Summary: The love of God at work in the heart of man
Shortly before his death Peter wrote a brief letter to encourage Christians to live holy and godly lives. In the introduction to his epistle he gives a list of godly virtues that conclude with the attributes of brotherly kindness and love. Unquestionably love is the apex of all Christian virtues. At the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he gave his disciples this instruction: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13.34-35). Ironically, many people have difficulty defining exactly what they mean by the word love. Though many struggle to define the word, they know it when they see it and they feel its absence when they are deprived of it. Indeed, love is the foundation of all binding quality relationships. Jesus summarized God’s requirements toward humanity in two statements: first, love God with all your heart and second, love your neighbor as yourself. But just what does this mean in practical terms? Before we answer that question let us consider what Peter says about love.
Peter uses two separate words for love in this passage. The first, philadelphia (filadelfiva), refers to a love for brothers or sisters. The second word, agape (ajgavph - noun), is used in the New Testament to describe God’s love for his Son. Jesus uses the same word to describe how the disciples are to love him and one another. It is a love that has particular reference in the love that the Father has for the Son, but it is also used broadly in Scripture. Peter makes a distinction between these two words for love, and they are never used indiscriminately in the same passage. If they are used with reference to the same objects, each word retains its distinctive and essential character.
Peter stresses the importance of imitating the moral and spiritual character of God as it is uniquely displayed in the life of Jesus. The Christian is able to live this life by the enabling work of the Holy Spirit given to every believer. Brotherly love focuses on the life of the Christian living in community with others. Love is the most important of the spiritual virtues. It is the apex of godly character. Everything the believer may cultivate with respect to his virtuous character must find its ultimate expression within the life of the community.
In an earlier letter Peter summarized the attitude that should be plain to see in all Christians: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4.7-10). Nowhere in Scripture are Christians encouraged to live in isolation from other Christians. The “lone Christian” is an utterly foreign concept to the Bible. Peter requires that the believer be sensitive to the needs of others. Every Christian is obligated to minister to others according to their needs (cp. Ephesians 4.29).