1 Peter 4:8-11
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
Above nil things have fervent love among yourselves. You will remember how this expression, "above all things," corresponds with other Scripture. Paul says, "Now abideth faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love." "Now the end of the commandment is love unfeigned." James calls this "the royal law;" and our Lord himself says, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." The introduction of this theme in addressing the persecuted Church is very natural. Next to the support of the sympathy and help of God in trial, is the grasp of a brother's hand of whose heart we are sure. Love sustains individual weakness; it unites the Church, and makes it impregnable to the common foe. This is one end of Church-fellowship; no life can be so strong as it might that stands alone, or, even if it would, alone it can do nothing (as it ought) to shelter the weakness of others. Strength comes with union, therefore let there be union. But the union is only a name, Church-fellowship is only a mockery, and its promise of strength a deception, unless it be the union and fellowship of sacred love.
I. THE DEMAND FOR FERVENT LOVE IN THE CHURCH. We sometimes excuse ourselves for not feeling as we should towards the brethren by saying we cannot make ourselves love. But that cannot be right, for our very text lays on us the responsibility of having fervent love, and everywhere it is the subject of command. What, then, can we do to this end? There are three duties we can fulfill which tend to it.
1. The cultivation of what would foster brotherly love. Love of the brethren springs from love to the Father. Natural love is born in us, spiritual love is not. That comes with the new birth, and is fostered and developed only by fellowship with God. Know God, dwell in God, love God, and the Scripture says brotherly love will be the result. Cherish love to God, and we shall find ourselves, without setting out to do it, loving those he loves for his sake.
2. Watchfulness against what would hinder brotherly love. If certain evils are allowed to spring up in a Church, farewell to a spirit of love then. One great danger of these evils is that they are subtle and dwell mostly out of sight. The Church as a Church, therefore, cannot deal with them; its safety depends on its individual members jealously watching their approach, and unsparingly destroying them at the moment of contact. A disputatious spirit is one of these evils. Some minds are never known to agree with anything; there is always something to criticize adversely everywhere. That spirit is contagious, and kills love. There is also a jealous spirit; half the troubles of Church-life are due to jealousy, which often has no ground but that of suspicion. There is a tale-bearing spirit. If you see a man or woman going from ear to ear with some mischief-making story, some gossip which tends to wound or discredit another, suspect that person's own character, regard him as an emissary of Satan. There is also a self assertive spirit which forgets the claims of others. We are all terribly apt to be overcome by that spirit, and love falls a speedy victim to it. Every spirit in the Church that is hostile to love we must destroy.
3. A refusal to be repulsed by a lack of love. An unloving Christian can only harm himself if others refuse to be influenced by him. There are two ways of treating such - either as he treats you, which makes two wrong-doers instead of one; or to refuse to be overcome of evil, and to overcome evil with good. It is impossible that fervent love can long widely exist in a community, unless there be a general individual determination, in the strength of God, first, not to provoke, then if provoked, not to "render evil for evil,... but contrariwise blessing."
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRISTIAN LOVE.
1. It expresses itself in different ways. Love speaks evil of no man, and thinketh no evil. Love is the "advocate of the absent." Love gives; the homes of the persecuted were but slenderly stocked, they had often to endure the "spoiling of their goods;" but there was to be a place at the table and a room for the stranger who needed food and rest. Love speaks - not always, does not obtrude itself, but where there is an erring step or a listening ear, love speaks.
2. It is reciprocal. Each has his own gift, his own power of doing good; there is not a single member of Christ's Church who is to be receptive only; for every gift each receives from another there is another he can give. This is the law, "By love serve one another;" "Edifying one another in love;" "We being many are one body, and every one members one of another." All receiving, all bestowing, and doing both in love, that is God's ideal of the Church on earth.
3. It recognizes that it holds all as stewards for God. "As good stewards of the manifold grace of God." That raises our thoughts from the human to the Divine obligation; it calls us to the duty of love of the brethren, by reminding us of the claims of a higher love still. Sometimes our love to the brethren is not enough to constrain us to these tasks; self-love is strong within us, and sometimes our effort may be repulsed and our desire chilled by a cold response. It is unspeakably hard to get over the feeling, if one will not love he shall not be loved. But here is the antidote to that - the apostle says we are to exercise our gifts with a view to God; service we could not render to others for their own sakes we can render for him.
III. THE END OF CHRISTIAN LOVE IS THE GLORIFYING OF GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. The possession and manifestation of Christian love glorifies God, and in so many ways.
1. In the manifestation of what most honors him amongst men. We think of 1 Corinthians 13. as the creed of the Church; it is the creed of the world, it is what the world believes in, what the world when it sees it recognizes as Divine. It cares nothing for our doctrines or systems; what it believes in is a manly, faithful loving-kindness; where that is it feels the power of God.
2. In the power with which it supplies others to glorify him. Probably to absence of love in the Church is due, more than to anything else, the defections from the Church. It is largely in the power of love to make others what they should be, to draw them into the Church if they are not in, and when they are, the quick eye of love should detect the first signs of wandering, and the gentle power of love restrain. The atmosphere of heaven is love, and when that is the atmosphere of the Church, God will be honored in the beauty of a piety which otherwise he seeks in vain.
3. In the opportunity it gives him of glorifying himself. Discord silences his voice and grieves his Spirit, and he needs to chasten us, and his Word becomes vain, and our labor vain. Brethren, "live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you." - C.N.
Parallel VersesKJV: And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.