“Imperishable: Handle with Care”
1 Peter 1:17 - 2:3
August 26, 2012
Handle things with care that have eternal value.
I. Fear God: you were bought with imperishable blood (1:17-21)
II. Love others: you were bought through an imperishable word (1:18 - 2:3)
Our culture, for several generations, has embraced the idea that perishable things must be handled with care. And it’s true that some things in our environment spoil or become rotten easily. For example, my son-in-law Tim tells me that the little bit of ground coffee left in my grinder is as perishable as lettuce, and just as you wouldn’t put fresh lettuce on top of rotten lettuce, so I should not put fresh beans in the grinder on top of ground beans.
We are taught that things that spoil must be kept at the correct temperature, washed carefully to remove contaminants, handled with plastic gloves to avoid exposure to germs, and often thoroughly cooked to destroy any organisms which might remain. Even with all this we still hear of outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella. And with all that we’re told that before our food reaches the table as much as forty percent is lost to waste or spoilage. So we would agree that things should be handled with care because they are perishable.
But Scripture often turns our ideas on our heads. Today’s text tells us that it is not the perishable things we should be most careful with, but the imperishable things. Beginning in 1st Peter 1:17 and continuing through chapter 2, verse 3, we are reminded that certain things in the spiritual environment are imperishable - the blood of Jesus; the souls of men, and the word of God. And we’re told to handle with care things that have eternal value.
I. Fear God: you were bought with imperishable blood (1:17-21)
Let's look first at chapter 1:17-21 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Last week we saw the centrality of holiness: setting our hope fully on grace, we are nonetheless called to take a clear-headed approach to avoiding the evil desires of our sinful nature and to embrace the conduct of Christlikeness, to be holy because the one who called us is holy. In this week’s text Peter is trying to motivate us to be holy in two specific ways: fear and love. So this first section says ‘Fear God, because you were bought for a great price.’ You were bought with imperishable blood.
Verse 17 should probably be translated ‘since you call on a Father who judges impartially, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.’ We are sojourners here, ambassadors to a foreign country, and we report to a Father who judges our work impartially. So we need to fear the Lord. Fear of the Lord is a key Scriptural concept. Even in the New Testament Paul says “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul associates the fear of God with growth in holiness.
Like a diamond that shines differently from every angle, this fear of the Lord is multi-faceted. One facet is the dread of God’s disapproval. Peter links fear of the Lord with future judgment, and Paul makes it clear that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. Because we take seriously the moment when God will judge our faithfulness, we should try to focus on doing valuable, eternal things, like persuading others of the truth.
Along with fear of God’s disapproval comes an intense desire to put God first and protect his honor and his reputation, to represent him well in our exile. Peter himself, when brought before the Sanhedrin and told to stop preaching the Gospel said "we must obey God rather than men." The desire to honor God, even if it means going against the influences of men, is true fear of the Lord.
Thinking about the fear of the Lord always reminds me of an episode in my early high school years. My father had had a series of heart attacks which left him temporarily bed-ridden. I was Senior Patrol leader of my Boy Scout troop. One day I got a call from the scoutmaster about something he said I’d done wrong. I disagreed. We both got pretty mad, he was yelling at me, and finally I hung up on him. I instantly knew he’d call back and really give it to me. But my immediate impulse was to protect my father from that. I ran up to his room and snatched the phone just as it rang, so he wouldn’t pick it up.
The fear I felt - and it was true fear - was that I would do something or had done something to hurt my father. That's one kind of fear that we should have, the kind that helps you avoid sin because you are aware of the fragile heart of your father. God heart is fragile that way.
Yet as important as these aspects of fear are to our behavior, the one Peter focuses on is reverence: we stand in awe of salvation through Christ’s blood. Do you see how Peter puts this together? Two weeks ago: ‘be aware of the greatness of your salvation.’ Last week: ‘be holy as I am holy.’ This week: ‘motivate your holiness by awe of your salvation.’
We have been made pure in an awesome way by an awesome God: in awe of that, do nothing to make yourselves filthy again. We’ve often hiked in National Parks, and seen signs that say ‘leave nothing but footprints.’ But if you are in awe of the beauty of the creation around you, you don’t want to trash it.
Be in awe of your salvation. Verse 18: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” We think of gold as imperishable. It doesn’t tarnish or lose its luster. But ultimately, if you spread it too thin or use it until it wears away, even something made of gold can perish.
So it was not with those things you were ransomed or redeemed. The word meant to purchase someone's freedom by paying a price, buying back somebody important, often a prisoner of war. That’s you: you were a prisoner of war, captive to the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers. But you were ransomed, Peter says, with the blood of Christ, more precious and less perishable than gold. His blood, Revelation 1 says, frees us from our sins.
God set up the sacrificial system to teach the Jews that where there is sin, there is death: if not the death of the sinner then the death of a substitute. But in Jesus God provided a substitute, a sacrifice lamb to die in our place. This Lamb was pure, without blemish or defect. as required of sacrifices. And this purity is holiness: complete freedom from sin. Jesus was utterly sinless, and thus a worthy sacrifice for the sins of men. That is why the host of heaven sings, in Revelation 5: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain.’ That’s why John the Baptist said ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ We stand in awe of Jesus, a lamb without spot or blemish.
Just as an aside, note how this speaks to the issue of self-esteem. Our culture talks a lot about self esteem, having a good opinion of yourself. But Scripture teaches that our worth is not found in ourselves, in our merit, but found in the love God showed us in being willing to ransom us. Romans 5 tells us that “Very rarely will one die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die; 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in the past twenty years where someone has told me how worthless and hopeless they are: I even tell that lie to myself at times. And the answer is not to build people’s self esteem, or build ourselves up by listing our virtues or comparing ourselves to others or getting pats on the back from our parents or friends or our culture.
Our value, our confidence is not based in ourselves but based in the tremendous price that Christ was willing to pay for our ransom, and the merit of Christ that God imputes to us. This is the truth that we need to tell ourselves when Satan lies to us about our worthlessness and hopelessness.
As the song we sang earlier said “I stand upon his merit; I know no other stand; not e’en where glory dwelleth, in Immanuel’s land.” Verse 20: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” This sacrificial death, this unlimited expression of love, was in the eternal plan of God. From before the creation of the world, God planned to pay an unthinkable price to buy you back from sin.
He paid that price. It’s on his merit you stand, by faith alone. Verse 21: “through him you are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” The key to salvation is believing, trusting, putting faith and hope in God. And this is not a blind faith. The God you trust raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection proves God’s saving love for you. In a real way this faith helps you truly fear God. When you begin to grasp that Jesus Christ, God the eternal Son, died for you, this great salvation motivates you to give God your whole life.
While we were in Slovakia we tried to video the amazing testimonies of Peter and Iveta Surovcek. He’s the pastor of the churches that hosted us. Both he and Iveta escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia; years later they returned together to minister there. Ivetta’s story is too long and amazing to tell, but I wanted you sense the wonder she feels about her salvation: “And then it happened I just went forward to a little room where Pastor was waiting for those who needed to pray. And I walked into the room and when he saw me he told me “You are a sinner too?” because I was the youngest person in that time, the revival time to come to Jesus. And I said ‘yes, I’m a sinner’ and I started to cry and he just started to pray with me and he said ‘Do you believe that Jesus can save you?’ And ‘Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” And I told him ‘yes, I believe.’ And he said ‘so tell him!’
And I started to thank God ‘Thank you Jesus that you died for me on the cross. I believe that you died to save me. And I. . please forgive my sins.’ And when I was saying all the words I felt a change in my heart, and I felt forgiveness, and I felt Jesus love. I started to praise him and thank him, and I knew that something happened and I am saved. At that time I felt that if I would die at that moment I would be just perfectly for Jesus, and I had a desire to jump all over the city and scream ‘Jesus saved me.’ But Jesus had more plans for me, and since that time I really really felt a desire to serve him more.”
We stand in awe of God because of his great rescue. Gold and silver and all the other stuff we consider valuable is perishable and so doesn’t need to be handled with care. What is imperishable is the blood of Christ, the salvation found in Christ, the resurrection promise of Christ, the value Christ placed on us by his sacrifice. It is this imperishable treasure that must be handled with care and we handle it with care by fearing God while we are in exile.
II. Love others: you were bought through an imperishable word (1:18 - 2:3)
Two more imperishable things are intertwined in the remaining verses - the souls of men and the Word of God. 1:22 - 2:3: Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 2:1So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
You handle the imperishable word with care by loving your imperishable brothers and sisters. Notice first that this love is directly an expression of holiness: ‘having purified your soul by obedience to the truth.’ Being purified is becoming holy, which Peter says you do by obedience to the truth. It starts in your initial conversion: “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” But you also obey the truth daily by fearing the Lord and pursuing holiness, and by loving each other.
Peter’s sentence is a bit awkward because he uses two Greek words for love and English doesn’t have two words. He assumes that a brotherly love - the word is ‘philadelphia’ - comes naturally to those who are being purified or growing in holiness. But then he commands those same people to love one another earnestly. This is ‘agape’ love, the kind of deep, unconditional love so often mentioned in the New Testament. Peter again echoe the thinking of Jesus, who said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another . . . 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So the behavior called for, is deep, unconditional, pure love for one another. That's pretty scary isn't it? Let me make a couple of comments about this love. First, feelings of love usually follow acts of love. If you can't make yourself feel something, you can often make yourself do something, some deed on behalf of another, and the feelings will come.
I always tell the story of a wife who went to a counselor not wanting her husband at all, wanting to divorce him. But the counselor said ‘well, let’s really get him: you go home and take care of his every need; be just the kind of wife he wants; serve him; show affection. Then, just when he’s entirely enchanted with you, we’ll drop the divorce on him.’ The wife was just spiteful enough to try it. But when she came back a few weeks later, the counselor asked ‘are you ready to file the divorce?’ she said ‘no, not at all - acting like I love him has made me remember that I really do!’ Feelings follow actions.
Second, small things build great love. If you are overwhelmed by the thought of unconditional, unending love, then maybe you should try something small. Simple acts of kindness and consideration. Simple words of encouragement: a helping hand, a telephone call, a meal, or just listening. So many in our church are good at the small acts which express great love. It would embarrass them if I named names. But this is hard work. It takes great selflessness and devotion to God to do those small un-thanked deeds of love.
Third, notice that Peter gives a painfully practical expansion of this agape love in chapter 2: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Selfless love is perishable and must not be contaminated by malice - wishing someone else ill; deceit - underhanded attempts to harm someone; hypocrisy - being sweet on the outside and rotten on the inside; envy - wanting what someone else has; or slander - using words to harm.
Friends, these things cannot co-exist with true Godly love; we can’t allow them to poison true agape love for one another. Yet in twenty years of ministry I’ve seen no shortage of folks who proclaim their love for someone while causing them great pain. Peter tells us to put away these things: put them behind you; love each other deeply, with a heartfelt earnest love.
Just as the fear of God was the practical response to the imperishable blood of Christ, his salvation work in our lives, so love for others is the outworking of God’s word at work in our lives. Verse 23: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Our love is perishable, but praise God it is sustained by His imperishable word. There are actually two imperishable things here: God’s word and the people who have been born again through its ministry.
Peter says that you, perishable as you were, were born again from an imperishable seed. So you have an imperishable life. Furthermore the person sitting next to you has an imperishable life. The Navigators used to say that the only worthwhile was to live was to invest yourself in that which lasted forever: in God, in His Word and in the souls of men.
Peter says that imperishable souls are made that way through the imperishable Word of God. This is a remarkable assertion. We’d expect him to say ‘you've been born again through the Holy Spirit’ or ‘you've been born again through Jesus.’ And both those things are true. But it is also true that it was God’s Word that was used by the Holy Spirit to reveal to the redemption of Christ and turn your heart to repentance and trust. Think about what this means for evangelism. Ultimately it is neither our arguments nor even our life example that will bring new life to an unbeliever, but the powerful words of God himself. We ought always to share by sharing God’s word.
Peter says these words are both living and eternal. And he backs this assertion by quoting Isaiah 40:6-8 ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ ” From a human point of view all people are like vapor or a fog that blows away. They are no more enduring than summer grass. But the Word through which you received new birth, and which was preached to you, that Word, is eternal. These words that we study are God's words, and will not change. Psalm 138 tells us that they are exalted above all things along with his name. And Revelation 5 shows us Jesus opening God’s word to bring the culmination of all history.
So, says Peter, Love one another because having been born of an eternal word, you are now eternal people. And if you want to be able to love one another - Feed on that word. 1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation - 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” There is a translation issue on one Greek word that causes some translators to explicitly say crave the pure milk of the Word. Others think the better translation is ‘spiritual’: crave pure spiritual milk. It’s not a big difference because in context, after talking about the Word of God for three or four verses, it is clear that this spiritual milk is found in the word of God. So we are to crave the Word of God, we are to crave it as frequently and as strongly as newborn babes crave milk.
And why are we to crave it? So that by it we may grow up into our salvation, because as we taste that word we see that the Lord is good. Not only was the eternal word at work in us so that we could be born again, but this word is at work in us so that we will grow in salvation and grow in holiness So the final question in this text is: do you crave the Word? Do you want to fear the Lord? Do you want holiness? Do you want to be able to love others? Crave the word. Read it; study it; meditate on it and then live by it. Don’t crave it just to enjoy it, but crave it as your guidebook to eternity. Take it seriously, take it plainly, take it often, take it to heart.
So Peter has said fear the Lord, because you yourself were bought for a great price, with the imperishable blood of Christ. And love one another - because all of you have imperishable life through the imperishable Word. We tend to treat well those things which are perishable. But Peter says to treat well those things which are imperishable - the blood of our salvation, the souls of men and the word of God. Honor your imperishable salvation by fearful reverent awe; grow in your salvation by love for one another. Learn that love by craving the only truth that is imperishable - God’s word.