“Above all keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
(1 Peter 4:8)
Godly love and sin are incompatible. Christians are to be patient when personally wronged and righteous when God is wronged! While men may feign that their love, “just loves no matter what, and that is all there is to say about it,” God’s love makes no such pretense, for God’s love and truth are inseparable. In this article we shall consider what Peter’s text reveals about agape love and, in the related context, seek to understand how love “covers a multitude of sins.”
The type of love mentioned in 1 Peter 4:8, earnest love or fervent love, means “to be stretched, to be strained.” It is used of a runner who is moving at maximum output with taut muscles straining and stretching to the limit.
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
Love indicated here by Peter is the love of choice, the kind of love that responds to a command. The text says “fervently/earnestly,” which again means to be stretched to the limits (compare Luke 22:44, Acts 12:5, James 5:16c). Only those who have been “purified,” that is, those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, regenerated, baptized into the LORD Jesus and now indwelt by the Holy Spirit, have the capacity to love like this. Such love exhibits itself by meeting others at the point of their need. This kind of love requires that the Christian put the spiritual welfare of another ahead of his own desires, even if that means being treated unkindly, ungraciously, or with hostility. Agape is what fuels Christian fortitude that enables a Christian to overlook sins against him, if possible, and always be ready to forgive insults and unkindness (c.f. Hebrews 12:3-6; Philippians 2:1-4). This is the context of Peter’s statement as he goes on to say in 1 Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.”
To help us understand the meaning of Peter’s statement, let us enlist the writings of Paul. Consider the “all things” of love (1 Corinthians 13:7), beginning with “love rejoices with the truth.” Not simply factual truth, but God’s truth, God’s revealed word. Righteousness is predicated on God’s truth and cannot exist apart from it. Love always rejoices in God’s truth and never in falsehood or false teaching. Love cannot tolerate wrong doctrine. If we properly understand God’s love, we cannot say this for example: “It doesn’t really matter if we don’t agree doctrinally what matters is if we love each other,” because what they believe affects their souls and THAT, should matter a great deal to us!
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, Paul makes it very clear that agape love rejects jealousy, bragging, arrogance, unseemliness, selfishness, anger, resentment and unrighteousness. So then how do we reconcile these verses with verse 7? And how does agape love bear, believe, hope, and endure ALL things? Does love endure lies, false teaching, immorality, or anything else that is not of God? LOVE DOES NOT! So what does Paul mean by “all things?” Paul refers to all things that are acceptable in God’s righteousness, all things acceptable in God’s will. Love does not justify sin. Love does not compromise with lies. Love warns. Love corrects. Love exhorts. Love rebukes. And love disciplines.
Then Paul says “love believes all things.” Does this mean love is blind or gullible? No, but neither is love suspicious or cynical! Love believes in the best outcome for the one upon whom it is bestowed. What is the best outcome? Simply this: sin confessed and sin forgiven, a loved one restored to righteousness. What if the sin was not exactly confessed? Then there could not exactly be forgiveness! Love is a harbor of trust. When that trust is broken, love’s first reaction is to heal and restore. When loves throws its mantle over wrong, as it does so, it also believes in the best outcome for the one who has done wrong. Love “bears” by covering, by supporting, by protecting others from ridicule.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
“Love hopes all things.” Even when belief in a loved one’s goodness or repentance is shattered, love still hopes. As long as God’s grace is operative, human failure is never final! Jesus would not take Peter’s failure as final. Paul would not take the Corinthians’ failure as final. There are more than enough promises in the Bible to make love hopeful for parents of children who have strayed, the spouse of an unbelieving partner, the congregation that has disciplined members who, to date, have not repented. Love remains constant in the hope that the child, the spouse, the erring brother or sister will be restored. Love refuses to take failure as final. The rope of love’s hope has no end. As long as there is life, love does not lose hope. When our hope becomes weak, we know that our love has already done so!
“Love endures all things.” Do you know, oh Christian, you’re a doormat? Yes, sometimes that is the sacrifice of love! But do we define love based upon the frequency that someone takes advantage of us? NO! Love refuses to stop bearing, stop believing, or, stop hoping, because love will not stop loving! Love bears what is otherwise unbearable. Love believes what is otherwise unbelievable. Love hopes in what is otherwise hopeless. Love endures when anything else would just give up. After love bears, it believes. After love believes, it hopes. After love hopes, it endures. THERE IS NO “AFTER” FOR ENDURANCE! And who more than Christ, had to endure?
“And Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34).