Rev. Matthew DeBoer, pastor of Edgerton Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

First Peter teaches that Christ is our deliverer. This book addressed mid-first-century Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor. What Peter told believers then applies to us believers today. Chapter 2:24 states, “Who (Christ) his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” By His payment for sin, Christ gained the right to work in us so that we “live unto righteousness.” We still have a sinful nature and do sin, but sin no longer rules us. Jesus does.

The believers to whom Peter wrote faced persecution, and thus great temptation to forsake the Christian life. According to chapter 4:3-4, the unbelievers around them spoke evilly of them and made life hard for them because they did not worship idols, live unchastely, or join the drunken banquets anymore. If they simply returned to their old life, their troubles would cease. Today, some might give us strange looks or mock us for spending Sunday at church and staying away from their parties. We know that if we just started living like them, we would be accepted.

In light of this temptation, Peter commanded the saints to continue living the Christian life. In chapter 4:7 he wrote, “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” “Be sober,” that is, “Have your spiritual head on straight,” and be watchful for the enemy, especially the devil, as Christ’s coming approaches. Then, verse 8, the text at hand, says, “Have fervent charity among yourselves.” In these last days, we must love one another, helping each other live the Christian life in a wicked world.

What is “charity”?

The word “charity” in the original Greek of the text indicates that the love being spoken of is a love that is from God and that honors God. There are a few words for “love” in the Greek, two of which you have probably heard before. One is phileo, which refers to “brotherly love.” The other is agape, which is the word in I Peter 4:8. Agape is the love that is from God and thus glorifies Him. I John 4:7-8 uses this word for love and says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 helps us further understand what this love is as it describes God’s love for His Old Testament people Israel. In verse 7, we read that God “set his love upon them.” Verse 6 teaches that God loved them by determining to do good to them in eternity, “choosing” them to be His special people. Verse 9 adds that God kept “covenant and mercy” with Israel, indicating that He also loved them by seeking their fellowship. According to the passage, God’s love of His people is His seeking their good and fellowship.

God loves us and brings us into the bond of love that He has within His own trinitarian being. I John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Each Person of the Trinity seeks the good of the others and fellowship with the others. God makes us to know His own deep love and experience it. In His love, He has delivered us in Christ from sin so that we know Jesus and even have agape love. The Lord empowers us through His Word to love Him and one another in the church with a love that is from Him and that honors Him.

I Peter 4:8 is focused on members of the church loving fellow members. First, to love another is to seek their good to God’s glory. Peter is especially emphasizing a love that seeks the spiritual good of another, for he uses the word agape, referring to the love that is from God and that honors Him. Loving someone means you do all you can to help them live for Christ. You are a godly example to them and discuss God’s Word with them. When there are faults, you humbly help them turn, and when there are trials, you encourage them with God’s promises. Loving someone also includes seeking their good physically. When you know someone in the congregation is sick, tired, or hurt, you love them by assisting them however you are able.

That we love others in the church also means that we seek their fellowship to God’s praise. To fellowship with others is to live with them as one, serving Christ alongside them. You call upon God in prayer together, talk about Him together, and encourage each other to follow His Word.

God’s Word demands, “Have fervent charity among yourselves.”

We are tempted not to love. It is easier not to pursue the good of one another spiritually. It is easier not to say anything about spiritual things. It is hard to help a neighbor that is sick, or your spouse that is tired, especially when assisting them would interfere with something you want to do. Regarding fellowship, it can seem better and easier to live apart from other members of the church, particularly when they have been unkind or there is a disagreement.

God says to us, “Have love!” To love others in the church it is important that we attend the functions of the church regularly, like the worship services, Bible studies, and catechism classes. If we do not, it will be hard to seek the good and fellowship of others because we will not know them and their needs. However, when present at these events, we have opportunity to fellowship and we see how we can help and encourage others.

The text demands charity, specifically “fervent” charity. The word “fervent” in the Greek language literally means “to stretch out.” The idea is that we must not help half-heartedly, but reach out with great energy to do good to others.

We are to have this fervent love not just some of the time, but the text indicates that we must possess it continuously. So, even if someone has done something we do not like, we still need to seek their good and fellowship and fix any issues there are between us.

God adds that we must have this fervent charity “above all things.” This shows that we need to be “sober” and “watchful,” as verse 7 demands, in love for each other. Also, love is emphasized because if we do not love each other, we will not obey any of the commands in verses 9-11, including the call to “hospitality.” Only if we have charity will we help each other live the Christian life in these last days.

The end of verse 8 adds a reason we are to love. We must love “for (because) charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

We commit a multitude of sins.

The word “sin” in verse 8 literally means “to miss the mark.” Just as every archer has a mark at which he must aim, each of us is called by God to aim our lives at His mark, which is loving Him and loving the neighbor. One who sins not only misses that mark, but he aims his life in the opposite direction, specifically at himself and his own glory. Thus, sin is rebellion against God, and it often hurts other people. Sin makes one worthy of eternal damnation.

Sadly, we commit a “multitude of sins.” Christ has delivered us so that sin no longer rules in us, but our sinful nature remains, and thus we miss the mark of glorifying God and loving the neighbor many times per day. We rebel against God and harm each other with words and deeds.

The inspired apostle says that charity “shall cover a multitude of sins.”

To cover sin is to remove it from your sight. It is to forgive. It is to say, “I do not see your sins anymore. I am not going to bring them up again. I am not going to hold them against you so that the sin stands between us and our fellowship.”

When we love someone in the church, we do not tell others about their sins. Telling others about someone’s sins hurts the sinner and hinders their fellowship with others. Those who hear about the sins tend to keep away from the sinner. So, we do not go around saying, “Did you hear about this…?” Loving husbands and wives do not go to their friends and list the faults of their spouse. If their spouse needs spiritual help, they may need to tell the pastor or elders about it. But that is done in love, pursuing the good of the spouse. That is different than spreading the shortcomings of others. The act of spreading sin is almost always done with the proud thought that we would never do what they did.

When we love others in the church, we also do not harbor bitterness against them for their sins. Those who are bitter towards others will not be seeking their good or fellowship.

Instead of spreading sins or becoming bitter, those who truly love others in the church cover their sins when they confess. When someone says, “Sorry,” we say, “You are forgiven. I do not see your sins anymore. I am not going to bring them up again. I am not going to hold them against you.” That is truly pursuing the good of another and their fellowship.

We are to cover the sins that others confess to us and even some sins that are not confessed to us. We see many sins committed by church members. Since they are children of God, we assume that they confess those sins. Only in certain situations do we approach a brother personally. For instance, we go to him when we have good reason to think that he has not confessed his sins. Also, we go to the brother if the sin against us is so great that we must hear his confession to live with him in unity in the church. Then, when he confesses, we must forgive. Even before he confesses, we must have hearts that are ready to forgive.

Loving and covering sin is hard. It is much easier to hold a grudge or talk about the sin. By nature, all men despise true charity and forgiveness. Today, when someone in the world does the wrong thing, people put it online and the masses rage against the wrongdoer. One loves and forgives only by God’s power. To Him must we look for strength.

Our motivation to love and cover sin is to show gratitude to our loving God.

Peter points to God’s love and forgiveness of us in the previous chapters. In chapter 1:19-20, he teaches that God determined to send Christ before the world began. Then, I Peter 2:24 speaks of Jesus “bearing our sins” on the cross. On that basis, God covers our multitude of sins. He sees us as righteous in Christ. Wonderfully, when we ask God for forgiveness by faith, He declares to our conscience, “You are forgiven! I will not hold your sins against you or let your sins destroy our relationship.” What love He shows to us who have sinned against Him.

Knowing God’s wondrous love, we strive to love one another in thankfulness. God is pleased when we love one another, for that love reflects the love He has in Himself. When you are tempted not to seek the good of another spiritually or physically, remember God’s love for you. When you are tempted not to forgive, recall God’s forgiveness. He covers our sins, and we have sinned against Him far worse and far more times than anyone has sinned against us. One who holds a grudge is forgetting the great forgiveness God has granted him and thus showing terrible ingratitude. May Christ empower us to remember God’s love and forgiveness, and so love and forgive one another in gratitude.