by Ray Ortlund
If, as Jonathan Edwards proposed, heaven is “a world of love,” then love is pure, intense, and uncommon. But even here in this world, God wants us to display something of His heavenly love: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). The Apostle Peter explains here why heavenly love matters, what heavenly love means, and how heavenly love behaves.
First, Peter explains why heavenly love matters. Peter begins with the phrase “above all.” There is nothing more important than our earnest love for one another. There may be other things equally important, but there are none more important.
Why? Why does this unusual love matter so much? Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Yes, there is wrath in God; but the Bible never says, “God is wrath.” We have to provoke Him to wrath, but we do not have to provoke Him to love. Love for the undeserving flows from who God is. This is why our earnest love for one another is so important. It is how we display the beauty of God on earth. Let’s never allow petty selfishness in our churches and our homes to mar the beauty of heavenly love for one another. It is the sum of all truly Christian living: it is “above all.”
Second, Peter tells us what heavenly love means. He writes, “Keep loving one another earnestly.” Obviously, the key word is earnestly as opposed to moderately. There is a lot of love in this world, but it is too carefully measured. The gospel takes us beyond surface-level niceness. My lexicon of ancient Greek tells me this word earnestly suggests “abundantly, intensely, eagerly, gushingly.” This word is used in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) where the people of Nineveh call out “mightily” to God (Jonah 3:8). This word is related to a verb that means “to stretch out, extend.” It involves the strain of a long reach.
Earnest love is uncommon, maybe even frightening. We might think, “Earnest love is embarrassing. I might lose face. I might overextend myself and fail. I might become vulnerable. Someone might take unfair advantage of me.” But if you are like me, you are in no danger of loving too earnestly. Typically, we are in greater danger of loving too calculatingly. But the gospel is saying, “Moderate love is too small to be from God. Sure, you were loving before you were in Christ. But you were selective in your love, way too guarded. Now you know that God has loved you earnestly, and you have received it. You rejoice in it. According to His great mercy, He has caused you to be born again of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:3). Trust Him. Obey Him. He will give you a love that goes beyond your old patterns.” When we merely restrain ourselves from malice toward one another, that is not enough. We show the beauty of Christ when we love one another earnestly.
Third, Peter shows how heavenly love behaves. He writes, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Before we knew the love of Christ, we gave away our love to people according to how they performed for us. If they measured up to our expectations, we loved them well. But if they let us down, the relationship cooled off. And if they betrayed us, we had no more love for them. Then the gospel came to us, revealing God’s earnest love for us not only when our performance fell short but even when we hated Him. Now we are learning to recalibrate our relationships with one another in a Godlike way. How, then, does His earnest love behave?
First Peter 4:8 alludes to Proverbs 10:12, where the sage writes, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” In this world, we inevitably suffer injustice at someone else’s hands. That is an “offense.” But this verse tells us that hating the offender can itself stir up more strife. Not only the original offense causes conflict; so does payback. But love “cherishes the wrongdoer as a friend to be won, not as an enemy with whom to get even” (Bruce K. Waltke). Rather than trot out the offender’s sin for everyone to see, rather than embarrass the offender, love submerges his offense — and not just one sin now and then but “a multitude of sins.” This heavenly love is not easy. But it is of God, and it is beautiful.
Dr. Wayne Grudem comments,
Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offences, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound — to Satan’s perverse delight. (1 Peter, pp. 173–4)
There are many sins among us that need not even be mentioned, let alone exaggerated. Think of how God covers for us. He laid our multitude of sins on Christ at the cross, and He mercifully minimizes their impact in our daily lives. Now we know how to love one another — not with negative scrutiny, finding every fault, but with positive generosity, covering many sins. May the beauty of God be seen among us today.