This blog post is distilled from a sermons preached at Torquay Christian Fellowship (Australia).
© Chris Rowney 2014
What does God most want you to remember from the New Testament? Any ideas?
OK, who knows what 1 Peter 4:8 says without looking it up?
Go on I’ll give you a moment…
That’s alright you are probably in good company. For years I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, but then I’ve always been poor at remembering the ‘street address’ of various Bible sayings!
To my shame, for a long time, it wasn’t just chapter and verse that escaped me, it was the actual content!
If, like I used to be, you are still clueless about what it says, here it is:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
There are scores of truths, sayings and teachings that it is helpful to remember from the Bible – but this particular one is prefaced with the little phrase “Above all” so I gather we ought to pay it some special attention!
It urges two things upon us: a way to live, and a reason why. Love one another - because love covers a multitude of sins.
I have another question for you, how would you like to be debt free? I would. Imagine, no more house payments! How liberating! But even if I paid off my mortgage tomorrow, had no student loans or VISA card and more cash than I could count, I would still have a debt. And so do you.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Romans 13:8
It is quite inescapable.
Jesus speaks often about love, and he seems to have especially relished turning tricky questions back on his accusers, with answers that featured love for one another.
In Matthew 22 we read of the Pharisees coming to Jesus and trying to trap him with a question about which of 600 or so commandments they had was most important. Jesus said to them: “Listen you lot. This is the most important. ‘The Lord, your God is one, so love The Lord, your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy. The second is this, love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these. In John 13 we find Jesus tell his followers “A new command, I give to you. Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for each other.”
Later in the New Testament we find the apostle Paul, writing to the church in Galatia, telling them to serve one another in love, that the entire law is summed in a single command: love your neighbor as yourself. He took heed of what Jesus had said. Then there is this interesting next line. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
God doesn't just want an appearance of love. He doesn't want a veneer of politeness that just covers over the offense and the grudges and the bitterness and the distrust that might be underneath. We can be very good at having a veneer of politeness in society, but that's not what true ‘deep love’ is. Real love isn't just a label for some feeling we have. It has become a bit of a Christian cliche, but it is true to say that ‘Love’ is a verb, an action word. Love means that we are doing something. A real ‘deep love’ will show itself in the way we act towards each other, which brings me to the “each other” bit of 1 Peter 4:8.
Just who is it that is meant here? It can actually be easy to talk about loving the ‘lost’, loving those that are ‘out there’. We can quite genuinly intend to love and even experience some feelings of love for those ‘out there’. Perhaps we send some money to support a charity, or consider going on a program to help with aid. We have a love for them. That's true, and that is a real expression of love.
But the danger is that it can be easy to ‘love’ those whose lives are somewhat removed from us, but much harder to love those who are close to us, who share our homes, churches, workplaces, families and towns. Because we know them better. Because we all too readily see, feel and even suffer from their sin!
It's always good to interpret the Bible by seeing what the same author has said elsewhere in the parts of it that they wrote. A little earlier in this letter, Peter wrote this, “Show respect for everyone. Love your Christian brothers and sisters.”
The each other that he's talking about here is, first and foremost, the people that are in the church with you. It's when we show love to each other within the church family that the world will know that we're Jesus’ followers. - “By this shall everyone know that your are my disciples, if you have love for each other”(John 13:35).
James says "How can you love God, whom you don't see, but you don't love your brother, whom you do see?"
It is verses like these that convince me Christianity is a personal, but not a private faith. Despite its many problems and the foibles and failings within, Jesus expects those of us who follow Him, to follow Him into the gathered community of a local congregation. We may indeed provoke much anger and hurt, but we are also to provoke one another to love! (Hebrews 10:24 - many modern version translate ‘provoke’ as ‘spur on’ but it also carries the sharpness of provocation! - see also Acts 15:39)
I am most interested though, in the ‘why’ that this verse gives. “...because love covers a mutlitude of sins”.
That’s awkward dont you think? I mean what kind of covering is it? I can readily imagine people who would be worried and cry “But by covering over the sin you're just sweeping it under the carpet.” That's a bad thing to do, isn't? If You sweep it under the carpet it's all still there. It might be festering. It's maybe rotting. It will get smelly. That's not good. I can just hear the complaint “All this gushy stuff about love. We’ve got to deal with that sin and get rid of it!”
If someone is a really sharp with Bible memory verses they may even recall that in his letter James talks about a ‘multitude of sins’ as well -
“Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:20
“That’s more like it.” my imagined critic might say. “Turn a sinner from their ways - none of this sweeping under the carpet business.”
On seeing sin, some people's first reaction is to shout “repent!” After all, isn't that what the Bible is about? Isn't that what God calls sinners to do? At the start of Jesus’ ministry John the Baptist is going around calling sinners to repent.
It's true that God calls us to repent, but how does God call us to repentance?
I think God calls us in different ways. And if you read through the gospels, you'll find that generally it is those who think they are already the pious religious ones that receive a pretty “in your face” message about repentance. But many others are led to repentance in a quite different manner.
A lovely but challenging verse is this:
“Do you show contempt for the riches of your kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads to repentance?” Romans 2:4
That’s not describing an in your face shout of "Repent or burn", but instead demonstrates that often what it is that calls us to repentance is a patient kindness, God's kindness.
How does God primarily show kindness in our present day? I believe it is through God's people showing kindness. Through God’s people remembering 1 Peter 4:8 above all, and showing ‘deep love’ for one another.
This impacts my understanding of both the Kingdom of God, and of Heaven. We can have this idea that heaven will be all right because everybody else will be perfect then. We won’t have to put up with their faults and sins because they will be sinless. I'm not so sure that that's the right approach!
Heaven won't just be wonderful because everybody else is perfect. Heaven will be wonderful because you will have been made perfect. When you think about it, that's important because otherwise, we have no hope of any measure of heaven here.
If you can't have anything of heaven until everyone else is perfect, then you're going to be miserable while you live here because no one else is going to be perfect.
But if you change your approach to one that recognises that it doesn't depend on them, it depends on you, then you can let love change you. You can become patient and kind. You can have gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (1 Corinthians 13) You can have all those things in your experience now, so that all of a sudden, you're able to enjoy life here and now more. We can see the Kingdom of heaven beginning in our present age!
Following more closely Jesus’ example of Spirit empowered Love, you're able to experience something of the joy of heaven now, because your shortcomings are being dealt with, even if other people's aren't.
That's why 1 Peter 4:8 reminding us about deep love covering a multitude of sins is of huge importance, and why it's good for us to be with other people! So we can practice it!
Earlier I said that this idea of love covering a multitude of sins isn't putting some veneer on top of something that's ugly underneath just to hide it. It's not sweeping things under the carpet. Love doesn't sweep it under the carpet. It's not that kind of covering, but there are some unpleasant things that need to be covered to be made better.
It's been proven that a Band-Aid helps a wound to heal! If you have a wound and you just leave it, it's not so good, but if you cover that wound, it will heal more quickly, and there will be less scarring.
Even without a Band-Aid, the body itself covers a wound! It might not be pleasant to talk about - but a scab forms. We all know that picking the scab is very tempting, but not a good thing to do because it just takes longer to get better!
Remember, love covers a multitude of sins. Not in the way that somebody might sweep things under the carpet and leave it there still to fester, but in the way that a Band-Aid covers a wound, so it can be restored to wholeness and health.
When you love somebody, instead of necessarily confronting them or getting bitter or getting worried about it, if you treat them with love, if you bear all things, if you show patience, if you treat them with kindness, if you deal with the pride that the devil whispers to you to make you feel that you're better than them because you didn't do or say or think what they did or said or thought, then it's like putting a Band-Aid over the wound. You cover that sin, and you don't leave it there so that years later, it's still there ugly and horrible. You cover it so that it can heal.
Love one another. Don't pick at the wounds that our sins have caused. If you pick at the wound that our sin has caused, if you bring it up, if you remember it, if you go on about it, it’s just like picking at a scab - someone will end up scarred. Or worse than scarred, we will all end up as diseased and infected people.
Sadly, too often the church has been guilty of carrying some infections that have hurt us and others. You can probably think of people you have hurt, and of people who have hurt you, of times that you’ve been angry, annoyed, offended, disagreed with other people, all because of sin, theirs and yours.
We haven't been good at remembering this verse. This one that – above all – we ought to hold in our mind and in our heart - to show a real, deep love for each other – because love covers a multitude of sin.
You might not identify with this post, but I really think that we all need our own multitude of sins covered, I know I certainly do.
I think this song “Love Covers” by Rita Springer is such a forceful expression of this truth, take time to listen to it and pray for us all to heed Peter’s command!
Love covers a multitude of sins
it's where resurrection life begins
there is no room for pride
in the cleft of the rock we hide
and love bears all things
seeks not its own
known by the kindness that is shown
love knows it's not its own. Rita Springer
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8