Pastor Michael Bowman
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8)
Conceptually, you can’t really talk about forgiveness in seclusion from the other characteristics of God which he calls for in us. There is intersection between forgiveness and justice, wrath, holiness, grace, and of course love. It was out of the great love that God had that he made forgiveness possible through Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). So as God loved us through showing forgiveness, so we should see forgiveness as a part of our love toward others.
Central to this is the idea of covering offenses. To cover over an offense is to forgive it. The reality is that whenever you find people together, you will find ways that they offend one another. Sinful people have a habit of sinning against others. Perfection cannot be reached this side of glory so the only way to deal with imperfection in the here and now is to forgive, to cover up offences. This is done on the basis of Christ doing it for us. Because the Lord has covered our offences with the blood of Christ, we are free to do the same for others.
Let’s try to work that out practically. Think of a time when someone said something that offended you. It felt like an attack on you personally. Maybe it was a joke that was directed at you, or told at your expense. How does love deal with that? It covers it. You don’t have to let that small offense dictate how you live. You can simply forgive, put it out of your mind (remember it no more) and don’t allow it to break your relationship. Think of a time when someone close to you let information out that you wanted to remain private. You could let that cause a major rift, or you could cover that offense by forgiving them. That’s what love does.
If you don’t have that kind of forgiving love then it will lead to regular disruption in relationships. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov. 10:12). If you brood over an offense, if it keeps coming to mind over and over and you dwell on it, if when you think of certain people all you can think of is the list of wrongs they have done you, then you are living in a spirit of hatred not love. Hate keeps a list of wrongs committed, love forgives. Hate allows bitterness and malice to grow, love forgives.
Love through forgiveness provides the only stable kind of unity that we can have together. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). When someone sins against you and you just want to keep bringing it up and rub it in their face, you are laying the foundation for the destruction of the friendship. Bitterness doesn’t bind people together. Only love does that. Love is like velcro. It keeps people together. It makes a relationship difficult to pull apart. That only works when you work to cover the offenses of others. Imagine if we all did that. You didn’t hold onto that negative image of the person across the pew from you. You quickly forgot the harsh word from your spouse. You thought the best of your neighbors intentions instead of reading each word with suspicion. To love one another well requires true forgiveness.