Earnest Love Enabled and Empowered

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Good morning. My name is Connor. I’m the college ministry coordinator here, and I’m excited to jump into 1 Peter with you all today.

Before we jump in, I have one announcement and two invitations. First, the announcement. The college ministry here, we hold an annual Identity Conference, and so, this September, on September 9th. Friday night, from 6-10, we’ll be over in the Community Room, and we’ll have dinner together, we’ll sing together, we’ll jump into a workshop together on Living Freely: Submitting Our Days to Jesus’ Easy Yoke. So, how do we do that practically? How do we do that in our planning, in our scheduling? How do we follow Jesus in really practical ways? So, it’s for 18-25-year-olds. If you know of anyone, you can register online. You might be able to get the QR code from your seat, or there are little cards out on the tables out there.

Two invitations as we jump in. First, I know not everyone can do this for different reasons — work and health — but I invite you to turn off your phones or silence them or turn off notifications, put them somewhere you can’t see. Again, I know people for work or health that are taking notes can’t do that, but if you can, I invite you to do that. It’s just a simple way that we can give our attention to what God has for us today in his Word.

Second thing, we’re going to be talking about love today. So, I want you to be thinking about real people, specific people in your life that God has put around you. And I want you to be asking these questions (and we’ll come back to this at the end), God, what do you want me to know, and what do you want me to do? God, what do you want me to know, and what do you want me to do? And you’ll see at the bottom of your notes, we’ll have a time at the end, where we can journal and reflect. So, we’ll come back to those questions, but I want to just prime the pump, put those questions in your mind.

I’m going to pray as we jump in. Spirit, we don’t ask for modest things, for little things. I know that there are people in here that desperately need hope, desperately need encouragement, and they need a level of hope and encouragement that only you can give. So, Spirit, would you do that? Give our minds and our hearts focus on what you have for us in your Word. And would you set us free to love earnestly and purely? And do that in my heart even right now, Lord, as I seek to give your Word. Lord, we trust you for these things. You are good to us. So, we look to you, and we trust you and say “Amen” with confidence because you said to. You said to believe that you have whatever we ask. So, we do that full of faith, that you’re going to do your work today, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Have you ever met someone who was free? I don’t mean somebody who just said whatever they wanted or did whatever they wanted, but somebody who actually was free, so free that they could love other people. So free from being stuck in their own heads or holding on to past bitterness that they could actually take a genuine interest in you or in the things that you care about, so free that they didn’t care what you thought about them, but not because they didn’t care about you, but actually because they cared so much about you that they didn’t have to worry what you thought about them. “Free” as in they didn’t have to always make the conversation about themselves, but they could also be open and honest, so free that they didn’t have to make other people look bad behind their backs but could also joke. They could laugh the biggest laugh. They’re kind of strange, odd. They stand out but are also really safe. They’re truly alive to the world around them. They notice things that other people miss.

And if you can think of somebody … If you can think of somebody, if someone is coming to your mind, this person … It’s almost like this person owns the whole world and doesn’t have to cling to any of it. It’s like they own everything and don’t have to grab at any of it. Can you think of someone like that? Does someone come to mind? Jesus was this person and so much more. And Jesus was the most healthy, free, full, loving man to ever walk on the earth — totally free!

Look at how Mark [12:14] describes this. I love this because this is the description of the people that are trying to trip Jesus up. This is what they say.

“Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.”

Just imagine that. How am I going to describe this person? “He’s true.” God has done everything to set you that free. God has done everything to ensure that you would be that free, to enable and empower your freedom to love other people. So, I think sometimes we can tend to think that Christianity is like a straitjacket. We can slip into that mentality. And it’s like, “Do this. Don’t do this. Stop doing this. Start doing that. Say this better.” And there are good commands, right? There are real commands, and we don’t shy away from those.

But look at how the psalmist talks about these commands. Look at how the psalmist talks about them. In Psalm 119:32,

“I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!”

“I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” Another way to translate that “when you enlarge my heart” is “for you have set my heart free.” “I will run in the way of your commandments for you have set my heart free.”

So, it’s almost like he’s saying, “God, my heart isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t free enough to run in the way of your commands.” And if you’re like me, you can have this image in your head that Christianity is this — my heart is this big, my passions, my longings, and God is trying to squeeze those things into this little narrow list of commands. And the psalmist is saying the picture is actually the complete opposite. Your heart isn’t big enough, free enough to run wild in God’s commands, to run free in God’s commands.

What was the main command that Jesus gives his disciples right before He goes to the cross? What did he say?

“A new command I give [to] you that you love one another:” [John 13:34]

My heart for us today and going out from today in our lives is that God would set us free to run in that command; that he would set our hearts, he would enlarge our hearts, he would set them free to run in that command, to run free in loving one another earnestly and purely.

Later in Psalm 119, the psalmist comes back to this idea. He says,

“I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your command is exceedingly broad…. Your commands are boundless.”

This is real freedom, not a kind of cultural freedom that just says you can do whatever you want, you can say whatever you want. This is true freedom from inside of us that God does when he sets our hearts free.

The Rule of Benedict kind of plays off of this idea. It says,

“As we go forward in our life and faith, our hearts will expand and we will run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love.”

So, may we at North Hills Church run free in this command, not like, “All right, guys, let’s start loving people more. Let’s do better at this. Come on!” It’s like God wants to set your heart free to do that.

I want us to first look at some chains that we wear that keep us from this kind of freedom. What keeps us bound from running this free? Peter, in our passage today, is going to mention two things — impurity and perishability. Impurity and perishability.

First, impurity. So, our motives are mixed, right? If we took an honest look at our hearts, there’s so much going on there. And so often we are stuck trying to get back or get at something, stuck trying to get something from people. We can think of obvious examples of this, like obvious manipulation and horrible situations where people have used love as a weapon against us. Like “If you really loved me, you would do this,” that kind of manipulation. But this happens, this kind of mixed motives happens even in some of our best efforts to love, right? Even when we’re doing church work, service, we so often … “I need you to make me feel good. I need your approval.” Impurity, our motives are mixed.

The second one, perishability. It’s like a chain that binds us from running free in love. We don’t really think of this in connection with love very much, perishability. But think about this, you are running out of time, right? As Augustine says,

“From the moment you are born, you are dying.”

You’re in the process. You’re approaching death. Happy Sunday morning thought! But that truth can be used for good, or often, this life becomes a race, right? We’re in a race, and “I’ve got to get ahead. I’ve got to get to the next thing. I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to do more. If I haven’t done this by this age, then I’m basically nothing. If I don’t have this, or if I’m not this by this time….” So, there’s this race that we get caught up in, and we feel our perishability, and it keeps us from loving others because think about it, the person right next to me, they’re in the race, too, and maybe they’re beating me. So, why would I help them out? I’m going to love them, and then they’re going to be even further ahead of me!

So, we get stuck in these and bound in these ways of functioning, either to self-promote or to self-protect, to self-promote or to self-protect. And so often these are the ways that we function. And God has broken those chains and set you free to run in his love. God has done everything to set you free to love others.

I wonder if freedom is less doing whatever you want and more the capacity, being free, the capacity to love and receive love, the capacity to receive God’s love and give it out.

We’re going to see how God has done this in 1 Peter 1. Go ahead and turn there, 1 Peter 1. I want to summarize a little bit of where we’ve been really quickly. Matt mentioned last week or two weeks ago that there are three imperishables, three imperishables that we see. Peter loves this idea of imperishability. So, I want to trace that through as we come to the third. So, here’s what we’ll do — the first read-through, I want you to see it, to see it in the passage, to see what Peter is doing. So, follow along with me in 1 Peter 1. The second time, you can fill in your blanks. So, I’ll read it through a couple of times.

Peter’s heart for us is that when the pressure of our being exiles comes, when the pressure heats up, it would prove our faith to be pure and an imperishable possession. That’s verses 3-7. Do you see that? Faith, pure faith, living hope, eternal hope, unfading, our faith to be pure, an imperishable possession.

Our conduct to be pure through an imperishable purchase. That’s verses 14-19,

“Be holy, for I am holy,”

because Jesus bought it. Jesus bought holy living. Pure conduct through an imperishable purchase.

And thirdly, our love to be pure because of the imperishable Word of God. Our love to be pure because of the imperishable Word of God. Can you feel the strength in that? The strength, the backbone that Peter’s trying to give these exiles scattered around — people who don’t fit in, don’t belong where they’re at — giving them a strength and a backbone in imperishable hope and imperishable purchase in Jesus and God’s imperishable Word that gives us life.

So, let’s look at the command and the fuels. Peter gives us one command in this passage, and he surrounds it with fuels. If you start to see this, you’ll see it everywhere in the Bible. The Bible does not give these commands like, “Hey, come on, pick it up. Do this more. You’re not doing well enough at this.” It always surrounds those commands with energy and life. “Do this because I’ve given it to you. I’ve set you free. I’ve done that for you. I’ve taken that.” So, we’re going to see that. Peter does that … The command and surrounded by energy, life, fuel.

“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” [1 Peter 1: 22]

“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” This is the command, and the word “earnest” means stretched, stretched. So, we see these two other times in the [1 Peter] and once in Acts. Peter is in prison, and the church makes “earnest” prayer for him. I think it’s cool that Peter uses the same word. To invite people into this kind of love, he’s experienced this kind of love from his brothers and sisters who prayed earnestly for him.

The other time we see it is when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane right before going to the cross. It says, Luke 22,

“And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” [Luke 22:44]

That word “earnestly,” stretched, it reminds me of when Paul says to the Corinthians, “Hey, widen your hearts.” He says,

“Make room in your hearts for us.” [2 Corinthians 7:2]

Make room in your hearts for your brothers and sisters.

The second word that I want to highlight is “pure.” This is unhypocritical. It’s genuine. It’s not mixed. It doesn’t have an angle. It’s not trying to get at something. It’s not like, “Hey, I scratched your back. You got to scratch my back.” It’s pure.

These are heart words. These aren’t just … I think sometimes we can do damage to love when we say things like “Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a choice,” or “Love isn’t a feeling; it’s an action.” And we say that for a good reason, right? We don’t want people to think, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of feelings; that’s all love is.” But the Bible and Peter here don’t separate those two, right? It doesn’t pull those apart and act like love and feelings don’t go together. These are heart words that Peter uses. “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And that word “pure” is even indicating that I can love somebody. I can do love not from love. I can act love not from love. And Peter’s urging us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And you have no power to do that, but you’ve been set free to do that.

So, let’s look at those fuels. First, earnest and pure love is enabled by purity. It’s enabled by purity.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love.” [1 Peter 1:22]

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love.” That phrase “obedience to the truth,” we don’t really use that in everyday language, but I’ll give a silly example that may help, I hope. If I sit down and I’m eating with you and I’m eating a taco, and you sit down and you start gnawing on a piece of gravel, I may say something like, “Hey, you shouldn’t eat that.” And you might respond, “Why not?” And I would say, “Because that’s just not how the world works. That’s not how your body works. You’re not living in reality. You’re not obeying the reality that that isn’t food. Your body shouldn’t eat that.” And you could say you’re not obeying the truth. You’re not living in reality.

So, let’s translate this. Let’s translate this into our lives. That’s a silly example from physical life. Let’s translate this into our spiritual lives. When I, as a child of God, live like I have to be enough, I’ve got to do enough, I’ve got to have enough to somehow make my Father happy with me, to somehow get him to be pleased with me to do well enough, I am not living in the reality of my Father’s goodness, kindness, love, justice in the gospel for me. I’m not living in that. I’m not obeying the truth. I may be mentally believing it, but my life is not in line with reality. When I’m paralyzed by anxiety, I’m not living in the reality that my Father in heaven actually makes sure that little birds get food. That’s what Jesus says. Your Father in heaven feeds little birds, and he actually makes sure that grass grows on the hills, little blades of grass. How much more will he care for the intimate details of your life?

So, you can see obedience to the truth, obedience to reality. This is I’m laying down my life, my heart, and believing and living in the reality of who God is and what He has done for me.

Let’s see, walk through a couple of examples to see, how this purifies our souls and sends out love because that’s what the verse says, right? You’ve purified your souls by obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love. So, how does that happen?

When I know the reality that when I put my trust in Jesus, every last one of my sins was forgiven. The many that I know about and the many, many that I don’t, every last one of my sins was forgiven. When that truth washes my soul, I don’t have to hold onto what you did to me. I don’t have to get back at you because I can freely let you experience forgiveness because Jesus forgave me. So, that truth washes your soul and sends out love. It propels you into love.

When I live in the reality that my Father in heaven could not possibly love me more than he does right now in this moment and every moment of my life. When I live in that reality, when you live in that reality, it washes your soul. When you see your Father smile, you know his love and you’re propelled into love. It washes and fuels. I don’t have to get your approval. I don’t need you to like me, to do certain things for me, like life is this game where I got to get this from you. I can actually spill over some of my Father’s smile onto you because it’s filled me. So, obedience to the truth purifies our souls and sends out sincere brotherly love.

Last example — When I know that one day, when you know that one day, if you’ve put your trust in Jesus, you’re going to get to see and be with forever the one who made you and loves you and made everyone that you see and everything that you see, you’re going to get to be with him forever. I no longer have to hold on to stuff — jobs, money, cars, things, anxieties. The truth of my security and my living hope, my better possession, washes me and propels free giving. I can give from that because I have a living hope, a better possession. Obedience to the truth washes our souls, purifies our souls, and sends out love.

Look at how Titus 3 does this. Watch this in Titus 3. It’s going to be a little bit of a long passage but watch how this happens.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration [that washing, purifying regeneration] and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Now, watch. Watch this!

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things,

What things? The gospel that he’s just talked about, the mercy and grace he’s just talked about.

“so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”

Propelled into love because you’ve received everything; you’ve been set free.

“These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” [Titus 3:3-11]

This starts out with envy and malice stirring up division are not in line with this kind of gospel, this free grace. They can’t go together when you’ve been set free, when you’ve been shown that kind of mercy. That’s the first fuel, we’ve been washed, we’ve been purified.

Second. So, first our love is enabled by purity. Then our love is empowered by imperishability. Our love is empowered by imperishability. Peter says,

“love one another earnestly from a pure heart since you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding 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, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” [1 Peter 1:22-25]

You and I have no power to love earnestly and purely. In preparation for this, I tried this. It’s like, okay, this is the command “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” I’m going to do that today. I have these meetings. I’m going to do that today. And then, like two or three conversations later, maybe not even that soon, like probably later on that night, it’s like, “Oh, I was supposed to do that today. I was supposed to remember that.” When we try to do that in our own strength, when we try to say “okay, I can do this; I can love one another earnestly, purely,” it fails every time. There’s so much going on here. God has to set us free to do that. God has to speak his life into us.

When Peter says, “since you have been born again,” he’s referring to what Jesus told Nicodemus when Nicodemus asked, “Can I come to Jesus in the night?” and Jesus says,

“Unless [one] is born of water and Spirit, [he cannot] see the kingdom of God.” [John 3:5]

Born again, you’ve had God’s life breathed into you.

Ezekiel talks about this. There were dry bones, and God speaks life into these dry bones. Through his Word, he put his seed in you, his Spirit in you, and it doesn’t die or fade or wither like the grass. It doesn’t flower up, and then the 90-degree South Carolina weather comes, and it’s gone. God’s life has been put in you. It never fades. It never dies.

I think of Paul when he — this is how I imagine this — Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and I imagine him reading the Genesis story, and he comes across this phrase where it says,

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” [Genesis 1:3]

And Paul sees that, and he thinks, “Huh, that is a lot like what God did when he called me from darkness into light. He spoke, and my heart came alive.” He says to the Corinthians,

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of [God].” [2 Corinthians 4:6]

God’s Word never fails. It remains forever. He contrasts it with grass and flowers. This is the imperishable seed that’s been put in you.

So, notice all the timing words in this passage — “perishable, imperishable, living, abiding, withers, falls, remains forever.” What is Peter getting at? What is he saying here? You just told us to love earnestly from a pure heart, and now you’re talking about flowers and grass and that kind of stuff. What’s the connection here? Peter knows that you and I cannot love, we cannot love if we are perishable because love requires hope. Love requires hope.

Look at how Hebrews connects these two things.

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison [love], and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, [pretty crazy!] “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you had a better possession and an abiding one.” [Hebrews 10:32-34]

Love enabled by hope. I’ve got this hope that will never go away, and I don’t even know how good it is. I don’t even understand how amazing it is. So, I really don’t need that property. You can take it. Or I’ll visit you in prison. I’ll come and have compassion on you in prison. Love enabled by imperishability.

You don’t have to scrape and scrap and try to fight for all these achievements, to be someone, to have something, to get something from people because you have been made imperishable. If you put your faith in Jesus, if you’ve trusted him, you have been made imperishable. You are the most safe and secure person on earth. That is just true. That’s not me trying to hype you up or trying to make you just feel good although I want that. That’s reality for you. That’s a fact. You are the safest and most secure person on earth.

Jesus bought your earnest and pure love. He has washed you in forgiveness and love and his truth, and has made you imperishable, put his life in you. He’s done everything to set you free to run in love. He has done everything to set you free to run in love, and that is true freedom. That is real freedom. So, we step into that, right? We enter into that. We fall into that. We fall into that goodness, and we refuse to partner with the voices that say, “that person doesn’t deserve that,” “I got to do something to get back at them,” or “I need to hide this from these people.” You’ve been freed from that. You’ve been washed in truth and given a hope and a future better than you know, and everything is yours.

That free person we thought about earlier, it’s like they own the whole world and don’t have to cling to any of it. Paul makes that crazy statement in 1 Corinthians [3:21-23].

“All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–“

Imagine if you owned life or death. You do.

“All are yours — [and] you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Pure love because of the imperishable Word of God.

So, let’s take a second. We’re going to take a couple of minutes and reflect on this to journal, pray, maybe go back to the passage, something that was said, something that God put on your heart. What are the fears, the fears or the lies that we obey? The lies that we obey that start fueling our actions? And where does God wash us in truth? Where do we need his truth to wash us and set us free? So, maybe take time in that, or go back to our questions at the beginning — God, what do you want me to know, and what do you want me to do? What do you want me to know, and what do you want me to do? You have my yes. And Ask God for those things. So, let’s take a second and work through that on our own, and then I’ll come back.

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