1 Peter 4:8-10a
Dr. Steve Orr
Last time we looked at 1 Peter 4v7 where Peter said: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”. That verse begins with an opening statement that “The end of all things is at hand” and that leads on to a resultant exhortation. Peter said: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore ……”. Therefore what? The end of all things is at hand; therefore panic? No. The end of all things is at hand; therefore eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? No. The resultant exhortation is: “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”. We saw that what Peter meant by “The end of all things is at hand” was that we are in the last days before the final culmination of God’s glorious purposes. In view of that, it’s of first importance for us to pray and to pray aright we need to be “self-controlled and sober-minded”.
So, Peter’s exhortations arising from the fact that “The end of all things is at hand” began with prayer but they certainly didn’t end there. Reading on we find that he said in verses 8 to 10a: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another”. The first exhortation was to pray and that has to do with our ongoing relationship with God. Our relationship with God is always of primary importance. If that’s not right, nothing else will be. Now he goes on in these verses to exhort us to do three things. Do you notice that they all have something in common? It’s the words “one another”. Peter exhorts us to “keep loving one another” and to “show hospitality to one another” and to “serve one another”. So, having addressed our relationship with God he’s now moving on to our relationships with one another within the body of Christ. We could say that, in view of the fact that “The end of all things is at hand”, Peter exhorts us to “oneanothering”. That’s a made-up word but it nicely conveys the sense of what Peter is exhorting us to. As a community of believers in Jesus Christ we are to be characterised by “oneanothering”. We mustn’t think that this idea of “oneanothering” is just a bit of a hobby horse with Peter. There are no less than 58 “one anothers” in the New Testament that are addressed to believers. Jesus does so on several occasions. There are many to be found in Paul’s letters. There are plenty in John’s letters, four in James and three in Hebrews as well as these ones in 1 Peter. So “oneanothering” is a prominent theme in the New Testament and a consistent expectation within the body of Christ.
Before we think about the three specific exhortations that Peter gives here let us make sure that we don’t miss the force of those words “one another”. Sometimes we can be a bit blinkered and read what we expect to see or what we want to see rather than what is actually being said. It would be all too easy to make the mistake of reading these exhortations to be “keep loving others” and to “show hospitality to others” and to “serve others”. That is, we can take it that we are simply being told what we should be doing for other people. In understanding it in that way we would be viewing it as being one-way traffic. However, although “oneanothering” certainly includes what we should do for others, there’s more to it than that. The term “one another” suggests two-way traffic. It suggests a mutual, reciprocal relationship. That means that we are to be prepared to receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as giving to our brothers and sisters. I daresay that we are often very willing to do good to others. Hopefully, that’s with good motives but we might find ourselves craving that sense of satisfaction that comes from doing good to others. It might make us look good in the eyes of others and there’s the danger of a bit of pride creeping in. So, we need to guard our hearts when doing good to others and we also perhaps need to ask ourselves if we’re as ready to receive from others as we are to give to others. That natural British reserve and sense of self-sufficiency can easily kick in so that we decline and perhaps discourage offers of help from others. We tell ourselves that that’s the respectable and honourable response but it’s really a hefty dose of pride that’s rearing its ugly head. Deep down we like to think that we are strong and self-sufficient and don’t need help from others. However, the fact is, that for “oneanothering” to take place, there has to be humility. There has to be someone on the receiving end as well as someone on the giving end so we must be prepared to graciously receive as well as to graciously give. We must be as prepared to be recipients as we are to be givers. All too often we tell ourselves that “it’s more blessed to give than receive” but if that means that we are willing to give but unwilling to receive we end up denying our brothers and sisters the blessing of giving to us.
Let’s now turn to consider the exhortations that Peter gives. The first one is to:
Love one another
That exhortation is found in verse 8 where Peter says: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”. Now, the word “love” is widely used in popular culture isn’t it. The common usages of the word range from being trivial and banal through to being wonderfully profound. Someone might say that they “love” a particular television programme or they “love” a pair of shoes or they “love” a certain type of food. What they really mean is simply “I like it a lot”. Think of how many popular songs mention “love” in one way or another and they’re usually speaking of love as a feeling or emotion, so pop songs are often about rather gooey “boy meets girl” romantic love or sentimental love. There are at least four Greek words that can be translated as “love” and they each have a different shade of meaning. There’s “eros” from which we get the English word “erotic” and it speaks of intimate, sexual passion. There’s “philia” which is a dispassionate virtuous love that speaks of an affectionate regard or friendship. Then there’s “storgē” which is a common or natural empathy such as that felt by parents for their children or the love that a person has for their country. But the Greek word that Peter uses here is “agape” which is the word that Jesus used in John 13v34-35 when He said: “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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another””. Notice that Jesus didn’t merely command His people to “love” but to “love one another”. Peter would have heard Jesus give that “new commandment” so I’m sure that this is what Peter had in mind when he gave the exhortation to “keep loving one another”. What is this “agape” love? Well notice that it’s loving as Jesus has loved us. It’s not primarily to do with liking or natural attraction. It’s not primarily to do with feelings or emotions. It’s a deliberate, selfless, sacrificial love. Jesus went on to further clarify His command to “love one another as I have loved you” in John 15:12-13 where He said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. How did Jesus love us? Well He loved us in various ways but He did so supremely by laying down His life for us on the cross. We should be characterised by showing such costly love because that is precisely the sort of sacrificial love that Jesus has lavished on us.
From what Peter says here about “loving one another”, we see the priority of loving one another, the persistency of loving one another, the passion of loving one another and the productivity of loving one another.
Firstly, we see the priority of loving one another because Peter says: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly”. Having said that “The end of all things is at hand”, Peter had firstly insisted that a right response to that is to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” and he now goes on to say “above all”. In saying “above all” Peter is not saying that “loving one another” is even more important than prayer. Rather, he’s pointing out that love for one another is of first importance in the context of what he’s going on to say in terms of “oneanothering”. He’s underlining the necessity of love for one another in what follows. You see, you can “show hospitality” or even “serve one another” in a way that is half-hearted or grudging or merely going through the motions. The fact that love is to be “above all” means that all that we do is to be motivated by love and is to be an expression of our love. Love for one another is to be over-arching. Paul also speaks of this priority of love. For instance, look at 1 Corinthians 13v1-3 where he says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing”. It’s very emphatic isn’t? Whatever you do, no matter how impressive or commendable it seems to be, it counts for nothing unless it is accompanied by love. So, if you “show hospitality” without “loving one another” it counts for nothing. If you “serve one another” without “loving one another” it counts for nothing. Love is the vital ingredient. It’s the indispensable component. You might have a top of the range Rolls Royce. It’s very expensive. It looks fantastic. Everyone knows it’s an amazing piece of engineering. But, without a vital ingredient none of that counts for anything. You see, a Rolls Royce is a car. It’s meant to be driven. It’s meant to perform and give a smooth, comfortable ride. To do that, it needs petrol. That’s the vital ingredient. Without that it’s not being what it’s meant to be or doing what it’s meant to do. It might look good but it’s not achieving anything. Likewise, showing hospitality and serving might look good but without the vital ingredient of “loving one another” they amount to nothing. So, Peter has stressed the priority of loving one another.
Secondly, we see the persistency of loving one another because Peter says: “keep loving one another”. The Greek word that has been translated as “keep” in the ESV has been omitted by the NIV but other versions translate it using words such as “maintain” or “hold”. So, the idea is to continue to love one another or to persist in loving one another. Of course, that takes it as a given that there is love for one another amongst believers but it also recognises that such love has to be worked at. Sometimes our brothers and sisters in Christ let us down or disappoint us but we are to persist in loving them. You don’t need to persist in something that’s easy. I don’t have to persist in eating a lovely cream cake. I find it all too easy to eat too much of it! Loving one another isn’t always easy but we are to persist in it. And remember that we might not always be easy for our brothers and sisters in Christ to love either. Sometimes the danger is that because love is hard we will simply grow tired of loving one another. As Jesus said in Matthew 24v12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold”. Jesus was speaking of the last days in which we are living. In a context of growing lawlessness where selfishness and greed become dominant loving one another becomes increasingly challenging and our love can easily “grow cold”. Hence the need to persist in loving one another.
Thirdly, we see the passion of loving one another because Peter speaks of: “loving one another earnestly”. So, we’re not just to grit our teeth and persist in loving one another. We’re to do so “earnestly”. Peter has already mentioned that back in 1 Peter 1v22-23: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. The idea of “loving one another earnestly” as the ESV puts it perhaps sounds a bit serious and sombre. The NIV has “love one another deeply” but I don’t think that “deeply” quite captures the right sense either. A better translation is probably “fervently”. Yes, it’s to be a love that is to be serious and it’s to be profound but it’s also to be strongly felt and passionate because that is how Jesus loves us. In our translations, the word “deeply” or “fervently” is separated from the word “keep” or “maintain” so they seem to be two different ideas but in the Greek text they are together to give a phrase that could be translated as “keep deeply” or “maintain fervently”. The root idea of that phrase is to be stretched or in tension so the concept here is to not slack off on loving one another. Nowadays I expect we all have battery operated clocks but back in the days of clockwork you had to keep the clock wound up to maintain the tension of the spring because when the tension declined the clock would stop. I’m sure we all have memories of the ritual of winding up the clocks last thing at night. Likewise, we need to keep our love wound up to make sure that it doesn’t stop. We must be earnest or passionate in being determined to persist in loving one another. Without that we’ll be like the Ephesian believers who Jesus addressed in Revelation 2v4 by saying: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first”.
Fourthly, we see the productivity of loving one another because Peter goes on to say: “since” in the ESV or “because” in the NIV. So, Peter is now giving a reason for “loving one another earnestly” or telling us the result of “loving one another earnestly”. What is the reason for “loving one another earnestly”? Peter says it’s “since love covers a multitude of sins”. What does it mean to “cover” sins in this context?
In the Old Testament, the expression to “cover sin” spoke of atonement being made for sin but to say that “loving one another” somehow makes atonement either for your own sin or other people’s sin would be quite contrary to New Testament teaching. We just need to remind ourselves of some of the things that Peter has already said in the letter to see that it cannot be the case that “loving one another” could ever atone for sin. He said in 1 Peter 1v18-19: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”. In 1 Peter 2v24 we read: “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”. Then we see in 1 Peter 3v18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”. It’s very clear that atonement is only made by the shed blood of Christ as He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin by suffering and dying on the cross.
Well if atonement for sin is not what Peter had in mind was he speaking of a “cover up” when he said that “love covers a multitude of sins”? Was he suggesting that love is to ignore or deny sin? That hardly seems likely, does it? Covering things up invariably only makes things worse. Think of the various child abuse scandals that have come to light. They were ignored and denied and covering them up almost caused as much harm as the original offences. The New Testament never encourages us to ignore or deny sin. Quite the opposite is true as we see in 1 John 1v8-10: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us”.
I think Peter’s meaning becomes clear once we recognise that in saying that “love covers a multitude of sins” he was quoting Proverbs 10v12 which says: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses”. You see, the proverb is contrasting two opposites: “hatred” and “love”. Because they are opposites, what they each produce must also be opposites so “covers all offenses” must be the opposite of “stirs up strife”. Therefore, when Peter says that “love covers a multitude of sins” he means that if we’re loving one another we’ll patiently forbear the wrongs that others do us so that strife is avoided rather than being stirred up. Notice that this suggests that our brothers and sisters will sometimes sin against us. That’s being realistic. But, if they do sin against us, if we “keep loving one another” we’ll cover those sins by not retaliating in kind or seeking revenge. Retaliating would escalate the evil. It would ramp up ill-feeling and destroy brotherly love. Not retaliating short circuits that and avoids such sinful behaviour being duplicated and escalating so that it spirals out of control. It could well be that Peter was recalling the question he had once asked Jesus. We read in Matthew 18v21: “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?””. How did Jesus reply? We read in verse 22: “Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times””. In other words, keep on forgiving your brother no matter how often he sins against you. How are we able to do that? Surely, it’s because the Lord has forgiven us. If we enjoy His forgiveness how can we not forgive others. He has also forgiven our brothers and sisters. If He’s forgiven them, how can we not forgive them?
Show hospitality to one another
We see that in verse 9 where we read: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”. I wonder what comes to your mind when you hear the word “hospitality”. Nowadays, we have a well-established and very lucrative “hospitality industry”. Hospitality, of sorts, has become big business and a major contributor to the economy. But, the hospitality that Peter has in mind certainly isn’t a service that can be bought and sold. It isn’t a revenue generator. Rather, it’s a Christ honouring sacrifice.
When you hear the word “hospitality” you might well think in terms of having a few friends round for a meal or perhaps having family come to stay for a while. That’s a good thing to do and, by and large it’s probably pleasant and enjoyable and not too difficult. But, Peter isn’t speaking of hospitality in general. He’s specifically speaking of showing “hospitality to one another”. So that’s speaking of showing hospitality to our brothers and sisters in Christ and receiving hospitality from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Once you recognise that you might then think that, in that case, it must mean inviting friends from church round for a meal. I’m sure that sort of thing is included in this idea of showing “hospitality to one another” but in New Testament times it would often have meant allowing your home to be used by the church as a meeting place. There are plenty of examples of that. We read in Romans 16v23: “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you”. Gaius hosted the whole church. He offered hospitality to the church. We read in 1 Corinthians 16v19: “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”. The church met in the house of Aquilla and Prisca. Look at Colossians 4v15: “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house”. Such hospitality is much more costly and demanding than hosting a dinner party for a few friends. It is a form of sacrificial giving.
However, when you recognise the meaning of the Greek word that has been translated as “hospitality” you realise that the concept is even broader and more demanding than simply entertaining friends from church or providing a place for the church to meet. The Greek word is “philoxenos”. That’s a composite of “philos” which means “friendly” and “xenos” which means “foreigner” or “stranger”. So, it literally means to be friendly or welcoming to strangers. That sense is clearly emphasised in Hebrews 13v1-2 where we read: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.
What sort of strangers are we to show hospitality to? Well, remember that Peter is talking about showing “hospitality to one another” so he’s thinking of other believers. The point is that “hospitality to one another” is not to be limited to those within our particular fellowship or those who are known to us. It is also to be extended to fellow believers who are not known to us. In New Testament times there were two scenarios in which opportunities to show such hospitality to strangers could arise. Firstly, in the provision of board and lodging for evangelists or other Christian workers on their travels. When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was at hand we read in Matthew 10v11-13 that He said: “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you”. Clearly, He expected that they would receive hospitality from strangers. The second scenario is perhaps hinted at in Romans 12v12-13 where we read: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality”. This is hospitality in the context of fellow believers in tribulation whether they be fleeing from persecution or from famine.
Peter goes on to say that we are to do so “without grumbling”. Just as we are to be cheerful givers when making financial contributions towards the well-being of our brothers and sisters in need, we are also to be cheerful givers of hospitality. It might not be easy to work out exactly how such giving of hospitality is to be applied in our present context. However, it is clear that we are not to just be willing to give hospitality that’s comfortable, cosy and convivial. We’re to be prepared to provide hospitality that is costly and demanding whenever the opportunity arises.
Serve one another
Peter continues in verse 10 by saying: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”. He’s just been speaking about showing “hospitality to one another” and that is a specific form of service but we are to be servants to one another in other ways too. In this world, servanthood is often looked down upon. Servants can be considered to be menial and lowly and unimportant. But we’re not to look at things as the world does. In Christ we have been radically and fundamentally changed so that our thinking has been turned upside down and brought into line with His thinking. We read in Luke 22v24-27: “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves””. You see the point? To the world, the one who is served is much greater than the one who serves but, so far as Jesus is concerned, the opposite is true. And, that’s not simply what He thought and taught; it’s what He did. Jesus who is King of kings and Lord of lords came as “the one who serves”. No wonder that His people are to be those who “serve one another”. Paul emphasises the point in Galatians 5v13 where he says: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another”.
We’ll stop there for now but Peter has more to say in verses 10 and 11 about how we are equipped to “serve one another” and we’ll consider that next time.