Some years ago, I was chatting with my future in-laws about their experiences on the mission field. They mentioned a couple that they were close to during a challenging season of missionary work. I asked if their very different denominational backgrounds were an issue. The response was so helpful: “Secondary things do not matter when you are in the trenches.”
Back in the first century, the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to some believers in the trenches. They had probably been kicked out of Rome by Emperor Claudius and transplanted to five regions in what we would now call Turkey. These people had been unwanted back in Rome (troublemakers or guilty by association with others), and they were now unwanted in their new locations. So Peter wrote his epistle to help them.
Today we live in cultures that are increasingly hostile to Christians. We can certainly take on board the instruction Peter gave to those first-century believers. In chapter 4, after the main body of his argument, Peter urges believers to live in light of their situation. God’s great redemption plan is in its final stage; they need to live with disciplined thinking for the sake of their attentive prayerfulness. But then he gives a not-to-be-missed “above all” point:
“Above all, love one another earnestly.” (1 Peter 4:8)
He is not referring to casual and comfortable fellowship. The word Peter uses here, “earnestly,” implies a full and sustained effort. Think of the muscles of a thoroughbred horse working at full capacity as the horse gallops. Or think of the strenuous and sustained efforts of an athlete in competition. Peter is not just asking Christians to be pleasant to one another; he is speaking of how much we need each other.
In this paragraph, Peter gives us three “one another” instructions to help us understand how much we need each other:
1. We need each other’s grace. In verse 8, he urges them to “love one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Of course, some sins should not simply be covered over. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to graciously confront the sin of a fellow believer. Sometimes a sin is so significant that you should inform the authorities. But here, Peter is speaking about ongoing, every day, frequent annoyances.
Think about a group of children gathering in a minibus for a day at the seaside. They will be full of energy and excitement. They will probably tolerate annoying pokes and name calling from their friends in this state – every comment will be met with laughter and joy. But fast forward to the evening when they all clamber back into the minibus, exhausted and emotionally fraught. Now the slightest poke in the ribs, a crossed word from a friend, or another tiny thing might provoke tears and tension. As adults, we are often more drained by life than delighted. How easily Christians can aggravate one another. That is why we need one another’s grace.
Eugene Peterson translated the underlying thought in Proverbs 10:12 like this: “Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.”
2. We need each other’s generosity. In verse 9, Peter goes on, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” We tend to think of hospitality in the New Testament as an essential support to the church’s missionary work. Travel inns were expensive and dangerous, so finding a place to stay with fellow believers was a vital feature of the Gospel’s spread. However, in this verse, Peter is speaking of hospitality to “one another.” Maybe this is less about helping travelling missionaries and more about supporting one another in the local community of believers.
After more than a year of restrictions and lockdowns, some of us are appreciating the blessing of being in each other’s homes more than ever. Let us never take for granted the gift that it is to share a meal with fellow believers. It is not about the performance of the chef or the presentation of a picture-perfect house. We are not auditioning for a magazine. We are a family that needs each other.
Sometimes, the gift of time, practical support, and fellowship can make the difference between making it through a challenging season and not making it through. We need each other’s generosity.
3. We need each other’s gifting. In verse 10, Peter adds one more “one another” to the paragraph: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” God designed the body of Christ to be interdependent. We need the gifts that others have. Some gifts are more visible and up-front, while others are more behind-the-scenes and play a support role. We need each other.
The gifting may be different for one who preaches and one who sets up the facility, but both are intimately connected to God. The speaker speaks the words of God. The server works with the strength God supplies. And whatever type of gift we have, God is at work amongst us as we benefit from one another’s spiritual gifts.
Whether we are living in a time of relative comfort and ease or a time of growing antagonism and complexity, the reality is that we all need each other. It is an incredible blessing to be part of a local family of believers. As we love one another earnestly, we will benefit from each other’s grace, generosity and gifting. And the impact of all this will be a blessing for us, a powerful witness to a fragmented watching world, and glory to God.
What would it look like if you earnestly loved the people in your church family this week?