“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Oh, friend, if only by the grace of God we could really plant these words in the deepest part of our heart and walk obediently in them. I have an app on my phone that, every morning, gives me a scripture to keep in the front of my mind throughout the day. This is the one that popped up yesterday morning, and i’ve been thinking about it’s implications ever since.
So, the verse starts with the words, “Above all….” Sounds like whatever follows is something we should pay attention to, right. I mean, Jesus himself said that right behind loving God, loving others should be our greatest ambition. Over and over again in scripture, it is clear that believers in Christ should be characterized by an uncommon love. With the phrasing we see here, it is clear that loving others should be above many other pursuits we prioritize. I can’t help but wonder, though, and grievously so, if that is really the case in my life or if it’s what I see in the church.
The church in America today looks pretty self-serving, in my opinion. And, since the church is made up of believers, it goes to follow that we Christians are a pretty self-serving bunch. I mean, just think about the kinds of things we say when people ask us to tell them about our church. It probably goes something like this, “we have a great new building,” or “we have an awesome kids program,” or “our pastor is so convicting,” and so on and so forth. Not that those things are bad, but I just don’t think that Jesus died so we could have state of the art sound systems and our own baseball fields behind the sanctuary. I often wonder if a first or second century Christian, suddenly placed in the middle of one of our Sunday morning services, would recognize what was going on.
Not that I’m there either. I mean, it might seem like I love others. And, sometimes, for some people, I do. I love surprising my friends with gifts. I love paying for coffee for the guy behind me. I love being able to watch someones kids for them so they can have a date night. What credit is that to me, though? I’m only loving the people who are easy to love in the first place. What about my neighbor, though? My literal neighbor. The guy next door who is a little bit too talkative when we run into each other. Or, my other neighbor, who is pushing 85 years old and is so grouchy that even his son laments of it. What about the rambling homeless guy who wants to have a 5 minute conversation with me while I am wrangling my three kids on a walk. What about the people who aren’t so easy to love?
I want to be able to say one day what the apostle Paul was able to say as he reminisced over his life and said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” How incredible it would be to be confident and know that I had done everything God put me on earth to do. That I had accomplished His plan for me. That I had loved and served and cared and poured myself out for the sake and for the lives of others. I so desperately want to view others through the eyes of Christ. To have the kind of love for those around me that points away from myself and directly to the Father.
After explicitly stating that we are to love others “above all,” we are told to not just love, but to love deeply. I don’t know about you, but when I think of deep love, there are 4 people who come to mind. 4 people on Earth who I can unequivocally say that I deeply love. My husband, of course, and my three children. I love them so deeply that it scares me sometimes. It almost feels like idolatry, if i’m honest. Scripture is clear, though, that we are to love not just our family members with a deep love, but also our neighbor, and even our enemy.
So, I ask myself, what does deep love look like? What is it characterized by. The Bible says in John 15:13 that, “Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friend.” Deep love is, more than anything else, a selfless love. I think that Jesus’ words in John were meant to be taken literally, however there is more to laying down ones life than just literally dying. I mean, realistically, most of us will never be in a position where we have to choose to sacrifice our lives for someone else’s. That said, what does it mean, what does it looks like for American christians today to “lay down our lives for a friend.” I think it means putting others needs above our own in a way that seems irresponsible to outsiders.
I could write more than just a couple paragraphs about practical ways to put others needs above my own, but one specific way has been on my mind, so I want to leave you with that. For months and months one word has been mulling around like seeping chai tea in my mind, the word “forgiveness.” Greater love means putting someone else’s need to be forgiven over my need to hold a grudge. And it’s hard, right. It’s so hard think about forgiving someone who does not deserve our love at all, someone who seems to even take pleasure in our pain, but that is exactly what we are called to do. Why? Because that’s exactly what God, in Christ, did for us.
1 John 4 is full of incredible truth’s about God’s unfaltering love for His children. Verse 19 states, “We love him, because He first loved us.” Just like that, we are reminded that long before we felt remorse for our sin, long before the conviction of the Holy Spirit awakened us to our need to be ransomed by a Savior, we were deeply loved by God. Verse 20 drives it home when it says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” I’m not trying to add to Scripture, but it seems to me that this verse, taken to it’s logical conclusion, is saying that if we don’t extend love to others, than God’s love in not in us and we have no fellowship with Him.
I end with this prayer, “God, thank you for you love. Thank you for loving me when I had nothing lovable in me. Thank you for loving me before I even took my first breath. I pray, Father, that you would give me eyes like yours. I want to see others as you do. I want to love like you do, with no strings attached. Give me a heart of flesh that is filled with compassion and humility toward those around me. Allow me to love enough to forgive those who have wronged me, to help those who won’t help themselves, and to hold the hand of a brother in need when nobody else wants to touch it. Let my life be one that so overflows with your love that it leaves a trail of love behind it. Thank you for your Spirit that dwells in me and enables me to love. Convict me of any sin that is holding me back from extending your loving hand to those in need. Help me to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly before you, God. Amen.”