Peter has consistently rooted his exhortations in this opening chapter in the gospel, and he does so once again as he exhorts his readers to Christian love (1:22–24). Because they had “purified [their] souls by [their] obedience to the truth,” they should “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” As we have seen, Christian ethics is always rooted in the gospel. As Scot McKnight observes, “If one’s ethics is not rooted in Christian theology, it becomes nothing more than a pluralistic option thrown into the winds of cultural change.”
Having already exhorted the suffering Christians in Asia Minor to hopeful suffering, hopeful holiness, and hopeful fear, Peter now exhorts them to hopeful love. When we are suffering, it is easy to focus inward and to feel sorry for ourselves, neglecting the fact that others might also be suffering. Peter wanted his readers to avoid that temptation. He wanted them to intentionally pursue brotherly love in the midst of their suffering. They must love one another “earnestly from a pure heart.”
The word translated “earnestly” is frequently used in the context of prayer. It is used to describe the required fervency, constancy, and effort that must be put into our prayers (Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5). In the same way, Christian love requires effort. This is a command that we must actively obey. Consider, briefly, three characteristics of “earnest” love.
First, earnest love is deliberate love. As already noted, Christian love does not come easily. We are, by nature, selfish beings and our tendency too frequently is to focus inward rather than outward. The repeated exhortations in the New Testament to love one another illustrate this. If it were easy or natural to earnestly love others, there would be no need to exhort us to do so. Paul exhorted us to “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1). “Pursue” implies deliberate effort. It implies knowing the direction in which one should be heading and then making the deliberate effort to do so.
Are you making deliberate efforts to love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you make the effort to reach out, to send messages, to offer assistance when it is necessary? I recently spoke to a church member who admitted to feelings of guiltat the outpouring of love experienced in a particular trial. People made the effort to display love. We say that we know our fellow church members love us, but nothing displays Christian love like intentional, deliberate effort.
Second, earnest love is deep love. Christian love digs beneath the surface. It seeks to serve others rather than to be served. It is natural to want to be served; it is supernatural to intentionally serve others in love. Paul wrote of this kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Writing in the context of spiritual gifts, he exhorted the Corinthians not to pursue their own desires to show off their gifts but to instead be careful to use their gifts in a way that lovingly served the body. Among other things, such love “does not insist on its own way” and instead “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (vv. 4–7). Earnest love assumes the best of others and is willing to endure wrong to serve the objects of love.
Deep love is also transparent love. It is transparent about sin and quick to seek forgiveness. It is quick to grant forgiveness when confession is made. Howard Snyder laments that too few churches are characterised by “winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds.” That should not be rare among God’s people.
Third, earnest love is durable love. It does not quickly forsake the object of its love. It is willing to endure wrong and continue loving anyway. It does not harbour bitterness and unhesitatingly forgives. It loves enduringly because it understands Christ’s enduring love that enables it.
Are you quick to write off those who wrong you—those whom you once professed to love deeply? Do you continue loving even when your love is not obviously reciprocated? That is love that is inspired by the gospel. God loved us in Christ before we loved him and his love endures even when ours wanes. Such love ought to inspire in us durable love.
As you meditate on 1 Peter 1:22–24 this morning, ask God to help to identify whether your love for your brothers and sisters is truly marked by earnestness. Is your love deliberate? Is your love deep? Is your love durable? May it be inspired by gospel realities to be so characterised.