Proverbs 10:12 reads, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” James 5:20, with a similar sound, says, “Let him know, that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and cover a multitude of sins.” Then, in like manner, 1 Peter 4:8 exhorts, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.'” How does love cover, or hide sin? What is the context of these passages?
First, Proverbs 10:12. The context here is that love covers sins in contrast, or contrariwise to how hatred stirs up strifes. Yes, our attitude and behavior can provoke others to sin (Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:21). The tone of our voice and our choice of words matters (Proverbs 15:1). Our influence can lead others to do what is wrong (Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 22:24-25). The godly will be careful in word and deed to keep down, and not bring our sin in others. Any provoking we ought to be “to provoke unto love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
Second, James 5:20. The words are similar. However, the meaning is peculiar to the context. The context here concerns a brother that has erred away from the truth. He has gone away from the right path. The one who helps such a brother back to the right way saves a soul from death (The second death – see Revelation 20:12-15). The one who helps turn (or convert) the brother covers (or hides) a multitude of sins. This is true in the sense that he puts them out of God’s sight (cf. Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19). Brother Guy N. Woods says here, “‘To cover’ sins is therefore, to put them away, cancel them out, forgive them” (cf. Psalm 32:1-2; Romans 4:6-8). Again, he wrote, “It appears to be the design of the writer to point out that the love we have for our brethren prompts us to busy ourselves in their behalf in restoring them to the truth so that God may forgive them and thus cover their sins.”
We need to be concerned about covering sin in this way. In many towns and cities there are by numbers more non-attending church members than there are attending members. Let us busy ourselves in saving their souls from death. Let us hide their sins. Someone has said, “Perhaps the strongest test of brotherly love is the willingness to confront a brother who is involved in sin or error… one of the most unloving acts that one could do – is nothing – when he knows that a brother is being overcome by sin.” Amen!
Third, 1 Peter 4:8. We are to have “sincere love of the brethren” (1 Peter 1:22). We are instructed to “love one another fervently with a pure heart” ( 1 Peter 1:22). The word “fervent” has a couple of meanings. The primary meaning had to do with stretching out the strings on a stringed instrument; In other words, to play with intensity, to play strenuously. The secondary meaning is to do anything with intensity, or strenuously. We are to have intense love for another.
In this context we are told that such love will cover a multitude of sins. Brother Guy N. Woods has written, “When one loves another he forgives; and thus the way to peace and harmony in the church is through fervent love.” This is absolutely true. Moreover, it is true that we are to be a forgiving people (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Matthew 18:23-35). But, nothing in the context suggests that forgiving others is primarily under consideration. Thus, I think the original wording and context of Proverbs 10:12 must be the reference. We are to live in a loving concern for another in every way (including being forgiving).
A fourth wording is not exactly the same but somewhat similar. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that “(Love) bears all things.”
At first glance, one might think of Galatians 6:1-2 or Romans 15:1. Clearly, Christian love “bears” in these ways!
However, the wording here is different. Though it has more than one meaning, here’s what certain lexicons have given for the word “bears” and its original primary meaning, Arndt and Gingrich, “To cover, to keep confidential…” Thayer, “To cover, to protect by covering, to preserve by covering…” Vine’s “primarily to protect or preserve by covering.”
Adam Clark, the commentator wrote, “Perhaps it would be better to take in the sense of contain, keep it as a vessel does liquor [meaning ‘liquid’] love conceals everything that should be concealed. Love betrays no secrets.” This brings to mind Proverbs 25:9b (ASV), “Disclose not the secret of another.” Also, Proverbs 11:13, “A talebearer reveals secrets; but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.”
McCord’s New Testament reads, “(Love) throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person.” In other words, we shouldn’t get joy out of embarrassing others and bring out other embarrassing private things. Listen to Steve Williams, “To show Christian love we should take this approach with other people: Instead of trying to broadcast all the dirt and filth we know about other people through gossip, let us quietly work to help correct their faults.”
It is so important to have such an approach. It is so important that people can confided in us and place their confidence in us. It is so important that others be able to come to us with their problems and struggles, asking for help (cf. James 5:16) without being hindered by the thought that if they do the next day everyone in the church, or neighborhood, or community might know.
In different context the wording carries somewhat different and distinct ideas. However, the wording also has an over-riding similarity in meaning. This meaning is that true love does what it can to get rid of sin. True love seeks to (1) keep it down; (2) help overcome it; (3) dwell harmoniously one with another; (4) be trust-worthy, worthy of confidence.
May we strive to so live.