Stretchy Love

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 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 4:7–11 ESV)

I considered just doing verse 8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Why? The other verses depend on this one. Perhaps that is why Peter says, Above all keep loving one another earnestly.” Paul prioritizes love similarly: “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:8) There are two reasons why love is the most important quality.

Love is what God is like

1 John 4:8 says it succinctly, “God is love.” This doesn’t mean love is God. Rather, it is the defining attribute of who God is. Our working definition of love around Bethel is, “Love is self-giving for the good and joy of another.” God is this within the Trinity as the three members of the Godhead eternally love one another. Their fellowship and unity is an experience of giving selflessness for the joy of the other.

If Christian relationships are truly Christian, they have this orientation of doing what we can for the other person’s good and joy. It is the life of Christ reproduced in the life of the Christian and the church. As children of God, we love because it is the very nature of our Father to love. What is so great about this little proverb here is that it is so honest and real.

Love is what allows Christian relationships to continue

“…Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Keep on loving one another. Doesn’t that suggest that “keeping on” loving is difficult? Why? We all can love short-term. We can have our splash and dash love moments. But loving the same people over the long term? That is much harder. I like the book title, Everyone is Normal Until You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg. To be in relationships with other Christians is to be forced to persevere in loving people different from us. Over time, those differences can wear on you. Become annoying. Exasperating. Make you hop quickly to the next church hoping that church has people less annoying than the ones you already know. Guess what you find at the next church?

Here is the beautiful help. This help is the key to any long-term relationship, whether that is friendship or marriage or a family relationship. The kind of love God births in Christians through the gospel is elastic. The Greek word for “covers” has the sense “at full stretch.” Love stretches over a multitude of sins. Love keeps a multitude of sins from ruining Christian community. It stretches like a rubber band. It stretches but doesn’t break. This doesn’t mean that love overlooks sin. It is love that speaks the truth and admonishes and even disciplines out of the church an erring brother or sister.

I think what Peter is getting at is the inevitable interpersonal slights and offenses which varying personalities and preferences in the church always create. It’s that little huffy moment when Mrs. Jones speaks out of frustration. The disappointment that no one called when Mr. Smith needed it. The failure to acknowledge an act of service. The snippy and competitive comment. The words vented in frustration. The fact that any church has any level of unity or fellowship can only be attributed to the people of the church applying stretchy love to a host of little offenses. We all say stupid things. We all do stupid things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes eloquently on this and talks about Christians who have a wishful dream about what church community should be like but then deal with what it actually is like.

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly….Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 36-37)

Are you disillusioned with other Christians or the experience of church with other Christians? Great! You might be on the verge of authentic Christian community. But for this to happen, love has to cover a wide variety of moments that urge us to be offended, hold a grudge, nurse a little bitterness, or simply run away.

Christian love covers those moments because its root is in Christ’s love which did that. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) In fact, not only did Jesus’ love cover sin, it spurred him to personally sacrifice for the offensive people in the first place.

 

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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