Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Part Two


[I. Introduction] Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8; ESV)


Last week, by God’s grace, we saw that apostle Peter places a great deal of importance on loving one another. He concludes his letter to the church with “above all.” This is after giving a large number of divinely inspired directives to his readers. Even though the many things he wrote were important, he says, “Above all…” Above all these other things, keep loving one another! Why? Because love covers a multitude of sins!


We also saw that “cover” means to forgive. Love makes it easy to forgive others.


[A.] We must cover the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the great need. The great need exists not because the degrees of sin are great, that is, serious transgressions of God’s law like adultery, fornication, murder, and the like. Although, they can be.


This might be the right moment to assert a foundational doctrine that everyone should know, but strange ideas creep into the church so it is worth a restatement. All sins are serious, but some sins are more serious than others. All sins are not equal. We know this from a multitude of Scriptures. Just to give one: When Jesus was in dialogue with Pontius Pilate he said,  “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11, ESV)


But, common sense informs us as well.


  • To murder someone is worse than calling them a name.
  • To actually commit adultery is worse than the thought.
  • To speak ill of Jesus is worse than to speak ill of the President.


We have a great need to cover the sins of our brothers and sisters because the number of sins is great. We will see the sins of our fellow Christians, our husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and parents. If we love them we will forgive them.


[B.] We must cover the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ because our sins will only be covered by God the same way that we cover others. In Luke 6:37-38 we read:    “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”


This passage of Scripture refers to the family forgiveness that we need from the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ. If we do not forgive others then we will not be forgiven.


[C.] We also saw that we must cover the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ because it measures whether love or hate predominates in our hearts.


When the apostle Peter wrote the words that we have been studying, he was quoting a proverb. It is Proverbs 10:12.


Hatred stirs up strife,

but love covers all offenses.



Solomon is contrasting two dispositions of the human heart towards those who offend, those who sin against you. One is love. This was the part of the proverb that Peter quoted. When love is present in the heart of the sinned-against there is the initiative, desire, and fruition of forgiveness.


When hatred is present in the heart of the sinned-against there is an initiative and desire to say something either to or about the person who did the sinning.

Therefore, according to Scripture, whether we cover a sin reveals whether we have hatred or love in our hearts.


[II. Asking for forgiveness and Not asking for forgiveness] To cover a sin means to forgive a sin. An important question to consider when it comes to covering the sins of others, to forgive sins, is: should the person ask for forgiveness? Should the person be made aware of their sin, if they are not already, and should they seek to be forgiven?


In answering this question we must derive our response from Scripture and not from pop psychology. According to pop psychology the primary reason for forgiveness is the mental health of the one forgiving. While it is true that there are psychological benefits to forgiveness, this is not the goal of forgiveness between persons in the Bible. Forgiveness between both God and man, as well as between people, has as its goal reconciliation: a harmony in relationship.


Although Christ is the ground of all forgiveness of sin and such forgiveness is freely given, there are conditions that precede receiving this forgiveness, such as faith (Rom. 3:24–26).

This is an important principle: while God’s love is unconditional, His forgiveness of sin is conditional.


This is true with respect to our being forgiven by God. David wrote:    For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

                        through my groaning all day long.

            For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

                        my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

            I acknowledged my sin to you,

                        and I did not cover my iniquity;

            I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

                        and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

(Psalm 32:3-5 ESV)


Acknowledgment of sin, confession of sin, came first then came forgiveness. Before David acknowledged his sin, when he was silent, he did not receive forgiveness. God’s hand was heavy upon him.


One of Jesus’ most famous sayings is this: I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3 ESV) We have a little tract that we distribute entitled, “Repent or Perish.” That is the message of Christ, John the Baptist, the apostles, and the church throughout the ages. Forgiveness is conditional.


The condition is the same for forgiveness between people.        Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

(Luke 17:3-4 ESV)


Note the condition: If he repents, forgive him…


The answer, then, is “Yes, a person who sins should be made aware of their sin (if not already), confess it, and ask for forgiveness.” But, that is not always the answer.


Consider the words of Jesus on the cross. He is suffering unbearable torment. In the midst of his suffering he prays this: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV) No one had asked Jesus for forgiveness, yet he asked the Father to forgive his murderers.


 Stephen prayed along these lines in Acts, chapter seven:          And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

(Acts 7:59-60 ESV) No one had asked Stephen for forgiveness.


What we can learn from all these passages, and we could add many more, is this: God requires repentance before forgiveness and we ought to as well. However, the option is available for the one who has been sinned against to forgive first. When this option should be exercised is a matter of both discernment and wisdom.


One could spend hours on the merits or demerits of such actions. In the two examples of asking forgiveness that we just read – Jesus and Stephen – the sin was one of the very worst: murder. Therefore, the decision to forgive or not to forgive cannot be based solely upon the grievousness of the sin. There is more than one factor to consider when choosing to forgive when the offender has not asked for forgiveness.


I wish us to consider just one of those factors this morning. When the apostle Paul was writing to the Colossian church he wrote this: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

(Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)


Please notice three things about this passage.


  • We are to bear with one another. What does that imply? [Answer: that we will all be doing things that take bearing!] You do not have to bear up under getting massages and free ice cream. Most of us would gladly receive those things! We must bear up under actions that are hard to take. Most of the time that means behavior that is not in line with godliness. In other words, sin!
  • Second, IF there is a complaint, forgive. What Paul is saying here is that sometimes there will be a vocalizing and sometimes there will not. Either way, forgive!
  • Third, we are to forgive in the same way Christ forgives us. Oh, this is good! How does Christ forgive us?


In a verse that almost every Christian knows is the answer. In I John 1:9 (probably most of us have this verse memorized) we have: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(1 John 1:9 ESV)


Let me ask this: When you confess your sins to the Lord you confess what you are aware of. Are there also sins that you are not aware of? Most certainly there are! Do you get forgiveness for those also? [Answer: Yes!! “…and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”) If we only received forgiveness for what we confessed alone then most of us would be in a great deal of trouble!


Well, this is the way we should forgive others! This principle is also in I Corinthians 13:5. The NASB has: [love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,


The NIV has:  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.


The HCSB has: does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.


From these three passages of Scripture (Col 3:12; I John 1:9; and I Cor 13:5) we can conclude that it is quite appropriate and conducive to harmony in the church and in our family to cover the sins of our loved ones without them even being brought up.


Experience teaches us that this should especially be the case when it comes to what we would call small sins (and this is also implied in both the Colossian and Corinthian passages). There is a name for these sins and it is a word that is not found in the Bible but it is a perfectly good word. It is not “venial.” The division of “mortal” and “venial” sins that was created by the RC church is without biblical foundation and diminishes or eradicates the sacrifice of Christ. The passages that we have read have little to do with Christ’s sacrifice for sins but, rather, the family forgiveness that we all seek as we desire harmonious relationships with one another.


So, there is a name for what most believers recognize as small sins. Does anyone know what that might be? The answer is “peccadillo.” We are all guilty of peccadillos. Think about how miserable life could get if every tiny infraction that we were guilty of were brought to our attention? Love overlooks these and places a greater premium on harmony and peace than on getting every wrong righted.


A Christian shared this story: My father was fatally ill, and as I watched the precious life ebbing away, I was overcome with remorse at the thought that I must often have grieved that loving heart with my careless ingratitude and thoughtless disobedience. Penitently I begged his forgiveness for my wrongdoings in the past. With a look of ineffable love in his pain-dimmed eyes, he said, "I can't remember that you ever did anything wrong." I had expected instant forgiveness, but was not prepared for the full measure of pardon which I received. He could not remember my wrongs because of his great love for me. How like the Heavenly Father's love for us all! "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12).


This is the kind of love that we should have for our family members, but also for our brothers and sisters in Christ.


[III. Application & Conclusion] How can we cover the sins of others? We cover them by loving the person. This is Peter’s admonition. “Above all, keep loving one another for love covers a multitude of sins.” Then how do I love them? You love them by forgiving them. You see, love is not a feeling. Love is the mindset to will the best for another. Often, what is the best is for you to forgive.


Do you know what you might just discover? You might discover that you do have better feelings for them than you had once you begin forgiving.

The great need of the church is love. In 1765 John Fawcett was called to pastor a very small congregation at Wainsgate, England. He labored there diligently for 7 years, but his salary was so meager that he and his wife could scarcely obtain the necessities of life. Though the people were poor, they compensated for this lack by their faithfulness and warm fellowship.

Then Dr. Fawcett received a call from a much larger church in London, and after lengthy consideration decided to accept the invitation. As his few possessions were being placed in a wagon for moving, many of his parishioners came to say good-bye. Once again they pleaded with him to reconsider.

Touched by this great outpouring of love, he and his wife began to weep. Finally Mrs. Fawcett exclaimed, “O John, I just can’t bear this. They need us so badly here.” “God has spoken to my heart, too!” he said. “Tell them to unload the wagon! We cannot break these wonderful ties of fellowship.”

This experience inspired Fawcett to write a hymn. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love! The fellowship of kindred mind is like to that above.”



Let the covering of sin be preeminent in our homes and in our fellowship.