Have you ever thought to yourself, “What is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian?” If you have, certainly love would come to mind rather quickly. Anyone who has read good Christian material from years gone by would have read that humility also tops the list. But how often does someone think of forgiveness as one of the chief attributes of a true born-again Christian?
It must be noted that Peter was highly concerned with those under his care expressing love to one another. You may be thinking, “But wait, you just spoke of forgiveness! Shouldn’t you have said something about that?” The Bible says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (KJV, 1 Pet. 4:8) . Maybe that helps a bit more in understanding the connection between love and forgiveness. Peter tells us that it is love (or charity as the KJV translates the Greek word) which covers a multitude of sin.
Above all else
Peter opens the verse above with some powerful words that must be heeded. He says, “Above all else.” This means that of whatever he has said or will say in regards to the practical application of his teaching, this is the pinnacle. Above all else, above whatever else he has previously said or will say, what comes next is of the utmost importance. Paul also used the same wording in the book of Colossians. They desired to make a point and highlight what was to come next in their letters.
Have you ever been in front of a teacher during a time in which the teacher has been saying a lot – to the point that you tune in and out of what is being said? At times, he may say things that grab at your attention. One of the things that a teacher can say that would surely grab at someone’s attention in the midst of much talking is, “What I am about to say is the most important thing that I have said yet.” In essence, this is exactly what Peter was saying about his practical application points. It is also what Paul was saying about his practical application points, as well.
Let love be fervent
But what was the focus of their attention? Peter said, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8) . The focus of Peter’s attention was that of his people loving one another. But what was Paul’s focus? Paul said, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14) . Here, we can see that Paul had the same concern as Peter. Above all else, the Christian is to put on the love of Christ.
But what does it mean to love fervently? Simply put, it means to love with a level of intensity. The word that is translated fervently in 1 Peter 4:8 comes from the Greek word ektenes, which denotes straining or stretching. The same word is also used in Acts 12:5 and Acts 26:7.
In Acts 12, Herod the king is said to have killed James, then to have put Peter in prison shortly after. But verse 5 tells us the response of the Christian community. Scripture says, “Peter was therefore kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5) . Here, the Greek word ektenes is translated without ceasing. As the story goes, Peter was going to be brought before Herod. It could have very well meant his death, much like that of James.
However, the night before Peter was to be brought before King Herod, the angel of the Lord appeared to Peter and assisted him in his escape from prison. God answered the fervent prayers of the Christian community at that time. They prayed without ceasing. They did not stop. They continued until their prayers were answered. Peter’s desire would be that the love of the Christian would be much like the fervent prayers of the Christians who assisted Peter from afar by their prayers.
In Acts 26, Paul is standing before King Agrippa and making a defense against a charge that the Jews had laid upon Paul previously. Paul tells his side of the story, but in the midst of it, the Greek word ektenes is used yet again. Scripture says, “Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews” (Acts 26:7) . In this portion of Scripture, it may be a little less obvious as to where the word ektenes is found. Paul says that the twelve tribes were, “instantly serving God day and night.” The word instantly is what is used in Acts 26:7 to denote ektenes in the KJV.
The picture that is given is clear. The twelve tribes, also known as the Jews, would instantly (without hesitation or immediately) serve God. There was no delay in their actions; they were fervent and served God without ceasing.
Once again, Peter’s desire would be that the love of the Christian would be much like the way in which the twelve tribes served and worshipped God.
Love equates to forgiveness
But why? Why is Peter so concerned with the love of the Christian being fervent? Certainly, one could say that a fervent love glorifies God. Certainly, someone could say that a fervent love is what the Scriptures command. However, while these matters are important, Peter had a different point that he wanted to convey. Scripture says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (KJV, 1 Pet. 4:8) Did you catch the conjunction? Peter tells of the way that his listeners were to have love among themselves “above all else,” but then Peter says, “for.” In a sense, it is as though Peter is saying “because” or “since” and is thus giving us a reason as to why love should be exercised as he has taught.
Peter tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins.” This wording is taken from Proverbs 10:12, where the Scripture says, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10:12) . Peter wanted his people to love one another because love is forgiving.
To say that love covers sins is to say that love forgives. It is possible that there is no greater way in which the Christian is like Christ than when the Christian is forgiving toward his fellow man.
The world in which the Christian finds himself is filled with people who hold onto the faults of others, have deeply rooted bitterness in their hearts, seek revenge, and are, simply put, unforgiving. But this is not the way of Christ. The Christ of the Bible has shown forth the most amazing display of love in His death on the cross. The cross screams to the people of the earth, “I forgive you!” This does not mean that everyone will be forgiven of their sin; people must embrace Christ as their Savior with a true saving faith. However, the depths of God’s forgiveness can be seen in the person and work of Christ.
Forgiveness is so closely thatched to the Christian that the Bible can say, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15) . The Christian and forgiveness are inseparable.
When someone finds it difficult to forgive, he is making the sins of others great and his own sin small. This same person is also not thinking much of the great debt that stood against him which Christ forgave on Calvary’s hill at a great cost to Himself. If you find it difficult to forgive, look at the cross: The life that you have lived brought about the death of Christ. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ rejoices in forgiving those who have sinned against Him.
Father, I thank You for the forgiveness that You have granted me. You are a forgiving God, and I pray that You would help me to be like You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.