During times of suffering, hardship, and loss, the human tendency is to turn inward and to focus on ourselves—putting ourselves at the center. It’s incredibly difficult to open our eyes to the needs of others when we see so much of our own needs. But the biblical call to love one another and serve one another isn’t a calling reserved for times that are “good,” but it’s a command that is to be obeyed at all times, and perhaps, even especially during “bad” times.
We, as God’s people, have experienced suffering, loss, pain, and loneliness in a unique way this year. During a season where the tendency is for us to become inward-focused and self-centered, God has a word for us through Peter.
The book of 1 Peter was written to, and for, suffering Christians. The group of Christians Peter was addressing at the time did not view suffering and hardship as an exemption or an excuse to not obey God’s Word. But, even in the midst of hardships, they pressed into their salvation. We see this in how Peter spoke to this group of Christians who were experiencing suffering and persecution and rejection in a way beyond our current reality. Peter says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV).
Look at the verse again and notice one very important word: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV).
This word is showing us that our being saved is for something. What is it for? Peter says it’s for love. For a sincere, brotherly love. We were saved so that we would love one another. Not just during “good” times, but even during hard times of suffering.
Peter doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t leave the call to love one another ambiguous. Look at the two specific words that Peter uses to describe how we are to love: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). He says that we are to have a sincere love and an earnest love.
Peter calls us to a sincere love. What does that mean? The word “sincere” in this verse means without hypocrisy. It means unmasked and shown to be as it really is. It means truth. Sincere love is a love that’s bound up with truth. Peter is telling us that without truth, you really can’t have love. As Christians, we’re not just called to love, but we’re called to a sincere love—a truth-filled love. But, we live in a world that tries to separate love from truth.
The world says:
But that’s not love, that’s tolerance. You don’t need truth for tolerance. The best the world can go for is tolerance—just letting everybody live and do and believe whatever they want without bringing in the truth of God’s Word that righteously critiques all of us.
But Christians aren’t called to tolerate. We’re called to love. And our love has to be sincere. It has to be filled with truth.
Here are three ways that we can be sincere and truth-filled in our love:
We can love our brothers and sisters in Christ by telling the truth in confessing our sins. When I sin against my wife, Angela, sometimes I’m tempted to convince myself that I can’t confess certain things because they will hurt her too much. I love her and I don’t want to hurt her, so I don’t confess. When I do this, I’m trying to separate love from truth. But if I do believe the lie and refrain from telling her things, I’m not really loving her—I’m lying to her by presenting myself to be better than I really am. In fact, I’m not only lying to her, but I’m robbing her of an opportunity to forgive me and to live out the gospel by telling me the truth about God—that in Christ, I’m already forgiven and because Christ has forgiven her of her sins, she too forgives me.
Another way that we need to love each other is through confrontation—by speaking the truth about each other with a gentle and kind tone. Sometimes, sin needs to be confronted. Now, I know some of you think you’ve got this one down. Many of you are more than willing to, “tell it like it is,” but remember the command is to sincerely love. Not just to be sincere or not just tell the truth, but to have truth and love be bound up and intermingled. We also sometimes tend to lean the opposite way on the scale. We often have a cowardice about us. We want people’s approval so bad, and we want people to like us so much, that we rarely love them enough to say the hard things.
The world finds confession utterly foolish. Why would you tell people how weak you are? Why would you give others a leg up on you? The world also finds confrontation hateful. They think, “How dare you judge me and tell me what I’m doing is wrong?” But the Christian is always admitting, “Look how weak I am. Look how I’ve sinned again. The cross must be so great.” The Christian sees that tolerance is not love at all. The Christian sees that tolerance is cowardice. And so, at the risk of being misunderstood or even hated, we gently pursue each other with truth—with a sincere love.
God also commands us through Peter to love earnestly.
We’re commanded to love one another earnestly. What does that mean? It’s the Greek word “ektenēs.” It’s a physical word. It means to stretch to the limit of a muscle’s capacity—to literally stretch to the very furthest point until that muscle reaches its maximum limit. It’s a very graphic term. It means, metaphorically, to go all out, to reach the very limit of love as far as you can reach. It’s the same word Jesus used praying in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was in agony, praying very fervently, and sweating great drops of blood. It’s a love that stretches as far as it can possibly reach.
In other words, an earnest love is a love that doesn’t give up on people. And I just wonder if there are people in your life that you’ve given up on because they’ve cost you too much. They’ve just let you down too many times. They’ve just cost you too much emotionally, physically, and financially.
Peter is saying, Jesus didn’t give up on you. He reached as far as He could reach for you. He utterly stretched Himself to His limits to love you and lay down His life for you. And so, that is how we are to love. We go all out. We strive and strain and work. This means that love is going to hurt. It’s going to cause you pain. It’s going to cost you time and money and sleep and comfort and approval and safety. Love is going to cost.
Love always costs. When you bear the burden of someone else, you always have to go near the burdened person—you can’t love from a distance. You not only have to get near them, but if you’re going to bear their burden, a part of that burden has to fall on you. There’s no way to bear someone’s burden without some of it coming back on you.
So, love always costs. If there’s no cost, there is no love; and really, the greatness of the love is shown by the greatness of the cost. Isn’t that what makes the cross so precious to us? And so, the earnestly-loving Christian says, “Oh come on, burden. I remember a time when someone loved me and bore my burden. I remember when someone stretched in order to love me. I remember when someone was willing to pay even His life for mine. So yes, I’ll bear your burden!”
So the question we need to all ask ourselves is, “Am I loving the body of Christ with an earnest love? A stretching love? A strenuous love? Am I loving my brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that costs me in significant ways? A my-life-for-yours kind of love?”
Who do you know that has a real need in the church? Who do you know that is struggling financially, spiritually, or emotionally? Will it cost you financially and spiritually and emotionally to love them? Absolutely, love always costs. Do you know a single parent that’s trying to raise their children all alone? How can you stretch as a family to love the single parent and their kid(s) during this time? Do you know a Christian that’s suffered a tragedy? Should a brother or sister in Christ ever weep alone? Do you know anyone in the church that’s lonely? How many people are there just in our church that are just hanging on by a thread right now in one way or another? Perhaps desperate for just someone to reach out to them through a phone call just to ask, “How are you doing?”
And this is the difficult part—what if you’re the one that’s struggling? What if you’re the one that’s suffering? What if you’re the one that needs to be loved? Are you commanded to love in this way? Human sentiment and man’s wisdom would say, “No, no. You’re exempt. God’s not calling you to love in this way because you’re suffering right now.” You’re exempt at least for a season, right?
But who is Peter writing to? Not just to Christians, but to suffering Christians. Remember? And so, the command to love sincerely and earnestly applies to every believer, there’s no one exempt. Peter is saying that if you’ve been loved, you have to love. No Christian is exempt from loving.
What if we loved each other like this? What would The Austin Stone look like if we were filled with people that loved each other sincerely and earnestly even through a time such as this? Even as a people that are suffering, straining to love others? We can be a church like that, we just need to love in the way that we’ve been loved.