Sunday, August 30, 2009

All we need is love I Peter 1:22-25

That “God is love” is undoubtedly a Biblical truth, but the Beatles' "All we need is love" goes too far. I remember many years ago when broadcasting became local, I invited the chairman of the nascent local radio station to give a talk one lunchtime to a bunch of doctors. I asked him if they intended to have any religious broadcasting and he told me that his all-sufficient phrase for all religions was "God is Love".

Our passage in 1 Peter certainly affirms the importance of love, but Peter first stresses the need for hope and then for holiness before he gets round to love. But he does indeed get round to love:

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
"All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Theologians have distinguished between different types of love. There's eros ie sexual love, phileo or brotherly love and agape, self sacrificing love. But it isn't exactly true. In the Septuagint agape is used to describe rape - not exactly self-sacrificing. In the Bible, there is only one sort of love. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

All other types of love are versions of this love. Do we love our wives or husbands? Are we willing to lay down our lives for him/her? Do we love our children? Would we sacrifice ourselves for them? Do we love our brothers in Christ? Would we lay down our lives for them? Do we love our enemies?

We do love and we do so because we have been saved. It is a consequence of our salvation. "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers".

Hold on a minute. Purified yourself? Obeying the truth? Sounds an awful lot like salvation by works. Here is a lesson in not taking a text out of context. The translators of the KJV recognized the danger and translated v22 thus: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" To ensure that this was not of our doing they have inserted "through the Spirit" though the Spirit is not present in the Greek which in a literal translation says "The souls of you having purified by obedience to the truth to brotherly love unfeigned from the heart one another love ye earnestly". You see why Bible translation is a skilled job.

However, the rest of the chapter makes it clear that we can claim no credit for our salvation. He has given us new birth v3: You were redeemed ... with the precious blood of Christ; v 18-19: Through Him you believe in God v 21. And so it is throughout the New Testament: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.

What then does this passage of 1 Peter mean? The Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. It is not enough for you to have heard the gospel or even to give assent to it. Being baptized won't save you, nor will reciting the creed, attending services, becoming a church member, saying your prayers or reading your Bible. You have to take the gospel on board and allow it to change your life. The gospel has to get into your very marrow.

A man named George Judson worked for IBM in America. His daughter developed acute leukemia. The main problem with acute leukemia is that you stop making normal blood cells and in particular you stop making the type of white blood cells that cleanse the body from infection. “My daughter needs white cells,” he pestered the doctors, “can't you give her a transfusion?” The doctors explained that a blood transfusion contained only a few white cells; they would need to concentrate them. Working together with Jay Freireich, and with the financial strength of IBM behind them, Judson designed the IBM cell separator which allowed concentrated collections of white cells to be made and transfused.

The only problem with that was that white cell transfusions only last about 6 hours. What Judson's daughter needed was a bone marrow transplant. She needed a seed planted in her bone marrow that would grow and produce a steady supply of healthy white cells that would cleanse and go on cleansing her body from infection and a supply of new red cells that would carry life-giving oxygen around her body and a supply of healthy platelets that would preserve this new life and stop it leaking away. This is an illustration of what the Holy Spirit does when we are saved. But Judson's daughter would have to consent to her transplant and we have to agree to be saved. What a tragedy when we reject the offer of salvation!

Everyone who has a bone marrow transplant will eventually die because the seed that is planted is a perishable seed, but the seed that is planted within us when the Holy Spirit gives us new life, is imperishable. You may try and resist it, but it has an overwhelming resilience. That is why as a natural consequence of conversion you will have an unfeigned love for other Christians.

But in addition to that, Peter tells us that we must love one another deeply from the heart. This is our human responsibility. It is all too easy to sit back and assume that having been converted we will love the brethren. To be honest sometimes people we know at church are not easy to love. There’s the chap who always moans that things aren’t what they use to be under A**** B*******, or the girl who waves her hands about in front of your face, or the person who always prays the same prayer at the prayer meeting, or the sermon-tasters, or the pernickety, or the smelly, or those who write anonymous letters of criticism in green (or even worse, purple) ink, or the woman who has been sulking for ten years because she wasn’t invited to do the flowers, or the chap who sings loudly and flat behind you, or the music leader who doesn’t give you a firm beat to come in on, or the person who gives the children’s talk as if he were lecturing university students with sesquipedalian phrases, or … must I go on? I am sure you get the picture. Don’t many of these complaints sound trivial? You see the battles I have to face.

When we examine the kind of love we are supposed to show, how precipitous is our fall from grace. Peter’s old mate, John, writes about the love that the Father has lavished on us (1 John 3:1). Do you love the brothers lavishly? I’m not sure how I would do that, even though that is the standard set before us. When there are Christian brothers imprisoned unjustly, what do I do about it?

In Uzbekistan it is now commonplace for the police to raid houses where believers are meeting, to beat and arrest everyone present and to confiscate all literature, without a search warrant. Fines of $750-1500 per person are imposed. Many Uzbek Christian students have been expelled from universities. What should we do to support our Christian brothers in Uzbekistan?

In May this year 15 Christian homes were burnt down in a village in Sindh Province, Pakistan. They belonged to converts from Hinduism.

On June 30th around 600 Muslims petrol bombed 117 Christian homes in the village of Bahamani Walla, Punjab, Pakistan, and at the same time sabotaged the water pumps so that the fires could not be extinguished. Nine women and four children were injured when acid was thrown at them when they fled.

What are we doing to help our brothers and sisters in Pakistan?

In Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Viet Nam, Egypt, Turkey, Laos, Indonesia, Fiji, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Uganda, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Mauritania Christians are being persecuted.

What can we do to help our brothers and sisters there? First of all we should pray for them, but prayer should be a spur to action. We could give to organizations like the Barnabas Fund that support persecuted Christians. We could lobby our MP, Congressman, Senator or whatever so as to bring pressure to bear from government to government. Many of these countries are recipients of British or American aid. Our governments should not be involved in sleazy deals over oil or military equipment. Rather they should stick up for the human rights of our fellow Christians. We are not asking for special privileges. Just as Paul stood up for his rights as a Roman citizen, so we should stand up for the human rights of our brothers in Christ.

Not only should we love lavishly, we should love wisely. We should not ‘spoil’ our fellow believers the way that some parents spoil their children by giving in to every demand. You wouldn’t give drugs to a junkie or booze to an alcoholic. But that’s exactly what you are doing when you give cash to many beggars. You might give them food or shelter or advice or encouragement, but supporting their bad habit only reinforces it. The Bible tells us that “He who will not work, neither shall he eat.” A wise principle. Some cannot work because of illness or frailty. Some cannot work because there are no jobs. But some do not work because of indolence or truculence. We have no responsibility to encourage this – but contrariwise a brother who is doing his best should be helped out. Those without a marketable skill who exist in low-wage jobs could well do with some aid from their Christian brothers, for John also writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)

John goes on, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” My father-in-law used to tell a story of a man in church who, whenever the collection bag came round used to raise his hands in the air and cry, “Hallelujah!” and leave them there until the bag had passed him by. Dear brothers and sisters let us not allow our piety and prayer be a mask for meanness.

But hesitate before you judge others. This message is meant that we should judge ourselves. A story is told about Sir Ernest Shackleton by Frank Wild. During their expedition to the South Magnetic Pole in 1908 they were very short of food, down to one biscuit a day. As they were trekking across the ice Wild felt Shackleton’s hand in his pocket. Wild was suffering from frostbite and was the weakest one in the expedition. At first he thought that Shackleton was stealing his biscuit, but then he realized that Shackleton was actually giving him his own biscuit. “Your need is greater than mine,” said Shackleton. An Exeter University course on Shackleton’s leadership technique is used at universities all over the world.

Judgement should be left to the one who knows all the facts.

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