Love covers a multitude of sins.
This saying is not as well known as other sayings that I have covered in previous blogs, but it seems to come up regularly in sermons with no context and without much explanation. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I hope to give you a better understanding of what it really means to love until it hurts.
The saying in question is taken from 1 Peter 4:8. “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (NASB) Peter starts by saying “above all” – not as if everything he said beforehand was meaningless, but because in the midst of the heavy persecution that this particular community was facing, it was imperative that the entire community “keep loving one another earnestly” (ESV) in order to survive. Peter previously commanded “love one another deeply from the heart” (NIV) in 1:22, using the same phrase in the original language but adding “from the heart” to further clarify what he means. This love is agape in the Greek and prior to Jesus was only thought to be unconditional love shown by God to humans. When Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love (agape) one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34) He shattered the paradigm that only God could love like this. Not only would God show his agape love toward us by dying for us, but He would give us the ability to agape love each other.
The word translated previously in other versions as fervent, earnest, and deeply can be literally translated “strained” or “stretched.” Howard Marshall comments in his book 1 Peter “this love will be stretched to the limit by the demands made on it. Let us remind ourselves that Christian love means caring for other people in their needs and that such care will be accompanied by a growing affection for them. Many people are prepared to care for others; they are less ready to have affection for them and to demonstrate it. It requires love at full stretch to do this.” (p. 143) In other words, if we are to truly love one another, we have to love them even when the relationship becomes strained – even when it stretches us to the breaking point. Think of Jesus when He stretched out His arms to die for you.
It is this stretched out love that “covers a multitude of sins.” Peter says earlier that Jesus’ death took away our sins (2:24, 3:18) so he is not saying that if we love each other that we somehow negate Jesus’ accomplishment on the cross. Think of it this way: if you have a stain on the carpet, you can cover it with a rug or furniture or find a good stain remover that will cover it with bleach and make it less noticeable, but that stain is still there. That is what we should do as we agape love each other. We know that we are all guilty of a multitude of sins, but we cover up the sins of others in our own eyes and love them anyway. We do as Paul says love does in 1 Corinthians 13:5, keeping “no record of wrongs.” In other words, we don’t write out lists and expect an apology for each wrong committed against us before we start loving that person again.
But God does what we cannot. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He brings the steam cleaner with him. The stain of a multitude of sins in our hearts is washed away by the blood of Christ who died in our place. What once could only be covered by love is now washed away. On Valentine’s Day, many think of romantic love or their lack of it, but perhaps this blog will challenge you to think of that one person who stretches you the most. Love them anyway. Heed what Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love (agape) one another.”