Sermon- THE MOTIVATING FACTOR: Love, I Peter 1

The apostle Peter loved Jesus—loved Him more than he loved anything else. We know that Peter was married; presumably he had children. We know that after Jesus ascended back up to heaven, Peter spent the rest of his life spreading the good news of the kingdom of God—and we know that his wife worked with him in this ministry.

So I think we can assume that Peter loved his wife, that his marriage was a good one. Still, he loved Jesus more. And in his first letter, he’s making a case for Jesus—Peter knew Jesus personally. He’d walked with Jesus for three years; he’d talked to Him, listened to Him, ate with Him, watched Him. He’d been given the opportunity to literally fix his eyes on Jesus, to gaze upon the face of God. That’s what changed Peter forever. Changed him so completely that even many years later, Peter can’t stop talking about Jesus.

It’s not just because Peter saw that Jesus was good. It’s not just because Peter had come to “believe, and … to know, that [Jesus] is the Holy One of God” (John 6:68). It’s not just because Peter discovered that Jesus “had the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  It’s not even just because Peter understood and believed that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He had opened the gate to eternal life for Peter.

Peter spent his life serving his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because he had come to love Jesus above all else. Perhaps Peter himself didn’t even understand how much he loved Jesus until that day that John tells us about at the very end of his gospel. It was after the resurrection, after Jesus had appeared to His disciples more than once.

Peter had decided to go fishing and several of the other disciples joined him. And as they were fishing, Jesus appeared on the beach. He cooked them breakfast and then he had a conversation with Peter—a conversation that apparently occurred in the presence of the others. Jesus asked Peter, three times, “Do you love me?” “Do you love me more than these?” Each time He called him Simon, not Peter, the rock, because Peter had failed to live up to that name.

Both of them are remembering Peter’s words at the last supper: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:35). It was only a few hours later that Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus is inviting Peter to undo his three denials with three public affirmations of his love for Jesus. Because before Jesus can be followed and served, the sin in our lives has to be addressed. Peter is surely embarrassed in front of his fellow disciples, but he must be certain of his own repentance.

He’s telling Peter that he needs to decide: will he go back to his old life as a fisherman, or will he follow Jesus? It’s a decision each one of us has to make when we meet Jesus—will we put our hope and faith in Him? Or won’t we? And if we do, there’s no going back to our old life. There’s only going forward.  Because when we make a decision to follow Jesus, we’re committing to allowing Him to direct our lives. We’re promising to live, as Peter puts it in I Peter 1:14, as “obedient children.”

We’re committing to be holy.

Hebrews 12:14 says that “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Peter never forgot this. He had learned that it is only when we face up to all that grieves and contradicts God’s holy will in our lives, that we can truly know Jesus.

And when we truly know Him, we can not help but love Him.

In Peter’s first sermon, when asked, “What shall we do?”, Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

When Peter repented, he was immediately forgiven. Forgiven and recommissioned as Peter, the rock. Recommissioned to do the work that God has prepared for him:  “Feed my lambs.” “Feed my sheep.”

Care about my people. Jesus was making it clear to Peter that following Jesus and loving Jesus means accepting responsibility for Jesus’ people. It means commitment to the Body of Christ, the Church of Christ.

Jesus didn’t try to make it sound easy when He talked to Peter on the beach. He told him that if he continued to follow Jesus, someday he, too, would die on a cross.

And Peter agrees—agrees because he loves Jesus.

When we commit to marriage, we commit to join ourselves to a husband or wife—join ourselves for the rest of our lives. Our lives change on our wedding day—we can no longer live simply for ourselves.

Peter wants us to understand that when we commit ourselves to Jesus, when we agree to believe in and follow Him, we can no longer live for ourselves. He doesn’t just want us to understand this, he himself lived this out.

And as time went on and it began to be more difficult to follow Jesus—when there began to be serious opposition—Peter’s faith never wavered.

Because, for Peter, it wasn’t just about faith or even hope—it was about love. Love for Jesus.

Love was the motivating factor.

Peter began his letter by reminding us that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can rejoice even in the midst of earthly trials because we are inheritors of eternal life through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  We have been born again to a new life of hope—hope that is certain. And because we have been reborn, we’re called to live a life of obedience to God.

We’re called to be holy. Leviticus 11:44 tells us that God told the Israelite people to “Be holy, for I am holy.” The Lord is saying, “If you’re my people you should look like me.” God is the reason we should be holy. But He’s also the one who empowers our holiness. We can never be holy through our own efforts. But all things really are possible through Christ Jesus. Obedience to all that God calls us to do is the key, Peter says.

Obedience that comes as a result of loving Jesus.

And now, as we begin with verse 20 in the first chapter of Peter’s first letter, Peter expands on this idea of holiness. 

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (I Peter 1:20-21).

What Peter is saying here is that God’s eternal purpose—a purpose that goes back to before creation—was that Christ would come to die and then rise from the dead for the salvation of all who would believe in Him. He’s saying that God’s eternal purpose is for your sake!

God loves you in a very personal way.

Peter wants us to understand that “While God so loved the world …” (John 3:16), that love is intensely personal. God doesn’t just love people in general (perhaps the way that we might say “I love dogs” or “I love chocolate”). God loves you and me as individuals—the way that we love each one of our children individually. The way that we love our spouse as an individual. He says, “I love you.” “I love you with an everlasting love.”

“I love you so much that I sent my only beloved Son for you.”

Psalm 139:14 says that human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

God’s story, the Bible, defines human beings first and foremost by our divine identity. In Genesis 1:26, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned and there were consequences for that sin, but God’s love never diminishes. Throughout the Old Testament, we find God caring for His people: calling Abraham and blessing Him, rescuing the Israelite people from captivity in Egypt, bringing them into the Promised Land.

The people sin—continually, it seems—but God never abandons them, never stops caring for them. Never stops declaring His love for them. Over and over and over again, God declares His love for His people.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but if you pay attention as you read through the history of God’s people in the Old Testament, the only person who ever declares their love for God is David. And, interestingly, while we’re told that many people love David, nowhere does David declare love for any individual—only for his Lord God.

This is why God calls David a man after His own heart.

The people continually fall away from God, but God never abandons them, never forsakes them. And finally, He sends His beloved Son Jesus into the world to show us God’s love in an intensely personal way. To allow Himself to be nailed to a wooden cross in order that we might live.

All this, Peter is saying, because God loves you.

And because it’s only when we gaze upon the face of God that we can really begin to know Him—and love Him.

Love is the motivating factor in our relationship to Jesus.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, 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 (I Peter 1:22-23).

Peter, like Paul, draws a direct connection between faith, hope and love. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is live.”

Peter says that because our “faith and hope are in God,” we are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

Is he saying that the love we have for one another is evidence of a pure heart? Yes. Peter is describing this love that we have for one another as a process that began in the past and that continues today. Greek, as you probably know, uses several different words to differentiate between different types of love. The word that Peter uses here is philadelphia, which means brotherly love—the kind of love that grows relationship and develops bonds of unity.

Peter’s not suggesting that it might be a good idea to love one another. He’s saying that if our faith and hope are truly in God, we must love one another. He’s saying that not only is it possible for Christians to love one another—it’s required.

Jesus, on that Thursday night before He died on the cross, when, John tells us, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to go to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1). Immediately after John tells us this, in the very next verse he tells us that Jesus also knew that Judas was about to betray Him.

What does Jesus do? He washes the feet of His disciples—all of them. Even Judas. Then after telling them all that one of them would betray Him, only then did He say: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Later that same night, Jesus repeats His command, this time connecting it to obedience: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. … You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

Not just love one another—but love one another as Jesus has loved us. Jesus who is about to suffer and die for you and for me.

Jesus, knowing that Judas was about to betray Him, washed His feet—He continued to love him. Later that same night, Peter would deny three times that he knew Jesus—Jesus continued to love him. All this, Peter is saying, because God loves you.

This is how Jesus calls us to love one another. Jesus’ love never gives up on us, never walks away, never treats even His enemies as worthless or with contempt.

Luke tells us a story in his gospel about a prostitute who crashed a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee. She came in and wept over Jesus, dripping tears all over His feet. Then she got down on the floor and kissed His feet and wiped them with her hair.

When the Pharisee complained, Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

Peter wants us to understand that loving Jesus much is the key to entry into the kingdom of God.

There is a direct connection between faith and love. The woman saw Jesus—she looked at Him and recognized who He was and who lived in Him. Somehow she was able to recognize that He accepted her and that He would forgive her before He ever spoke the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” She saw a goodness in Him that could only be God, and her heart was simply broken with love and gratitude.

There’s also a warning in this story. The woman knew she needed a Savior. The Pharisee, who thought he was already better than everyone else, was quite certain that he had his own salvation covered.

Peter wants us to be clear:

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, 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.” (I Peter 1:22-25).

Love is the motivating factor for God’s people. And we can love God in a way that seemed impossible for OT people, not because we have seen His face, but because Peter has seen Him and has testified to what He saw. And because we have the Word of God in this book that we call the Bible.

This book through which we can come face to face with Jesus. Because when we read God’s written Word, we are hearing Him speak to us.

The reason that so many people claim to be followers of Jesus, to be Christians, but look pretty much like all the unbelievers in the world, is because they don’t know Jesus in a personal way. They don’t know Him like Peter knew Him—because if they did, they would be changed.

God didn’t send Jesus to die just so we might have more faith—or even to show us what faith looks like. He didn’t send Jesus just to give us hope.

He sent Jesus because He loves us so much that He can’t bear the idea of condemning us all to death.  He sent Him because He wanted to have a very personal relationship with us. A relationship that would change our lives just as it changed Peter’s life—and the life of the rest of the apostles.

We were born into the world as a result of perishable seed—and in this world, we’ll grow old and die. But now we have been born again of imperishable seed—we will live eternally. If we believe in Jesus. If we love Jesus above all else. If we long to follow Him not just today but through all eternity.

Jesus called Peter to go to the home of a Roman soldier named Cornelius to not just tell him about Jesus, but to baptize him—and his entire household. To welcome him into the fellowship of believers.

It was a Roman soldier who nailed Jesus to the cross; it was Roman soldiers who beat Jesus until He was bloody, who mocked Him and placed a crown of thorns on His head.

But when God sent Peter to the home of a Roman soldier, Peter went. Went and baptized them—and stayed at there for “some days.”

Love was the motivating factor. Peter was able to set aside any prejudice he had against Roman soldiers because his love for Jesus was greater.

Who is it that you’re finding hard to love? Maybe because they’ve hurt you in some way in the past? Maybe you have a neighbor whose lifestyle you find offensive; or a friend who’s said unkind things about you behind your back. Maybe there’s a coworker who treats you with contempt. Maybe you’ve had a serious disagreement with a family member that’s caused you to stop speaking to one another. Maybe there’s someone in the congregation that you avoid because you just don’t like them.

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.”

If you’re struggling to forgive someone, struggling to love them, struggling to even be around them, Peter says, go to the “living and abiding word of God.” It will change you—if you let it. It will change your heart—if you let it.

Sometime all of us who have been born again to imperishable seed will be together with Jesus for all eternity. There will be no “no mourning, nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

The reason we will be able to live without pain or suffering is because we will be living in a perfect world where we will all be filled with overwhelming love for one another—love that comes from being in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And because we have been promised that “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27)—no sin. No one not willing to follow every command of Jesus. No one who refuses to love one another as He first loved us.

Most of us have extra time available to us these days. Use it—open God’s Word. Let it flow over you and through you. Let it change you. Soak in the presence of our great and loving God.

Nothing could be more important.

2 Corinthians 7:1 “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”