Above All Else

Sermon preached on 1 Peter 4:7-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/24/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 4:7-11

“Above All Things”

In last week’s passage we noted that verse 7 said that the end was near. We talked about in what sense the end was near. And we observed the word “therefore” in verse 7. We said that this called for our living to be informed by the fact that the end is near. Last week we scanned briefly all the ways our living should be informed by the fact that the end is near. But we especially focused on verse 7’s call for us to be clear-minded and watchful in our prayers.

Well, today we will continue to think about how Peter calls us to live in light of being in the end times. Today we’ll hone in on verses 8-9. We’ll hone in on the call to love one another, that’s verse 8, and the related call to hospitality in verse 9. Last week we mentioned how Peter likely had in mind Jesus’ teaching on the end times as is recorded in Matthew 24. Interesting, Matthew 24:12 says that in the end, lawlessness will abound, and that because of that, the love of many will grow cold. In other words, Jesus says in Matthew 24 that a lacking love will characterize the end times. And so in light of that, Peter says to love one another. Above all else, love on another! Jesus said that in the end, love will lack. So, Peter calls us to be on the watch that our love doesn’t grow cold in these last days. Instead, to keep up our love. Especially our love for one another, for the fellow saints. Yes, we are to keep up our love for Christ, but verse 8 especially calls us to keep loving each other – the fellow believers in Christ.

As we consider this love today, we’ll think about three qualities described here about this love. First, it’s described as a fervent love. Second, we’ll see how it’s to be a forgiving love. Third, we’ll consider how it’s to be genuine love. And so we’ll look at this call to have fervent love, forgiving love, and genuine love. Let’s dig in.

We’ll begin first in verse 7 by considering this as a fervent love. That’s the explicit language of verse 7. Have fervent love. Peter said basically the same thing back in chapter 1:22, to love one another “earnestly;” same root word in the Greek. And so the word for “fervent” here is about being persevering and unwavering in your love. It’s an earnest love that keeps loving. I mentioned Jesus’ prediction that many people’s love would grow cold in the last days. Well, a fervent love is the opposite of that. Instead of a love that grows cold, this is a love that stays consistently hot. It’s a love that is devoted to keep on its love. Pastor Jeff Landis at family camp talked about this for a few minutes and he described this as a word that means you are really working hard at it; at loving. He said is love at “full strength”. He described it as a muscle hard at work; a straining muscle really putting in the effort. And so this is a love at work. You might recall two weeks ago we read how the Thessalonians were commended for their labor of love. Love can be a labor. Love can be hard work. We have to keep about a labor of love. That’s described here as fervent love. In light of the end, Peter calls us above all else to keep loving deeply, powerfully, actively.

This is such an important concept in Scripture and for us. We must be on the alert to this. Christ has warned us of the temptation to falter in this. Other passages present a similar encouragement and concern. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul again commends the Thessalonians for their love. He tells them that they have no need for anyone to write to them concerning brotherly love. And yet Paul then went on to say that he would nonetheless urge them do so more and more. We need this reminder too. We need this urging too. I think of the church of Ephesus. Jesus wrote to them in the book of Revelation, chapter 2:4, that they had left their first love. We must not leave our love for the Lord. And we must not leave our love for our fellow Christians.

Think about this from Satan’s perspective. Think of how he can use this as a strategy. Back during Peter’s day, if he could get people’s love to fail toward others, think of the damage he could do to the body of Christ. If he could work division and animosity between believers in the church, and some of them wanted to leave, where would they go? They couldn’t just go to the other Christian church across the street, could they? And yet, today it’s that option that Satan would love to present to you. He’d love to sow hatred instead of love in the church. I’m sure in the American church scene, he’s gotten real good at sowing conflicts with people in the church and then tempt them to just leave the church and go to another church. But do you see what that does? Instead of promoting love for one another, he can sow division and keep us from biblical reconciliation. True love will work through difficulties. True love for our fellow Christians means we’ll work through things. Of course, sometimes Satan can work more subtly than this. Instead of helping to bring out big divisions between Christians, he can sow dislike between Christians. He can sow little frictions between believers. Subtle little things that rub on you, so that your love is tempted to wane for them. That’s when we really need to keep on this fervent love. You see, Satan would love to sow these problems in the church. They can wreak havoc on the church, and they are a poor witness to a watching world. Real, fervent, love answers these attacks by the enemy.

This brings us to that second quality of love mentioned here. We are to have a forgiving love. The exact language for this is in verse 7 when it says that love covers a multitude of sins. This the repeated language of the Proverbs. Proverbs 10:12, for example, says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Or Proverbs 17:9, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” This idea of covering an offense is the idea of overlooking it. When you cover something up, you can’t see it anymore. It’s gone from your sight. Peter says here that love can cover up a multitude of sins. It means that your love for them will make it so you don’t even see the sins anymore. You’ll be blinded to their sins by your love. Proverbs 19:11 says it’s to our glory to overlook an offense. Well, the way to overlook a sin is through love. We love them so much, that we can overlook so many ways they sin against us. Love covers it up. Love moves beyond it. 1 Corinthians 13 says it like this: love bears all things. Nit-pickiness is the opposite of this kind of love, for example. Constantly being critical over every little thing someone does, is not this kind of love. Now, yes, sometimes there are certain sins that just can’t be overlooked. I think that’s the wisdom here of Peter saying that love covers up a multitude of sins. Some sins can’t be ignored. But the reason for why that should be the case lies not in you getting vengeance, but because of the destructiveness of the sin; usually when it is destroying that other person. The kind of love described here is concerned with the other person’s well being. It is charitable and sacrificial. You accept being wronged, because you love that person so very much.

And so I’ve described this as a forgiving love. It’s a love that is willing to forgive over and over when conflict arises. Remember the counsel Peter received from Jesus in Matthew 18:21. Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him. Seven times? No, Jesus said. Seventy times seven! In other word keep forgiving him over and over again! That’s Christian love. That’s God’s radical love working inside you. And so this is a love that goes the extra mile with your brothers and sisters in conflicts. This is love that typically doesn’t even make a big deal about the situation of conflict. Maybe someone makes a subtle little comment to you at church that offends you. You could go home and brood about it. You could complain about the person to others, behind their back. Or you could love the person. You could love them and overlook it. Put it behind you. Stop thinking about it and just forgive them and move on. We need fervent love that forgives one another.

I’ve become increasingly convinced as I study the Scripture that this is an area Christians today really need to grow in. Radical forgiving love, specifically toward other believers. I think the church in America is really good at looking like we’ve got this down. Often we look real loving, at least outwardly. But the test really comes when you see if your love is a forgiving love. When you are sinned against, when you are slighted, when you are left out – then can you love? Then will your love for them remain fervent and hot? Is your love a love that can bear your brothers and sisters with all their real faults? That can love them in spite of those faults? Given that Christ has loved us in spite of all our sins, we know we ought to. This is Peter’s call for us today!

One of the things that makes this difficult is the difference between our head and our heart. In our mind we can know that we ought to love. But so often our heart fights against this. For example, a common thing I see is that we say that we are going to overlook a sin. Someone sinned against you, and you say you are going to overlook it. But days and weeks go by, and you find that you are still upset. You have been brooding. You haven’t really overlooked it, b/c you are still looking at it all the time in your mind. You find that you have not had love to cover it up. Well, that leads us into our third quality of love to consider today. Let’s turn to consider now genuine love.

You see, our love must be genuine. When Peter made this similar command back in 1:22, he said that we must have sincere love that comes from a pure heart. Sincere love that comes from a pure heart. That explicit language is not in this passage, but the concept is certainly present. We particularly get this idea here from the example of hospitality given here in verse 9. This call to show hospitality here is a specific way in which you can show love for the saints. The word for hospitality is a compound word that literally means love for strangers. And here that love for strangers is said to be shown to one another; in other words to the church. And what you see here is that the sort of hospitality specifically advocated is one that comes very genuinely, not grudgingly. And so let’s think further about this example of hospitality and see how it points us to having a genuine love.

Verse 9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” As I mentioned, the word and the idea of hospitality back then was to show love for strangers. Typical hospitality meant opening up your home to travelers, and to provide meals to them. And yet, here this hospitality is directed to the church, to one another. In other words, the sort of love they might show strangers and travelers, they are to show to their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This would mean opening up their homes to people in the church, much like how we think about hospitality. Many churches met in homes back then; even today we have meetings in member homes all the time. And this hospitality to other believers surely included the sort of entertaining that we do nowadays too; having others from church over to your home to share a meal and visit together. So the sort of hospitality described here toward the saints is very similar to what we would do today.

And that’s what makes it a good example when thinking about the kind of love Peter wants us to have. That’s what makes it a good example when thinking about having genuine love. Because it says to have this hospitality without grumbling. For different reasons, sometimes when you show hospitality, there can be a temptation to grumble. Maybe you always host the church meeting at your home and are getting tired of all the work involved in cleaning up afterwards. Maybe you are thinking in your mind how much it will cost to have the people over for dinner. Maybe your spouse invited the people over, and now expects you to do all the work to make that happen. It can be a lot of work to have people over, even when it’s all your idea and you like the company. But so often our focus can get messed up. It becomes a chore instead of something you are loving to do because you are loving the people. Think of Mary and Martha when they had Jesus over for dinner in Luke 10. When Jesus came over, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet instead of helping in the kitchen. Martha on the other hand was busy, busy, busy in the kitchen. She grumbled to Jesus that Mary was not helping. But Jesus came to the defense of Mary. He said to her, “Martha, Martha… You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Hospitality is about loving your guests. Mary was loving her guest, not to mention that she was loving her Lord and sitting there and learning from him.

You see, we need to have the right heart and the right focus. Often our pride can get in the way when we open our homes. We think we have to have a certain image when we entertain, and so we spend so much time preparing for that meal. Cleaning, cooking, buying the best, fanciest, ingredients for the meal. Now, don’t get me wrong. If done out of real love for your guests, then those things might be a nice gesture of your love. But we have to make sure that it’s not done as a pride thing – look at how great of a host I am, and so that your hospitality becomes a huge burden on your heart. We have to make sure that we don’t set such high materialistic standards that you have trouble being a cheerful host.

And so the pride and materialness in our heart can hinder our love. Rather we should have genuine love from the heart when you show hospitality. Think about it: if you are someone who is going to invite people over to your house, and then later grumble about it, you might ask why you invited them in the first place. You might reply that it’s a biblical command to show hospitality. That’s what Peter commands us to do right here. Well, you would be right. Christians are commanded by the Lord to show hospitality to the saints. But our submitting to the Lord’s will shouldn’t be done with an attitude of complaint. God wants us to learn to love his laws. And you see, the Lord calls us to show hospitality as part of loving the saints. We are called to love the saints. When we outwardly give the appearance of showing love, but inwardly are grumbling about it, it reveals your heart. That you really don’t love those people. Our hospitality can be a bit of false hospitality. You are just putting up an external front of love. But Christ calls us to genuinely love the saints. As Peter said at the start of the letter, to sincerely love the brothers from a pure heart. Hospitality without grumbling is to be just one expression of this genuine love for the saints.

Now I recognize that there is some tension here. How do we go about genuinely loving someone, if we think we don’t have that genuine love for them? How can we show something we don’t have? Well, let me start by saying that this kind of love is not really so much about feelings. You might not have loving feelings toward someone, and yet you can still show them genuine love. This kind of love is a love that acts. It’s a love that you can show to people who are your enemies, otherwise. It’s a love in action. For example, you can show hospitality to someone, even if you don’t have loving feelings toward them. And if you are tempted to grumble, you can capture those grumbles as they rise up in your heart, and just not say them. You can cast the complaints out of your head when they come. You can set about serving and showing love to others, even people that are hard to get along with. Even to unthankful people. Even to critical people. Even to obnoxious people. You can act in love even if you don’t feel like you have love. And yet let me be clear, even then you might not have genuine love for them. Even then your heart might still not be genuinely loving them. You might still just be serving out of obligation. You might be getting so good at serving out of obligation, that you don’t complain about it, and from all outward appearances you are showing love. I do think that’s not a bad place to get to, and yet it may still not be genuine love. You might still have a heart problem in that your heart is not really loving the people. You’ll notice that when you have to capture the grumbles and complaints every time you go to serve them.

Well, in such situations, we are reminded of our need for the Great Physician. Jesus is able to do to our hearts what we cannot do. Keep looking to Jesus to heal our hearts. Keep looking to Jesus to change our hearts. And so when faced with the call to genuinely love others, there are two simple things to do. Obediently live out the command by outwardly serving without complaint. You begin to train your heart in that way, even when you have to capture those complaining thoughts captive. Then secondly, take these heart issues to Jesus. When you observe the complaints rising up in your heart, recognize that it’s a heart issue. Say, Lord Jesus, I’m trying to love this person, but my heart is struggling to do it. Forgive me Lord, and heal my heart. Give me genuine, fervent, and even forgiving, love for them.

Jesus is able to grow your heart. He’s especially able to grow it in love. The kind of love we want to show is ultimately love that he himself has already shown. Love he’s shown us. Romans 5:8 says that God has shown his love to us by sending Jesus to die for us. Two verses later, Romans 8:10 then says that at that point we were still God’s enemies, when Jesus died for us. Jesus loved his enemies, even to die for them. That’s even more than hospitality – not just love for a stranger, but for an enemy! And certainly that is a fervent love – love that went all the way to the cross. And certainly that is a genuine love. I think of Hebrews 12:2 which says that for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. An integral part of that joy was that he loves his sheep so much, that he had to save them. He found no reason to complain about dying for his enemies. He found no reason to grumble about it. No, because he loved his enemies so much. He loved his sheep who had gone astray. Instead, his love was a covering love. A forgiving love. His love covered a multitude of sins in the most best way. That we would be forgiven of all our sins, that we would be saved.

So, do you see how Jesus himself has shown the highest expression of this kind of love? Everything this passage says about the love we should have – Jesus himself has lived it out – lived it out to save us. Jesus calls us to repent, and believe in the gospel. Turn from your life of sin and trust in his great love for you. It will be his love that not only forgives you of your sins, but also grows your heart. He’ll be at work in your heart to grow this sort of fervent, forgiving, genuine, love for others.

Trinity Presbyterian Church, I’d like to close out our message today by pointing how verse 8 start out. “Above all things.” Above all things, have the kind of love we are talking about today. Do you see how important this command is? Do you see the priority given to it? Above all things, fervently love one another. Above all things, forgivingly love one another. Above all things, genuinely love one another. When you look at the New Testament this is something that keeps coming out time and again. Love one another. Jesus made a big deal about this specific command in John 13. John made a big deal about it in 1 and 2 John. Paul’s talking about it all the time in his letters. And Peter here says that when thinking about the end times, above all else, make sure you love one another. The New Testament sees this command so important above all else! Obviously the only greater command is to love God with our everything. But then this command comes to us: love one another.

How many problems in the church could be solved if we just loved each other more. How many problems would never arise if we really loved each other more. Don’t get me wrong. The church has a lot of love for each other. The problem isn’t usually a lack of some real good love going on. Usually it’s lacking in loving everyone. You love some people really well from the heart, and you have great relationships with them. Others, we might be tempted to just tolerate, or keep at a distance, but not love the way described here. Let us pray for this love for one another. Above all else. By Christ’s help. For his glory. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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