|7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7–11; ESV)||7Πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικεν. σωφρονήσατε οὖν καὶ νήψατε εἰς προσευχάς· 8πρὸ πάντων τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, ὅτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν. 9φιλόξενοι εἰς ἀλλήλους ἄνευ γογγυσμοῦ, 10ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ. 11εἴ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια θεοῦ· εἴ τις διακονεῖ, ὡς ἐξ ἰσχύος ἧς χορηγεῖ ὁ θεός, ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν δοξάζηται ὁ θεὸς διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾧ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.|
vv.8–11: Above All Keep Loving One Another
One of the marks of apocalyptic religion (e.g., the Millerites, who were the forerunners to both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the followers of Harold Camping) is the belief that because the end is chronologically near, therefore we disengage from daily life and wait for the end. As we saw in the previous section, the Apostle Peter was not an “apocalyptic” theologian. Neither he nor his Lord believed that the end was to come in their (earthly) lifetime. Jesus did not die a disappointed apocalyptic preacher.
As we saw last time, for Peter, as for Jesus, the end has already begun. It was inaugurated when Jesus came but the end of all things, obviously, has not been consummated. We live in the midst of the process. Thus, in his Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) some of what Jesus prophesied was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 but some of the discourse refers to the final judgment. As in prophetic discourse, the near future and the more remote future are collapsed. The destruction of Jerusalem was part of the beginning or the inauguration of the end but it was not itself the end of all things. So, too, for Peter, the Christians of Asia Minor (and we today) live expectantly but patiently. Unlike those apocalyptic communities in the 1st century, or the 19th, or more recently, orthodox Christians have long understood that we are to live in light of the end. We are not to stop living.
Thus, the question here is how to live. Where the apocalyptic communities more or less abandoned the each other, the Christian response to the inauguration of the end is to love one another. This is the “new commandment” that our Lord gave to his disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). Belgic Confession (art. 28) confesses this very doctrine, that love for the brothers is a mark of the Christian. Peter says, “before all things (πρὸ πάντων) having a zealous love for each other…”. For Peter, we are like those who were building the ark. The end of all things, as it were, is certain. It has been announced. Like Noah, the preacher of righteousness, the apostles and their successors (e.g., Timothy et al) are preachers of righteousness.
Like Noah and his little congregation, we are living in an increasingly hostile world and like them we are to regard one another as fellow heirs of eternal life. Hence Peter says “because (ὅτι) love (ἀγάπη) hides (καλύπτει) a great number (πλῆθος) of sins.” Peter here quotes Proverbs 10:12. Perhaps he made his own translation, since it translates the text differently than the LXX. Whatever the case, we should note that Peter is repeating a maxim, an axiom, a practical truism. Contra dogma of the Roman communion, he was certainly not saying that our acts of love (charity) have propitiatory value. The only act of love that literally covers a multitude of sins is Jesus’ one act (Rom 5:18). In this case, however, Peter is simply exhorting believers to recognize one another as fellow passengers, if you will, in the ark of salvation. Anyone who has made a long plane or train trip knows that patience and forbearance is essential. We are all together for the duration, in close quarters. It will not do to pick at every little thing. One hopes that one’s neighbor will not fall asleep and use one for a pillow but if he does, what is to be done? Hence the verb “to hide” is important here. In Proverbs 10:12, the contrast is between “hatred” (the LXX has μῖσος), which stirs up (ἐγείρει) strife (νεῖκος). Love, by contrast, does the opposite. The LXX adds the participle “arguing” (νεῖκος). Within the congregation, love hides or covers sins. It does not poke at people. It does not stir up strife. It is not argumentative (1 Cor 13). Vs. 9 confirms the influence of Proverbs 10:12. Peter says, “being hospitable to another (φιλόξενοι εἰς ἀλλήλους; Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2) without grumbling. This is what it means to “cover sins.”
We share our selves, our goods, and our lives with one another because we all deserved to die in the flood. There was nothing in us that attracted God. He did not look down the corridors of history to see that we would be virtuous or that we would believe. No, he saved us from the wrath to come despite our sins, despite our intrinsic unworthiness. This is abundantly clear when Peter says, “just as each of you received a gift (χάρισμα), administering (διακονοῦντες) the same (αὐτὸ) as good stewards (καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι) of the manifold grace of God.” This is how we love one another, by recognizing ourselves as recipients of divine favor, which we did not merit but which was merited for us by Christ. We are recipients of a gift not a wage. “The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23) but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Just as we have been freely given eternal life, received through faith alone, we have also been given gifts to use on behalf of one another. He stipulates what he has in mind: “if one speaks, [speak] as the sayings of God. If one serves, serve as from the strength God supplies.” In other words, the gifts that are exercised in Christ’s church should be exercised in the clear understanding that we are administering things that belong to someone else. These gifts did not originate with us. They are gifts, which, in their nature, come from someone else. We are servants in the Master’s vineyard. We are not owners. We are those who shall give account to the Owner when he returns. What should we infer from the two classes of gifts Peter mentions? Perhaps not much except to note that there is no mention of supernatural gifts and that this is a helpful organization and without hierarchy. Our Lord was a Servant-Teacher and he left us both sorts of gifts to administer for the sake of his people.
These gifts, indeed, all that we have, come “through Jesus Christ” (διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). He is the servant, who served his Father by serving us, by taking on a true human nature (Phil 2:7) and poured himself out for us. Thus, it is appropriate that Peter draws this section to a doxological close: “To whom be the glory and the power forever, amen.” How else should a sinner respond when he contemplates the marvel of salvation and the majesty of our Suffering Servant Savior, now glorified and reigning over all things?