Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to the first letter of Peter, chapter 1. 1 Peter chapter 1. We are going to read from the twenty-second verse to the end of the chapter. Before we do, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together. Let’s pray.
Our Father, before us is Your holy and inerrant Word. We pray that You would pour out the Spirit of Christ upon the assembly of Your people, that You might illuminate our understanding to behold the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, shining upon us from the text of Your Word, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 Peter chapter 1 at verse 22. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“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; for
‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
Amen. We praise God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.
Installation of a man to the functions of Gospel ministry in a local congregation is an act of greatest moment and eternal significance. Gabriel Fluhrer is being set apart tonight to labor among us as one of our pastors. Before you all he’s going to renew the vows that he made at his ordination. He will rededicate himself to be a servant of God and of His holy Word for your sake. It’s a solemn and joyful thing to witness. And as we prepare to bear witness to those vows and receive him as our pastor, I thought it might be useful to reflect together for a few moments on the nature of the Word of God and the service to which Gabe rededicates his life tonight – the ministry of preaching. And given the need for brevity I thought it wise simply to proceed from raising that question, “What is the nature of the Word of God and the nature of faithful Gospel ministry?” directly to an examination of the text. So would you look at it with me please? 1 Peter chapter 1 from the twenty-second verse. I want you to see three things. First, the Word of God is a powerful Word, verses 22 and 23. Then secondly, the Word of God is a purposeful Word, verse 22. And then thirdly it is a preached Word, verses 23 through 25. A powerful, purposeful, and preached Word.
I. A Powerful Word
First of all, the Word of God is a powerful Word. Peter tells us that the ministry of the Word of God in our lives is powerful, it is mighty; it effects change – dramatic, revolutionary change. You see that in the text? Verse 22, he says, we purify our souls by our obedience to the truth. That’s sanctification, holiness, inner purity of life. There are some scholars who have argued that Peter has in mind here actually initial conversion – the once for all turn from sin to God in obedience to the summons of the Gospel. But the word choice that Peter uses here tells a different story. First of all the word, “obedience,” is used about fifteen times in the Greek New Testament and it is never once used unambiguously for conversion, for the initiation of the Christian life. It’s a holiness word; a word for the ongoing transformation of a life. And that is clearly how Peter is using that word, “obedience,” in verse 2 and again in verse 14. It means obedience in moral conduct. And most importantly of all, notice the purification of their souls here is something performed by believers themselves. The initial cleansing that comes in our conversions is never ever said to be the work of the Christian in the New Testament. Purification is only our work after God has first made us new creatures in Christ. Peter isn’t here talking about the inception of the Christian life; he’s talking about progress in the Christian life, progress in holiness and in growth in godliness. He’s talking about sanctification.
And notice that it comes about by obedience to the truth. That’s why we need ministers of the Word – to proclaim the Word of God and to apply its truth to our hearts that we might be helped to obey, and obeying to purify our souls. As a minister of the Word, do you see, Gabe is in God’s economy a tool that the Holy Spirit will use in your daily combat with sin and temptation to help you defeat sin and grow in grace. That’s why God has given him to us. The Lord loves His people and He pursues our purity and so He sends us ministers of the truth that as we hear the truth proclaimed we may learn to obey and purify our souls. Are you discouraged in your daily combat with indwelling sin? Feeling defeated? Wondering if ever you will gain the upper hand? Well as you witness this installation service this evening, take heart, be encouraged. You witness God deploying His servants to minister His Word that you might be helped to purify your souls by obedience to the truth. So as we set apart Gabe tonight, hear in the solemn promises he makes an echo of the greater inviolable promise of Almighty God to your believing soul. Sin will not win. His Word is mighty and He will make you like His Son.
Then look down at verse 23. Notice the Word of God is powerful now just for sanctification but for regeneration. You see that in verse 23? “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” The Word of God is the means of effecting new birth in the hearts of dead, helpless sinners. We were in the grave of our natural condition, helpless, dead in trespasses and sins. We were like Lazarus in the tomb. There was no spiritual pulse. But then one day we came under the sound of the Word and in the mighty power and blessing of the Holy Spirit we heard in the voice of the preacher the very voice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, calling as He did to Lazarus, calling to us in our spiritual condition, our spiritual death, “Come forth from the tomb! Come forth into life!” summoning us from the grave of our natural state as we have inherited it from our first father. Nothing else could change us. No psychological word could take us from death to life. No political word could open the grave and bring us out. But the imperishable, living, abiding Word of God – that alone has woken us and brought us out into newness of life. “He speaks and listening to His voice new life the dead receive. The mournful, broken hearts rejoice; the humble poor believe.”
And that is why Christ, the King and Head of the Church, has sent Gabe to us. He is here to wake the dead, to summon them to life. He is here like Ezekiel, you remember, in the valley of dry bones, to speak the Word of God to the spiritually dead and as the wind of the Spirit moves, accompanying the proclaimed Gospel, God will work to give new life. God’s primary means for effecting the new birth, for effectual calling, and the new birth in lost men and women, boys and girls, is the ministry of the Word. There’s hope for you tonight if you are not a Christian. God has a Word for you, a mighty Word for you, a powerful Word. He has sent His ministers to proclaim that Word to you. It’s a Word that can utterly and forever revolutionize your life. The marketing gurus offer you trinkets with the promise of a “new you” don’t they? The make-over shows and experts tell you that if you change on the outside you might begin to be better on the inside. What a forlorn hope. Politicians promise that your best hopes for a new life lies in giving them your vote. But Christ in His Word can do what none of them can ever deliver on. None of them but Christ in His Word can give you the new birth. His Word is no flimsy, blow away, casual thing. When He speaks, the talk of God in Scripture to you is never cheap. It is, Peter says, the imperishable, living, abiding Word of God and in it there is new life for you through the Lord Jesus Christ. The installation of a Gospel minister is a bright spark of hope in a dark world. It tells us God aims to bring the dead to life, to bring the lost home, to make the blind see by the proclamation of the truth. The Word of God is a powerful Word.
II. A Purposeful Word
Then secondly, the Word of God is a purposeful Word. Look at verse 22 again. “They purify themselves by obedience to the truth. They have been born again,” verse 23, “by the Word of God.” The Word has done and is doing amazing things within them but it all has a goal in view. Verse 22, “Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for, or unto, a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart since you have been born again by the Word of God.” What does the Word aim at when it gives new life and it effects spiritual change and purifies our souls? It aims at love. Obedience to the truth is for or unto sincere, brotherly love. That is what it is for. “So love one another earnestly, from a pure heart,” Peter says.
How can you measure if the Word of God proclaimed in a congregation like this one, week in and week out, is doing its work regenerating the spiritually dead, sanctifying, changing, purifying the saints? What is the ordinary mark and evidence of a faithful Word ministry blessed by God in a local congregation? It is love in action as the people of God serve and care and minister to and with one another in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to know the Word. It’s not even enough to love the Word. The Word, if it has had its way with your heart, will make you love one another. That is God’s purpose for His Word at First Church. That’s why He sent Gabe to us – to preach it and teach it among us. He wants us to love one another earnestly from a pure heart, more and more, that all the world may know that we are the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ by our love for one another.
III. A Preached Word
The Word of God is a powerful Word, the Word of God is a purposeful Word, and then finally the Word of God is a preached Word. Notice two things here. First, the Word that Peter is talking about is clearly the inscripturated Word. It’s the written Word. It is the text of Holy Scripture. That’s clear even in the way that he reasons and argues in the passage we’ve read together. He’s told us the Word of God is imperishable, living, and abiding. And now immediately he proves his point, he backs up his argument by quoting the Scriptures. “All flesh is as grass, all its glory like the flowers of grass; the grass withers and the flower falls but the Word of the Lord remains forever.” He’s quoting Isaiah chapter 40 verses 6 and 8, reminding us life is fragile and fleeting but God’s Word alone is an immovable rock of life-giving certainty. Peter has no interest in ecstatic words from the Lord, impressions and promptings. He’s no time for so-called fresh insights from the Holy Spirit coming from another source than this Book. No, the only Word, the only Word that saves and cleanses and changes, the only Word that awakens the dead and gives them life, the only Word that kills sin and purifies souls, the only Word that can make natural enemies to love each other earnestly from pure hearts, the only Word where we hear God’s voice is the written Word, the sacred page. It’s the Book. And so as Gabe ministers among you, this is what you must demand of him. “Give us the Book! Take us into the text! You may tell us about yourself, you may illustrate well, there may be stories and there may be insights from psychology and pop culture, but we will be utterly unchanged, unhelped, unfed, hungry, spiritually impoverished unless you give us the Book!”
But more than that, God has given us His Book to be used in a particular ministry. Verse 25, “And this Word is the good news that was preached to you.” Now know the two parts of that statement very carefully. First, the Word that regenerates and sanctifies and results in love is able to do all of that because on every page there’s good news for your souls. This Word is the good news that was preached to you. It’s possible, you know, to teach truth from the Bible, even possible to talk a good deal about Jesus from the Bible, and fail to proclaim good news. Gabe, that is your greatest work. Give us good news from the Book. Give us the Gospel. Apply Christ and Him crucified, Christ and all His benefits. Show us Jesus on every page and help us see that the new life that we need and the holiness He demands have all been bought and paid for in the wounds of our Messiah. The Word is the good news, Peter says. Preach the good news.
But notice the good news that is the Word is preached. The Word is a preached Word. In the Westminster Larger Catechism answer 155, which I know you all have memorized, we have what is actually a remarkably full and clear statement of the message of these three verses at the end of 1 Peter chapter 1. It could almost be an exposition of the end of 1 Peter chapter 1. Listen to the Larger Catechism. Don’t you hear an echo of Peter’s message? The Westminster divines said, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves and drawing them unto Christ, of conforming them to His image and subduing them to His will, of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions, of building them up in grace, establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” What a masterful statement of the way God works by His Word in the hearts of His people. That has been precisely Peter’s message here.
And did you notice that it says, “the Spirit of God,” the Westminster Catechism says, “the Spirit of God maketh the reading but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of salvation.” Especially the preaching of the Word. That is what verse 25 is telling us. Preaching is indispensible. It is indispensible to the spiritual health of your soul. You cannot do without it. It is the means God will use to save you and make you holy. That’s why Christ sent Gabe Fluhrer. It’s a weighty task. He’s going to need our prayers, our encouragement, our love, but he is here as the agent of King Jesus to preach to us the Word. The Word is a powerful Word – gives new life; turns sinners into saints. The Word of God is a purposeful love – it aims at love; servant-hearted, humble love. That’s how we know it’s having its way among us, that we love one another. And the Word of God is a preached Word – the Word written; the Gospel Word must be proclaimed and applied. As Gabe takes up that weighty calling and ministry among us, will you attend his ministry with an appetite for the pure, spiritual milk of the Word so that you might grow thereby? Will you come to the preached Word with expectancy and a holy hunger for more of Christ? Will you come having bathed the ministry of the Word that he fulfills in this pulpit with your prayers? If you will, we have every reason to expect that Christ will bless, the spiritually dead will live, the saints will grow, and the church will learn to love, and the name of Jesus will be held in honor to the praise of His name. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we bow before You praising You that You give us Gospel minister to preach the truth to us, to give Christ to us, that by our obedience to the truth we might purify our souls unto sincere, brotherly love. Would You so bless Gabe’s ministry in the days and years ahead that we may be people made like Christ and that many who do not know Christ will be brought under the mighty hammer blows of the Gospel to have their hard, stony hearts broken and new life poured in? Would You do that please for the honor of the name of Jesus, in whose name we now pray? Amen.
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