The Love of the Church

In 1 Peter 4:7-19, Peter instructs the Christians of his day to serve and suffer – all for the glory of God as the end approaches. These Christians were experiencing trials, but the most difficult and fiery trials were still to come. Yet, Peter encouraged them to remain faithful in their service and in their suffering in order to bring great glory to God and to prevent the Word of God from being blasphemed.

Love in the Midst of Discipline

Peter emphasizes love and continuing in “fervent love” one toward another within the church. According to 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins. Now, it is important to realize the context of this passage before just lifting that sentence out of the surrounding text and using it to say something that Peter did not intend. Peter was not encouraging the church to sweep sin under the rug, turn a deaf ear to sin, or to pretend that a fellow brother in Christ is not committing adultery on his wife. He was not saying that at all. He was merely emphasizing the fact that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all full of imperfections that should be laid to rest when possible in order to love one another and worship together.

What Peter was not saying was that we should overlook a brother or sister who is living in rebellious and unrepentant sin. Those who use this passage to override church discipline are seeking to align Christ and Peter against one another. In fact, church discipline is not the opposite of love – it is love. John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century, noted, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it” (A Treatise on Church Order p. 274). For a body of believers to allow a person to continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin is the opposite of love. The very people who claim that church discipline is a bad thing do not understand biblical church discipline. Dr. Mohler also says, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity” (Discipline: The Missing Mark In Polity (2001): 43-62.).  Therefore, those that Peter was writing to were able to allow genuine love to permeate the church, cover sin, and reign in their hearts at the same time as they practiced discipline upon those sinning members who were unwilling to repent.

Love in the Midst of Suffering

If there is one place in the world where Christians should be able to find a safe haven from the world – it is in the community of the church. In Peter’s day, the Christians were suffering greatly under trials and persecution. When they came together, love was essential for healing the wounds caused in the world. It was a support group. It was a place of love and support where hurting hearts could experience healing. Peter encouraged these suffering Christians to continue in fervent love in order that their love would cover sin.

Unfortunately, today’s church seems to do the exact opposite. Often Christians find themselves being beat down, discouraged, and further stressed out by the gossipers, backbiters, and complainers that assemble with them for worship each week. In many cases, young Christians either slack off greatly or find another church in hopes that their problems will be solved. Most of those Christians end up figuring out the pattern within the local church. That pattern is often not summarized by the word “love.” Is it any wonder that pastors leave churches every two years? Is it any wonder that most churches are not growing and remaining strong? The majority of the churches today are focused on problems, critical toward one another, gossiping about one another, and involved in practices that do not honor God and bring glory to His name. Love is the key to having a great church that glorifies God and cares for one another. The assembly of believers is the one place that all Christians should be able to retreat from the suffering and problems of the world. The church should be a place of love.

1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (ESV).

Pastor Josh Buice