“And above all things, have fervent love for one another for love will cover a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
Ask any parent what their kids’ toughest issue is, and they will probably mention sibling rivalry ranking somewhere in the top five. I know it is in my house. I have three boys who like to stubbornly argue about everything (at least it seems that way): video games, television shows, books, who gets to sit next to the window, who gets the ranch dressing first, and, believe it not, even politics.
With such strong personalities, it can be hard for the boys to forgive each other when something goes awry. Unfortunately, grownups are often not much different.
Forgiveness is not easy. It is like mastering an art form that is not in our skill set sometimes. It is why Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and forgive 7×70 times (Matthew 18:22). He knows it is hard for us. So, how do we do it? There is no magic trick, but there is something you can do.
You can cover their sin.
Before we get too far, let’s put Peter’s words in 1 Peter 4:8 into historical context.
Approximately 64 years after Jesus’ death on the cross, the evil emperor Nero burned the city of Rome to the ground. No one exactly knows why, but with everything burned and destroyed, including all aspects of culture and religion, not to mention lives, many Romans were left homeless and hopeless. They quickly realized their “gods” could not save them.
Sensing an uprising, Nero convinced the Roman people that the Christians were to blame for the destruction. The Romans already hated and discriminated against Christians because of their relationship with the Jews, who historically hated the Romans for decades of persecution. Tension was high, and peace was tenuous. So, Nero blaming Christians was an easy sell.
Nero’s lies quickly spread far and wide across the empire, deepening the Romans’ hostility toward Christians and sending them into hiding. Sadly, this hatred continues today.
It was during this time that Peter wrote his first epistle. His goal was to strengthen the early church, offer hope, teach them how to live victoriously despite the situation, and encourage them to forgive the Romans’ treatment of them.
He also wanted to impress on his fellow believers something very radical. If they displayed patience, forgiveness, and fervent love as Jesus taught, even as the Romans relentlessly persecuted them, they could actually spread the gospel.
What is Fervent Love?
In the fourth chapter of 1 Peter, Peter talks about serving for God’s glory, and he mentions having fervent love for others.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, fervent means “exhibiting or marked by great intensity of feeling; zealous.” When it is used to describe love, it means to put others first and seek their spiritual good even if they are not kind or gracious, or even if they are hostile toward us.
You can imagine how hard it must have been for the Christians to have fervent love for the Romans. You may have had an experience where you have found it hard to seek the highest good for someone who hates you. But, this is the heart of God.
Jesus instructs us to love our enemies and pray for them (Luke 6:27,35), and He demonstrated it when He repeatedly forgave those who tortured and crucified Him (Luke 23:34). We also see God’s fervent love for His chosen people, Israel, throughout history. Therefore, based on Jesus’ teaching, Peter instructs us to have fervent love because it “covers a multitude of sins.” What does Peter mean?
Fervent love is true spiritual love. It is first mentioned in Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” In other words, the one requirement to have fervent love is forgiveness. You cannot hate and forgive at the same time. If you forgive, hate diminishes so you can more clearly seek that person’s spiritual good. That is when the healing begins.
We have to overlook the sins of others and always be ready to forgive no matter the circumstances.
How is it possible to overlook, or cover, someone’s sin? In our human nature, it’s too easy to feel betrayed. Peter gives us two answers.
Be Hospitable. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9)
To show hospitality means to be kind and welcoming toward others. One example of hospitality in the Bible was welcoming strangers into your home, which was a common practice in the first century so traveling Christians always had a friendly place to sleep and eat.
It might not be easy to show hospitality to someone who has hurt you. It may begin with simple courtesy (“please” and “thank you”) and thoughtfulness. But if you have fervent love in your heart…if you can truly forgive…it gets easier. This is why Jesus tells us to forgive 7×70 times. It takes that much to get it right and make it a habit.
Notice that Peter says to be hospitable “without grumbling.” No matter how hurt you may feel, an effort toward an upright heart and attitude is essential for every Christian.
Minister to Them. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10)
Each of us has received an unearned spiritual gift from the Lord. The apostle Paul outlines these gifts in Romans 12:6-8.
“Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Our spiritual gifts are not for our use, but for the loving good of others in service to God. It makes our love more fervent and sincere and our forgiveness more effective.
In Romans 12:9-21, Paul offers advice very similar to Peter’s.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another, not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (v 9-11)
Paul also mentions…
- Blessing others who persecute you
- Not repaying evil for evil
- Being at peace with everyone, and
- Not ever seeking revenge.
This portion of scripture is also where we read, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v 20-21).
We can only overcome evil if we have fervent love and forgiveness in our heart. It is a worthy goal and one we should often pray about, not just for ourselves but others too.
Continue in Fervent Love
When others hurt us, allow the Holy Spirit to inspire you to forgive, foster fervent love, and minister to others through our kindness and hospitality.
Love can truly cover any sin. Jesus proved it again and again. In His service, let’s continue to love even when it is difficult. You will soon discover it is you who benefits the most.