Keep Loving One Another
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8 I recently had lunch with a friend of mine who I knew was having some challenges at his job.
So I asked him, “How are things going at work?” “Things would be great if it weren't for the people,” he said. No doubt, that was an honest assessment of his vocational struggles. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we can resonate with that sentiment, not only with regard to our work, but with our whole lives. It’s not easy to have healthy relationships that are fueled and supported by mutual love for one another. All too often, relationships are characterized by what Dr. John Gottman in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, calls the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. A significant reason why relationships are so often shaped by these dysfunctionalities is because we ourselves tend to relate to God as if we were “under the law” rather than “under grace” (Romans 6:14). In other words, we measure our lives before God and others on the basis of how well we adhere to personal, social, or biblical standards. And when our failures rear their ugly head, we tend to respond in one of two ways: We become puffed up with pride, which manifests itself in denying, excusing, blame-shifting, or minimizing our failures. Or we fall into a self-loathing pit of despair whereby we feel utterly miserable about ourselves. As diametrically opposed to one another as they seem, both pride and despair are symptoms within a person who looks to their own adherence to law as a means of self-justification. The proud person feels as if he doesn’t need grace (or at least not much of it). The despairing person doesn’t feel like there’s enough grace to cover his failures. So when a person living under the law moves into relationship, it should come as no surprise that s/he engages with people from a law-based perspective. The proud person living under the law has to nit-pick at the failures of others, holding their mistakes and sins as leverage against them in order to feel good about themselves. The despairing person lives as a people-pleaser, telling folks what they want to hear in order to feel more acceptable. But what is absent in the person living under the law is a well-shaped personal knowledge of the grace of God offered to her in the gospel. When a person drinks deeply from the well of grace – when she comes to sense that she is personally aware of maybe two-percent of her sin – and then becomes saturated with the understanding that the grace of Christ is enough for her; that every point of her failure, Christ has not only been successful but has also imputed that success to her at the cost of his own life, then and only then will she both experience and express grace. Her pride will be crushed and her despair will vanish because she’s no longer looking inward for ways to validate herself. She’s now looking outside of herself, to Jesus, her law-keeper, who loved her and gave himself for her (Galatians 2:20). The late Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne challenged his congregation with this thought: “For every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” It is essential that we become introspective, self-examining, and honest about the sin in our lives. This is why time is set apart in many worship services to collectively confess our sins. It’s part of the weekly liturgy of gathered worship so that it will be part of the daily liturgy of worship in our own lives. But these same churches also offer Scripture's assurance of pardon which follows that time of confession. Why? Because we are not only sinners. We are redeemed sinners; people who are no longer under the law as a means of justification, but under grace. So no matter how awful, embarrassing, destructive, or heinous your sin is – and no doubt it’s far worse than you imagine it to be – the encouragement is to take a million glances at the grace of Jesus who offers you heap after heap of grace, everyday, all the time. Then, once you begin to understand yourself as a person who not only needs grace, but has received it in full from Jesus, then you will stop measuring people by their success and you will love them earnestly as Jesus loved you. Love will “cover a multitude of sins.” Your relationships – especially your relationships with those within the church – will begin to have the aroma of Christ. And those who have yet to know him will know we are his disciples “by our love for one another” (John 13:35).