The Living and Abiding Word of God (1 Pet 1:22-25)
Sir Walter Scott on his deathbed at Abbotsfor asked a friend to read to him. “What book shall I read?” asked the friend. Sir Scott replied, “There is but one book—bring me the Bible.”
Why in Walter Scott’s last hours would he want to be read to out of the Bible? Does the Bible not take hold of us like no other book? Does it ever let go once it reaches out and grabs us? Does the Bible not give us hope like no other book? What other book would we desire when life is about to ebb away? What book—save the Bible—can tell us how to have eternal life?
It is precisely because the Bible is a book like no other that we wish to spend time this morning contemplating the Word of God.
In this section of 1 Peter, the apostle speaks a great deal about his readers’ conversion from paganism. Notice a couple verses from this passage:
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).
- “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19).
Peter writes to such an extent about conversion in these verses that some scholars have said that Peter incorporated parts of ancient baptismal services into his letters Although it’s probably a bit of a stretch to see Peter borrowing from ancient baptismal services, that line of thought does call attention to Peter’s emphasis on conversion here. In the passage we’ll explore this morning, Peter specifically talks about the means of that conversion: The Word of God.
The Word Gives Life, vv 22-23b
“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”
These Christians had purified their souls by their obedience to the truth.
Purification was extremely important to the Jews. Jews would often ritually bathe themselves. Concerning the bronze laver at the tabernacle, God told Moses, “With the water Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die” (Ex 30:19-20). Christian baptism certainly comes from the practice of Jewish ritual washing.
Yet, the outward washing was simply a sign of inward purification: e.g., “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes” (Is 1:16).
“Purified” is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense refers to an action which occurred in the past, and the effects of the event are felt in the present. These Christians, thus, had purified themselves in the past, and they were still pure—they had not taken back up the evil deeds which would pollute their souls.
They purified their souls. The term “soul” in the Old Testament often refers, not to the spiritual makeup of man, but to a person’s life. E.g, “The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7); the King James Version has “living soul.” These Christians had purified their lives.
Their lives were purified by obedience to the truth. These Christians had been obedient to the truth. The word “truth” is often used in the New Testament to speak of the Gospel. E.g., “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13). These Christians received purification through their obedience to the gospel. Have you purified yourself through obedience to the gospel?
Two cars of an excursion train from Kinston, North Carolina, plunged into an open drawbridge on the Elizabeth River—and eighteen of the passengers were drowned. The signal man insisted that he had displayed his red flag in time for the engineer to stop the train before entering the open bridge. The engineer, however, contended that it was a white flag that he had been show, and he took it as a signal that the road was clear. The flag was produced, and the mystery solved. It had faded and might have been mistaken for a white flag.
What about your life? Can those around you tell the difference between your life and the lives of those around you?
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed.”
These Christians had been born anew. Rebirth is an important theme in the New Testament. You know quite well what Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth” (1 Pet 1:3). Rebirth means to begin life anew, and when we come to Christ that’s exactly what we are able to do: begin life anew. Have you been born again? Have you begun life anew?
This rebirth comes through imperishable—rather than perishable—seed. It is not at all certain what the “seed” in this context is Does Peter speak, by analogy, of human procreation, or does he speak of the growing of plants? The fact that Peter speaks of our being born again leads me to think that he speaks of human procreation, but that is far from certain. Peter’s point, though, is quite clear: We are not born through a seed which perishes, but a seed which does not perish. The Word of God gives us life.
The Word of God has given us life. No doubt before we came to Christ through obedience to this Word we were lost in a sea of doubt and despair, yet the Word of God renewed us, gave us new hope, new purpose, and new life. Do you have that new life through obedience to God’s will?
The Word is Life, vv 23c-25
“Through the living and enduring word of God.” Our new birth comes through the living and enduring word of God.
The Greek is much more ambiguous than the English translations show. This phrase could be translated “through the living and enduring word of God” (as in nearly all English translations) or it could be translated “through the word of the living and enduring God.” The Greek really doesn’t tell us which meaning Peter had in mind, for both English phrases would be translated into Greek in exactly the same way.
I mention the ambiguous Greek to make this point: I wonder if the text isn’t purposefully ambiguous. I wonder if the point isn’t that the word of God is living and enduring because God is living and enduring.
The word of God is living. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). In what way is the word of God living?
- We cannot simply read the Bible, put it way, and forget about it.
- The Word of God shapes us, takes hold of us, and we cannot let go. Scripture is like no other book on this earth.
The word of God is abiding, a point Peter continues to make. Notice what he says:
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” This quotation comes from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:6-8.
Grass and flowers fade—you know how true that is: you husbands spend money on roses for your wives, and the flowers just fade away and die.
That contrasts with the word of God which endures forever. The word of God is steadfast and shall not change. “The LORD exists forever; your word is firmly fixed in heaven” (Ps 119:89). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35).
We can place our hope and our confidence upon the word of God, for it is living, steadfast, and it shall not change. When the clouds surround us, can we not take comfort knowing that the Word of God endures forever? When we need strength for the daily battles, can we not turn to Scripture and know how to face those struggles? When we need to know how to have salvation, can we not turn to Scripture and know what God expects us to do? Have you turned to Scripture? Do you need to act in obedience to that Word this very morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.