5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
As we have made our way through Peter’s exhortation here in his second epistle, we have learned of the necessity of personal virtue and the way in which that virtue is to manifest itself in our treatment of others. Last week we considered Peter’s words to add to godliness brotherly kindness. Today we consider his command to add to brotherly kindness love.
Love is the culmination of Christian virtue. Unfortunately, as a result of Romanticism, it is often misunderstood. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, for example, defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” But biblically love is not at bottom a feeling – that is not its proper genus. While love often shapes, governs, and informs our feelings, it is not itself a feeling. Far better the simple declaration of Hartley Coleridge, Is love a fancy or a feeling? No. No, love is not a fancy or a feeling; for feelings come and go but love remains constant, like immaculate Truth. It is a fixed reality, a covenant oath. As Shakespeare would have it, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken…
Paul gives the most compelling description of love in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
Love, in other words, is not self-centered but other-centered, not primarily a feeling but a heart-centered commitment, longing to give joy and delight to another. Paul goes on:
[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…
Away with the absurd notion that love is merely a feeling. Today we are told to countenance all kinds of wickedness in the name of Merriam-Webster’s definition of love: we should embrace homosexual unions because they “love” one another; we should turn a blind eye to fornication because they “love” one another; we should sanction no-fault divorce because they just don’t “love” one another any more. But Merriam-Webster is wrong: love is not a fancy or a feeling.
So what of you: how have you been defining love? Do you truly love the brethren? Are you truly loving your spouse? Have you loved your children? For we are to add to brotherly kindness love.
Reminded of our calling to practice true love, to be committed to the true good of others and to labor unceasingly for that good, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.
11 “Blessed are you when [men] revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Vice President Joe Biden declared this last Tuesday that “protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.” He warned other nations that there is a price to pay for failing to do so.
We shouldn’t misunderstand what this means. In one fell swoop, Biden has identified all traditional Christians – as well as Jews and Muslims for that matter – as enemies of civilization. Of course, Biden is using this rhetoric to justify intervention and regime change in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia. But such a statement must necessarily relegate us to barbaric status as well. Should this policy prevail, we will find ourselves the object of discrimination and persecution, labeled as “those who turn the world upside down.”
It is fitting for us to remember, therefore, how we are to respond to such persecution. It is ever easy to take opposition personally and forget that in defending the cause of Christ we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is Yahweh.
In the meantime, our calling as individuals is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?
We must always beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. As we do so, we can rest in God’s promise that no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name(Acts 5:41b).
But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Last week we observed from John’s second epistle that while we often pit love and truth against one another, they are actually fast friends. Love and truth are like flesh and bones.
Today we observe John uniting again two things which in our day and age are often divorced from one another: love and law, love and the commandments of God. John writes that he wants us to love one another. And what is love? This is love, that we walk according to [God’s] commandments.
In the Word of God, love is tangible and concrete – it manifests itself in a wholehearted embracing and implementing of God’s righteous law. What does it mean to love God? It means to be loyal to Him, to not make any idol, to reverence His Name, and to observe the Lord’s Day faithfully. What does it mean to love others? It means to honor those in positions of authority, to preserve the lives, vows, property, and reputation of all men, to speak the truth, and to rejoice in the good gifts that God has given them. Love rejoices in God’s commandments and puts them to practice in the nitty-gritty of life.
John learned this lesson from our Lord Jesus. This is My Father’s commandment, Jesus declared, that you love one another as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Many of our countrymen, many of our fellow Christians want to pit love and law against one another. But the end result of this is cruelty and oppression. Love for God that has no bounds is not love – it is idolatry, blasphemy, and profane living. Love for others that has no bounds is not love – it is disrespect, murder, adultery, theft, slander, and covetousness.
So, brothers and sisters, our caling is to love one another and to love all men by keeping the commandments of God – even as our Lord Jesus did. I have not come to do My own will, Jesus said, but the will of the One who sent Me.
Often, however, we do not want to love others as God tells us to love, we want to love according to our terms. And so we have need of God’s forgiveness and grace. So let us kneel and confess our sins to God in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.