Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
‘Amor vincit omnia’ (‘love conquers all’), engraved on the brooch worn by the Prioress in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is one of the few phrases I recall from my school days in English literature so many years ago. I also seem to recall that it reflected some of the ambiguity of her character.
The phrase in Peter’s letter ‘Love covers a multitude of sins’, is so similar in thought to eg. Proverbs 10.12, Luke 7.47 and 1 Corinthians 13.7 that ambiguity is surely not intended. The primacy of love in Christian relationships is Peter’s theme here, love towards other Christians based on Christ’s love for his church and God’s loving kindness towards us.
The urgency of Peter’s injunction is influenced by his belief that the ‘end times’ were close and consequently God’s judgement. It was also linked to the fact that the early Church practised hospitality towards sisters and brothers of the faith in an era when the Church as an institution, with buildings and regular ways of governing herself, were still in the making. Meeting in the intimacy of fellow members’ houses would accentuate the need for generosity, compassion and affection amongst the community – which dare not be taken for granted. ‘Face to face’ was also a reality which those expounding the word of God encountered.
This passage has interesting resonances for today. Hospitality is still one of the great gifts of love that the Church has to offer – not just to fellow Christians but also the communities in which we are set. If church life lacks urgency we should take to heart that we are not in charge of God’s time scales. And as for those who lead and preach – how we long to see each other ‘face to face’, unmasked.
Gracious God our times are in your hand. When we want to close in on ourselves, harvest what we have, look after those like ourselves, remind us that love calls us out of our club mentality. May we reflect Christ’s love and compassion in mission towards our communities and the world you love
The Rev’d John A Young, Retired minister of the National Synod of Scotland URC, member of Giffnock URC