“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’ll 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, toys, and, believe it not, even politics. I have an active group, what can I say?
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. Maybe they’re not kicking and punching like kids (hopefully), but there might be some mighty loud bickering or worse, sometimes with deadly consequences.
But, let’s face it. Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s like mastering an art form that’s not in our skill set sometimes. So, how do we do it? What’s the trick? Well, my friends, there’s no trick to it, but there is something you can do.
You can cover their sin.
Before we get too far, let’s put Peter’s words into historical context.
Approximately 64 years after Jesus’s 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” couldn’t save them.
Sensing an uprising, Nero convinced the Roman people that the Christians were to blame for the destruction. Christians were already hated and discriminated against because of their relationship with the Jews. The Jews historically hated the Romans, and so, by association, the Romans hated the Christians.
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 Christians, offer hope, teach them how to live victoriously despite the situation, and encourage them to forgive the Romans’ treatment of them because their beliefs were based in lies and deception.
Peter wanted to impress on his fellow believers that — as crazy as it sounded — if they remained obedient to Christ even as the Romans relentlessly persecuted them they could actually spread the Gospel. But, that could only occur with patience, forgiveness, and fervent love.
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 aren’t kind or gracious or even 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’ve found it hard to seek the highest good for someone who hates you. But, this is the heart of God.
Remember how Jesus continually forgave those who treated Him so poorly, especially the people who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). He also instructed us to love our enemies and pray for them (Luke 6:27, 35). And we definitely see God’s fervent love for Israel throughout the Old Testament.
Peter instructs us to have fervent love because it “covers a multitude of sins.” What does Peter mean?
Fervent love is true spiritual love, and it’s 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. So, if you forgive, the hate goes away 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 against us? In our human nature, it’s too easy to feel betrayed. Peter gives us two answers in 1 Peter 4:9–10.
Be Hospitable. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (v 9).
To show hospitality means to be kind and welcoming toward others. The Bible describes hospitality as 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 very safe to welcome strangers into your home these days, but we can still be kind just by showing common courtesy and thoughtfulness. It might not be easy to do for someone who has hurt you. I admit it takes practice. But if you have fervent love in your heart…if you can truly forgive…it gets easier.
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” (v 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.” (WEB)
Our spiritual gifts are not for our use, but for the loving good of others in service to God. It makes your love more fervent and your forgiveness more effective.
In Romans 12:9–21, Paul offers advice extremely 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, WEB).
Paul also goes on to mention…
- 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’s a worthy goal and one we should often pray about, not just for ourselves but others too.
Continue in Love
When others hurt us, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us to forgive, to foster fervent love, then minister through our kindness and hospitality.
Love can truly cover any sin. Jesus proved that. In His service, let’s continue to love even when it’s difficult. At the end of the day, we’ll discover it’s us who benefit the most.