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1 Peter

The Cover of the Lover

Why do James and Peter in their respective epistles both make statements that claim that some human action or another can "cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20, 1 Peter 4:8)?  If we are reading straight through the Bible, by the time we've come this far (almost to the end), we've pretty much been convinced that the only way that sins are "covered" is by the blood of Christ's sacrifice.  We're acutely aware that we have no hope apart from Him and His imputed righteousness, and we've been warned many times from thinking that we can somehow purchase our own redemption.  But now, here at the end of the book - a mere two flips of the page distant from each other - are a pair of statements that irritate my mind, which likes everything to be clean and simple. In trying to solve this mystery, I think that the 1 Peter passage is the easiest to explain.  It is more or less a paraphrase of Proverbs 10:12.

1 Peter 4:8 - Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Proverbs 10:12 - Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

It is easier to see the intended meaning of the word "covers" when we see it juxtaposed with what hatred does.  If you hate someone, conflict is going to keep flaring up whenever the two of you are together, because the tiniest offenses are going to be amplified.  If you truly love someone, however, you overlook most of that person's faults, and you try to help them through the larger ones.  Think of all of the things that love does not do according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 and you'll quickly understand how love can "cover all offenses" or "cover a multitude of sins".  It's not that the love of the lover is somehow meritorious of atonement for the lover's sins, but his love excuses (or "covers") the sin of the one that he loves.  In other words, we are talking about a "covering" that is horizontal - taking place between human beings - not vertical - taking place between man and God.

The James passage is a little more difficult to decypher.  We are told in James 5:20 that if a person tries to correct his brother or sister in Christ and ends up bringing that wandering individual back to the truth, that such a person has "saved his soul from death" (we understand that it's Christ who has actually saved the person, but his brother has brought him back to the faith) and "will cover a multitude of sins."

The whole key to understanding the right meaning of the passage has to hinge on whose sins are being "covered" by this action: those of the one who is brought back, or those of the one who brought him back.  If we take the latter approach, then we are going to end up with a kind of sacrament that can truly cover sin: bringing back lost sheep to the fold.  But if we understand the sins being covered as belonging to the one who is brought back, then everything smooths out.  Of course a multitude of his sins are covered - he has returned to faith in Christ!  Christ's blood covers his sins, not the act of restoring him to the truth.  That act has simply showed him the way back.

So we don't seem to actually have any meritorious works here in these two examples after all, but the fact that the Holy Spirit chose to use the same words that we normally associate with salvation does indicate the absolute importance of the two ideas.  Loving one another and bringing wandering souls back to the truth are two of the most Christ-like actions that we can enjoy.  And they're both intimately related as well.  If we're not doing one, we're not doing the other.

Won Without a Word

She gets the children ready for church while he sits dressed in that old ratty t-shirt watching TV.  Clearly, he's not going this morning.  She throws him dirty, disappointed looks whenever he turns her way.  She tries once again to convince him to go, telling him that the children need to see him respect the church if they are going to grow up doing so.  He doesn't appreciate guilt-trips.  He has some choice words for her precious church.  The family (minus the father) heads out the door in a black mood.  It's just another Sunday morning. This is not an uncommon scenario.  Many women come to church alone or with their children while the man of the house stays home.  Interestingly, it almost never happens the other way around, with the wife of a Christian husband avoiding church.  But regardless of why this particular pattern is repeated over and over again, devout wives want to know what they can do to get their husbands to love Jesus and join their family in His worship at church.

Well, one of the first pieces of Scriptural advice that anyone can give a woman in that situation is: for goodness' sake, don't nag him.  The Bible is rather clear that a nagging wife is pretty much the opposite of a persuasive treasure (Proverbs 25:24).  Don't talk to him about it over and over again.  Don't start slamming doors on Sunday morning in frustration.  Don't let your eyes condemn him.  And certainly don't talk to the children about their lazy daddy as you're getting them ready.  That is, of course, unless you want to push him further away, like to a corner of the rooftop (see previously cited Proverb).

So if you don't ever bring up the subject, how is he ever going to realize he needs to change?  Here's the easy part: you don't have to worry about that; let God take care of it.  Your part is to be a loving, devoted, servant-hearted wife that treats your husband like a king.

"Well, of course you would say that!  You're just another man after all!"

No, actually, God Himself gives these instructions to women as the Holy Spirit wrote the word of God through the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-6:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

I think that this is an amazing passage.  Do you want to get the attention of your husband?  Do it by cultivating godly character, a gentle and quiet spirit, and by treating him like a king (Sarah called Abraham 'lord').  He will respond to this even better than he would to a new hairdo or a new outfit (note that the instruction to "not let your adorning be external" is not a command to never do your hair or put on clothes - you should still do those things, just don't let those be the main things).  And the most amazing outcome of all of this is that those who "do not obey the word" may be "won without a word" (verse 1).

That's a rather odd method for evangelizing one's husband, isn't it?  Don't say anything?  How can he be won to the gospel if he never hears it (Romans 10:14)?  Again, answering our questions by scanning the immediate context of the passage at hand is always a good idea, and you don't have to go far before you reach verse 15 of 1 Peter 3: "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you."  Does that statement apply to this situation between believing wives and unbelieving husbands?  You bet it does!

Here's where you need to find your freedom, you wives: only strive to do what it is your duty to do and let God do the rest.  You be faithful to obey the word and submit to your husband, cultivate a godly, gentle, and quiet spirit, and treat him like a king.  That's your part.  And as you do that, trust in Christ and the Holy Spirit to do the rest.  Bringing dead things to life is what they do.