“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
Can you really love someone that you don’t really like? Let me create a fake scenario based on this premise and then we’ll go from there….
Church Person A doesn’t like Church Person B. Church Person B really rubs Church Person A the wrong way, for example; Church Person B always shows up late to church yet still finds their way to their seat in the front row (this seems rude to Church Person A and they are bugged by it every week), secondly Church Person B has no qualms about interrupting a conversation to say hello and begin a story of their own (this particularly irks Church Person A), and finally, Church Person B NEVER signs up to work in the Church nursery even though they have a set of twins they drop off each Sunday (Church Person A works in the nursery every second Sunday and thinks Church Person B is inconsiderate and lazy to never volunteer). Okay, now track with me here… Church Person A knows that the Bible says to “Love your neighbour as yourself..” and that “loving” people is important in God’s eyes, so… Church Person A saves them a seat in the front row each week (even though they are bugged by the tardiness), they smile, pat Church Person B on the back, and welcome them into the conversation whenever they interrupt (regardless of being irked), and they take the twins into the nursery every second Sunday and say in a cheerful voice, “Enjoy the service!” (while grumbling silently to themselves about inconsiderate, lazy people). Church Person A is outwardly acting in a loving way towards Church Person B, but are they inwardly loving them? And does it matter?
In 1 Peter 1:22 we are commanded to love other Christians sincerely, earnestly, and with a pure heart. So, smiling through gritted teeth won’t cut it in God’s eyes. It is what’s in our heart that is of worth to Him. The heart is where we will either be found guilty or forgiven and made righteous. So how can we change our hearts from insincere to sincere? We can’t. It is God who changes a person’s heart.
The text says “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth..” Our souls, or in other words; our hearts, are made pure when we are humbled by God’s grace to us through the truth of the Gospel and we respond in obedient faith that Jesus, and nothing else, is enough. When this becomes true for us, and as the Spirit of God finds himself at home in our hearts, we will desire to love other Christians in sincerity. What good does it do us, or the other person, if we are “loving” them with a phony smile and a forced handshake?
Our salvation (justification) is a one time deal (we don’t have to “get saved” over and over again), but after that initial heart change (when we are converted) our hearts will (should) continuously be changing and growing to be more like the God we confess to love and follow, this is called sanctification. Part of the sanctification process is learning to love people sincerely and earnestly like 1 Peter 1:22 is talking about. The dictionary describes the word earnest as: “serious in intention, purpose, or effort”. So to love someone biblically (earnestly), that maybe you don’t particularly like, just means that you are seriously intent on putting in the effort to love them on purpose. So again, can you really love someone that you don’t really like? No, you can’t. But you can ask God to sanctify your heart so that you can really like the people….and then, really love them.
One more angle to look at is people that we already do genuinely love and how this text applies to these relationships. Particularly with family, the people we are closest to, it is easy to take our love for them and their love for us for granted, and sometimes to neglect putting in the serious, earnest effort into loving them in ways that are intentional. For me, I am being sanctified in this way every day. I have three little ones whom I would lay my life down for in an instant, I can say without hesitation that I love them more than I love myself. However, at 4:30pm in the afternoon when I’m starting to get tired from the day and trying to get dinner on the table I confess that I can be a little short tempered and lacking in the “earnest love” department. And that’s just one example. The point is that the best place to begin practicing earnest love is with the ones we already love the most.
Love like Christ loved. Lay down your life daily for others in big and little ways. Love by being patient. Love by being kind. Don’t insist on having your own way. Don’t be irritable and don’t hold resentment in your heart. Love in an enduring way….endure with others the way God endures with you and your many downfalls. Love sincerely….. and earnestly.
Grace and Peace,