Sermon 04-30-2023: “Treasuring Christ Above All for the Sake of Loving Others”

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:1-10

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or at least haven’t been to church in the past month, you probably know our church’s vision statement by now: “Treasuring Christ above all and helping others do the same.” It’s on the front of your bulletin.

I want to answer three questions in today’s sermon: Number One, what does “treasuring Christ above all” have to do with loving others? Number Two, how hard is it to love like this? Number Three, how does “treasuring Christ above all” enable us to love?

But first, what does “treasuring Christ above all” have to do with loving others?

But first, what does “treasuring Christ above all” have to do with loving others?

I want to begin by reminding you of an episode in the gospels, in which one of the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in scripture was. Jesus responded with two commands—one from Deuteronomy 6:5 and one from Leviticus 19:18—two commands that are so intricately linked in our Lord’s mind that they’re inseparable: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 1

So when we consider our church’s vision statement, “Treasuring Christ above all and helping others do the same,” the first part of Jesus’ Great Commandment gets fulfilled: Jesus Christ is God, of course… So treasuring Christ means we also love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And in treasuring Christ, we’ll of course all want to love and please his Father

By all means! But what about the second part of Jesus’ Great Commandment—“love your neighbor as yourself”—how is that reflected in our church’s vision statement?

Well, it’s definitely there… This morning, for instance, Sunday school teachers are helping students of all ages to treasure Christ above all… We had confirmation and baptism for young people a few weeks ago. Linnea and many adult sponsors loved and supported these young people in an effort to help them to treasure Christ above all—for a lifetime, unto eternity… we hope and pray.

When we fill the trunk or back seat of a hungry family’s car with food, when we visit the home bound in our church and bring them meals and gestures of love, when we build handicapped ramps for needy people, when we pack meals for hungry people living on the other side of the world, we want the recipients of our love and time and generosity to see how precious Christ is to us, and we want them to treasure and glorify Christ alongside us.

And of course, any effort by our church to fulfill the Great Commission has to do with “helping others” treasure Christ above all.

Still… Is this vision statement too lofty, too high minded… Is it practical enough for everyday life?

What about all those other “neighbors” that we encounter in our lives—including the neighbor sitting next to you in worship this morning, or people we live next to, or people we work with or work for or go to school with… What does this vision statement have to do with loving them? What does “treasuring Christ above all” have to do with loving people in the normal, average, everyday—mundane—circumstances of our lives?

And my answer, as I will attempt to show from today’s scripture, is that our vision statement has everything to do with loving our neighbor! In fact, unless we treasure Christ above all, it’s impossible to love our neighbor as ourselves! That’s the main point of today’s sermon: We treasure Christ above all for the sake of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We treasure Christ above all in order to love other people!

Especially to love them the way the apostle Peter himself says we’re supposed to love them in verse 22 of chapter 1: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

How are we doing at that? That sounds incredibly hard, doesn’t it? And this is Point Number Two: How hard is it for us to love other people?

To make matters worse, Peter implies that the way we accomplish loving our brothers and sisters like verse 22 says is by doing what he says to do in verse 1 of chapter 2: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” In verse 1 he’s telling us to “put away” these sins which so often prevent us from loving others the way we should!

And one of those sins is hypocrisy—which is what happens when you pretend to be someone you’re not. Well… Peter himself knows something about being a hypocrite… The apostle Paul accused Peter publicly of hypocrisy in Galatians 2, verses 11 to 13. This was years after the resurrection, years after Peter received the Holy Spirit, years after he fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, at great personal risk to his life and safety, told his adversaries, “We must obey God rather than man”… 

This was even after he had that vision on the roof of his house in Acts chapter 10, in which God told him to welcome Gentile believers as full-fledged Christians and members of the church… this was after he baptized Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, and told church leaders that we must accept them as brothers and sisters.

After all those experiences, Peter went to Paul’s church in Antioch—where there were many Gentile believers. And back in the ancient world, before Christ, Jews and Gentiles didn’t mix or socialize or share meals together. Jews feared that Gentiles would make them ceremonially “unclean.” 

But the gospel of Jesus Christ changed things: Now “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 2 That means that because Christ fulfilled God’s law for us, and God’s people are no longer under the Law, Gentile believers now have equal access to God, alongside Jewish believers; they now enjoy equal standing under God through faith in Christ—because our standing before God no longer depends on anything that we do or fail to do. Rather, it depends only on what Christ has done for us! That’s what the gospel teaches us.

And Peter understood this… and he warmly received his Gentile brothers and sisters… He loved them “earnestly from a pure heart”… at least at first

And then some important people from the church in Jerusalem showed up, and these people weren’t so sure about Jews and Gentiles eating together. In fact, they didn’t like it at all; they thought that, in order for Gentiles to become fully Christian, they needed first to do things like get circumcised and follow Jewish dietary laws. These people from the Jerusalem church failed to grasp the full implications of the gospel. And Peter was afraid of them… afraid that these men would judge him… afraid that they would think less of him… afraid that he would fail to measure up to their standards… afraid that they would gossip about him to other people… afraid that they would harm his reputation among his colleagues back home… 

So instead of doing the right thing, instead of continuing to love these Gentiles“earnestly from a pure heart,” Peter withdrew from his Gentile brothers and sisters. He stopped eating with them. He stopped eating at their table. He treated them, once again, like outcasts or outsiders—even though he knew for sure that God had told him directly, back in Acts chapter 10, not to do this!

To say the least, Peter himself failed to do what he commands us to do in verse 1 of today’s scripture: to put away “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” And he failed to do what he commands us to do in chapter 1, verse 22, to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 

And Paul saw him failing in this way and called him out on it. Publicly.

So when Peter wrote today’s scripture, as an old man, not long before his own crucifixion, he surely thought of his own failures and knew from experience how hard it is—even for us Christians—to love the way we’re supposed to. He knew from experience how hard it is to put away those sins that prevent us from loving others.

In fact, from a human point of view, apart from God’s grace, it isn’t merely hard to love like this; the Bible says it’s absolutely impossible. 

We can all relate to the apostle Paul’s words describing our human condition: “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” 3

Is there any hope for us?

Well, the good news is, yes, there is hope… Because we have the Holy Spirit, we have been born again… We have been given new power to overcome sin in our lives… power not to be enslaved to sin anymore. But the New Testament tells us over and over that these changes don’t happen overnight… they don’t happen automatically… and they don’t happen without our active participation… That’s why Peter can say, “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander”—because he knows that we have power—through the Holy Spirit at work within us—to put those bad sins away. 

And this power to change is called sanctification. 

Sanctification is a gift of God’s grace, but it’s a gift of grace that God gives us in part through our own efforts.

And this bring us to Point Number Three: What do we do to participate in this process? How do we love others and put away the sins that prevent us from loving others?

Peter gives us a clue at the beginning of verse 1: “So.” Or many translations, “Therefore.” 

Therefore… which means, as a result of something I have just said, “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

That little word “so,” in other words, connects what Peter says in verse 1 with what he’s just been saying in the previous verses. Which means that we will be able to accomplish what Peter is commanding in verse 1 by remembering and applying what he has just said in verses 22 to 25 of chapter 1. 

And what has he just said? 

He’s just said that we are born again through the preaching of the good news about Jesus. “Good news” literally means “gospel.” 

Because of the gospel, in other words… in light of the gospel… as a consequence of the gospel… which you have believed and received… 

Nowthereforesodo these things

If we don’t remember what we have believed and received when we first believed and received the gospel of Christ, we will have little success, I’m afraid, when it comes to loving others and overcoming sin. 

We must remember what God has done for us through Christ! We must remember the gospel! We must remember how it is good news for us!

So what does the gospel mean? Literally everything I’m about to say come from God’s Word:

The gospel means that through the atoning death of Christ on the cross—in which Christ suffers and dies for our sins and gives us his righteousness in return 4—God has done everything necessary to bring you into a right relationship with him—as you receive this gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. 5

The gospel means there is now therefore no condemnation for those of you who are in Christ Jesus. 6 It means that all of your sins—past, present, and future—are “nailed to the cross” with Christ; they are now completely forgiven. 7

It means God has bought you with an infinite price—the precious blood of his Son Jesus. 8 It means you are adopted into God’s family, as God’s precious and highly favored sons and daughters, and you call God, “Abba, Father,” just like Jesus did. 9

It means God is now on your side—so you have no need to fear. 10 It means he is now for you—and if God is for you, who can be against you? No one and nothing! [/efn_note]

The gospel means God now loves you as much has he loves his only begotten Son Jesus. 11 It means God shows you his favor constantly. 12 It means you have an advocate in heaven—our Lord Jesus—pleading for you before the Father; 13 it means the Holy Spirit himself is praying for you, through your own prayers, to ensure that our Father always gives you what you need. 14

It means God is now working out everything in your life for your ultimate good. It means he is transforming all of the bad stuff in your life, all of the evil stuff that the devil throws your way, into something that will ultimately be good for you. 15

The gospel means that God knows the plans he has for you, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 16It means that “no weapon that is formed against you will succeed; And [God] will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment.” 17

The gospel means you are the apple of God’s eye, Psalm 17:8; 18 you are beautiful to him; you have captured his heart; and his banner over you is love. God now treasures you! 19 God loves you with a love from which literally nothing in the world, nothing out of this world, can ever separate you! 20

Lord, may we have the “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” 21

Can we even comprehend how much we’re loved by our heavenly Father… Can we even comprehend how precious we are to our heavenly Father? 

With all these gospel promises in mind—each of which comes from God’s Word—what on earth was Peter is so afraid of losing, for instance, when those leaders from the Jerusalem church showed up. What on earth was he afraid would happen if they saw him eating and drinking alongside Gentiles

How often does fear prevent us from loving others? When I’m afraid, that’s when I take it out on others. When I’m afraid, instead of running to God my rock, my refuge, my ever-present in time of need, I often lash out in anger. When I’m afraid, that’s often when I hurt people. When I’m afraid, I certainly fail to love “earnestly from a pure heart.”

What was Peter afraid of?

Was Peter afraid he would lose the approval of these men? So what? Only God’s approval matters—and Peter is covered in the righteousness of Christ! God couldn’t approve of him more than he does!Was Peter afraid he would lose the love and esteem of these men? So what? God loves Peter as much as he loves his only begotten Son Jesus—to the fullest extent possible! Peter doesn’t need the love of any mere human to be satisfied and fulfilled! 

Was Peter afraid that these men would withhold their favor and privileges and gifts from Peter? So what? God is working out everything for Peter’s good, and God is always showing him favor!

Was Peter afraid that these men would start talking about him? Gossiping. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”—that’s the biggest lie ever. Sometimes I think words are nearly the only thing that hurt me… or that hurt us! That’s why the apostle James compares words to a weapon of mass destruction—something that causes a raging forest fire. No, words are a deadly dangerous weapon, and we often wield them so carelessly and callously. 

Still, should Peter have been afraid of words—of people gossiping and saying hurtful things about him? Suppose these men did say hurtful things about Peter? So what? God is also talking about Peter, and he’s speaking words like redeemedbelovedrighteous treasured highly favored… “apple of my eye.” Their human opinions hardly matter.

You get the picture… What I need to hear in my life—over and over and over again—are these amazing words and promises of unconditional love and protection and providence and mercy and grace and favor. The kind of healing that I need, deep down in my spirit, to enable me to overcome sins like “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” comes from God’s Word!

Indeed, Peter himself makes this point in verses 2 and 3:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Long for the pure spiritual milk… And verse 3 is a reference to Psalm 34:8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Long fortaste and see. These words are practically synonyms for that key word in our vision statement: treasuring. You “long for” that which you treasure. You “taste and see”—that is, you know from personal experience—that this thing that you treasure is good. And you want more of it. Because it satisfies you and brings you joy!

Also, what Peter calls “pure spiritual milk” literally means, in Greek, “pure milk of the word.” And given that, at the end of chapter 1, he’s just been talking about God’s Word, he wants us to make a connection to God’s Word, the Bible—reading it, studying it, meditating upon it, hearing it preached, memorizing it, listening to its many promises—as I have allowed us to do a moment ago in this sermon—listening to music that proclaims God’s Word, gathering with other Christians and studying it, talking about it… Putting God’s Word at the very center of our lives… These are some of the ways that we learn to long for and “taste and see” and experience for ourselves the “pure milk of the word.”

And I like this image of a newborn infant… “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” Because when does a newborn infant get fed? When the child cries out to let its mother know that it’s hungry

Just sticking with the analogy that Peter uses, if we’re meant to be like newborn infants, what does this “crying out” correspond to? Prayer.

Longing for the “pure milk of the word” and “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” is not only about God’s Word; it’s also about prayer. They go together. The main way God speaks to us when we pray is through God’s Word.

Literally everyone in the world cries out like a newborn infant… Whether they pray or not, they are crying out in deep need. Life has a way of beating us up… and wearing us down… and wearing us out. Every single one of us! We all, every single one of us, suffer a lot… Have you noticed? I don’t care what your tax bracket is, I don’t care what your income level is, I don’t care what your socio-economic status is, we all suffer! We all endure great hardship and pain, just by living life in this fallen and sinful world. None of us is exempt.

If we could only see inside the hearts of other people, including the people sitting next to you in church, see the pain that we all carry around, wouldn’t we all be far more compassionate, far less judgmental of others, than we often are?

I’ve heard it said that church is a “hospital for sinners.” Maybe it is—sounds nice—but if so, this hospital is too often filled with patients who try to convince one another that, actually, they’re doing pretty good; they’re pretty healthy. “No, I don’t have any problems, I’m not struggling, I’m doing okay.” And we’re desperately afraid that if our brothers and sisters—our fellow patients at this hospital for sinners—find out that we really are sick, because of sin and brokenness, well… we fear their judgment. 

Well, I really do need healing from sin… and I really do struggle with my faith, with trusting in Jesus… and I really do suffer. So if church really is a “hospital for sinners,” I’m not the doctor; I’m a patient just like you. I need Jesus to heal me!

We all do.

Like newborn infants, we all cry out because we’re desperately hungry in our spirits. Part of my task as a pastor is to convince you to look to God alone, and to his Son Jesus Christ, for your healing… for your satisfaction… for your joy… for your treasure… While our world offers a million-and-one other places to look for these things—and most of the world looks in the wrong places to satisfy their deepest desires—ultimately, we will only find what we’re “crying out” for in Christ and his many words and promises in this book.

A few years ago, when I preached on today’s scripture, I shared a quote by my dear brother Tim Keller, from his book on prayer. As some of you know, Keller has Stage IV pancreatic cancer. But this is Keller’s second bout with cancer. He had a milder form of cancer twenty years earlier. He said that he and his wife Kathy only got through that experience with prayer. Prayer became a priority in their lives like never before.

Kathy said, “Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget [to take it]? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss.”

We need to treat prayer like that, Kathy said. And I would add scripture, of course—and Tim Keller would agree, of course. It’s just that this book happened to be about prayer. Prayer and Bible go together.

But you know what? I don’t think the “life saving pill” analogy gets at what Peter is saying here.

Just yesterday morning—on Saturday—I made an emergency trip to Gainesville to see a parishioner in the hospital. I didn’t have time to get coffee before I left. And it just so happened that I had a box of my favorite coffee delivered from Arizona to my house the day before. And I was really looking forward to enjoying my morning coffee. But nope, I thought, I didn’t have time; I had to get on the road.

And I decided I wouldn’t settle for fast-food coffee or gas-station coffee… I would go to Gainesville first, and then make an amazing pot of coffee when I got home.

And that’s what I did. As you might imagine, by the time I got home, I really, really longed for this delicious coffee. I was experiencing caffeine withdrawal at this point, my head felt a bit woozy. I needed coffee! And let me tell you, this was about the best-tasting coffee I’d ever had!

I believe Peter is saying something like this when he says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure milk of the word.” It’s not like a pill that you have to remember to take—and you may not feel any different whether you take it or not. That’s why we forget to take pills: there’s nothing within us that’s longing for it.

Peter says, by contrast, we can experience for ourselves the goodness of God when we satisfy ourselves with the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word… and prayer.

Only then will we discover that Christ is our greatest treasure! 

When we learn to treasure Christ in this way, we will no longer need what other people have to give us. I don’t need anyone’s affirmation. I don’t need anyone’s approval. I don’t need anyone to have a high opinion of me. I don’t need what anyone has to give me. And I don’t need whatever someone has the power to take away from me.

Because I have everything I need in Christ, my life’s greatest treasure!

Let me leave you with these words from John Wesley:

I want to know one thing, the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God!


  1.  Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
  2.  Galatians 3:28 ESV
  3.  Romans 18b-19 NLT
  4.  2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18
  5.  John 3:16
  6.  Romans 8:1
  7.  Colossians 2:14
  8.  1 Corinthians 6:20
  9.  Romans 8:15
  10.  Psalm 118:6
  11.  John 17:23, 26
  12.  Luke 2:14
  13.  Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1
  14.  Romans 8:26-27
  15.  Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28
  16.  Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
  17.  Isaiah 54:17 NIV
  18.  Psalm 17:8
  19.  Song of Solomon 4:1, 9; 2:4
  20.  Romans 8:38-39
  21.  Ephesians 3:18-19 ESV

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