“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’’
~1 Peter 4:8
This verse did not make sense to me. Well, on one level it did: When we really love someone, we can choose to overlook their sins and shortcomings. We can have grace with them. But what does it really mean to “cover” someone’s sins? This verse would make sense if it were talking about how God’s love covers sins – He has the power and right to forgive sins. But the verse is in the context of our love for one another, not God’s love for us. How does this make sense? The last I checked, I don’t have the power to forgive sin!
I still don’t claim to fully understand. But I started thinking about who it is that’s writing this verse. It’s Peter. He’s quoting Proverbs 10:12. But Peter, if anyone, knew this verse by experience, not just head knowledge. When Peter denied Jesus at His trial, Luke 22:61 says that “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.” I don’t know exactly what kind of look this was, but my guess is that it must have been something like Mark 10:21 where with the rich young ruler, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” There must have been something in the look of Christ. Something that could look at someone in the midst of their bad decisions, rejection, or denial of Him, and love them.
The book Desire of Ages describes the scene this way: “At the same time Peter’s eyes were drawn to his Master. In that gentle countenance he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there. The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow” (p. 714). That look converted Peter. Luke 22:62 says that he “went out and wept bitterly.” His proud heart was broken. Jesus had tried to warn him of his weakness, tried to help him see his need to watch and pray, but the Savior’s look of love, in the midst of his sin and failure, was the one thing that finally reached him. Yes, love covered his sin that day. Not just as Jesus hung on the cross to die for it, but as that love brought him to a point of true surrender and repentance.
A friend shared a quote with me the other day that relates: “Should a brother go astray, then is the time to show your real interest in him. Go to him kindly, pray with and for him, remembering the infinite price which Christ has paid for his redemption. In this way, you may save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins.” (Counsels to the Church, p. 174).
So how does our love cover a multitude of sins? When we choose to love like Christ did, to truly come beside someone and care for them, in the midst of their sin – even their sin against us – that love doesn’t just overlook sin. That love has changing power. It has true converting power. It may be what saves a soul.