The living and abiding word of God
1 Peter 1:23-25
Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. ESV
Last time we considered with some detail what Peter went on to say about this being “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable” and gave all of our time to the thought of the seed being imperishable. In this session we are going to consider how the seed is truly the word of God and next week will conclude this passage by considering how the seed and the word of God is the good news.
As we have previously explained, Peter now describes the cause of being “born again” or the source of being “born again” by means of three terms that are parallel to one another but also, I think, progressively more illuminating.
Those terms are: “seed”, “the word of God” and “the good news”.
So, secondly, we have this term:
The Word of God
He says in verse 23: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. You see, to be born of God by this imperishable seed is to be born again “through the word of God”.
We see the same truth being expressed in slightly different words in James 1v18 where we read: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”. It’s speaking of what God has done by His will rather than anything that any human has willed. What does James say that God has done by His will? He has “brought us forth”. That is, He’s brought us to a new birth. How has He done that? Well, James says that it is “by the word of truth”. That’s another way of saying “through the word of God”.
Now, notice how Peter describes “the word of God” through which we’re born again. He says that it is both “living and abiding”.
In saying that it is “living” he certainly means that it active and powerful.
It’s vigorous. It has a vitality about it. We see the Word of God being spoken of in that sense in Hebrews 4v12 where we read: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. You see, it’s “living and active”. Or look at Isaiah 55v10-11 where we read: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”. You see, this living, active Word of God has a God given purpose to fulfill and it succeeds in accomplishing that purpose.
The fact that it is “living” doesn’t only mean that it is active.
It also means that it is life giving. That’s why Peter has been able to speak of being born again “through the word of God”. We read the words of Jesus in John 5v24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life”. You see, eternal life comes through hearing the Word of Jesus and believing Him who sent Him. Who sent Him? Well, Jesus had said who had sent Him in the preceding verses.
Look at John 5v22-23: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him”. God the Father sent Him. In fact, John’s gospel is full of statements in which Jesus asserts that God the Father had sent Him. If you want something to do this afternoon, get a concordance out and find out all the times Jesus speaks in John’s gospel of His having been sent by the Father. Of course, it’s not only in John’s gospel that we find that truth. Just to give you one example, we read in Galatians 4v4-5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons”.
So eternal life comes by hearing the words of Jesus and believing God the Father who sent Him.
That is to hear and believe the Word of God. So, the word of God is living in that it is active and powerful, but it’s also living in the sense that it is life giving.
Of course, there’s a sense in which human sperm could be said to be “living” in those ways as well isn’t there? But you see, “the word of God” is not only “living”. Peter says that it is “abiding”. The NIV captures the sense even more clearly by saying “the living and enduring word of God”. In saying that it is “abiding” or “enduring”, Peter is saying that it is lasting. It’s eternal. That’s why he was able to speak of it as being “imperishable” seed and that is why being born again “through the word of God” is to not merely be born to a new life but to an eternal new life.
Peter goes on to support his assertion that “the word of God” is the “imperishable” seed through which believers in Christ are born again because it is “living and abiding” by quoting from Isaiah 40v6-8. We read in verses 24-25a: for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever”.
In speaking of “All flesh” Isaiah was referring to natural human life.
Life as brought into being by physical seed. He likened that life to grass. Human beings and grass both live. They are alive. What’s more they both have a certain glory. Just as the grass has its glorious flower so human beings have a certain glory. Yes, since the fall we are born as sinners who are in rebellion against God so there’s an ugliness in us and about us. Nonetheless, we are made in the image of God and something of the glory of that still shines through so that human beings are capable of glorious creativity and wonderful acts of love and kindness. Even so, we’re also like the grass in that it “withers, and the flower falls”. Left as we are, we die and any glory ultimately departs.
One of our sons and his wife gave Faith a lovely potted plant for Mother’s Day. It was a hydrangea and it looked healthy and had lots of lovely flowers. Of course, a hydrangea isn’t really an indoor plant but we thought we’d keep it indoors for a while before planting it out in the garden later. But, in no time at all its leaves started to wither and its flowers started to fall. So, we planted it outside and, almost immediately, it started to revive and Faith was very pleased. Then the snow came and once again the leaves have shrivelled and the flowers have decayed. You never know, it might revive again if the weather improves but one thing is sure and that is that, even if it does recover again, it will eventually die. That’s exactly what natural human life is like. If we stay as we are we will wither and die because we’re born of natural seed. In contrast with that, Isaiah said: “but the word of the Lord remains forever”. The word of the Lord is living and abiding. It’s that imperishable seed by which we are born again to a new, eternal life.
Now, Peter has actually made a slight alteration to what Isaiah said.
The actual quote from Isaiah is: “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever”. Did you spot the difference? Peter has changed “the word of our God” to “the word of the Lord”.
When we hear the expression “the word of God” or “God’s word” being mentioned we probably tend to think of our Bibles. We think of a book whether it be a big black leather bound book on a lectern or a brightly covered paperback edition or something in between those two extremes. But, no book “remains forever” and it’s not a book that is the “imperishable seed” that brings about new birth to eternal life. Rather, it is the message of the book that “imperishable seed” and brings about new birth to eternal life.
So, what is the message of the book that is “imperishable seed” and is “living and abiding” and “remains forever”? As we’ve just noted, Peter changed “the word of our God” to “the word of the Lord” so he applied the text to Jesus Christ. Now, that could either refer to the word spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ or to the word spoken about the Lord Jesus Christ. In which sense are we to take it? Well it becomes clear when we go on to see the third of Peter’s parallel terms.
Having spoken of seed and then of the word of God Peter next goes on to speak of: The Good News
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!