greatness of God and how His Word endures and those who rely on His word endure with it. This is where scholars believe that it is likely that the intended recipients of this letter were likely Jewish converts who were kicked out of Rome and were scattered in the areas of Asia Minor. However, there is other evidence throughout the letter that suggests Gentile converts. I mention this only to point out that the full meaning of the entire chapter that is cited here would be known to Jews who read this letter or have it read out to them. When Peter includes at the end “And this is the word which was preached to you,” it would connect with those who both understood the prophet, and who only heard the Gospel preached to them. It also shows the consistency between the teaching of the Old Testament and those teachings of Jesus.
Continuing with the analogy of being an obedient child, and how we relate to God as father, Peter now makes the point even more significant by saying “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word.” Just as the milk of the mother helps the newborn baby grow, so too does this enduring word of God grow the newborn Christian believer. Peter calls to these newborns to “…fervently love one another from the heart..” By allowing themselves to be purified through obedience to the truth, being born again by the word, they will be able to endure together and grow with “respect to salvation.” We must all reject and turn away from the “…futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers…” and turn away from malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Instead of longing for that futile way of life, which requires those things to be achieved, we are to long for the living and enduring word of God. In longing for it, we must be obedient to it, and through our obedience we can grow in respect to our salvation.
Peter closes this sub-section with a qualifier, “…if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” This closing part seems to stand out from the rest, but it must be understood in light of the analogy to “..the pure milk of the word.” When we long for the Word of God, he gives it to us. This is what makes us born again. So, what Peter is making clear here is that those who will grow in respect to their salvation will be those who have tasted the kindness of the Lord, that being the pure milk we are to long for and that will be given to us if we seek it and are obedient to it.
As believers, we must understand that we are not born again of something that is not enduring or lasting. The truth contained within the Bible is inerrant. It has lasted across the entire existence of humanity. There are many who believe that man, in his behavior and morality, changes and “evolves” over time to where we now have reached some crowning moment today. All it took was time is their claim, and we have naturally arrived at a maturity that surpasses all the ancients. The ancients were primitive and ignorant, their ways are beneath our own is the claim of this ‘modern’ world. The reality is, there is not a single behavior or way of life that exists today that did not exist multiple times in the past. There are only a finite number of ways we can respond to any given situation, and only a finite number of ways we can choose to view life. They have all been lived out already. Humanity has not changed, only what we produce, our technology, has changed. It continues to go on its own paths only to perish inevitably being finite itself. Through all this we can understand that the ways set out by God are enduring. They have outlasted all other ways of life and remain true, while all the other ways which have been tried and tried again have always resulted in the same death and have been demonstrated to be false. We must know this truth.
What we are choosing to live in accordance with, to obey and make our own, is that truth which has been sustained across millennia. It gave eternal life to the ancients of four thousand years ago the same as it gives eternal life to us today. The living Word of God is what fulfills our purpose and our meaning, if only we choose to live in accordance with it. Without it, we are left with searching through the darkness, picking and choosing what any other man has to offer to us, temporary though it all is. Peter’s words are reiterations of what God has spoken to humanity for all of man’s time on earth. They ring true today just as they did then. We must make ourselves Holy, setting ourselves apart from mankind’s ways for God, fervently loving one another with all our hearts. If we do this, it does not matter what hardship comes our way, it does not matter how the world treats us or what the world says about us.
Through our rejection of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, and our active seeking of the truth, all the words and insults and slander of those opposed to us will be demonstrated as false. We have no need to try to set it right ourselves, as that effort comes out of pride. The truth stands on its own, and is discovered by those in the darkness only when demonstrated in front of them through what we do as those in the light. If that demonstration can only be witnessed through some act of slander or violence against us, then so be it.
If we suffer for Christ, then we do not suffer in vain, as the truth with stand and shine through us, and will impact those who witness our suffering. The peace and joy that comes into our life, knowing that because of our faith alone we have salvation, allows us to endure these sufferings, not for our own sake, but so that those in the darkness may see the light and come to find it for themselves. Through our suffering, like the suffering of Christ, if we are in Him then others witnessing our suffering will see Him in us. When they see Him in us, and they have any purity in their heart, they will then seek Him, desiring to know what power made us so strong in our suffering. They will want to know what made someone so weak (in their eyes) so powerful to stand against even the threat of torture and death to stay firm in the truth. This is the powerful truth of the Word of the Lord, it will endure, and through those who believe in God and place their faith in Jesus, the world will come to know this truth if we are living it out as he directs us, in love and in truth.