In light of the impending return of Christ and the judgment He brings to earth, Peter urges his readers to disciplined prayer, deep loving, and deliberate hospitality. These things seem a bit strange as a response to the danger and disaster that are to accompany the last days. Of course, the first admonition to pray with vigilance and sobriety is a must for the Christian soldier (Eph. 6:18). But where does loving one another earnestly and showing hospitality without grumbling fit in?
The problem with most contemporary Christians is that they have little Old Testament foundation for interpreting New Testament truth. It is not that they can never understand what Peter is saying but that they have to dig deep in order to do so. Reading the Bible through regularly helps a great deal to unlock its unity of message. One begins to see the threads and how they relate in drawing out the whole scheme.
In comparing Israel with Christ followers, similar themes begin to present themselves. God called Israel to Himself and designated that His people are to be a holy people, the Lord’s particular possession (Deut. 7:6). That applies to New Covenant saints also (1 Pet. 2:9). The purpose of this unique relationship was that the Israel of God would serve as an example of what a people among whom God dwelt should look like (Deut. 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:11–12, 4:2–5). It should be a community so distinct as to draw attention (Eph. 5:1–16).
To live a godly and exemplary life among pagans is not easy. Moses exhorted the people, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9, see also v. 23). It is very easy for us to let our own sinful hearts draw us away to self-interests and to self-seeking. To avoid this, God gave us His Word with its teaching, statutes, and rules (Deut. 4:14). The whole of these rules are summed up in just two: love the Lord and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). God knows your heart, but your neighbor does not (Rom. 13:9, 10). He sees your attitude and your conduct. Will he know you love the Lord? You show your neighbor that you love the Lord by keeping His rules (Deut. 11:1). Through obedience, you love your neighbor and show Him what God is like (1 Cor. 15:34). This background fits the context of Peter’s challenge (1 Pet. 4:7–11; cf. 1:22).
There are lots of opinions on what Peter means when he says that love covers sins (v. 8; see Prov. 10:12; James 5:20). It may be best to understand these sins as potential and that loving acts prevent potential sins that would otherwise come into judgment. Whatever this means, the first part of the verse is clear. We must love each other earnestly, as with every muscle stretched. That takes supernatural strength, for we are far more likely to preserve our presumed dignity than risk pursuing others for the love of Christ.