What sins DOES Love cover a multitude of?

How many of you have wrestled with what Peter means when he says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) or when John tells disciples who see a brother or sister sin a “sin not unto death” to pray for that person in order for that sin to be forgiven? (1 John 5:16)

Consider this, as well: How many times would God only hear and forgive persons when someone specifically chosen by God interceded for them? I can think of Abraham praying for Abimelech (even though Abraham had effectively caused the sin), Moses for Israel, Job for his friends, and so on. God would only hear the prayers of a righteous man in these instances. As a result, I have become inclined to think that the blind man Jesus healed was correct in his supposition that, “We know God does not hear sinners.” (John 9:31)

Of course, if a person is penitent, like the tax collector Jesus used for an example (Luke 18:13) or a man seeking God, as Cornelius was, then God’s promise is true: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)

Anyway, all hat to try and unravel this particular knot of what kind of sins does our love cover and what are these sins we are to pray for for the sake of others? It appears, to me, that these must be sins of ignorance on the part of the offender. In other words, we may feel and know that what a person has done is an offense to us, someone else or God, but since we are also to bear with the weak in faith, the weak minded, and new Christians, doesn’t this indicate that it is far better for us to overlook certain things than to condemn them at first sight? Now, remember, I am approaching this from the view of these being sins of ignorance (call them tactless sins, maybe).

I may not approve of the TV shows a new Christian watches. Am I to condemn these shows outright and make the new Christian feel that they are thereby in danger of damnation? I don’t think so. I believe that what we are supposed to do (and it has taken me quite a while to reach this conclusion) is bear with this for a time, for a season in which we bring our concerns to God and ask the Holy Spirit to convict these new babes of what is not pleasing to God and convince them of what they should do. After this season of faithful prayer and consistent right living on our part, we should not be surprised to see changes in this person’s life in the areas we are concerned about. On the other hand, if no changes become evident, then we might want to consider another approach.

Here is an example of what I am speaking of. Any input or advice is much appreciated, as I have not completely satisfied myself as to how to answer this, but here goes:

I have an acquaintance who has, for over two years, claimed to be a believer, and with whom I have been a confidant of sorts concerning her marriage. She has a lot of issues that we have discussed and some of my scriptural advice she seems to have taken to heart. On the other hand, though I have been adamant about what I believe the Lord says are very limited reasons for divorce and remarriage, these things she has been resistant to. Number one, her first husband has never been sexually unfaithful to her, and as far as I can tell, she doesn’t admit to having cheated on him. As a result I have simply directed her to Paul’s admonitions in 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 7:1-3.
Another issue was baptism. I explained the necessity of it, gave her literature about it, and she even attends a church which supposedly teaches it as a necessary response to the gospel. However, to the best of my knowledge, she has never followed through on this.
So, just this past week I received an email from her letting me know that she is now married to the man she was seeing for the last six months. I was never informed of any divorce, so this was quite a surprise. On top of this, she seemed quite pleased to inform me that her first husband actually Emceed the wedding, providing the music and that her own daughter ..by this first husband.. walked her down the aisle.
My reaction? I was disgusted. Primarily because she felt that having her first husband there condoning it, and her daughter “giving her away” made everything just fine. To me…it was just typical American dys-functionality on parade and she doesn’t even realize it as such.
Based on my own prayers concerning this and the fact that she has been previously advised by me to not follow this path, I don’t believe I need to swoosh down on her and overtly rebuke her. She knows what she is doing is wrong. She just simply has chosen to reject God’s advice and take her own path.

So, as regards my earlier quandary, does this situation even apply to Peter and James’ admonitions? I don’t believe so, because this IS a sin unto death, in my view. This person has rejected the Word of God, knowingly or even willfully ignorantly, and I don’t know that my prayers can now afford her any protection or forgiveness.

Any thoughts?


18 responses to this post.

  1. I wouldn’t know what else to do but to love her all the more.

    We all do things we ought not, and we all don’t do things that we should.

    But the Lord died for ALL our sins. We can’t out-sin His love for us.

    My two cents.

    Thanks PK. I hope you are well!

    – Steve

  2. Steve,

    You have touch on a topic that could be debated from both sides of the aisle.

    I think we must look at “love” in the context of the whole body of Christ, a “church” context, which incorporates the spiritual health of that body.

    In todays climate of anything goes, in the church proper, anyone trying to discharge the duty of an “elder” may find that he is not displaying love by following the dictates of Jesus.

    If a person is penitent, as you point out, no problem. In the case of new converts our ways and manners of discharging this duty should be done out with prudence, tenderness, and regard for the circumstances, whether serious or minor. The whole goal is repentance. The whole idea is to gain the offender into a growing fellowship with mature Christians.

    Today, because of this serious fault in the body, the body has exposed itself to scandal, and all our dirty laundry has been opened to the public.

    The seriousness of the things you bring up is the very thing that has been at the core of the putrid decay of institutional Christianity. They simply have not addressed these issues. The primary reason is that these people are probably not Christians to begin with. They have no love of the truth, and the love they receive from the faithful should be the love of “touch not the unclean thing.”

    Your reaction of disgust is very much the proper reaction. This perverted nonsense has become the “norm” in almost every church, and it is appalling. I think the Apostle Paul would have much to say if he were here, and so should we. Evil has become good, and good, evil.

    Steve Blackwell

  3. How many times did Jesus say to forgive?

    The gospel is what changes hearts. Not the law.

    Yeah, you could just abandon her.

    Is there something in your own ife where you just won’t toe the line?

    Are you using your spare time to visit the prisoners, and the elderly and homeless, and giving most of what you have to the poor and living on a thin margin of income?
    I’m sure you are, otherwise maybe you’re disgust at this woman would not be so great.

  4. What is so hard to see in this situation? Well, I can imagine that it is hard to see from the perspective of most who are inside the institution because it has been this way for so long, it just seems like the right thing to do is just utter those magic words, “I forgive you,” but the problem persist. There is a time when our simply mouthing loving words is not love at all, but we actually sanctifying sin and making it holy; we end up commissioning sin by not confronting it. So, today we have the body filled with fornicators because we refuse to obey and find sin repulsive.

    I can forgive sins that are committed against me seven times seventy, but I cannot forgive sins committed against the Lord.

    If the law isn’t the issue here then why ask about the amount of time spent doing good deeds? Is this some kind of requirement? If not then why mention it?

    As far as abandonment? No one is saying such a thing; she has abandoned the Church, but no doubt hangs around to get feel good sermons that allow her, not only to stagnate, but to grow in sin and infidelity.

    The commercial church is filled to overflowing with this kind of stuff, and yes, it is repulsive.

    Steve Blackwell

  5. Do you not think that the sins that you commit are not against the Lord?

    I don’t think you really take sin seriously. It is not just what we ought not do. A much longer list is all the things that we ought be doing but that we won’t do.

    When someone is in the church and flaunts or advocates sin, they ought be dealt with. We cannot have that person poisoning the whole congregation. But other sins of the nature that we all commit ought be dealt with by the pastor in proclaing God’s law (in a sermon or teaching) and then announcing what God has done about that sin in Christ Jesus.

    Otherwise, we’ll just become a bunch of self-righteous Pharisees who’s feet don’t stink.

  6. theoldadam,

    I’m not trying to be disagreeable, but I honestly don’t know where you are coming from. We are addressing Steve’s article, and somehow you are trying to make this about me.

    Is there something in your own ife where you just won’t toe the line?

    Are you using your spare time to visit the prisoners, and the elderly and homeless, and giving most of what you have to the poor and living on a thin margin of income?

    Do you not think that the sins that you commit are not against the Lord?

    I don’t think you really take sin seriously. It is not just what we ought not do. A much longer list is all the things that we ought be doing but that we won’t do.

    It is very hard to continue in a conversation when personal attacks are being thrown around. After, you don’t know anything about me, or my life, so these comments are a distraction from the real issues being talked about, so please don’t do that.

    Yes, I do take sin very seriously, and that is why I have taken leave of the commercial church, because sin is as bad inside the walls as outside, as the lady mentioned by Steve illustrates. This is the run of the mill Christian today, and there is really no need to worry about poisoning the rest of the congregation, because most of them are either doing the same thing or accept it as normal.

    Sins, in the body, are not the Pastors job to deal with; it is the duty of the whole body to address these things, not just one person. This is another thing that is haywire in commercial church. We are to present each other holy unto the Lord. Killing sin in our own lives, and exposing sin in others, is a life long task for believers; it is everyday and always. Sinners cannot wait for a Sunday sermon to hopefully pinpoint their particular sin; sins would be heaped up by then.

    Romans 8:13b states, “…If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

    To correctly understand this short verse is to understand just how serious sin really is.

    The word “If” is conditional, and crucial. Conditional words imply an uncertainty of the events promised, in this case it would be the promise “ye shall live.” Your doctor might say, “if you take this medicine you will get better. Getting well is conditional on taking the medicine.

    Who is Paul speaking to? He is speaking to believers. “If ye…,” believers. Even the most holy saints who seek to remain sinless must make this their daily job.

    The Holy Spirit is the means whereby sin is mortified. This is the point misunderstood by those who would put heavy yokes on the necks of the brethren. Any other way of mortifying sin is vain and useless. Mortification based on human strength and doing things, even for the Lord, are useless. A list of good deeds and man-made schemes always ends in self-righteousness. This is the essence of all false religions, and most of Christianity. We trick ourselves into thinking that the more I do for the Lord the better person I will become.

    Are you using your spare time to visit the prisoners, and the elderly and homeless, and giving most of what you have to the poor and living on a thin margin of income?

    Do you see where these comments are a heavy yoke you were trying to place on my neck, “that you nor your fathers were able to bear”?

    Our real duty, as Paul continues is to “mortify the deeds of the body.” This is the real spiritual discipline that we should be about on a daily bases. The “body” is the embodiment of warped and perverted affections, and the seat of all our lust. Jesus also instructed us to “die to our desires.” The “deeds” can be found in a long list given by Paul in Gal. 5:19, and Paul says they are “manifest” which means they are unmistakable. To “mortify” is to literally put to death the “old man”, along with its faculties, properties, wisdom, craft, subtlety, and strength. These things must be slain by the cross of Jesus. If ye will do these things, THROUGH THE SPIRIT, ye shall live; if ye do not, you will die.

    This short verse tells the seriousness of sin and the consequences on our present personal life, and life in community with others.

    This is the thing that is missing in commercial Christianity. The organized Church has very little interest in the lives of its members to accomplish this mortification because how can you expect this in the lives of others when we ourselves are living carnal undisciplined lives. The answer to that is that sin gets accepted, but just try and keep it off the front page of the morning paper.

    Steve Blackwell

  7. “Are you using your spare time to visit the prisoners, and the elderly and homeless, and giving most of what you have to the poor and living on a thin margin of income?”

    Just doing to you what Jesus did to the men about to stone the woman.

    If you think you are doing a pretty good job in the sin department, then I pity you.

    And that is all I’ll say on the subject.

    Take care, and God bless.

  8. I am not trying to stone anyone. What are you saying? And, what do you mean by, “If you think you are doing a pretty good job in the sin department…” Why do you keep attacking me? Would you say the same thing to Paul who admonishes us to separate ourselves from those who continue in sin? Would you ask Paul how he is doing in the sin department? Does Paul mean to insinuate that he is without sin? Neither do I! And, nowhere have I insinuated that.

    Steve Blackwell

  9. It’s the attitude. You are better than she is. You are not. You continue to sin, do you want people to separate themselves from you?

    The Pharisees had Moses,the Law, the Prophets, the Scriptures, but Christ had a real problem with them because they thought they were better than other people and had not love, no grace.

    I’m not judging you, but I am saying we ought think about our own condtion before we start treating people like REAl sinners…the kind we know WE ARE.

    As I have said before, if this woman was flaunting or advocating sin inside the church, she cannot be allowed to do that. But I don’t think that is what has happened here.

  10. Where do you propose we draw a line against sin? I believe your kind of Christianity will not love people into heaven, but you may very well love them into hell. We have given sinner free rein to sin all they want. They have a licence to continue in whatever they want, as long as they don’t make a scene.

    Do you even realize what you are saying? You are saying as long as she acts like a Christian on Sunday, what she does, or how she acts, the rest of the week is none of the Churches business. She cannot be allowed to be herself inside the sacred walls of your precious building? How hypocritical you are; you should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t you know that the people are the Church, seven days a week, and that it is not some building thrown together by men?

    Christ did have a problem with the people you mention, but it was because they had wrapped themselves around an organization and a system of worship, instead of Spirit and truth.

    I say this with all earnestness and sincerity; you are part of the religious machine, and you don’t know it. You are part of the system that Jesus spoke against.

    This lady along with millions of others, just like her, are led to believe that if they will go to “church” their life will somehow be alright. They pay their dues and attend the meetings for years, and their life crumbles around them, but as long as she continues in the lie, and puts on airs, and restrains herself while in the company of the holy ones, then she can continue to be allowed to pay dues and attend meetings.

    Don’t you realize that with Christ’s coming that there are no longer “special places to worship,” “special times,” and “special men?” The Christians’ holy place is the Ekklesia! The Christians’ holy day is TODAY! The Christians’ holy man is Jesus– and all who truly believe! The “Religion” of Christianity is the religion of Jesus; it is not an organization, it is an organism, a living, breathing, body, reproducing itself through the genuine interweaving of real love, a hundred mothers, brothers, and sisters. The “Church” is not something built or planted by men, like some kind of Babylonian quest or tower. The love experienced in most commercial churches is the sweetness of saccharin, a substitute for the real thing.

    Religion was an ingenious invention, now men and women can try and appease God through ritualized services, yet maintain a comfortable distance and keep their independence (and sin). Now we can divide our lives into the religious and the secular. As you say, as long as we maintain decorum inside the building, everything is cool.

    Creative men have manufactured all sorts of substitutes to replace what was lost in Eden, but when examined closely the fingerprints of Nimrod, and a whole list of other men, can be found all over the structure you call the “church.”

    You may not be able to see it but sin is out of control inside the commercial church. Check out George Barna for statistics on pornography, divorce, abortion, drugs, adultery, and homosexual activity. The statistics are very close inside and outside the commercial church; that should tell us something, right?

    Well, I guess it is time to bring this discussion to an end, so I will let you have the last word.


    Steve Blackwell

  11. Nah…we’ll let it go at that.

    God bless you, my friend.

  12. Posted by memnan on April 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Ahhh…separating the sinner from the sin…sounds like a job for LOVE & BLOOD. Unfortunately we loving Christians just don’t have everything it takes to accomplish the task on our own. So that leaves prayer our only option. When we pray for one another both the prayed for and the prayor are changed. We do the asking God does the changing in His time (not to be confused with our timing). I guess the real question here is are you wasting your time? Can she/will she be led to repentance? Just how affective is the Blood of Jesus…is it enough?

    Are you asking God for mercy until repentance is worked in a heart? Has God called you to continue in prayer for this person? If so, then pray until you no longer have a heavy concern on your heart for the situation and then release it to God to resolve.

    1 Peter 4:7-8 (New Living Translation)

    7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

  13. Steve B. and Steve (TOA),

    I think you are both right, but are stuck on the far ends of this. I agree, and that is why I wrote this, that the church is so used to pooh-poohing sin (because we all sin, right?) that we have lost the ability to distinguish when it is that we are to admonish and hope for the best and when we are to take Paul’s advice and “have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed”.

    As I mentioned, I have already explained what the Word of God says plainly about these matters to this woman. She was free to leave her husband, but remain unmarried or else be reconciled to him if he had not committed adultery against her.(1 Cor 7:11). I cannot, in good conscience, congratulate her or wish her the best. At the same time, I don’t feel I have the right to harangue her about this. She has refused the Word, not me.

    I think Nancy is closest to the route I need to take. I will and must continue to pray for her as long as I feel I ought. As was said, none of us is deserving of grace or forgiveness, but I concur with Steve B., that the church has pretty well ignored the multitude of conditions that remain in the new covenant, typified by that dreadful word “IF”. I am not a fan of the term, “God’s love is unconditional”; it is an oxymoron. God’s love cost God everything and he also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26)

    Our relationship with God is primarily based on our remaining in the faith AND being faithful unto death. The church has failed to distinguish between good and evil to the extent that the admonition “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity!” (2 Tim 2:19) has almost no meaning for Christians today.

    That’s the sad part of Christianity today (pun intended).

  14. We are sinners. We will be unfaithful. He, on the other hand, will “remain faithful in our faithlesness.”

    Our job, listen for he Word that exposes our sin, and listen for the Word that forgives. And show up in the place whee that Livibg Word is present, and receive the body and blood. This is how the Lord keeps us in faith apart from our obedience which is already shot to hell.

    Thanks, PK.

  15. I hear you, Steve. But I do not ever want to be guilty of presuming upon God’s grace or mercy. It’s there, but only if we remain honest with God and others.

    “But you who forsake the LORD, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter, because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.” Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit.” (Isaiah 65:11-14)

  16. It’s a bit late to reply to this, but here are my comments:

    1. One rule that can help is this: open sin should be openly dealt with; private sin should be privately dealt with. The sin of Judas was not known by the other apostles, so Jesus did not expose it before them; the sin of Aaron in building the golden calf was open, and was openly dealt with.

    2. I’m a bit surprised that this woman was confiding her marriage problems to you, another man. Not that it doesn’t happen, but it should be avoided, as it is a potentially dangerous situation. It would have been better to direct her to an experienced sister.

    3. We have a rule in our church that when dealing with marital problems, you talk to the man about his failings, and the woman about her failings. You only talk to them about the others failings when both are there. There’s a good reason for this: human nature loves to justify itself. It will present itself as nearly faultless, and all the blame lies on the other one. This happened right after the fall, and it’s still a common practice. If you listen to this kind of self-justifying, and do not stop the person right away, you run a great risk of getting into the “seat of the scorner” and becoming guilty of believing slander, gossip, backbiting, tale-bearing, etc.

    I’ve seen this happen a few times: the woman presents her husband as an absolutely despicable character, gains sympathy, and then nobody wants to talk to the husband because they are afraid he might get violent…so they leave it until the wife finally decides to move out, and they are now caught in a trap…in order to continue showing their “love” they have to help her out, even if it means stepping onto the husband’s own ground, without so much as talking with him first. This, of course, is in flagrant disregard of all the injunctions in the Bible regarding justice, dealing with sin, etc., but it passes off as “love.” (not to the husband, but at this point, everyone is so convinced that he is a bad character, that they all think “he deserves it.”).

    We live in the age of “the rulership of feelings” and along with that goes the rulership of women over men (since the woman is more emotionally-based). People will accuse you of all kinds of cruelty, hard-heartedness, lovelessness, etc, if you deal with sin faithfully. John the Baptist was beheaded for dealing faithfully, and Christ was crucified. Don’t expect anything better. But dealing faithfully is the only real love. Love means doing what is best for the other, and for their relationship with God. God needs faithful watchmen who will speak for him. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” Lev. 19:17.

    Since this woman confided in you at the beginning, and now openly announces her new situation to you, I don’t think it is sufficient to assume that “she knows how I would see it.” It is now open sin, and should be dealt with openly. When our neighbor’s house is on fire, it is not enough to pray that God will send a firetruck!

  17. Again, Frank, I appreciate your comments.

    Regarding this woman sharing her marital issues with me, I can only say that I wasn’t uncomfortable speaking to her about it since our conversation over many months was on public transportation. It just happened to go from sharing my faith and her claiming to be a follower of Christ, as well. During the course of our talks, it became apparent to me that she was separated from her husband and that this wasn’t due to any scriptural clause such as adultery, but because she felt trapped in a relationship that she wasn’t getting what she wanted out of.

    Like you, I often hoped that a sister in the Lord would take an interest in her situation and support my admonitions to return to her husband since based on 1 Cor 7, she had no right to abandon the marriage or her husband. He was not, according to her, guilty of anything but being boring and a bit lazy. I made it quite plain that she needed to follow what God said through Paul’s instruction to the church, but over time, it became evident that she wasn’t interested in pleasing God, but herself.

    I did my best to dissuade her without harassing her, because we were comfortable enough to cover a lot of different subjects, but marriage, divorce, dating and remarriage were often brought up many times. I asked her to read for herself that as long as her unbelieving husband was willing to continue the marriage, she was obligated to be faithful and hopeful that God would, through her example, convince him to be converted.

    So, to conclude, I was doing exactly what you prescribe, confronting sin as sin, but she ultimately decided to divorce and remarry against the knowledge I provided that condemns such unfounded prerogatives. As a result I have ceased speaking to her or seeking any kind of fellowship with her, because I believe she is not truly converted (she refused to consider being baptized for starters) and does not love the truth. And claiming to be a Christian yet rejecting the scripture leaves my no choice but to follow Paul’s command to have nothing to do with such persons, so that they may possibly be ashamed (1 Cor 5:11, 2 Thess 3:14).

    Once a person had willingly and presumptuously rejected God’s word concerning their choices, they are no different than the towns that refused the message of the Kingdom when Christ sent the disciples out to proclaim it. I have shaken off the dust of my feet in a sense, but I still pray for her. I just don’t know what the solution to her situation would be now other than full repentance which would seem to involve considering her remarriage invalid. I mean, if people think they can do what they want and then expect God to still let them have their way and be forgiven, too, strikes me as completely anti-nomian.

    It’s complicated, which is why I posed the original question.

  18. Thanks for the fuller explanation. I think you did all you could. 1 Cor. 7 also makes it clear that only “unbelievers” depart from their marriage, separation does not come from the side of a believer (except where the physical life may be in danger). So she really had no reason for being separate.

    What is really disturbing is that she was fully accepted, in this condition, into a church, and even married in it. This kind of acceptance, which is called “love” but is actually just a sentimental counterfeit, absolutely destroys the authority of God’s word in people’s minds, more than the arguments of an outright atheist.

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