In 1 Peter, Peter is writing to elect exiles, Christians who had been forcefully displaced from their homeland to the area now known Asia Minor for the sake of expanding the Roman Empire. Throughout the book, Peter’s call to these elect exiles is to find their hope in Jesus Christ because God has caused them to be born again in Christ. After laying out the foundation of their faith in the opening few verses, Peter begins to instruct his readers on what it means to live in light of Gospel as elect exiles. In verses 22-25, Peter commands the elect exiles to “love one another from a pure heart.”
Throughout the New Testament, the biblical authors present love as a necessary bi-product of our redemption. Jesus states, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35, ESV). At the end of his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12.31, ESV). Paul then launches into his famous discourse on love, the “still more excellent way,” which ends by writing, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13, ESV). When Paul encourages believers to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh, he gives the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23, ESV). Notice that the first fruit Paul lists is love. Paul tells Timothy, his “true child in the faith,” “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1.5, ESV). Finally, John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4.7-8, ESV). Therefore, Peter, in accord with the rest of the New Testament, instructs the elect exiles to love in response to the Gospel.
All of these verses beg the question, “What is love?” Paul answers this question writing, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8a, ESV).
I have often heard people talk about love as a risky proposition; I am sure that I have even talked about it in that way. However, risk seems to be a fundamentally flawed way of thinking about love. When we think of love in terms of risk, what we are really saying is, “If I love, I might not be loved back. If I love, I might get hurt. Therefore, love is risky.” Of course, we act as if we think it is a risk worth taking saying, “It is better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all (or it is better to have been loved and lost than never to have been loved at all).” The reason this understanding of love is flawed is that it is selfish. When we view love as a risk we are thinking in terms of what we might or might not get back. We are still, to some degree, unsatisfied if we are not loved back. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we often will not be loved back. Eventually, the risk outweighs the return, so we quit loving.
The explanation of love that Paul gives is different. Rather than understanding love in terms of risk, Paul understands love in terms of self-denial, sacrifice, and service. The Gospel is necessary for this type of love, for only in Christ do we have such freedom from our flesh that this altruistic love is possible. The Gospel says we are sinners with no hope before God except through Jesus Christ. The hope we have through Jesus Christ is only because, “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV). Because Jesus died for sin as a substitute for all those who are united to Him by faith, then those who are united to Christ by faith have their sins forgiven and are made new creatures.
Only in Christ do we submit to the reality that all things are for God’s glory and love in accord with that reality. As long as we find our hope in the flesh and the things of this world, we will be unable to deny ourselves and the things of this world for the sake of loving – it will simply be too risky. Yet, when we find our hope in God and how He has worked out redemption for His people through Jesus Christ, we can rest in the certain hope that we have in Christ and love, even those who harm us, selflessly, sacrificially, and joyfully.
Peter and the other biblical authors see this as a necessary outcome of faith because of the union with Christ underlying our faith. If we are united to Jesus Christ by faith, and Jesus Christ is God, and God is love, then on what grounds do we fail to love with the love of Christ?