That Which is Rejoicing, Gratitude, Reverence, and Loyalty

In preparing for this week’s Sunday School class on 1 Peter 1:13-2:3, I was seeking to discern what this one important imperative truly means:

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
–1 Peter 1:22-23

What, then, does it mean to show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters, to love each other deeply with all your heart?  What does such brotherly affection look like?  How do we believers live out this important biblical command (something my frequently dad tells me I must do and not just say!) ?

In my reading I came across this long but enlightening quote by Richard Niebuhr.  His explanation is apt and profound:

What then is love and what do we mean by God and by neighbor when we speak of the ultimate purpose of Church, and so of theological education, as the increase of love of God and neighbor among men? By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved, gratitude, reverence and loyalty toward him.

Love is rejoicing over the existence of the beloved one; it is the desire that he be rather than not be; it is longing for his presence when he is absent; it is happiness in the thought of him; it is profound satisfaction over everything that makes him great and glorious.

Love is gratitude: it is thankfulness for the existence of the beloved; it is the happy acceptance of everything that he gives without the jealous feeling that the self ought to be able to do as much; it is a gratitude that does not seek equality; it is wonder over the other’s gift of himself in companionship.

Love is reverence: it keeps its distance even as it draws near; it does not seek to absorb the other in the self or want to be absorbed by it; it rejoices in the otherness of the other; it desires the beloved to be what he is and does not seek to refashion him into a replica of the self or to make him a means to the self’s advancement. As reverence love is and seeks knowledge of the other, not by way of curiosity nor for the sake of gaining power but in rejoicing and in wonder.

In all such love there is an element of that “holy fear” which is not a form of flight but rather deep respect for the otherness of the beloved and the profound unwillingness to violate his integrity.

Love is loyalty; it is the willingness to let the self be destroyed rather than that the other cease to be; it is the commitment of the self by self-binding will to make the other great.

H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its MInistry, Reflections on the Aims of Theological Education (New York: HarperCollins, 1956), pp.34-36.  Quoted in David R. Helm, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), pp.69-70.  Emphasis mine.

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