In my Christian walk, 1 Peter 4:8 is perhaps the single most convicting verse in the Bible. I am a critical person by nature. If you ask those closest to me, they will tell you that I am often a more productive believer because of it. However, it can also be my great weakness. I find it challenging to show the kind of love this verse describes. When those closest to me let me down, I end up sinning against them by firing back with a munitions concoction of hyper-critical, self-righteous, repaid evil. Due to my sin tendency, this verse has become the frequent subject of my meditations for years. It is my joy to share my reflections in this article!
Above all… love one another!
Peter started the paragraph in verse 7 with, “the end of all things is at hand.” He wants these sojourners to live with Christ’s imminent return in the forefront of their minds. He starts verse 8 with the words “above all.” In other words, “this is the most important thing to remember”! If they remember nothing else, they must remember to love one another. Love is the central ethic of Christianity. Already in this letter, Peter has issued similar commands (1:22, 2:17, 3:8). Each time, he returns to Jesus, the paragon of love, who righteously endured suffering to win pardon for the unrighteous!
Peter had experienced the necessity of remembering to love. His master uttered nearly identical words on the worst day of Peter’s life—the day he denied his Lord. Jesus knew that his disciples would be crushed and confused after his betrayal. He knew that they did not yet comprehend God’s purposes, but he knew that they would eventually understand. So, before his departure, he gave them his chief command in John 13:34-35: “love one another: just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our foremost witness to this unbelieving world is the genuine love we show to our brothers and sisters in Christ!
It is critical, though, to recognize the characteristics of this love. It is not a fleeting feeling but a resolution that holds fast. Love is a commitment to the well-being of a person that is utterly unconcerned with the harm brought to oneself and will not change despite that person’s actions. That is the kind of love Jesus Christ showed to us. We did not deserve his love, but he loved us. We hurt him, but he cared for us. We sinned against him, but he died for us and became our example.
Let’s consider the characteristics of love recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love is patient, meaning slow to anger and offense. Love is kind, meaning it is tender in word and action. It isn’t envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or resentful because it is concerned with another’s best interest. It hates evil because it loves the truth. It bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things, meaning it assumes the best of others and persists despite opposition.
Love covers a multitude of sins.
Peter highlights another characteristic of love in verse 8. For me, this is where the conviction sets in. Love covers a multitude of sins. How do you cover something? By draping something else over it to conceal it. When I cover my feet with a blanket, you can no longer see them. They haven’t ceased to exist, but they are not visible. That is the idea here: the concept of lovingly overlooking minor offenses that others commit against you. Notice the focus on others here, as opposed to self-focus. To cover up our sin would be to rejoice in wrongdoing, and we know that is not loving (1 Cor 13:6).
Let me give you a case study as an example. Let’s say that my wife and I have a big decision to make together, and we have been talking about the best course of action for a few days. I come home from work one day, and she has had a stressful, chaotic, day and is feeling overwhelmed. I, unaware of that, ask her if she has had any thoughts about what we should decide. She, feeling overwhelmed, yells at me for asking her.
If you are anything like me, the fleshly side of you is thinking, “shots fired! Quick, duck and grab your weapon!” If you are critical, as I tend to be, you will face the temptation to sinfully return fire with something like, “that is not a godly way to treat me.” You will notice that response is “me” centered. It reflects the self-righteous craving to have justice for the offense against oneself. However, their sin doesn’t justify yours, and love would be concerned first about their transgression against God, not against you.
The response that Peter exhorts us to is completely different. Covering the offense looks more like putting on a Kevlar vest and absorbing the bullet, then leaving it there without countermeasure. The sin has still occurred, but you have lovingly dispensed grace and shown the same love that our Lord shows us. To be sure, some sins are too severe to overlook. Sometimes the person needs to be lovingly confronted for their edification and sanctification. However, “a multitude of sins” can be covered with Christlike compassion and grace.
As we think about showing this kind of love to our brothers and sisters, it brings us back to the gospel. Believers are called to follow the example of Christ! How can you follow that example? Where do you need to lovingly overlook sin?
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet 2:22-24)