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, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 4:8-11
The theme of suffering runs throughout the book of 1 Peter. I thought I should focus on vs 8-11 to highlight other aspects of Peter’s teaching.
“Above all” - shows us what is foremost in Peter’s heart for the churches scattered in the region - that they should love one another. Love lays at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. St Pauls calls it the most excellent way. It is consistently taught in the New testament as something indispensable.
It is possible to see love as just a token “I love you but I don’t need to like you”, a kind of stand-offish approach when we find that we can’t cope with the way some people are? Thsi is akin to the demilitarised zones or frozen peace in nations that are still in conflict with one another i.e Korean peninsular. This is also true of how some churches treat other churches in emphasizing their own spiritual superiority, that they are the “truer church.” This kind of myopic and selfish childish way of thinking impedes the witness of Christ, in and between communities.
For this won’t be the idea of love as understood in the biblical world or early church. Take this view of Clement of Alexandria(150 - 211 AD) as an example: “Love is consent to what pertains to reason, life, and manners, or in brief, fellowship in life, for it is the intensity of friendship and affection, with right reason, in the enjoyment of associates.’
Certainly, Peter’s in adding the qualifier “earnestly” adds clarity that our love must be sincere and constant. And as Paul will put it in Romans 12:9, let love be “anhypokritos”, that is without hypocrisy.
An outcome of this kind of love is that we will “show hospitality” and “serve” the other. This won’t be possible without affection in our hearts. A church community will be strong and God-glorifying when they are consistently marked by this kind of love.
Peter move on to talk about the use of our gifts to serve others. This runs contrary to the tendencies in our society to use our gifts to reflect our superiority and dominate others. Often we use these gifts to position ourselves in society’s pecking order. However, we are to see our gifts as varied graces given by God, that we may serve.
Some are given more prominent gifts, such as those who speak. That is an obvious reference to teachers, pastors and prophets. Or elders, as Peter will speak directly to in the next chapter. Others are “deacons” who are given the grace to serve. Whether as leaders or servants, both are to regard their abilities as gifts from God.
There are many of such passages in the Bible. As they are not doctrinally heavy or controversial, we tend to glib over these verses. But they do need a pausal reflection. Even after being a Christian for so many years now, I still feel I am only exploring the surface of what Christ-like love truly is.
May we continue to allow God’s word to speak to us and transform us from within.