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The Word creates enduring community
Christians have been born again into a new inheritance that makes us strangers and aliens within the wider culture (1 Pet. 1:1–4).
We are called to live on the margins. But the act of rebirth also births us into a new family (1 Pet. 1:22–23), an alternative community of belonging. This new family is God’s demonstration of the gospel. It is the beginning of, and pointer to, the new world that will be our inheritance.
So the gospel community matters. But this does not mean the gospel Word is less important. Quite the opposite. In 1 Peter 1:22– 23, where Peter explicitly links our new birth and our new family, his emphasis is on the means by which we are born anew: the enduring Word: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (v. 23). The Word gives life, and the Word continues to give life.
It is only the Word of God that creates an enduring community life and love.
Do not try to “do” community
What forms and sustains Christian community is, perhaps paradoxically, not a commitment to community per se but a commitment to the gospel Word. Sometimes people place a big emphasis on the importance of community and neglect the gospel Word. Community then becomes a goal toward which we work. But Peter says human activity cannot create life that endures. An exclusive focus on community will kill community. It is only the Word of God that creates an enduring community life and love.
Peter calls on us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). That is a demanding command designed to create a distinctive community, but Peter first says his readers have “purified [their] souls by [their] obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love.” We have been purified by the gospel for love, so love. The truth purges us of those selfish desires that conflict with love, and it is this that then enables us to love one another earnestly. Love one another deeply, says Peter, “for you have been born again.”
We have been purified by the gospel for love, so love.
This is who we are
We are members of a new family, bound together in brotherly love through the gospel of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Once again the move is from identity to action. This command is realizable because of who we are in Christ, because of the new reality that God has produced in our lives through the gospel Word. We get rid of “all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Pet. 2:1) not through gritted teeth or extra effort. We live a life of love as we crave the spiritual milk of God’s enduring Word (1 Peter 2:2). We keep going back to the gospel, keep believing the gospel, keep nurturing our hearts with the gospel, and keep tasting the goodness of God in the gospel.
The move is from identity to action.
Notice the intensity of the language that Peter uses to describe our community life: “sincere love,” “love one another earnestly,” “from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22) It is often said that love is an action, not a feeling, but this is not a biblical idea. Yes, love is an action and a choice. It is also a feeling, one that is often the product of making those choices but above all a feeling that arises from our own experience of God’s love to us in Christ.
When God had mercy on us, when God revealed Jesus Christ to us as our brother, when God won our hearts by God’s own love, our instruction in Christian love began at the same time. When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with one another. When we received forgiveness instead of judgment, we too were made ready to forgive each other. What God did to us, we then owed to others. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meagre our love for one another, the less we were living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God taught us to encounter one another as God has encountered us in Christ. “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).
This article is adapted from Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.