How Does Love Cover Sins?
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1Peter 4:8, NIV)
Types of Love
There are primarily four root words for “love” in the original Greek language of the Bible—only three of which are used in the New Testament (and these are all often combined with various participles to form the other words). These words are agapé, phileo, and stergo (eros is the one not used in the NT, and it is the Greek word for physical attraction and lovemaking). In other words, whereas English speaking people today might say “I love pizza” and “I love my wife,” the Greek speaking people of Peter’s day had a different word for each. (And we all certainly hope there is a significant difference in which type of love the person is expressing for pizza and their wife.)
The first type of “love” (agapé) is a covenant-based love that is by decision, rather than by feeling. This is the one we are talking about in this blog post, and which we are commanded to walk according to as Christians. The second (phileo) is a soul-based affection, and can be for people or things.
The third (stergo) is familial love—such as the love we all should have for our children, siblings, parents and other relatives. This is a kind of love that causes family members to bond together, protect each other, and take care of each other (even if they do not particularly like each other). This form of “love” within the world—exhibited even among non-believers—is somewhat comparable the Christian agapé that should be demonstrated among believers (i.e. we should “stick together” because we all are of the family of God). Interestingly, this word is used also in the NT in the negative (astorgos) in Romans 1:31 and 2Timothy 3:3, where Paul was discussing the depravity of some people in the last days as being “without natural affection” (KJV). (You learn more about stergo by examining also what Jesus said in Mark 13:12 about these same end-time reprobates, and comparing that with what Paul said about taking care of relatives in 1Timothy 5:8.)
Now, let’s examine the differences between these “love” types by using a marriage metaphor…
The Four Loves in Display
A man should demonstrate agapé to his wife because of the covenant he made before God when he committed to her in marriage—regardless of how he “feels” towards her at any particular time. However, if their relationship has grown “platonic” (lukewarm, business-like) over time, then the fires can be easily rekindled.
To begin, the husband should start “fanning the flames” of their relationship by consistently acting on covenant-based agapé-love by praying for his wife (according to HER needs, not his wants) and doing things that he knows will please her…like doing the dishes, taking her out for dinner (instead of asking “what’s for dinner?”), surprising her with flowers/gifts (within their budget, of course), and speaking sincere words of edification (i.e. compliments, NOT complaints). As he does this, the husband will eventually begin to re-experience phileo (affection) for her within his OWN emotions as his commitment to agapé-love her is manifest day-in and day-out. In short, he will begin having fun doing acts of agapé and fall in love with her all over again.
This combination of agapé and phileo shown by the husband should result in his wife recipricating such agapé and phileo towards him (after she recovers from shock) because “what soever a man sows, that he shall also reap” (Galatians 6:7-10). Such reciprocating agapé and phileo will cause them both to regain their “newlywed” behavior and will subsequently result also in frequent and passionate displays of eros between them. (Note: According to God’s Word, such physical intimacy is ONLY supposed to happen within the covenant of marriage between a husband and his wife. Anything else is sin.) If the couple is still within the years of their youth, the fruit of this eros (children) will provide ample opportunity to display stergo (familial love) as this growing family then cares one for another and provides for each other. 😉
(And, of course, all of the above can be done in reverse: The wife taking the initiative to rekindle the flames within the marriage.)
Now that we have a basic understanding of the various forms of love, let’s get back to discussing the agapé-love Peter is admonishing us about in our passage above. Remember: we are discovering how to “cover” sins in the God-kind of love—agapé. (Now, don’t let yourself get too distracted with that metaphor above!)
There can be a thousand opinions about how “love” covers the multitude of sins. However, “opinions” are like belly buttons: Everyone has one, they are not good for anything…and they need to be cleaned out once in a while to avoid causing infection. (Yes, I added that last part to this classic saying.)
What we really need to do is to properly discern what God Himself is expecting of us Christians. When we stand before Him, He is NOT going to commend us on our “opinions” but rather He will judge us for our application of His Word to our lives (or lack thereof). Thus, we need to “rightly divide the Word of truth” as 2Timothy 2:15 admonishes us—and then apply it. And the only way we can “rightly” assess how we are to walk in love, therefore, is to study and remember Who Love is…God Himself:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:8, NIV)
(Just in case we did not get it the first time, the apostle John then repeated himself in v. 16 saying simply, “God is love” which is literally “God is agapé.”)
Since “God is Love” then we can easily end all argument about how to “walk in love” by simply observing God’s own revealed character in the Bible. Since everything agapé love is God is, then we can “translate and meditate” as one minister often says, and discover the true meaning of our discussion text. Thus, the logical equivalent then of our text in 1Peter is:
“God covers over a multitude of sins.” ( 1Peter4:8 in the light of 1John4:8 )
Can we determine clearly from the Scriptures how God covers the multitude of sins? Yes, we can. Consequently, we can discern how to walk in agapé-love (and cover the multitude of sins) by examining agapé-love in the light of God’s revealed nature and character in the Bible. Too often, we Christians have tried to understand God within the context of our warped opinions about love rather than understanding love by studying the One Who personifies agapé-love—Our Heavenly Father.
Moreover, Jesus (in Hebrew, “Yeshua”) is not only revealed in the Bible as God’s Son but Jesus is also revealed to have been “God manifest in the flesh” (1Timothy 3:16). Therefore, studying the person of Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha Meshiach) in the Gospels will reveal to us what “love manifest in the flesh” is supposed to look like within our own lives.
In our following installments of this series we will examine HOW God Himself covers the multitude of sins—and consequently, how we should too. We will also examine Jesus and His personality as revealed by the Gospels to see even more clearly how Christians today should look if they are walking in the “perfected love” John discussed in his first epistle.