Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
What does Peter mean when he says “Love covers a multitude of sins” in I Peter 4:8?
While it is certainly gloriously true that out of God’s love for us He sent His Son to cover our sins, to remove them as far from us as the east is from the west, this is not likely what Peter has in mind here. He is instead, in context, talking about interpersonal relationships among Christians in the church. He is calling us to a dual kind of grace toward others.
First, we should be slow to convict. I Corinthians 13 tells us that love “thinks no evil.” When we love each other we practice with each other a judgment of charity. We assume the best about others, assigning the best of motives to their actions. Sadly, however, this wisdom is often confused with something altogether different.
Too often we are unwilling to call sin sin. Not long ago I wrote a brief piece arguing that x was a sin. I might have been right. I might have been wrong. What puzzled me, however, were those who replied this way. First, they were willing to concede that x was unwise, selfish, dangerous, even shameful. But they argued that saying it was sin was going too far. Indeed these same friends argued that I was dangerous, Pharisaical, legalistic, small-minded, arrogant, even ungracious to say X was a sin. They did everything but call me a sinner. Which makes no sense. It is a sin to be foolish, and selfish. It is a sin to be arrogant and ungracious. Somehow we Protestants have reduced “venial” sins to folly and in turn elevated “mortal” sins as unforgivable. Sin, though, is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. Have we forgotten that we do this all the time?
The second kind of grace that Peter calls us to here is to not even bother to deal with every sin in a given relationship. Here we are, redeemed, indwelt, heaven bound, but we still sin against each other. Peter calls us here to not sweat the “small stuff.” Note, however, that he recognizes that the small stuff is still sin. The text doesn’t say, “Love covers a multitude of unwise, selfish, arrogant, shameful decisions.”
Consider addiction. I was, for over twenty years a nicotine addict. I am grateful to be free now for ten years. I was well persuaded, and remain so, that my addiction was sin. We are called to not let anything rule over us, and for certain nicotine ruled over me. My old habit is rather rare in Christian circles. What is far more common is addition to caffeine. We joke about it, laugh about it, but the truth is coffee is the chemical stimulant of choice among evangelicals. Being addicted is a sin. But it is precisely the kind of sin Peter is talking about. We don’t fuss at each other because coffee is more needful than it ought to be.
Consider being habitually late. When we are late for an appointment we are a. not keeping our word, b. stealing time from those we keep waiting c. not doing unto others and likely d. thinking of ourselves more highly than others. So should we concoct a Matthew 18 intervention for the late? Probably not. What we ought to likely do is plan around the late folks, or move on without them. What we certainly do is continue to love them.
When we are wronged our calling is to practice a careful moral calculus. Is this offense one I should let go of? Is it among the multitude that love covers? Or is this offense grievous enough that love means confronting in grace my brother? Sadly what we usually do is think we are practicing the former while actually holding grudges and putting miracle-grow on roots of bitterness. Peace in the church calls us to under-accuse, over-repent and over-forgive. Let us not be afraid to call sin sin, but let us not be slow to forgive it and to look past it.