by Rayola Kelley
Q: What does Peter mean when he says love covers a multitude of sins in 1 Peter 4:8? Does it mean we are to ignore what people do to us? Admittedly, I have felt confusion and condemnation because I do not always feel Christian or act Christian against those who offend me. Could you put it in perspective?
A: It is important to understand our responsibility towards others when it comes to matters of personal offence. One of the problems is that Christianity is presented in an unrealistic light. The reason that this unrealistic light is present is because much of the present presentation does not allow for our human side. In our humanity we struggle with feelings and emotions because of how others treat us. However, we must discern different aspects about the treatment of these individuals.
The first thing we must discern is if the person is personally attacking our person. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who put Him on the cross because they had no idea of what they were doing (Luke 23:34). When people personally offend us, we must discern if they are even aware of what they have done. Many times personal offence is a matter of personal pride that has been offended and not an actual affront against our person. Most of the offences I have suffered in the past have occurred because of my moodiness at the time. I was touchy; therefore, I was easily offended by someone who had no idea I was even affected by their words or actions.
The second thing we must discern is if the offence is an actual trespass against God. As believers, we are called to adhere to a moral code of excellence when it comes to our conduct. Love will never ignore or cover a trespass where a believer is concerned for it will never rejoice in iniquity. Such sin separates the person in his or her relationship with God. These types of sins involve immoral or dishonorable actions such as fornication, malicious gossip and lying, and sowing discord among the brethren. The Bible is clear that if a trespass is committed, our main responsibility is not to become personally offended but to ensure that the person is once again restored into a relationship with the Lord. We must personally go to that person in love and confront him or her about his or her action with the intent of restoration. If the person fails to repent, then we are to go to those who are in some type of spiritual leadership or influence where the offender is concerned (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5).
Church leadership can go two ways: leaders can Scripturally confront the trespass by sending in a second witness to the matter in order to deal with, reason, and ensure a matter is Scriptural. If the culprit still refuses to repent, the leadership must bring it before believers who are involved with the person and warn them to separate from such an individual and no longer have any association until there is true repentance. If the leadership chooses to ignore the matter, then you must withdraw from any real fellowship with the person until the matter has been properly resolved.
I believe the Scripture in 1 Peter has to do with mainly personal offence that occurs because of pride. As Christians, we need to neglect our pride, step over the offence, and allow godly love to dictate to us as to our attitude and actions in all matters. In most cases, one will discover that the offence did not amount to anything but a weak moment that allowed pettiness or misunderstanding to raise its head and define the incident. We need to learn how to let people be human whether they are a bit abrasive or forceful, while keeping our own attitudes, standards, and ideas in check. We must choose the way of love over the way of personal offence.
I do hope this puts it in perspective. It is true that we must not ignore that which attacks our person, character, or testimony, but we need to keep touchy feelings and petty, prideful offences in perspective. However, the Bible is clear about the procedure one must take if a trespass has occurred to keep a matter from becoming a point of speculation, gossip, and division.