Above all keep loving one another earnestly…
If you had just a few words with which to describe how Christians are called to live, what would you say? If you had to reduce Christian ethics to just a few things, what things would you choose to mention?
In the middle ages it was common to hear of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, hope, and temperance. Certainly those are good things with strong biblical justification. Borrowing from the Apostle Paul the church of the middle ages often referred to the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter offers a description of the Christian life in just a few words. It is a description which ought to capture our will and imagination.
What did the great apostle call the church to be? What was for him the authentic Christian life? What mattered most to this man who was taught the Christian life by the Lord Jesus himself, both by word and by an example? Peter had been privileged to observe the Lord Jesus daily for upwards of three years. He was there when Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciple’s feet. He witnessed Jesus’ personal holiness, his patience with sinners, and his righteous zeal for the glory of God. Peter had witnessed Jesus offer himself up to the hands of sinful men to be crucified. This man who experienced the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a way unique to an apostle – What was most important to him?
The Apostle Peter calls the church – those he refers to as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1) – to “above all keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). This earnest love, Peter writes, is an urgent thing. It is to be lived with “the end of all things” in mind (1 Peter 4:7). This is not a worldly, self-seeking, sentimental, indulgent sort of love. The church is called to a distinctively Christian love. It is a love which operates by the standards of God’s truth. It is a holy love. It is a love which seeks to serve and is invested in the good of the other. The church’s love revels in righteousness and truth but is quick to show mercy. Most of all, it is a love which is grounded in the love of Christ who laid down his life so that we might live.