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Author: Ron Graham

Sin and Legalism

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
—explaining 1Peter 4:8

Peter tells us that "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1Peter 4:8). He echoes the proverb, "Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all sins" (Proverbs 10:12).

Some think that one person's love can blot out another person's sin. The only love that can cover sin in that sense, is the love of Jesus Christ. His love led him to the cross, where he shed his blood that sins repented of might be blotted out (Matthew 26:28, John 3:16, Acts 3:18-19, Revelation 7:14).

1 Our Love Can’t Blot Out Sin

Your love and my love has no power to blot out sin, or to modify the conditions under which any person's sin may be forgiven. Only the blood of Jesus can blot out sin.

Of course our love can and should certainly motivate us to teach others about the love and mercy of Jesus who has the power to blot out sin.

However, love is not a carpet under which to sweep people’s sin. Love isn't like a pretty green creeper that grows over, and hides, the rubbish people have thrown down. Rather it is a light which can reveal sin and lead a sinner to God’s love, mercy, and grace. But your love cannot do the thing which only the Saviour's love can do.

Your love and my love can help sinners to face their sins and repent. Only in that way can the multitude of sins be covered, not by turning a blind eye. This is exactly what James tells us, and here is a good example of how we should interpret one passage with another passage, letting the Bible be its own interpreter. James says, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20).

2 We Can’t Be a Kinder Judge Than God

Some, when considering how "love covers a multitude of sins", take it to mean, in effect, that one's own love can make one a kinder judge than God himself.

You might, out of your love, be willing to overlook sin. But the love that "keeps no record of wrongs" is not so. It is a love that "rejoices not in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth" (1Corinthians 13:4-6).

True love cannot endure fellowship in the works of darkness. True love is a love of the truth and judges according to the truth. Otherwise it is not love, but hypocrisy and deception.

“The coming of the lawless one answers to the work of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders. He comes with all deception of evil for those who perish because they did not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved” (2Thessalonians 2:11-10).

Judges are sometimes criticised for treating hardened criminals as victims of society and deserving of sympathy, rather than offenders deserving punishment. The critics do not see the judges as tender, loving, and merciful, but as perverting justice. In the same way, true love will not IGNORE what is evil, but ABHOR what is evil (Romans 12:9).

In the end, God will judge all (2Timothy 4:1-4). In that day, the hidden things will be brought to light (Matthew 10:26). Neither your love nor mine can change that; and in our judgment we cannot be more loving than God.

Of course God is "patient toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2Peter 3:9). Therefore we should be patient too, not approving of sin, but patiently giving people every opportunity to deal with their sins. The Corinthians for example (1Corinthians 6:8-20), did not change their lives in a wink.

3 We can’t Sweeten Sin

Some, when considering how "love covers a multitude of sins", think it means one person’s love sweetens another’s bitterness. We may observe much sin in our fellows, and hope to sweeten it with our own outpouring of love.

The Lord does not want any malice or "root of bitterness" to be ignored or covered over. He wants it uncovered and removed:

“Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV).

Love’s role is not to make sin flavoursome. The role of love is to help sin to be put away.

NOTE: This does not mean that we must pick on our friends, neighbours, loved ones, and brethren, every time some trifling thing they say or do annoys us or hurts our feelings or in some way disadvantages us. Such events are usually excusable or unintentional and if we are sensible we will just "let it drop" or "grin and bear it". Rather, we are talking about situations of real malice and evil intention.

Yes, I know the Bible says, "Overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21), and love will certainly do that. But the "good" is to confront that evil with righteousness in love. The principle is expressed in the saying, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him" (Romans 12:20).

Love, being truthful, does not pretend that an enemy is a friend or that evildoing is of no account. Love rather seeks to "turn a sinner from the error of his ways" and only by doing that can love "cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20).


Webservant Ron Graham

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