The Bible has a lot to say about love. What it looks like. How it behaves. What it does not do, and more. In the New Testament, Peter gives the following instruction about love.
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. The gospel of John records how Jesus makes this very clear.
“If you love me, keep my commands…Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” … “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:15,21-22,23-24).
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
But does this love really cover a multitude of sins? Is this covering of sin a new concept under the new covenant? What does it mean to cover sin?
Not a New Concept
The covering of sin is a subject throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, sometimes the word cover is used.
Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins (Proverbs 10:12).
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Psalm 32:1).
You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins (Psalm 85:2).
Other times the word cover is not used.
He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel (Leviticus 16:15-17).
The word that speaks of covering here is atonement. In Hebrew, it’s the word kaphar meaning to cover over, pacify, make propitiation.
What Kind of Love Covers
Peter instructs us to have fervent love. What is this fervent love? The Greek word used is ektenés, meaning stretched, zealous, earnest. It means to be intent, constant, strenuous, intense; met: earnest, zealous.
This love we are commanded to have that is said to cover a multitude of sins, is to be “fully extended to its necessary outcome.”
To Cover Is to Forgive
One way love covers sin is through forgiveness. We see how God’s great love for us did this through his Son, Jesus Christ.
But God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, AMP).
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).
Because God loves us, he forgives. He wants us to forgive others through the power of love also.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him… And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 John 4:7-9,16).
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
To Cover Is to Give Grace
Another way love covers sin is through the power of grace. The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith.
Although when we are born again, we receive a new nature, we need the grace of God to teach us the new way to live.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:11-12).
Noah needed grace when he laid uncovered in his tent after drinking too much wine. Ham, Noah’s youngest son, exposed him to his brothers.
This lack of grace brought a curse upon him. However, Noah’s two eldest sons graciously covered him and were blessed for doing so.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth” (Genesis 9:20-23).
Grace covers sin by privately confronting it and allowing the guilty party to repent.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15).
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
Yes, a Multitude
We can sin in a multitude of ways, and there is not a sin great enough or bad enough that God cannot forgive when we bring it to him. Remember, God is love.
When we love others, we’re being like God. When we have fervent love as Peter instructs us to, we love with intention.
Our intentional love covers a multitude of sins through forgiveness, grace, and restoration after repentance.
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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn, Love’s Manifesto, Because You Matter, and hosts the Victorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/