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A Love the World Wants

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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February 22, 2024 12:01 am

A Love the World Wants

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 22, 2024 12:01 am

Having been born again, Christians belong to God's family and receive new brothers and sisters in the Lord. Today, Sinclair Ferguson describes how brotherly love in the church is vital for bearing witness to Christ in the world.

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Family love is natural. Love for the brothers is spiritual, but God intends it to become instinctive to us, natural for us.

And this is why we have what for some people is a very surprising command. We're commanded to love one another. And the reason that is the case is because, of course, love is not in the New Testament a matter of emotion merely.

It's principally a matter of the way we think about one another. As your local community observes your church and interacts with its members throughout the week, what is it that they notice the most? Is it the love you have for your brothers and sisters in Christ? This is the Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind, a daily and listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries.

This week you're hearing messages from Sinclair Ferguson's new series Sojourners and Exiles, a study in 1 Peter. And today we're reminded that Christian love is not an option. We're commanded in 1 Peter 1-22 to love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

So what does that kind of love look like? Why does Peter emphasize it? And what should be the result as the world watches on and sees that kind of Christian community?

Here's Dr. Ferguson. While we're continuing now our studies in 1 Peter, this wonderful letter about which Martin Luther said that although you can read it in 20 minutes, perhaps speaking with some exaggeration as he sometimes did, it contains everything you need to know to live the Christian life. And I think it's not difficult reaching the point where we are now in 1 Peter to understand why someone in the trenches the way Luther was fighting the battle of the Christian life would turn to 1 Peter and realize that this book he felt was so relevant to where he was at the time of the Reformation was relevant because it was so powerfully relevant to Christians before Christendom. And as we've seen for that reason, it certainly seems to me to be so powerfully relevant to those of us who are living in what may well be the demise of Christendom and perhaps for many years to come. So if we are older and haven't so much longer to live, this is an encouraging book. And if we are older, it's certainly a book that we need to encourage the younger generation to turn to again and again so that they with us can learn to live the Christian life as we've already noted once or twice in any place, at any time, under any circumstances, no matter what kind of state, no matter what kind of government.

Because what we've got here, as we've seen, is instruction about our new identity as Christians. We've been born again to a living hope, says Peter, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And we've noticed that when we learn to think as Christians, when as baby Christians we learn to speak, there is a grammar and a logic to the Christian gospel. And as we grasp that grammar, we begin to be able to live ourselves, knowing who we are, we begin to be able to understand who other Christians are, and we begin to understand, as Peter emphasizes right at the very beginning of this letter, that we are strangers and exiles and aliens in this world. And this is because in relationship to God the Trinity, we have been chosen according to God's foreknowledge, we have been set apart by the work of the Holy Spirit, and we have become obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, he began by teaching us what our relationship to God is. And then he went on, you remember, as he worked his way through this chapter to speak about our relationship to the unbelieving world.

We are strangers in an unbelieving world, exiles and aliens. And now as we come to chapter 1 verse 22 through to the end of chapter 2 verse 3, he's teaching us about what our new identity means in relationship to our fellow Christians. So, these verses have a very special focus on our life together, not just in the world, but in the church, in the fellowship of God's people. And you'll notice that in this context, he has these very powerful statements to make. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, for what?

If that sentence were unfinished, how would you finish it? I think it's striking that Peter finishes it by saying the purpose of our sanctification in the first instance is brotherly love. Brotherly love, he says, that is earnest and that emerges from a pure or unhypocritical heart. Now, he's going on to speak about the Christian life in relationship to the society in which we live. But he wants to anchor all that in the principal place in which we are nurtured as Christians, and that is in the context of the fellowship of the church. And what for the New Testament believers was the principal instrument of the evangelism of the world. We have lived through an era, perhaps it's lasted over a hundred years, where there has been a tremendous emphasis on the notion that the principal influence and evangelism of the world is the individual Christian's witness. Now, of course, in the New Testament church, in the New Testament church, every individual was a witness to Jesus Christ. But the chief emphasis of the New Testament is not so much on individualized Christian witness, but on the power of the witness of this new community that God has created in Jesus Christ. And I think it's for this reason, not just because the church is, in a sense, the safe tower in which we live the Christian life, but because the church of God is the chief evangelistic instrument that God uses in the world, that He has this strong emphasis. If that's the case, then it is vital that the church truly be the church, that the church truly function the way in which the Lord Jesus intended the church to function. You remember how He prays in John 17. He prays for the unity of the church, which depends on the mutual love of the members of the church, so that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. And it's this that Peter is now beginning to underscore, to stress, and to express in his emphasis here on our mutual devotion to one another. And there are a whole series of dimensions that I want us to notice about what he says, and of course, we'll need to deal with each one of them quite briefly. First of all, he issues an exhortation, and it's about the quality of love in the fellowship of the family of God.

And you'll notice that's the kind of language he uses. New Testament has several Greek words by which it expresses love in its various facets. He's speaking here about Philadelphia, about love for the brothers. He's not speaking so much here about love for the unlovely, but about that brotherly love that is the fruit of regeneration, that natural love that is produced by a spiritual regeneration.

My mentor when I was a student, my minister, William Still, used to say that what is the great characteristic of the Christian life is that we learn to do the spiritual thing naturally and the natural thing spiritually. Family love is natural. Love for the brothers is spiritual, but God intends it to become instinctive to us, natural for us.

And this is why we have what for some people is a very surprising command. We are commanded to love one another. We're commanded to love one another. And the reason that is the case is because, of course, love is not, in the New Testament, a matter of emotion merely. It's principally a matter of the way we think about one another. And this love, you notice, Peter says, is to be earnest, it's to be fervent.

He uses language that suggests that we are on the stretch here. We are maxing out this love, and it's heartfelt. It comes from the core of our being, and it's sincere.

It's anhubokratos. It's without hypocrisy, without a mask. It's genuine.

It's face to face. And at the end of the day, without this, the church is anemic. And it's very interesting, isn't it, that right throughout the New Testament, the emphasis of the apostles is not merely on the principle that the truth of God should be taught in the church, but that the love of God should be manifest in the church. So that when an outsider comes to the church and is exposed to the church, they will not only hear the revolutionary message of the gospel to convert them, but they will see that gospel expressed in the relationships that there are within the life of the church.

And that is not an optional extra. That is essential to the fruit of the gospel. And I think Peter was very conscious of this as he wrote to these different churches in different places, and he wants to raise their eyes to the work of God, and so he urges them to live in relationship to one another that will show the world the dysfunctional world of the first century and shows the world that is profoundly dysfunctional now in the West, the life that God originally created men and women to experience and to share.

And there is nowhere else in all the world that people see this. And fascinatingly, as our culture collapses, as the Roman culture was beginning to collapse in the first century, this very simple principle now stands out in all its beauty. And we begin now to hear people saying to us, people who hate the gospel but are exposed to the church, and despite the barriers they put up, they find themselves saying that they cannot deny that they see something here, they see nowhere else, and they realize this is an echo of how life is meant to be lived. And so, here in the simplest possible way, urging us to have brotherly love for one another, Peter is emphasizing one of the great keys to contemporary evangelism. Now, that's the exhortation he gives, but you'll notice as he goes on in the passage, he emphasizes that there is a precondition for this. He says, love one another with a sincere brotherly love, earnestly from a pure heart, as those who have purified their souls by their obedience to the truth. Purified their souls by obedience, notice, to the truth. Now, what is this truth?

What is the truth that brings me to love others in the church with brotherly love? The logic is simple really. It's this. They're your brothers. They're your sisters. And as you see that, your attitude to them, your disposition towards them, is transformed. You see them in a different light.

That's true, isn't it? If all of us in the church to which we belong all thought of others in the church as brothers or sisters, people brought into the family of God, someone for whom Jesus Christ died, that actually itself would revolutionize the way we think about each other, the way we treat each other. You know, one of the old writers in the early church said, you know, if somebody gave you a bowl of the blood of Jesus Christ to carry, that was full of the blood of Jesus Christ, would you not carry that with the greatest care? But you see, what Peter is saying is, here are the people for whom that blood was shed. Think about the single most difficult person in your church for you, the person that you see and you kind of move inwards and backwards or and you kind of move inwards and backwards or sideways or round to the coffee table in order to avoid.

They are so difficult. Don't you see how this transforms everything to think that this is someone for whom Christ shed His precious blood, that this is your brother? And you see you begin to see them with new lenses that have the prescription not of how you naturally feel about that person, but how you see them through the eyes of the gospel. And you see, this begins to happen in great measure, the old with the young, the wise with the simple, the rich with the poor, various ethnicities mingling together in a way that doesn't happen in the world because of this brotherly love. And it's what Paul says to the Corinthians, you remember, it's a kind of prophesying. You remember how he says, you're doing all kinds of things and people just don't understand what's going on, but when you are living in a way that is full of praise to God, which is what prophesying means really in that context, then the outsider comes in and he is conscious, she is conscious that God is among these people.

There is no other explanation because we see one another with new lenses in our spectacles. But it's not only that there is this precondition, this exhortation with its precondition also has a source of inspiration. And the source of inspiration is, he says here in verse 23, all this is possible because you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and abiding Word of God.

Of course, regeneration is what produces this. As we noted before, we are adopted into God's family, but by regeneration we are given this new nature, these new instincts, and that's a sovereign work of God. It's interesting and actually much discussed by the theologians therefore.

How can it be if this is a sovereign work of God that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God? Doesn't that engage our minds? Doesn't that mean we become active?

Well, of course, eventually we become active through new life. But if you think of it, what Peter is really saying here is that part of the work of regeneration is not just the renewal of our hearts, it's the illumination of our minds. And that takes place through the proclamation of the gospel.

It penetrates and illumines our minds. And because that has taken place, he's saying, when that takes place, then we begin to see everything in a new light and we begin to see fellow Christians in a new light. We begin to be attracted to what repelled us. We begin to love what we hated.

We begin to understand what was a complete mystery to us. So, it's not just that this is an imperative to love one another. It's an imperative to love one another that is rooted in this inspiration of God within our souls, not like the inspiration of Scripture, but the inspiration of regeneration and the illumination of the gospel in the Word of God.

That's why right from the very beginning of the church, since at least the second century in the days of the famous apologist Tertullian, it was possible for Christians to face down the Roman Empire and say, you want evidence of the truth and power of the gospel? Then look at these Christians. Even non-Christians say how they love one another.

They are even ready to die for one another. And so, there are these beautiful elements of love among the people of God. Friends, it often seems to me that we gaze far too much on what we think are the really big and important things in church life, even who is our preacher, how well organized is the church. But, you know, at the end of the day, I don't think God is most interested in whether our churches have great preachers or not. I think God is most interested in terms of the impact our churches make on whether we have great love for one another or not. And this is certainly the great emphasis here of the Apostle Peter.

Now, what is it that drives this? Well, he's speaking here about the Word of God at the end of chapter 1. The Word of the Lord remains forever, of course, his Old Testament quotation. And this Word is the good news that was preached to you, and now we come into the language of the logic of the gospel.

So, he says, what are you going to do about this? And essentially, what he's saying is this, if you are going to grow in this, you need to be well fed. You need to look after your appetite. And that means, remember our basic principles, that one of the basic principles of gospel grammar is that there must be negative and positive, positive and negative. And you'll notice how he applies that in the opening verses of chapter 2, when he says, what will nurture this is, first of all, that we put away anything anything that spoils our appetite. Love one another earnestly from the heart with brotherly love, but you can spoil the appetite for that.

And you'll notice what he says spoils the appetite. Malice, which is me saying, I wish you ill. Deceit, which is me saying, I'm going to trick you. Hypocrisy, which is me saying, I'm pretending to be something I'm not really. Envy, which is me saying, I'm jealous of you and what you have. Slander, I'm willing to speak ill of you in order that others will speak well of me.

What does that do? Well, he's saying it spoils your appetite for love. That's what chokes the Word of God and destroys our fellowship, so put it away.

But then on the other hand, he tells us, we need to develop our appetite and learn to taste that the Lord is good. So, he says, putting it away, long for the pure spiritual milk. Long for, the older translations used to say, long for the milk of the Word. Actually, I think it would be best translated, long for word-based milk. In ye old days when we had children, there were all this powder stuff that could be made up into milk for baby. It was powder-based milk. And what Peter is saying here is there's another kind of basis for milk.

It's the formula of word-based milk that will make hungry children grow. So, what will feed love in the congregation is that we are like babies, wanting milk, but wanting the milk, the word-based milk of the Word of God. You know, way back in the third century, we're told in a document known as the Apostolic Constitutions that when converts were brought into the church, they were not only baptized, I'm not suggesting that we renew this tradition, but they were also given some milk and honey. I suppose it was partly significant because they had now been brought into the promised land of the gospel, which is a land flowing with milk and honey. But it was also a reflection of what Scripture says about the Word of God, wasn't it? How sweet are your words to my taste, says the psalmist, sweeter than honey to my mouth. So, here is a wonderful flow of gospel grace, hungry for the Word, understanding who my brothers and sisters are, and loving them earnestly from the heart with a family love. And when that happens, even outsiders who hate the gospel, exposed to its fruit, can only conclude that the Lord is in the midst of his people. And that's the lesson Peter wants to teach us.

That was Sinclair Ferguson from his brand new series, Sojourners and Exiles. Thanks for joining us for this Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind. This series has never been featured before on Renewing Your Mind, and we're glad to be able to make the entire 12-part study in 1 Peter available to you for a donation of any amount in support of Renewing Your Mind at When you give your gift, you'll be able to stream all of the messages and use the digital study guide and the free Ligonier app. Plus, we'll send you the messages on DVD. In this series, Dr. Ferguson takes you through the entire letter of 1 Peter, a letter written to Christians who were living in a time far more similar to our own than it used to be. So give your gift by calling 800-435-4343 or securely online at You likely weren't born into a royal family. I wasn't. But as Christians, we have been born again into one. And that's our topic tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-22 02:28:27 / 2024-02-22 02:36:53 / 8

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