God declared Israel ‘holy’ to reveal Himself to the world through them.
- Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel was holy to the LORD.…’
- Exodus 22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me…”
- Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
- Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'
To use last week’s language, He set them apart for His divine purpose so the nations would know what Yahweh was like. The prophet Isaiah said that the nations would flock to Israel if they lived in God’s design for their holiness:
- "…I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
- "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations." Isaiah 42:6.
- "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.
Paul, in Galatians 6:16, refers to followers of Jesus as the “Israel of God.” The idea is that you don’t have to be born Jewish to be one of God’s holy, chosen people. You can be “grafted in” through the acceptance of the divinity and lordship of Christ and your surrender to Him and His will.
Followers of Jesus are ‘peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9) who are set apart to be the way in which God reveals Himself to the world. We are called to live in God’s design for our holiness to reveal His holiness.
After last week’s message about being set apart, I was thinking there needed to be a follow-up sermon on what characterizes this holiness. It’s one thing to say, “As a child of God, you are holy and set apart; now live as those holy and set apart.” It’s another thing to put skin on those bones. What does that even mean?
- Do I dress like the Amish?
- Do I live in a monastery?
- Does that mean if the culture does it, I can’t do it?
- Does this mean we create a Christian sub-culture in everything?
- Should there be a holy glow about me that convicts or shames everyone around me?
I started jotting down some notes, and I quickly realized it was all leading me back to one thing: love. And it turns out that’s the next thing Peter wrote, so that worked out pretty well.
22 Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth (“obedience to God, which the knowledge of the truth demands”), you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply (earnestly – at full stretch) from a pure heart. 23 You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. 24For as Isaiah said, ‘All life is like the grass, and its glory like a flower; The grass will wither and die and the flower falls, 25 But the word of the Lord will endure forever.’ This is the word that has been preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)
So if we are going to talk about living holy lives that fulfill God’s purpose of revealing himself to the world through us, we are going to need to talk about living loving lives. Specifically, how do we get this kind of holy love, and what does it look like when it is displayed in our lives?
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The first one is easy. A holy love – a love set apart from any other kind of love – has to come from a holy God.
This love happens after God purifies our hearts, and He does it through our surrender, our obedience to His Word. Peter says that’s the process God uses, and on the other side of it we emerge as holy lovers of truth and of others.
We often talk about how the world needs more love. I agree. But in order for that to happen, we must first surrender ourselves so that our hearts are pure. If our hearts were pure through our surrender to the truth of God’s Word and resulting work God does in our life, we could love each other deeply from a pure heart.
This is a daunting conclusion for me, but I can’t get away from it. I want it to be the other person’s fault that I can’t love them well. That lets me off the hook. But it’s when we surrender to God - we repent, we pray for his mercy and forgiveness and heart transformation – then we love like more and more like God loves. And God’s love does not waver based on the likableness or the worthiness of the person He loves. Think of how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love:
“Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Can you image what it would look like if we did this from hearts that were pure? There is nothing that would stop us from loving.
Later Peter writes that we are to love each other fervently, because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). All but one commentary I read noted that the primary message is about the ability of the fervent lover to let love cover or forgive the sinfulness in others.
- This is not the same as ‘like.’
- It’s doesn’t mean we have to ignore the ripple effect of consequences that sin has on us.
- It doesn’t mean we must pretend like nothing happened.
- It doesn’t mean we ignore safe boundaries and ongoing care as God turns our wounds to scars. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that other people can do things that make them really hard to love. I think we all know the reality of that.
But today’s passage isn’t about them. It’s about us. Our heart is the heart of the issue. If we enter into the purification process by surrendering ourselves to God and the truth of His word, God works in that process to change our hearts so that we can love with His love and display the glory of his love to the world.
Parents, do you know why it’s hard to love our kids well? Yes, they are hard to love at times, but our hearts are not pure, not surrendered in obedience to the Word of God. Better love starts with our personal surrender to Christ.
Do you know why it’s hard to love our spouses? Our parents? Some of our Extra Grace Required friends? That obnoxious person online who always says stupid stuff? That Buckeye fan? That politial enemy you have? Your neighbor or co-worker whose lifestyle choices make you cringe?
They may be dauntingly hard to love – and they may have earned that feeling honestly - but the solution to our mutual spiritual and relational health is Christ in both of us, purifying us, and the solution to my problem of loving them in spite of them is Christ in me purifying my heart.
It would be nice if others people were easier to love, but I can’t make them that way. I can pray for God to do work in them because that’s never a bad thing for them, but my primary prayer is for God to do work in me.
God works in our surrendered lives to purify our hearts so that we can love even the most unlovable around us, because now it is God’s love pouring from us. And God is really, really good at loving the unlovable. We should know.
So how does this make us light in the midst of a dark world?
I’m going to take us back to the first followers of Christ. One thing that stands out in the historical record is their reputation for love. Some people hated them, but even they noted how the love of those following Jesus was unparalleled – and costly. 
Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99:
“He [the Christian] impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”
The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130
“They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all... They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.
From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197
We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope….We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of [Christ’s return]. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast... On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their [faithfulness] to the cause of God's Church… But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill."
A General Historical Observation
In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria, the number… reached 3,000. Church funds were used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.
During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.
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This is what I’ve pondering this week: In the early church, the surrounding pagan culture, no matter how hostile, could not help but note, “See how they love one another.” Christians were radically different because Christ’s love in them was of a radically different nature.
When is the last time we have heard anyone from our culture say this about the American church? What are we known for? One thing that is supposed to set apart a holy people is the ability to love as Jesus loves, because the love of Jesus transforms us and flows out of us. Our love bears witness to our Savior. Do we love well?
- Do we embrace ‘the other’? Put Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans together with rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, educated and uneducated, soldiers and civilians, in the same church and there is going to be issues. Race, class, politics, religious background: it was a perfect storm. How committed are we to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our emotional or personal comfort?
- Do we sacrifice for the needs of the church? You didn’t go to the early church to look good. You got broken and poured out for the church and the city. There was no room for pride, greed, or jealousy. Literally, you put your life on the line because that’s what Jesus did for you. How deep and radical is out commitment to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our financial or physical comfort?
- Do we live in Traverse City like a people set apart: caring, sacrificing, building up, nurturing, loving in ways that can only come from a purified heart surrendered to Jesus? If a local were asked what group of people do they think of as loving everyone even at great cost, would they say, “Oh, the church!” Would it even come to mind?
- Even closer to home: What am I known for? If someone asks anyone who knows me, “Who do you think of when you hear the phrase, ‘See how they love one another?” would I make that list? Would my kids name me? My wife? My friends? You?
This has been unsettling me all week, and it’s bringing me to my knees. I know myself; I know I don’t have it in me to love like this. No matter how hard I try, no matter what list I make of things to do. I’m just not good at that kind of love.
But God is. He will equip us for the things to which He calls us. May this call to love as a witness draw us in prayer to the foot of the cross where we kneel with others, surrender our hearts and lives in repentance for his purification, and pray for a loving, merciful, powerful God to help us love well for our good and His glory.
 The comparative form of the closely related adjective ektenes (ektenesteron) is used to describe the intensity of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane. And being in agony He was praying very fervently (ektenesteron); and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)
 Fervently (1619) (ektenos [word study] from ek = out + teíno = to stretch; English = tension, etc) literally pictures one "stretching out" to love others! It pictures "an intense strain" and unceasing activity which normally involving a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, "as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note." Cranfield suggests the figure of "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." (Lange’s Commentary)
 “God does not tell us anything that we may [simply] know. He tells us in order that, knowing, we may be and do. And right actions, or rather a character which produces such, is the aim of all… moral and religious truth… And if[people] think that they have done enough when… they can say, ‘All this I steadfastly believe,’ they need to remember that religious truth which does not mould and transform character and conduct is a king dethroned; and for dethroned kings there is a short step between the throne from which they have descended and the scaffold on which they die.” (MacLaren’s Expositions
 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
"The whole law comes down to this one instruction: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)
 Sociologist Rodney Stark: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity