Tonight will be the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It promises to be another 2 hours of childish mudslinging and below-the-belt personal attacks.
This election cycle has become such a circus (or train wreck) that people are watching in record numbers. Young people are throwing viewing parties much like a political super bowl and engaging in creative “drinking games” among other things.
These are interesting times for our nation. More than just interesting, these are morally filthy times for America. We used to hope our children would grow up to be like the president; now we need to make sure the kids are in bed before the R-rated presidential debate comes on to shield their eyes and ears from the degraded spectacle. Contrary to Peter’s admonition below, it seems the political machine runs on the fuel of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander (1 Peter 2:1).
But these are very exciting and meaningful times to be a pastor trying to lead a community of people called to a higher level of living and discourse. This is precisely why I wanted to spend this year studying First Peter. Peter can help us remain morally clean in a corrupt society. You can’t find a more relevant passage of Scripture than the following:
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 1:22-23, 2:1-3)
I preached on this passage Sunday and made some of the following observations:
Hate ads vs. Agape ads. Political lobbyists are spending millions on air time for their TV ads either endorsing their candidate or smearing the opponent. Likewise, God is making his appeal to the world through the church as his “living billboards” and trying to get people to cast their vote for and place their ultimate hopes in Jesus. People are watching our lives and deciding whether they want to take our Savior seriously. Both God and the world are observing the way we live and the way we love one another, and we better hope they both conclude: “I approve this message.” For this advertisement has been bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ.
Now, in verse 22 Peter provides 3 helpful ingredients to help Christians form a strikingly beautiful countercultural community of love that persuades others to “vote for Jesus.” How can Christians and churches remain unified while living in such polarizing times? (I’m drawing from Charles Swindoll’s New Testament Insights commentary for this section.)
- We are bound together by a common obedience to God’s truth. We are committed to obeying the Scriptures no matter how culturally acceptable they are. We don’t follow inner urges, examples of other around us, or cultural trends. We help one another follow the example of the Virgin Mary who, when given a hard assignment, replied: “May it be to me according to your word.”
- We are committed to purifying our lives by getting rid of pride, prejudices, grudges, and bitterness. It means cleansing ourselves from all the things that would stand between brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We are learning how to have “sincere love” in a world of fickle, fleeting and shallow kinds of love. Swindoll says, “Because of our obedience to the truth and the cleansing of our soul, we are freed to love without hypocrisy. We are given extra measures of grace to overlook the faults of others” (162, New Testament Insights).
It was fitting that I shared this message on a Sunday we celebrated the uniquely honest and grace-filled church God has birthed at MainStreet where I pastor. MainStreet is special (and messy!) precisely because we are committed to being real, sincere, authentic. I wrote briefly of this here.
How and why should we pursue this kind of a sincere love-in-community?
We’re born into a new family. Peter goes on to remind us that we should love one another fervently as brothers and sisters because we have been born again into the same new family of God. Ideally, churches would be small enough to know everyone much like you know every person at your next family thanksgiving gathering. You know the good, bad and ugly — and hopefully “put up with” (“bearing with one another” – Eph. 4:1-3) crazy uncles and whacky cousins because you have no choice. They are family. Larger churches allow people to treat one another as casual acquaintances, getting by with a surface level love, thus avoiding the hard work of learning to love sincerely and fervently as Christians ought. As soon as conflict arises, thus allowing an opportunity to exercise Christian love, we just remove our membership and move to the next church. This is not how we love family.
We draw life from the same source. We need to pull together as a family because we take our instruction from the same source. Our new life of faith is being nurtured and shaped by “living and abiding Word of God” (v. 23). Our old life originated with our human father’s seed which was corrupted by sin and perishable. Our new life originated with the seed of God’s implanted Word and will never perish! In a few verses, Peter will urge us to drink deeply of the pure spiritual milk of the Word to grow up in our salvation.
How do we maintain this sincere love in the church?
We need to eliminate all the relational toxins in the church shatter our unity and cheapen our love for one another. Peter lists them out — “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander.” Yes, these are the very things guiding both presidential candidate’s campaign for the highest, most distinguished office in our nation, and arguably the world. How did we sink this low?
Will the church / Christians get pulled into the mud with the rest of the world? Or, will we live lives of sincere love, obeying the truth and purifying ourselves from the pull of our old nature and old life?
Taste and see! In his last moments with his followers, Jesus told them: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The world is watching Christians today and wondering if we are truly any different. Peter mentions people getting a “taste that the Lord is good.” Our call as believers-in-community is to give people a taste of God’s love by the way we love one another sincerely. We show them an irresistible quality of community as we draw life from the “living and abiding Word.” Once they get a taste of that, they’ll likely want to move from “tasting” to “drinking deeply” of the “pure milk” of the Word and therefore “grow up in salvation.” They won’t be able to help themselves from shouting,