This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 4:1-11 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday December 10-11, 2011.
In these few verses Peter takes a long journey through human experience and redemption. Unless we take this journey with Peter and his readers, I do not think we will make appropriate application of the well known verse “love covers a multitude of sins” or appreciate its impact beyond a sentimental level.
Peter is writing to Christian friends who were forced to leave their homes for their faith (1 Pet. 1:1). He has spoken to them at great length about suffering (1 Pet. 1-3). This passage is a continuation of his encouragement and instruction to them.
At this point in his letter Peter warns these exiles of the intense temptation that comes with intense suffering (v. 3-4). When it feels like God has failed, it is easy to seek comfort or escape. When it is hard to believe you can “cast your anxieties on [God] because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7),” we will often settle for a bottle, a lover, or rebelling against anything that represents the “order” that failed us.
Recognizing the powerful draw of this cynicism during suffering, Peter calls on these believers to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (v. 7).” When we suffer intensely there is a strong tendency to “run from” something (i.e., the pain, the oppressor, or reality itself). Self-control is the opposite. It is “running to” something intentionally because you still believe in hope. Without this kind of self-control, they would not pray.
When we suffer intensely our thoughts ride the wave of our circumstances and we take on a pattern of thinking, bracing against worst-case scenarios. Sober-mindedness is different. It refuses to take God out of the equation. When we lose sober-mindedness we are no longer a child praying to our Father. We are the prophet of the unknown or unreal god making repeated predictions of continued doom.
It is out of this flow of thought that Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another, since love covers a multitude of sins (v. 8).” His primary example of this love gives us a clearer picture of what he has in mind—show hospitality (v. 9). When are homeless exiles most tempted to extravagant sin? When it’s time to eat and there is no food, and when its time to sleep but there is no shelter.
Hospitality covers these sins. Those Christian exiles who were able to secure lodging and food were to share with those who did not in order to protect their souls.
What is another major temptation time for an exile? Being alone with their own thoughts and thinking they have nothing to help themselves or anyone else. What was Peter’s second example? Serving and encouraging one another with whatever God has given you (v. 10-11) even if it’s not lodging or food.
This kind of mutual care was soul-nourishing for both the giver and recipient. It covered a multitude of sins that would have been present in its absence.
What questions should we ask in light of this passage?
- Who is suffering that you know?
- What are the unique aspects and times of their suffering?
- How has God provided or gifted you with the means to care for them and “cover a multitude of sins”?
This is not a passage about us serving as one another’s saviors. It is a passage about the power and responsibility of life in Christian community to conquer sin, even sin rooted in the most intense suffering. These questions proposed are not as hard to answer as they are scary to ask. Why? Because the presence of suffering reminds us the world is not a safe place, so we want to self-insure.
Let us pray for the same courage and faith to serve those who are suffering as it takes for them to remain self-controlled and sober-minded enough to pray.