1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
The phrases “covers a multitude of sins”, “covered all their sin”, “sin is covered” is used several times in scripture. We always attempt to do our best to understand the words within the context in order to properly understand what is being taught. As we all know, words have meaning. With that in mind, it is easy for someone to get the wrong idea when it comes to this idea of “covering a multitude of sins.” Is God trying to tell us that we can hide our sin? Is He telling us that he will overlook our sin? I submit to you that God’s word is talking about forgiveness.
I am sure that most of us have either read about or experienced an instance where someone is trying to cover up something, “covering up a scandal”, “sweeping something under the rug”. When someone does something wrong, those who are involved (or maybe they are not involved but they still) attempt to hide evidence to keep the guilty party from having to face the consequences. One of the easiest examples to think of is the enormous amount of sexual misconduct that goes on within the religious community. The largest denomination (Catholicism) essentially acted like nothing ever happened. They would conveniently move their “priests” from one group to another when a “problem” would arise. This group is not the only group where this type of behavior happened. I have witnessed it by my own eyes even amongst brethren within the Lord’s church! This type of “covering a multitude of sins” is not what Peter had in mind.
There may be times where we speak of merely “overlooking” something that someone has done to us. If someone unintentionally harms you, you may “overlook” the fault because you know that it was unintentional. There was no ill-will by the guilty party. It was simply a mistake. In instances such as these, we do have Biblical principle to fall back on regarding these scenarios.
Proverbs 19:11 A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
You got me now! Right? Again, while I do believe that this is a good attitude to have towards those who do not mean us harm…this is not what Peter is saying in 1 Peter 4:8. Peter is not giving us a “thumbs up” to ignore sin.
We will look at a few examples from both the Old and New Testaments to help us better understand exactly what Peter is talking about. What we must do is first understand what exactly sin will do to us. Most know that it causes death (separated from God), but many fail to accept the fact that sin brings shame upon man. This has been the case since the beginning with Adam and Eve. Read the whole account in Genesis 3 but I will put some references to prove the point.
Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings
Genesis 3:21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
Adam and Eve failed miserably when it came to covering their shame. Only God was able to cover their sin and He did this just before driving them out of the garden.
Psalm 32:1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
Psalm 85:2 You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.
I believe the words of Peter are beginning to make sense. It is wrong to conclude that the covering of sin that he refers to is merely an idea of just ignoring sin. We see that it must have something to do with forgiveness. If you look up Leviticus 16 and read about the celebration of the Day of Atonement, you will see that they had to meet every year in order for God to cover their sin. Yet, in the New Testament, the covering of our sins comes through Jesus going to the cross and His resurrection. Jesus went to the cross naked, shamed, despised, and died so that we may be clothed in righteousness. We are no different than Adam and Eve. We are not capable of covering ourselves. We need Jesus!
James 5:19-20 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Because of what Christ has done for us, we need not shame others or to completely exile them when they wrong us. We should encourage them to change their ways. We should desire for them to repent and to forgive them.
Back in the context of 1 Peter, we need to understand the audience. Peter is writing to Christians who are suffering a tremendous amount of persecution. It is sometimes hard to “do good” when suffering and yet, that is a repeated theme in Peter’s letter. During their suffering, they are to love one another. In loving one another, when one sees one of their brethren straying from the faith, one will go to restore them. We need each other more than we realize. If you are struggling today, find someone to talk to. If you see someone struggling, reach out to them in their time of need.
Galatians 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.