Love Covers Over a Multitude of Sins- 1 Peter 4:8

In our previous post, we saw how Peter tells us that living in a world which will see believers as strange and “heap abuse” upon them will require much prayer, will require that we spend time seeking God and learning to listen to Him, rather that merely talking to Him. The type of prayer he refers to requires two prerequisites, that we be “clear minded and self-controlled”. These two words refer to focus and attitude. The focus being that we pray with a clear minded focus solely upon God and free from the distractions which our enemy will use to keep use from this sort of prayer. The attitude being that we recognize who we are in light of who God is, that we pray in the attitude of one seeking to know His will in order that we may carry it out in our lives. We then find, in verse 8, what praying in this manner will produce in our lives in terms of our relation to others. Peter begins this verse with the phrase “above all”, then tells us to “love one another deeply”. The phrase “above all” here alerts us to the importance of what is to follow, that a life of prayer described in verse 7 will first and foremost produce what he is above to describe in verse 8. The word produce is used deliberately here, for what he is about to “command” is not really a command at all. The phrase translated as “love each other deeply” is literally “keep on having the love for one another earnestly and intensely”. What is interesting here is Peter’s use not of the imperative verb (a command), but of the present participle, which tells us that this life of love described here need not be commanded, but will be the normal result of the life of prayer referred to in verse 7. A life lived with the attitude described in verses 1 and 2, and in the prayer described in verse 7 will naturally result in the fruit described in verse 8, will produce the “love” referred to there. It must be noted here that Peter uses the definite article before love in this verse, showing he does not refer here to love in general, but to a specific aspect of love, a specific “type” of love, a love that “covers over a multitude of sins”. On first look, this seems a very unusual thing for “love” to do, for we generally are to expose sin, not cover it over. So what does Peter mean here? It was generally concluded, by the early church fathers, that Peter had in mind here the OT idea from Proverbs 10:12, which tells us that “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs”. This OT passage deals primarily with our interactions with others, contrasting love with conflict, and this is likely what Peter has in mind here as well. We are told here that this love is to be for “one another”, for other believers, to “cover over” the sins of our fellow believers, which still sounds rather strange. The key to understanding what Peter is saying here is found in the word “sins”. Peter uses the Greek word hamartia here, in its noun form. The word hamartia means to miss the mark, to come up short, and refers primarily to our shortcomings. He does not have in mind here outright rebellion, or deliberate disobedience to a command of God, but to our human shortcomings, to places in which our character and behavior are not what God would want them to be, to our human weaknesses and character flaws. The tendency in the world is to broadcast the shortcomings of others, to discover them and use them to manipulate others or take advantage of their shortcomings to our own gain. The attitude in the world is to discover the flaws, weaknesses and shortcomings of others and use them to our own advantage, and the attitude which Peter tells us a life of prayer produces is the exact opposite of this. When we pray as admonished in verse 7, as we spend time in the presence of God with the proper focus and attitude, we will see ourselves as we really are, we will see more clearly our own flaws and shortcomings, and not go looking to broadcast and take advantage of the flaws and shortcomings of others, but rather to “cover them over” with prayer, praying that God would help others see and overcome their own shortcomings and character flaws just as we pray that He would help us overcome our own.

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