“I love you.” I am going to go out on a limb and say every one of you in this room has said those words to someone else. You’ve told someone you love them. But, I read this somewhere a while ago, did you know “I love you” is an incomplete sentence? Those three words, I. Love. You., are just the beginning of an incomplete sentence. There might be a “because” or an “until” or “when” that follows those words. For instance, I might say, “I love you…because you’re my daughter.” “I love you…until you break up with me.” Or, my favorite, a little boy from an America’s Funniest Home Videos clip who said to his mother, “I love you mommy, but I don’t love you all the time, I love you only when you give me cookies.” We love because we find in a person something that is lovable to us. We see, we know, and then we love.
Peter tells us we know how to love today. Look at verse 22, he writes, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers.” You love each other Peter says! Jason you love Phil…Tim you love Steve…Mary you love Trish…You Love each other! But Peter gets even more specific than that
He writes. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters, love one another deeply, from the heart” Love one another “deeply” —the Greek word there conveys the concept of something intense, that doesn’t give up—you’re passionate and committed to showing it—not just when it’s convenient. Consider it in this way: When a newborn child comes into this world, that child is completely dependent on the parents. And in those early years, parents have a choice: sacrifice their own independence and freedom or sacrifice their child’s. It’s them or you. To love a child well, the parents must decrease so the child can increase. All life-changing love is like this; it’s a substitutional sacrifice.
When you become personally involved with someone and you love them, in some way, their pain, their weaknesses, and their struggles become yours too. Those things flow to you as your strength and support flow to them. This is really the heart of true Christian love. That love is deep and full of sacrifice – it’s from the heart – and Peter describes what that love does even more in verse one of chapter 2. It “rids ourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” If you are love like God, there is no room for any of that other stuff. And, yet isn’t all of this…a bit scary? Here’s why: I don’t always rid myself of those things Peter listed. I lie. I’m a hypocrite. I speak poorly of people. My love for others is often incomplete and full of conditions. You and I at times are anything but Christ to one another.
So, I look at this desire for us to love each other deeply, and it sounds great, and it sounds good, but there is this guilt. This shame. This desire of God for us to love one another deeply becomes a burden and almost a threat. If I don’t do this, will God still love me? Will he punish me? Suddenly, the motivation to obey God’s commands, particularly his command to love, becomes fear. Why? Because we’ve turned his command into something that will earn his favor. Which is why when we sin, when we fail to live up to God’s standard, we often expect to fall out of God’s grace and favor. We expect his punishment. All this boils down to a misunderstanding of God and what his love means to us and for us.
We get a better idea of that love and how it motivates us from our gospel lesson for today – the story of Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee in that story never missed his time in the temple. Like clockwork, he was there for his prayers. He brought his offerings. He was consistent. He wore the right clothes, said the right prayers, and did the right things. Every box was checked on his religious resumé. He was doing it. He was living the God-lived life. Or so it seemed. I’m guessing that after hearing today’s Gospel, none of you thought, “That’s who I want to be like—that Pharisee.” There was something missing there…He was living the God-looking life for himself, his own pride, his own reputation.
You might even recall that Jesus said that it was the tax collector in that story, the repentant sinner, who was forgiven, who had a relationship with God. The God-lived life then is the one that is a response to a relationship with God that looks to his mercy, not to our doing.
So, where do you and I fall in that Pharisee/tax collector story?
Do you seem to live a God-lived life, or do you live, by the grace of God, a God-lived life? The God-lived life is not just doing the right things. It’s being who God has made you—not someone who lives to gain God’s favor, but who lives because of God’s favor. It’s doing things not because you are told you are supposed to, but because it’s who you are. The God-lived life then is a life lived in reaction to God’s love and his life for you.
That’s the motivation. God’s love and life for you.
Peter says as much in verse 23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring Word of God.”Why should I love any of you? Why do you love me (I hope)? Because we have been born again. Because God said to you, “I love you” and it was a complete sentence. There were no conditions or parameters, just love pure and undeserved. And he proved his love. He became less. He opened himself up to our pain, to our sin, to our weaknesses and struggles. He endured them, and then died to take all of that way. He put himself where we deserved to be; it was the ultimate sacrifice – done in love for you.
And, I gotta tell you, he didn’t find anything in you that was worthy of this love. He didn’t love you because someone else told him you’re a good person, or because he thought he might need you to help him out with some things. No, his love for you has no beginning or end. Even before he found you, before he created you, he loved you and will continue to love you. Because that is who he is – God is love – and that is what he does.
Here is the cool thing about that love God has for you. Not only does that love save you and assure you of a place in heaven through Christ, that love also leads to a deep humility and a deep confidence all at the same time. I cannot feel superior to anyone because I know we are all equally sinners, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I am free from the need to prove myself to God or to anyone else because Jesus died for my sins, and he died for yours too. So, I don’t think of myself nor less of myself. Instead, and this is key, I think of myself less. Like God, I love…deeply.
And, you can do that because you know the love of God, you’ve experienced it firsthand. God took you the most unlovable of people, and before you could even try do anything to make yourself look better, he loved you, he gave you his Son. And, in his Word, you’ve seen his Son, Jesus, love deeply all kinds of people in all kinds of ways. You’ve seen the healings, the resurrections, the removal of demons. You’ve heard beautiful words of forgiveness shared over and over, and you’ve seen Jesus, you Savior, dying for you.
And, you know what Peter says? This Word, this message? It’s been preached to you. You’ve personally heard these stories over and over – every year. And that’s good! We need to hear them, because we sin and we fail again and again. Which is why Peter tells us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk – crave God’s pure Word – so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
That is the God-lived life. It’s a life focused on God’s Word, because in that Word you hear God say, “I love you” and it’s a complete sentence. There are no conditions. No, ifs, no whens, and no untils; Just love. So, crave it. Realize the value of daily hearing and reading the Words of your heavenly Father. Don’t let anyone or anything take that time away from you.
Then let that time in God’s Word be your motivation to serve and love each other deeply. You won’t always do it perfectly, but God doesn’t expect you to. Peter did not write, “Love each other perfectly.” He simply asked you to love, and this you can do. You know why? Because It’s not a command for you anymore, and you don’t need to be afraid that you might fail; you simply get to love. That’s your motivation. Your motivation is love, God’s love, found in Christ, for you, and this is a love you get to share. Because you have “tasted and you have seen that the Lord is good.” Amen.