1 Peter – Chapter Four XVIII

by Ed Urzi

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV).

There are few things that cause more harm to the family of God than strife and division among its members. In addition, we set a poor example for those outside the church when we ignore the guidance given to us here in 1 Peter 4:8. But what does this reference to “covering a multitude of sins” really mean?

To gain a better understanding of this phrase, it can help to break this verse down into its individual elements. We can start by noting that the predominant term for “love” in the original language of the New Testament Scriptures is the word agape. It is also the word translated “love” in the passage quoted above. This form of love conveys the idea of affection, goodwill, and benevolence. (1) It also encompasses the qualities of generosity, kindly concern, and devotedness. (2)

Agape represents the type of selfless love that doesn’t ask for anything in return. It involves a commitment to love someone and prioritize that person’s well-being, even if that love is not reciprocated.

The word “cover” is next. One source offers a vivid definition of this word: “[to] throw a veil of oblivion over.(3) This involves the act of shielding another person’s deficiencies from public view and preventing their disclosure to anyone else.

The word “multitude” then follows. Not surprisingly, this word refers to a great numerical value of persons or things. Finally, we have the word “sins.” While “sin” encompasses the inappropriate behaviors we typically associate with that word, it primarily means “to miss the mark or target.” We should note that the person in question may be unaware that he or she has missed the target of God-honoring behavior in certain instances. That factor is one to consider as we seek to apply this verse.

This passage should thus prompt us to think carefully before we publicize the faults, idiosyncrasies, and shortcomings of others within the family of God. This does not mean we should deny the truth about others. Nor does it mean that we are obligated to remain silent regarding behaviors that are illegal, immoral, or unethical. Instead, this type of love accepts others in Christ and refrains from exposing their flaws and imperfections in a way that damages their reputation. As we’re told in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12).

This attitude also aligns with the spirit of Jesus’ message from Matthew 18:21-22…

“Then Peter approached him with the question, ‘Master, how many times can my brother wrong me and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?’ ‘No,’ replied Jesus, ‘not seven times, but seventy times seven!'” (Phillips).

(1) G26 agape Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g26

(2) G26 agape Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/agape

(3) G2572 kalypto Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kalypto