If you had one word to describe the church today, what would it be?
A quick scroll through social media and the word “divisive” might spring to mind. The world might use the word “insignificant” or “shrinking” or even “hypocritical.” Perhaps as you consider your own church setting, you might think “safe haven” or maybe “family.”
But what about the word “love”?
1 Peter 4:8-9
The Apostle Peter’s letter to the Christians in Asia Minor encouraged believers to endure suffering, just as Jesus suffered for them on the cross. In Peter’s day, the Christians scattered abroad experienced persecution. They struggled to live out their faith in places where they were not welcome. What would it look like for these early Christians to serve Christ in an increasingly hostile world?
Much of 1 Peter anchors his reader’s hope in what Christ did at the cross and in their eternal inheritance to come. In chapter four, he called them to respond to their suffering ways that glorified and obeyed Christ. He wanted them to live not as the Gentiles did, but as those who have been set free from sin.
One of the ways they were to live out their faith in a pagan society was by showing love for one another.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:8-9)
Loving Our Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Love One Another: The admonitions in 1 Peter 4:8-9 were specifically about Christian brothers and sisters loving one another. The Bible teaches elsewhere that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. While we love those outside the church, there is a special and unique love God’s people have for one another. We are united to one another through the blood of Christ. We are part of the family of God. We share the same Father and the same faith. Our relationships with one another will outlast everything and will go on into eternity.
Peter modifies the word love with the word “earnestly.” This isn’t a half-hearted love. It’s not a love done only out of duty. It’s not cold and distant. Rather, the love we have for one another is fervent. It’s a true affection. We deeply and sincerely care about each other’s lives. We desire the best for one another. Because we are united to one another in Christ, when someone else is hurting, we feel their pain and sorrow. We long to see their joy restored. When another brother or sister is lacking something, it becomes our lack, and we seek to help meet their needs. Such love is intentional, not passive. It actively seeks the good for another.
Love Covers Sins: In this passage, Peter helps us see what this love looks like: it covers a multitude of sins. As it says in Proverbs, “Hatred stirs us strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Proverbs 10:12). We all come to Christ the same way, by faith through grace. We are all sinners in need of redemption. And because we are all sinners, our sins will clash against one another in the church. We will disagree with one another. We will fail one another and let each other down. We will hurt one another.
Peter wants believers to forgive one another out of love. This admonition ought to remind us of the time when he asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus responded, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (v. 22). The greatest example of love which covers a multitude of sins is that of Jesus Christ. He bore the weight of our sins at the cross, laying down his life for us so that we would be free from sin. His love covered our sins. Therefore, because of what Jesus did for us, we ought to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Love Shows Hospitality: Peter then gives us another example of what our love for one another looks like: hospitality. In Peter’s day, hospitality wasn’t about entertaining. It wasn’t about serving an Instagram worthy meal on a Southern Living worthy table. It was opening one’s home and life to those in need. It was providing a warm meal and a place to sleep.
Peter’s own home was frequented by guests. Jesus ate, taught, and slept there. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law there, a woman who displayed true hospitality. “And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him” (Matthew 8:14). Tradition tells us Peter’s house was the site of one of the first Christian churches. Peter wants us to live out our love for one another by being hospitable, by opening our hearts and lives to one another, by sharing what we have. And to do so without grumbling or complaining. We ought to do so gladly and cheerfully.
We live in a day, not unlike that of the church in Peter’s day. If not already, we may soon experience persecution from the world around us. The question remains, what word will be used to describe us? Will it be “love”?