“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
The apostle Peter dictated his “First Letter” from Rome near the end of his thirty-plus years of ministry, reaching out to fellow Christians of diverse backgrounds and cultures throughout the nations of Asia Minor. His primary purpose was to encourage and instruct them on how to stand together in difficult times.
The First Letter of Peter is, therefore, a perfect letter of encouragement and instruction for Christians of diverse backgrounds and cultures in America today. I urge you to read and reflect on the whole letter. There is only room here to make some key points.
First, Peter tells us to focus not on our worldly identity but on our new, born-again identity as children of God destined to everlasting life. (1 Peter 1:3-5, 13, 23-25, 4:13, 5:10; Philippians 3:7-11). We are “temporary residents” of this broken world (2:11). Our perspective, which determines what we deem important, must be based on our permanent home. (Matthew 6:19-34)
This eternal perspective helps us endure and redeem temporary times of struggle and suffering. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) It also impresses upon us the everlasting importance of leading others to Christ by the witness of our lives. (Acts 1:8)
Peter’s second instruction is that we live out our new identity by being “holy” in all our conduct. (1:13-16) Our daily behavior matters. (James 1:22-25)
“Holy” is in both Hebrew (qadash) and Greek (hagios) a word of consecration: separation from the world and its evil, and dedication to God and His goodness. Peter calls us to refrain from the easily identified sins of lust, malice, deceit, envy and the like (2:1, 11). He then adds affirmative obligations to be courteous and tenderhearted to everyone, blessing those who hurt or insult us and showing honor to those who disagree with our beliefs. (2:12, 17, 3:8-9; Matthew 5:38-48) Our lives become the witness Christ deserves.
Peter’s third instruction explains what happens when “holy” is applied to us collectively. We become “a holy nation”, “a chosen race”, and “a people for God’s own possession”. (2:9)
In our worldly identities, Christians are not a people. (2:10) We are divided by our races, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, generation gaps and gender, just like the people in Peter’s day – Bithynian or Cappadocian, “Jew or Greek”, “slave or free”, “male and female”. (1:1; Galatians 3:28) Even within the community of faith, we seek to divide ourselves by denomination or doctrine. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
But Peter explains that we are God’s “living stones” – not bricks that all look alike, but stones wonderfully diverse in size, color and shape. (2:4) And God wants to fit us together, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, so we can be God’s spiritual home on earth. (2:5-7) As one spiritual house, one royal priesthood, and one brother-and-sisterhood, we give the rest of the world an opportunity to clearly see God’s goodness and glory. (2:9, 12, 15, 17)
Peter’s fourth and most important instruction describes the mortar that holds the living stones together. Christians are commanded by God to continually and earnestly love one another. (4:8)
God is love, so that is what His children must do. (1 John 4:7-21). The essence of holy conduct is love. (Matthew 22:35-40)
No one said it better than Jesus: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
We all fall short, both by sinning and being victims of the sins of others. (Romans 3:23) We all have character flaws, daily life struggles, and broken theology. But God’s love for us and our love for each other are more important and powerful than those shortcomings and will “cover” them so unbelievers who look at us can see God’s love, including His love for all of them. (John 17:22-23; Acts 2:42-47)
Please note this, fellow church leaders – Peter directs us to model what he has instructed, and never the opposite. (5:1-4) He also reminds us that our real enemy is the devil who seeks to devour us all, not the Nero of Peter’s time or any political figures of today. (2:13-17, 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-20)
A familiar song rose up in my heart as I prayerfully studied this First Letter of Peter. Imagine with me a 2020 parade of African American Christians, white evangelical Christians, Hispanic Catholic Christians, and diverse other bible-believing Christians, marching together arm in arm down Mainstreet USA while singing loudly from their depths of their hearts:
“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord”. “We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand.” “We will work with each other; we will work side by side.” “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
God bless you, and God bless our community