I've been preaching through the book of 1 Peter for our Exiles series at church on Sunday mornings. It's a powerful book. Just this Sunday I preached on 1 Peter 1:22-25 where Peter calls the church to a deep kind of love. What struck me most about this chapter is a simple, seemingly throwaway line, in the middle of verse 22. Peter says simply that the object of our love is to be "the brethren." In other words, the gospel in us, the new life of Christ, should make us burst with love for fellow Christians. And this is not the first time this is mentioned in the New Testament. Over and over and over again we are told that Christians should have a special love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. In Peter's letter, he says this should be a "fervent" love. This implies a stretching, at-all-costs-exhaustive love from the heart.
I wonder, though, if we Christians are any good at doing this. It seems that most of our love, our outreach programs, everything is motivated by a love for those who don't know the Lord--the unsaved, the lost. And this is important and good. This is our mission in the Great Commission. We should weep with love for the lost on their way to a Christless eternity.
But this love for the lost shouldn't come at the expense of love for the brethren. In fact, Jesus said that love for the brethren would be the very thing that attracts those lost to Him (John 13:35). The purpose of the Church is to be a called-out community of Christ's own who love each other with a deep and abiding and supernatural love that is unseen in the world.
But does that characterize us? I'm amazed at how often we get it exactly backwards. We say things like, "I don't care what those other Christians think, I'm busy loving the unlovable and the lost." Or we dismiss critique by other believers with a shrug. I heard a famous pastor recently say something like, "Well, God didn't call me to listen to my critics. I'm called to preach the gospel." Well, yeah, but aren't you called to love first and deepest your fellow Christians?" I think of this when I read and survey blogs, magazines, and other content that mocks other Christians. Blogs that rip overly conservative Christians or blogs that rip some of the more crazy contemporary ideas. Or blogs whose sole purpose is to rip, denigrate, and attack those who don't see it quit their way. I think this about commentators who make cheap rhetorical points by ripping other Christians in the secular media. As if they want to say, "I'm not one of those uncool Christians. Look at me." The problem with this approach is that you are called to love that uncool Christian fervently.
The entire context of 1 Peter implies that the gospel transforms the way we love. The deeper we dive in, the greater our capacity to love the way Jesus loves. What convicts me is that a lack of love for fellow believers is a signal of something deeper in my heart. My inability to love my brother or sister in the Lord is a signal that God has more work to do inside of me.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.