1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
I imagine it’s easy for you to see the basic structure of this passage (which I laid out a bit more thoroughly last week). In light of the fact that the end of all things is at hand Peter issued four direct commands (giving a specific reason for three of them) and one foundational principle. Last week we looked at the first direct command and its specific reason (“be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”). This week we’re going to look at the second command and reason (“keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”).
Let’s pray, then, that above all God would make us a loving people in order that sins would be covered.
DIRECT COMMAND #2: ABOVE ALL, KEEP LOVING EARNESTLY
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly”
What is your understanding of love? How would you define it? Are you able to detect any significant differences between your operating understanding of love and that of the general culture around us? These are important questions to consider in light of the fact that the center of the command in front of us is love. If we are to have any hope of obeying it, therefore, we need to be clear on what love is.
There is certainly some nuance in the various uses of the term throughout the bible (and even different words translated as “love”), but I think the following verses capture well the overall message of the bible concerning love. The question to ask yourself as I read through them is, “is your current understanding of love able to accommodate for the various uses of the term?”.
1 John 4:16, 19 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… 19 We love because he first loved us.
Matt 22:37-39 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Ephesians 5:2 Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
John 3:16 God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world.
To summarize these passages: God is love. God loves his people. We must love God above all and our neighbor second. We are only able to this because God first loved us and put his love in us. We know what it means to love God and people by looking to the example of Jesus. If we claim to love God but do not love others, our claim cannot be true. If we claim to love God but love the world, our claim cannot be true. The greatest example of love, the primary means by which God expressed his love for his people, and the means by which we are able to love is the cross (God sending and Jesus willingly dying).
How’d you do? Does your current definition of love fit with these passages?
We’ve got to get this right, Grace. Love is such a central theme in the bible, and love is such a central theme in the passage we’re looking at this morning, that getting it wrong means getting a whole lot more wrong as well.
What, then, is love?
If you’ve been around Grace Church for a while you’ve undoubtedly heard us engage this question head on a number of times. When the bible speaks of the act of loving (this includes God’s love for himself and us, as well as our love for God and our neighbors) I think this is what it is primarily calling for: the affectionate pursuit of what’s best.
God is love, then, in that he is what is best and he delights in making his glory known.
God loves his people in that he joyfully and effectually offers himself (that which is best) to us.
We love God by fighting to be satisfied in him above all things.
And we love others, as this text calls us to, by continually delighting in God in front of them and sharing with them the good news that they too can find everlasting fellowship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus. It means wanting what’s best for them (God) such that we’re eager to lay our lives down, according to the example of Jesus, in pursuit of His grace for them. Loving others, if it is genuine, brings us delight; but the source of our delight is their good—God’s glory.
All of this means that love is never emotively or teleologically indifferent. It is always related to our affections and it always has a specific aim. That is, there is no such thing as genuine love that isn’t earnestly aimed at genuine good.
This is a very different definition of love than most of the people I’ve met operate under. Love today remains connected to affection (albeit a misguided and misdirected connection). But it seems altogether untethered from any objective good.
Most around us, in my experience, would define love as something like “causing happiness”. When most people say “I love God,” then, they simply mean “God (or the idea of God) makes me happy”. Similarly, probably without consciously thinking this way, when most people tell someone else, “I love you,” they merely mean, “You make me happy.” In rarer cases they mean “I want to make you happy.”
According to this understanding of love the source of the happiness (ours or theirs) is generally irrelevant. It’s usually disconnected from both truth and the good of the person we claim to love. In fact, the source of one’s happiness (of their “love”) is just as likely to be destructive, perverted, and otherwise sinful as not. Worse still, truly caring about the good of another is often labeled as unkind, intolerant, and even hateful.
Operating under this faulty definition of love is a big reason why so many marriages end. If love is merely selfish (I love you = you make me happy) to begin with, as soon as you stop making me happy, it’s time to move on.
This is also the cause of so many unhealthy families. Couples have kids in order to “love them,” which is to say, use them for the happiness they hope the kids will provide. Kids can’t possibly deliver on this unreasonable expectation, the parents eventually feel let down (poop and sleeplessness and crying and disobedience and other friendships), the kids eventually feel used, and a deep rift begins to form.
And this is the reason why so many eventually leave the church. They were lied to from the outset. They were told that becoming a Christian meant that God loved them and would therefore meet their selfish desires. But instead of added happiness in their worldly pursuits they got a bunch of rules to follow and a pesky conscience. Disheartened, board, and disillusioned they come to believe that God doesn’t love them because he didn’t make them happy. What’s more, tying it to this passage, they never experienced the kind of sacrificial love from God’s people (who were also lied to) that God means his people to experience.
Although truly unpacking this is a different sermon for a different day, I think it’s important to at least mention these things so that we might test ourselves for traces of this destructive way of thinking. Graciously, Peter puts up a few guardrails to help his readers avoid these mistakes and live under a proper understanding of love.
In this passage, once again, in the end times, Peter called his readers to love one another. By that he certainly meant that they ought to find great joy in laying their lives down for the good of one another. By that he certainly meant that they ought to delight in bringing the gospel to one another even in the midst of significant persecution. That’s a helpful reminder. But, once again, Peter offers even more help by adding four additional textual points of significance—four more guardrails to make sure God’s people rightly love at a time and in ways that will truly stand out.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” Loving one another is a command that is meant to rise to the top of all other commands. None of God’s commands are optional, but of the horizontal commands, this one must be first in priority.
Paul taught the same thing in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
We need to fight hard to know what is best in any given situation. That is, we need to carefully study the scriptures and the situation of those around us in order to know how to best point them to God. And once we gain that understanding we must give ourselves above all other things to pursuing it on their behalf.
The point of the story of Mary and Martha (in Luke 10:38-40), for instance, is that there are a lot of good things that become bad things (service in this case) when they are wrongly elevated in priority. Being a servant is good. It’s just not the most important thing. Love must come first. It must be above all.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” It is important to note that Peter was not calling on his readers to start loving one another. He was calling on them to keep loving one another. Accepting Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is also accepting his him as lord and, therein, all his priorities and commands. As we just saw, love for others tops both lists (priorities and commands). Loving other Christians is not optional. If we are forgiven, we are loving. There are no Christians who are not in the act of loving Christians (or repenting if they struggle).
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” We are certainly called to love everyone—every tribe, tongue, and nation; young and old; male and female; Christian and non; Greek and barbarian—but this passage specifically calls Christians to love Christians.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There is a sense in which God has determined to reveal the transforming power of the gospel and the genuineness of our salvation through our love for one another (“people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one anther”). Again, loving non-Christians is good (and necessary; there are plenty of commands for that), but as a matter of priority, we must love the saints first.
Finally, as we saw earlier, the kind of love Peter calls for in this passage isn’t an indifferent, passive kind of love. Earnestly may also be translated as “fervently”. One commentator notes that this “denotes stretching or straining and pictures a person running with taut muscles, exerting maximum effort…Such love is sacrificial, not sentimental, and requires a stretching of believers’ every spiritual muscle” (MNTC. 1 Peter, 241).
The ability to love like this is entirely rooted in the power of God, exemplified in the person of Jesus, taught in the Word of God, and made possible by the cross of Jesus. Without God’s Word we wouldn’t know that we should love or how to love. Without Jesus’ example, we wouldn’t know what it looks like to love well. Without God’s power we’d never be able to do it (especially in times of suffering like Peter’s readers faced). And without the cross our short-comings would always be our ruin.
Grace, we must keep loving one another earnestly and above all.
SPECIFIC REASON FOR THE COMMAND: LOVE COVERS MANY SINS
Again, Peter not only issued the command to keep loving one another earnestly, he also gave a specific reason for this command: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” But what does that mean? What does it mean that the Christians loving one another “covers a multitude of sins”?
Peter certainly did not mean that by loving one another it would cover sins in an atoning, saving way. The blood of Jesus alone has that power. If not that, though, what did Peter mean? Most likely Peter simply meant that, although suffering is meant to produce holiness in Christians (1 Peter 1:13-25), it often results in the opposite (frustration, anger, bitterness, impatience, selfishness, etc.). Therefore, it is always going to be necessary for Christians to commit to loving others even when they were sinned against.
I remember watching Kyle try to love someone who did not want to be loved. That is, they did not know or want what was best for themself. In the midst of a difficult season, I watched as this person responded to Kyle’s attempt to love them in anger and frustration. Had Kyle responded in kind, the person’s sin had the chance to snowball into greater and greater destruction. Instead of reacting in vengeance, or even in justice, Kyle responded in patient love—in the affectionate pursuit of the best. In that sense, he covered this person’s sin by loving them earnestly above all. His love prevented their sin from spreading and therein pointed to the gospel.
Knowing that the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ have been entirely paid for by Jesus, we are free to forgive and respond in gentleness; that is, we are free to cover their sins in love because their sins have already been covered by Christ’s bloody love.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
I want to conclude by offering a handful of practical suggestions for putting this into practice. That is, I have seven ways in which you and I might (and in some ways must) actually love the people in this room. This list isn’t exhaustive. It’s the product of my understanding of the emphasis of the bible and the needs of our church. My suggestion is that you pick one or two and burrow down deeply into them.
- Pray for one another. The greatest need of everyone in this room is God. That which is best for everyone in this room is God. But God alone can reveal himself. God alone can bring healing and salvation. God alone can create knowledge of and an appetite for himself in us. Therefore, the greatest expression of love we can have for one another is prayer; pleading with God to open others eyes and cause their hope to be in him alone. Pray the things you see in News and Notes. Write down the prayer requests you hear others give. Take home a roster of the people at Grace and pray through it in your daily devotions. Make it a point to ask for prayer requests even before you ask about hobbies or the weather. Be faithful and dilligent in prayer. Also, note who Peter is writing to. He is not writing to a single church. He is writing to scattered believers in several different regions. The practical implication is that we must love and, therefore, pray for Christians throughout the world. Get a copy of Operation World. Keep up on our missionary prayer requests. Familiarize yourselves with the Joshua Project. Love through prayer.
- Keep first things first. If loving one another means delighting in the pursuit of that which is best for one another, then making sure that which is best is at the front and center of your relationship is absolutely essential. What do your conversations with the Christians in this room tend to be about? What activities usually mark your fellowship with one another? If we are to love one another earnestly and above all, we must keep the person and commands and commission of God in front of one another. Jesus is above all so we love by gathering around him. The Word is our sufficient source of knowledge about Jesus so we love by gathering around it. And faithful obedience is what the Word calls us to so we love by gathering around it. Instead of merely having another family over for dinner, perhaps, love one another by singing or reading the Word up together. Instead of merely getting together with a friend to go hang out, get together to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Don’t let the things of the world define your relationship. That is unloving. Love one another, then, Grace, by gathering together around the things of God. And let me just say, when we do this, when we love by keeping first things first, that frees us to love the people in this room and in the Church who are different from us in every other (lesser) way.
- Be present. Our previous pastor, Pastor Daniel, used to talk a lot about what he called the “ministry of presence”. This might be one of the easier expressions of love. Show up. Be involved in the lives of the people of God. Sometimes you might not feel like you have much to offer, but just being present can be more of a blessing than you think. Going to birthdays, weddings, funerals, the various female showers, etc. that people have is a remarkable simple way to show love to them. Showing up to the various ministries and events of Grace encourages those who planned them.
- Listen. One more remarkably significant way to express the kind of love Peter calls for in this passage is to be a good listener. Let us love people enough to ask good questions and genuinely care about their answer. Let us love one another enough to care first about understanding, even before being understood. Let us obey Peter’s charge by talking less about ourselves and listening more to others. This helps us know how to pray and serve and bless.
- Actively look for ways to bless others. May it be our joy to do things for one another only to see them grow in their joy in the Lord. Make someone a meal to encourage them. Give them a gift that will strengthen their faith. Support them in some ministry endeavor (prayerfully, financially, or personally). Be unnecessarily generous when you find a need. Write a note of specific thanks for a specific act of observed godliness. Offer an unsolicited compliment for Christian character. Babysit for their kids so they can invest in their gospel-reflecting marriage. Invite another believer that you don’t know well to join you on your next fun discipleship appointment. Share with someone how you prayed for them. Love by intentionally blessing.
- Address sin. This might seem counterintuitive, but truly loving one another means that we cannot be indifferent to their sin. If God is best, then anything that takes us away from God is necessarily harmful. We do not love people when we see them causing harm to themselves or others and stand idlely by. There are times when our love might not feel like love to the person we’re loving. And yet the bible is clear on the fact that it is an act of hatred, not love, that causes us to be unconcerned with the sins of one another. We must be prayerful, humble, gracious, cautious, and patient, but genuine love rolls up its sleeves and joins in the battle against the sin of the saints.
- Be quick to forgive. Our love for others makes us care about their sin enough to address it even if they don’t appreciate it at first; but it also, as Peter wrote in this section, makes us eager to forgive their sin. When someone apologizes to us, we ought to rejoice. We ought to immediately let go of any bitterness and anger and delight that God brought conviction (perhaps through our love). Even if they don’t seek our forgiveness, however, the gospel enables us to forgive anyway , entrusting justice to God. We are free to love by forgiving even when others don’t ask for it because Jesus paid it all. Loving others means applying the truth of the gospel to their lives even when they struggle to do so themselves.
Grace, because the end of all things is at hand, let us love one another earnestly and above all. Let us realize that by so doing we cover a multitude of sins. Let us look for and give ourselves to real, intentional, continual, practical expressions of love. And let us do so according to God’s word, according to the example of Jesus, and in the power of the gospel. Amen.