The apostle Peter uses the expression in the same way in his epistles, but interestingly he uses it not once but three times – each time of a different thing:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things” (2 Peter 1:20).
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires” (2 Peter 3:3).
At first sight these statements seem to be unrelated. They certainly speak of different things that the apostle urges us to keep foremost in mind – though it may seem strange that he mentions two things to keep in mind “above all” in the same epistle. Yet there is perhaps a thread that connects them all.
In the first of these verses, Peter’s subject is obvious – it is love of one another that he emphasizes must be paramount in our concerns. We must not only love each other, he says, but we must love each other deeply.
In the second verse the subject may seem a somewhat narrow one to be regarded as something “above all else,” but the context of the statement helps us to understand what the verse is emphasizing. Peter is not simply talking about understanding Scripture, but about our perception of it in a context of faith. The epistle’s first verses tell us that Peter writes: “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” (2 Peter 1:1).
A few verses later Peter expands the theme of faith: “make every effort to add to your faith goodness” (2 Peter 1:5). Then in verse 16 Peter begins a defense of his readers’ faith: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories” (2 Peter 1:16); in verse 19 he adds “We also have the prophetic message” (2 Peter 1:19) It is in continuation of this thought that he then writes “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Peter’s point is that our faith is well grounded – something he urges us to place at the forefront of our minds.
In the final verse in which he uses the expression “above all” the apostle tells us “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come” (2 Peter 3:3) and once again we must look at its context. The third chapter of 2 Peter develops the idea that scoffers will come who, if they are able, will undermine the very hope of every believer in the return of our Lord: “They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3:4), and Peter immediately follows this warning with a defense of the Christian hope regarding Christ’s return (verses 5–12) – concluding with the words “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this” (verses 13–14 , emphases added). Twice Peter stresses that which the believer is looking forward to – hoping for. The context of 2 Peter 3:3 is clearly that it is paramount that we are not affected by scoffers and that we can continue to hope in the reality of the Lord’s return.
Whether consciously or not, Peter’s three references to things that we must keep in mind “above all” are related in that they have to do with the great triad of love, faith, and hope* (or “faith, hope, and love” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:13), that make up the centrality of Christian life. There is no contradiction in what Peter writes – these three qualities are, indeed, things that we must strive toward “above all.”
* Download our free e-book These Three Remain: Why Faith, Hope and Love Are Even More Important Than You Realize here.