concerning mutual love
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. (4:8–9)
Mutual love primarily concerns believers’ relationships with each other. Above all refers to the supreme importance of that virtue in the Christian life (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; Phil. 2:2; Col. 3:14), and the participle rendered keep collects “sound judgment” and “sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” under the priority of fervent … love for one another. Fervent (ektenēs) denotes stretching or straining and pictures a person running with taut muscles, exerting maximum effort. Ancient Greek literature used the word to describe a horse stretching out and running at full speed. Earlier in this letter (1:22), Peter also used its related adverb to describe the intensity and exertion that ought to characterize Christian love. Such love is sacrificial, not sentimental, and requires a stretching of believers’ every spiritual muscle to love in spite of insult, injury, and misunderstanding from others (Prov. 10:12; Matt. 5:44; Mark 12:33; Rom. 12:14, 20; 1 John 4:11; cf. Rom. 12:15; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 5:2; James 1:27).
It is self-evident that genuine love inherently tends to forgive the offenses of others (cf. Prov. 10:12). But commentators differ on how to interpret the expression love covers a multitude of sins. Some say it refers to God’s love covering sins, whereas others say it describes believers who are lovingly overlooking each other’s transgressions. Since the text offers no explanation, it seems best to understand the phrase here as a general axiom. Whether from God or man, love covers sin.
Love derives from the well-known Greek word agapē (cf. 1:8, 22; 2:17; 3:10), which carries a strong volitional significance. Salvation results from the Lord’s choosing to love all those who believe: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). Christians must follow His example, choosing to love even the unlovely, because “the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40) hinges on doing so (vv. 37–39), as does their witness (John 13:34–35). The command to be hospitable (literally, “to love strangers”) takes that love beyond the circle of Christians’ friends to other believers they do not even know (cf. Heb. 13:2).
According to the Mosaic law, the Jews were to extend hospitality to strangers (Ex. 22:21; Deut. 14:29; cf. Gen. 18:1–2). Jesus commended believers who provided food, clothing, and shelter to others (Matt. 25:35–40; cf. Luke 14:12–14). However, the spirit of hospitality extends beyond the tangible acts of providing meals or a place to stay. It includes not just the act, but an unselfish attitude, so that what is done, no matter the sacrifice, is done without complaint. Biblical hospitality knows nothing of the “Poor Richard’s Almanac” mentality that says fish and guests smell after three days.
Because believers still sin (Rom. 7:18–19; 1 John 1:8; cf. 1 Tim. 1:15), the only thing that will preserve the church’s unity is love that forgives and reaches out in kindness to strangers. Love also plays a foundational role in the evangelization of the unsaved. Jesus told the apostles, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
8. And above all things. He commends charity or love as the first thing, for it is the bond of perfection. And he bids it to be fervent, or intense, or vehement, which is the same thing; for whosoever is immoderately fervent in self-love, loves others coldly. And he commends it on account of its fruit, because it buries innumerable sins, than which nothing is more desirable.
But the sentence is taken from Solomon, whose words are found in Prov. 10:12, “Hatred discovers reproaches, but love covers a multitude of sins.” What Solomon meant is sufficiently clear, for the two clauses contain things which are set in contrast the one with the other. As then he says in the first clause that hatred is the cause why men traduce and defame one another, and spread whatever is reproachful and dishonourable; so it follows that a contrary effect is ascribed to love, that is, that men who love one another, kindly and courteously forgive one another; hence it comes that, willingly burying each other’s vices, one seeks to preserve the honour of another. Thus Peter confirms his exhortation, that nothing is more necessary than to cherish mutual love. For who is there that has not many faults? Therefore all stand in need of forgiveness, and there is no one who does not wish to be forgiven.
This singular benefit love brings to us when it exists among us, so that innumerable evils are covered in oblivion. On the other hand, where loose reins are given to hatred, men by mutual biting and tearing must necessarily consume one another, as Paul says (Gal. 5:15.)
And it ought to be noticed that Solomon does not say that only a few sins are covered, but a multitude of sins, according to what Christ declares, when he bids us to forgive our brethren seventy times seven, (Matt. 18:22.) But the more sins love covers, the more evident appears its usefulness for the wellbeing of mankind.
This is the plain meaning of the words, It hence appears how absurd are the Papists, who seek to elicit from this passage their own satisfactions, as though almsgiving and other duties of charity were a sort of a compensation to God for blotting out their sins. It is enough to point out by the way their gross ignorance, for in a matter so clear it would be superfluous to add many words.
8 In the mind of Peter, proper thinking will lead to proper action, and a distinctly Christian social ethic is the embodiment of love. Love for others, “above all,” is to characterize the Christian community, and such love is to be tenacious, full-bodied, intense, deep (ektenēs, GK 1756). If the NT teaches anything, it teaches the primacy of love in accord with the teaching of Jesus (Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27; Jn 13:34–35; 15:12; 1 Co 13:1–13; Eph 5:1–2; Php 2:2; Jas 2:8; 1 Jn 2:10; 4:7–11, 19–21). Moreover, in the face of extreme social hostility, love will be necessary for spiritual survival. For Peter the primacy of love is accompanied by a qualification, and this qualification is a partial citation of Proverbs 10:12 similar to James 5:20—“love covers over a multitude of sins,” rather than magnifying the faults of others. After all, love is patient and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (1 Co 13:4, 5).
4:8 / Above all, as far as fellow believers are concerned, right relationships between them are paramount. The importance of the old tag “unity is strength” became increasingly obvious to the early Christians as members of their community faced hardening antagonism from neighbors and officials. The vital link between Christians is expressed by Peter’s admonition to his readers: above all, love each other deeply. And by way of supporting explanation, he once again turns to the ot for a proof-text: because love covers over a multitude of sins (Prov. 10:12). As a proverb, the expression perhaps originally meant “Love is blind to the faults of others.” It came to be interpreted by Jews as referring to deeds of love, especially almsgiving, that in the Jewish view helped to atone for an individual’s own sins. Significantly, in taking over the ot citation Peter changes the word for “love” to the usual nt term (agapē), and so points to the Christian understanding of the proverb. Love here refers to Christ’s love. At best, a Christian’s love is but a reflection of that of the Lord Jesus, and that is unique because it alone can “cover over sins.” Only Christ’s love is able to hide an individual’s sins from God’s consciousness (Rom. 5:9).
4:8. The second priority is forgiving love. Above all, love each other deeply burns into our minds the supreme importance of love as the controlling factor in all relationships in the church (see 1:22; 2:17; 3:8). This kind of love (agape) can be commanded because it is primarily a decision of the mind, not a feeling into which a person falls. The goal of agape love is always to seek the good of the other person. The evidence of agape love is action, not words. The extent of agape love is sacrifice. Thus, believers are to love each other “deeply.” This word means “to be stretched.” True agape love is constantly being stretched to the limit by the demands made on it. This is precisely where agape love shines, because it is not exhausted when it becomes difficult or inconvenient.
One of the most difficult and inconvenient times to extend love is when someone in the church has hurt or wronged us. We must demonstrate a love that is willing to be stretched because love covers over a multitude of sins. “Covers” means “willing to forgive.” The present tense indicates that which is to be constantly true in the life of the believer.
Love does not ignore the reality of personal sin any more than it justifies or condones sin. Confrontation of sin is appropriate and necessary, especially when we demonstrate love. However, it is just as important to demonstrate a willingness to forgive and then to move on. Forgiveness, like love, is an act of the will, a personal choice. A person chooses either to forgive or not to forgive. According to Grudem, “Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound” (Grudem, 174).
8. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Once again Peter instructs the readers to cultivate mutual love, for in a previous chapter he writes, “Have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22; also compare 1 Thess. 4:9–10; 2 Peter 1:7). He prefaces his exhortation to love each other with the words above all. In other words, Peter alludes to God’s law which Jesus taught in the summary: “Love the Lord your God and … love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:37–39). Moreover, Peter refers to the well-known command of Jesus, “Love one another” (John 13:34). And three of Jesus’ apostles repeat this command in their epistles: Paul (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3), Peter (1 Peter 1:22; 2:17; 3:8; 4:8), and John (1 John 3:23).
Peter qualifies the command to love with the adverb deeply. This adverb conveys the extent of the Christian’s love, for love eases tension and breaks hostility. “Love is capable of being commanded because it is not primarily an emotion but a decision of the will leading to action.”
The second part of the verse, “Love covers over a multitude of sins,” is an allusion to Proverbs 10:12, “Love covers over all wrongs.” Because James in his epistle (5:20) has virtually the same words Peter writes, we assume that the saying circulated as a proverb.
What is the meaning of this proverbial saying? Whose sins are covered? The saying can be interpreted in the active or the passive sense. A Christian either extends love to his fellow man and covers the sins of his neighbor or he himself experiences God’s love by which his sins are forgiven. Although both interpretations are relevant, in the light of the context (which stresses the Christian’s relation to his neighbor) the explanation in the active sense appears to be more plausible. God forgives the sinner who comes to him in repentance and faith (Ps. 32:1). He demands that the forgiven sinner show the same forgiving spirit toward his fellow man (compare Matt. 6:14–15; 18:21–22; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
Practical Considerations in 4:7
From the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry to the present, the question concerning the end of time has been on the lips of man. When is the end near? In the early church, Christians expected the return of Christ in their lifetime. During the Reformation, believers thought that the consummation was at hand. And today, because of current international stress and declining moral standards, people frequently raise the question: “When will the end come?”
Jesus instructed his followers to watch for the signs of the time. He told them, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). True, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached throughout the world, but multitudes of people on many continents have as yet not heard the gospel. For example, the teeming millions in India and China must be told about the love of Jesus. When they hear the Good News and turn in faith to Christ, then we know the end is near.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 167–168). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.