Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
“Have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Pet. 4:8.
1, 2. (a) What wrongs do we all commit, and why might we even commit them with greater frequency? (b) What will help us to overcome problems that occur?
HAVE you ever spoken sharply to someone, and immediately wished you had not? Or have you ever acted unkindly in some other way, and then felt sorry about it? No doubt all of us have. And as the pressures and hardships on us increase as the end of this system of things draws closer, the times when we hurt or offend one another may grow more frequent. So what should we do when problems occur?
2 In seeking an answer it is helpful to take a closer look at what is said at 1 Peter 4:7, 8. There it mentions that, since the end of all things has drawn close, we should “be sound in mind,” “vigilant with a view to prayers,” but especially we should “have intense love for one another.” Now notice the reason given as to why this love is so important. The account says: “Because love covers a multitude of sins.” This is a very important aspect to consider.
3. (a) What fact do we all have to face? (b) What correct observation does the Bible make about us?
3 We have to face the fact that, due to the disobedience and imperfection of our original parents Adam and Eve, we have all inherited an inclination toward wrongdoing or sin. (Rom. 5:12) All of us frequently miss the mark of what is righteous. Within us is a proneness to be envious, to become provoked, to brag, to be unforgiving, and so forth. And do we not get angry with ourselves when we at times give in to these sinful inclinations? Yet these bad tendencies exist, and we simply have to realize that, on occasion, they are going to be expressed in words and actions. The disciple James, writing under God’s inspiration, correctly observed: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” But none are perfect. “There is no man that does not sin,” the Bible says.—Jas. 3:2; 1 Ki. 8:46.
4. (a) What should not be our reaction when sins occur, but what should we do? (b) What will help us to examine things realistically when problems arise?
4 So it is vital that we be realistic about our relations with one another. Sinful inclinations are going to find expression among Christians, regardless of how hard they try to prevent this from occurring. (Rom. 7:15-20) We should not be terribly shocked and upset, perhaps concluding that these wrongs are an indication that we are not associated with the true Christian congregation. No; rather, we should look for evidence that love has covered over these sins. It is, therefore, vital that we exercise love to prove that we are part of the true Christian congregation. However, it is not always easy to do the right and loving thing. The Bible helps us to appreciate this. It gives us insight into goings-on within the first-century Christian congregation that can assist us to examine things realistically, so that we can maintain balance should problems arise.
PHILIPPIAN WOMEN WITH A PROBLEM
5. (a) Describe some of the background of the Philippian congregation. (b) What kind of letter did the apostle Paul write to the congregation?
5 First, let us consider a circumstance that developed within the Christian congregation in Philippi, the principal city of the district of Macedonia. The apostle Paul established this congregation in 50 C.E. on his visit during his second missionary tour. (Acts 16:11-40) A few years later, in the course of his third missionary tour, Paul was evidently able to visit the Philippian congregation again. (Acts 20:1-6) Then, about ten years after first establishing the congregation, Paul was moved by the Philippians’ extraordinary deeds of Christian kindness and zeal to write them a moving letter of love and encouragement. He highly commended them throughout, with only one short hint of correction toward the end of his letter.
6. What did Paul write concerning Euodia and Syntyche, and what questions does this raise?
6 Paul wrote: “Consequently, my brothers beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand firm in this way in the Lord, beloved ones.” But now notice his next statement: “Euodia I exhort and Syntyche I exhort to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Phil. 4:1, 2) Why did Paul say this? Why did he give encouragement for the congregation to “stand firm in this way in the Lord,” and then pick out these two women, Euodia and Syntyche, and exhort them to be of the same mind in the Lord?
7. (a) Why might these two women not have been of the same mind in the Lord? (b) What does the fact that Paul knew about their attitude perhaps indicate?
7 Clearly, there was some problem between these two women; they were evidently not united in the same mind. Now the Bible does not tell us what their difficulty was, or what had led to the trouble between them. Perhaps they were in some way jealous of each other. Both of them may have had strong personalities, and they may have simply gotten on each other’s nerves to the point that they were no longer speaking to each other. But whatever the problem, there was some friction involved, because they were not “of the same mind in the Lord.” And Paul knew about it hundreds of miles away in Rome, from where he was writing, which indicates that the difficulty may have been of long standing and fairly well known among the brothers.
8. (a) Basically, what kind of women were Euodia and Syntyche, and what indicates this? (b) What lesson can we draw from that first-century experience?
8 Yet at the same time, these were basically good Christian women. Both of them were serving Jehovah God with their brothers and sisters. For Paul goes on to write the congregation: “Keep assisting these women who have striven side by side with me in the good news.” (Phil. 4:3) Thus Euodia and Syntyche had been Christians for some time, having worked earlier with Paul in the furtherance of the preaching work. But now they were having a problem. So, then, if troubles like this existed in the first-century congregation, should it upset us excessively if similar ones occur today? But not only women had such problems.
TROUBLES BETWEEN CHRISTIAN ELDERS
9, 10. (a) What had happened to John Mark during the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas? (b) Why might Barnabas have wanted to take Mark along on the second missionary trip, yet what were Paul’s thoughts?
9 Christian elders, too, had problems, even prominent elders. Consider the apostle Paul and his early traveling companion Barnabas, for example. They had completed a first missionary tour, establishing a number of Christian congregations, and now they were considering a second tour, as the Bible explains: “After some days Paul said to Barnabas: ‘Above all things, let us return and visit the brothers in every one of the cities in which we published the word of Jehovah to see how they are.’” (Acts 15:36) On that first journey John Mark had accompanied them, but for some undisclosed reason, the account says, “John withdrew from them and returned to Jerusalem,” where his mother Mary lived.—Acts 13:13.
10 So, as Paul and Barnabas were discussing their second missionary tour, Mark’s name came up. The Bible tells us what occurred: “For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark. But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” (Acts 15:37, 38) So here was a difference of opinion. Barnabas may have felt that Mark had a good excuse for returning to Jerusalem during the first tour; possibly his mother was sick and he returned to be with her. We do not know. But, on the other hand, if Mark’s leaving was indeed a rash, inexcusable move, Barnabas evidently felt that Mark had learned a lesson and would this time stick to the work. But Paul did not think so. He did not want Mark along. Now, would you not think that these two mature Christian elders could settle such a difference in an amiable way? Yet what happened?
11. (a) What was the result of this disagreement of Paul and Barnabas over Mark? (b) Did this trouble between Christian elders prove that they were not servants of the true God?
11 The Bible says: “At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus. Paul selected Silas and went off.” (Acts 15:39, 40) Can you imagine that! Here two prominent elders had, not just a minor altercation, but “a sharp burst of anger” between them, and over such a seemingly small matter. So they parted company, evidently not having the best of feelings toward each other. If you had been there and seen this, would you have concluded that surely this must not be God’s organization, because of the way these prominent elders had acted?
12. What sin did Peter commit during a visit to Antioch, and what caused him to act in this way?
12 Or consider another, somewhat different type of experience that occurred in Antioch. When the apostle Peter visited this city in Syria, he associated with the whole congregation, fearlessly eating and socializing freely in the homes of the Gentile believers. He knew that this was proper, since, years before, he had been divinely directed to preach to Cornelius, who became the first uncircumcised Gentile convert to Christianity. However, when some Jewish Christians, who came from Jesus’ half brother James in Jerusalem, visited Antioch, Peter, out of fear of criticism from “those of the circumcised class,” began withdrawing and separating himself from the Gentile Christians. Other circumcised Jewish Christians there began doing likewise. This clearly was not right. It was a sin on Peter’s part to cause such a division in the Christian congregation.
13. (a) What was Paul’s reaction when he was in Antioch and saw what was occurring? (b) Why was Peter hypocritical in his actions, yet what was it like to be corrected before the whole congregation?
13 About this time the apostle Paul also was in Antioch, and he was incensed by what he saw occurring. In his letter to the Galatians, he explained: “When I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas [Peter] before them all: ‘If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?’” (Gal. 2:11-14) Peter knew that the Mosaic law was no longer in force, and had shown this earlier by freely associating with Gentiles. (Acts 10:28, 29) Yet now, because of fear, he was reinstituting the divisions provided for under the Mosaic law, but which Law he knew no longer applied to Jewish Christians. (Eph. 2:13-18) So his “withdrawing and separating” from the Gentile Christians was clearly a hypocritical act prompted by fear of what certain Jewish Christians, especially those of Jerusalem, might think of him. And so Paul, before the whole congregation, exposed Peter’s hypocrisy. How would you have felt if you were Peter?—Heb. 12:11.
LETTING LOVE COVER SINS
14. (a) How could Peter have felt about receiving this correction from Paul? (b) However, what later attitude toward Paul indicates that Peter let love cover over this sin of his?
14 Think how Peter could have felt. He was prominent among the apostles, having earlier been entrusted with special privileges of service by Jesus Christ himself. (Matt. 16:18, 19; Acts 2:14-41; 10:34-48) Paul was newer in the Christian organization, and now here he was before the whole congregation resisting Peter to his face. ‘How dare Paul speak to me that way before the congregation,’ Peter could have indignantly felt. But no, Peter was humble. He accepted the correction, and he did not allow it to cause his love for Paul to cool off. For note how Peter later referred to Paul in a letter of encouragement to fellow Christians: “Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul according to the wisdom given him also wrote you.” (2 Pet. 3:15) Yes, Peter allowed love to cover over the problem, which in this case had resulted from his own sin. Surely Peter demonstrated the quality that distinguishes the true Christian congregation!
15. (a) Was the difficulty between Paul and Barnabas straightened out, and what indicates whether it was? (b) What evidence is there that Paul may have acknowledged any misjudgment of Mark?
15 What about the problem between Paul and Barnabas that occurred in connection with the taking of Mark along with them? Was this problem, which reached a climax in a sharp burst of anger, also covered over in time by love? Yes, it apparently was. For later when Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation while he was doing missionary work in Ephesus, he spoke of Barnabas, along with Peter and the other apostles, as a close fellow worker. (1 Cor. 9:5, 6) Paul evidently acknowledged any misjudgment by him of Mark, and may well have humbly apologized to both Mark and Barnabas. For later Paul speaks highly of Mark. In fact, in one of his letters to Timothy, he wrote: “Luke alone is with me. Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering.”—2 Tim. 4:11; Col. 4:10.
16. (a) Is it reasonable to assume that Euodia and Syntyche settled their differences? (b) Yet, possibly, what wrong attitude could they have manifested?
16 Well, what about Euodia and Syntyche? Did they settle their differences, allowing love to cover over whatever sins they may have committed against each other? The Bible does not tell us what finally happened to them. But being good women who had striven side by side with Paul in his Christian ministry, we might reasonably assume that they humbly accepted the counsel given. When Paul’s letter was read, we can just imagine their going to each other after the meeting and straightening out their problem in a spirit of love. On the other hand, they could have been hardened by the counsel given. They could have taken the attitude: ‘What right does Paul have to write about our problem to the whole congregation?’ And so their differences could have been unresolved, and even grown worse. What if this occurred?
17. (a) If Euodia and Syntyche did not settle their differences, what possible developments could have occurred? (b) Can we learn something today from such a possible development?
17 Well, this letter to the Philippians was written about 60 C.E. A few years later, in 64 C.E., the Roman emperor Nero reportedly set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians for doing it. Soon afterward great persecution broke out against Christians. What if this persecution also spread to Philippi, and Euodia and Syntyche were thrown into prison, even as Paul and Silas, years before, had been imprisoned there? (Acts 16:19-34) What if they were put in the same prison, and in the very same cell together? Now, if they were not of the same mind, and if their differences had grown into hate for each other, what could have happened? They could have torn down each other spiritually, perhaps ruining each other’s relationship with Jehovah God. How sad that would have been! And how sad it will be today if we do not have intense love for one another when the “great tribulation” comes upon this system of things!—Matt. 24:21.
LOVE VITAL AS THE END DRAWS CLOSE
18. (a) What do we need to learn to do? (b) As the end approaches, what possible world situation emphasizes the need to love the brothers and sisters in our own congregation?
18 This is something for us to think seriously about. The end of all things has drawn close, and we need to cultivate intense love to cover the “multitude of sins” that we all have. (Jas. 3:2) We need to learn to love our brothers and sisters despite their personality flaws, their irksome habits, or other features about them which may be distasteful to us. For think about it: As this system nears its total collapse at the “great tribulation,” and communications no doubt break down and modern means of travel become impossible, with whom will we be able to get in touch to offer help to them and to receive help from them? Not our brothers in a congregation a thousand miles away, a hundred miles away, or perhaps even twenty or ten miles away. No, but Jehovah God has provided fellow Christians in our own congregation to strengthen and help us. It is particularly these persons near us, our close Christian associates, that we need to love and be loved by. How important this close relationship will prove to be in the troublous times ahead!
19. What may be the consequences if we fail to have intense love for one another?
19 If we do not have intense love for those in our own congregation, the consequences can be very bad. The apostle Paul showed this when writing to Christians in Galatia, who were apparently having some trouble in getting along together. He urged: “Through love slave for one another. For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, though, you keep on biting and devouring one another, look out that you do not get annihilated by one another.” (Gal. 5:13-15) Yes, if we do not have love for one another, we may tear down and even ruin one another’s relationship with Jehovah. This could result in our failure to survive the “great tribulation” so near at hand!
20. How does the Bible show that love for God must be accompanied by love for our brothers?
20 So, then, we really do need to work on cultivating love for one another. We simply cannot be practicing the truth, and at the same time be holding grudges against our brothers, or in other ways treating them in an unloving way. The Bible is very clear on this matter, saying: “If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother also.” There is no question about it, we are under obligation to love one another.—1 John 4:20, 21; 3:14-16.
LEARN FROM THE BEST TEACHERS
21. (a) How might some feel about their Christian brothers? (b) Yet what example in showing love does Jehovah God provide?
21 But someone may say: “You do not understand. Certain ones in our congregation do not act like true Christians. They are so exasperating and obnoxious in their ways.” It may well be that some persons have a long way to go in developing true Christian qualities. Yet Jehovah God, our perfect Creator, loves them. He does not wait until we are nearly perfect, or even until we begin to make over our personality to conform to his ways, before he loves us. No, but the Bible says: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Yes, while we were yet deep in a course of wrongdoing and had obnoxious, selfish dispositions, Jehovah loved us. This is the example in showing love that we are invited to follow.—Eph. 5:1, 2.
22, 23. (a) What bad trait manifested itself among Jesus’ apostles near Capernaum? (b) How did this trait again manifest itself, and what counsel did Jesus give?
22 Jesus Christ, too, set a wonderful example for us in this matter. He gathered around himself disciples who were basically good men. Yet, they had bad traits. For example, on the road coming toward Capernaum, they got in an argument. The Bible account says: “They came into Capernaum. Now when [Jesus] was inside the house he put the question to them: ‘What were you arguing over on the road?’ They kept silent, for on the road they had argued among themselves who is greater.” So Jesus brought a young child into their midst, put his arms around it, and told his disciples that they needed to humble themselves like young children, and not seek prominence.—Mark 9:33-37; Matt. 18:1-6.
23 However, it was not long afterward, when they were approaching Jerusalem, that the apostles James and John came to Jesus and asked for the two most prominent positions in his kingdom, one at his right hand and the other at his left. The Bible says: “Well, when the ten others heard about it, they started to be indignant at James and John.” So Jesus gave them another talking to about this bad trait then existing in them. He told them: “You know that those who appear to be ruling the nations lord it over them and their great ones wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.”—Mark 10:35-45.
24. (a) What humble example did Jesus set for his apostles at their last Passover together, yet what were they soon afterward arguing about? (b) How did Jesus continue to show love to his apostles, and with what result?
24 It was probably a little over a week later that Jesus met to eat his final Passover meal with his disciples. He knew the problem that existed among them; so apparently near the outset of that last meal together, what did Jesus do? He took a basin, filled it with water, and went around to each one of the apostles and washed their feet! (John 13:4-17) What a fine example of humility for them to follow! Yet what happened later, during that same evening? The Bible tells us: “However, there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24) Can you imagine that! Yet Jesus did not throw up his hands in disgust, and say, ‘You people are hopeless. I give up on you. You’ll never learn to be my true followers.’ No, but while they yet manifested such sinful traits, Jesus loved them. He continued to admonish and counsel them. (Luke 22:25-27) And they finally did learn, and later worked together in unity, with none of them ambitiously seeking prominence and prestige.
25. (a) What good will result from letting love cover over sins? (b) Why is it so vital that we have intense love for one another now?
25 Love indeed will cover “a multitude of sins.” In fact, by exercising it—by being forgiving, and by helping and admonishing one another—we will prevent sins from causing any lasting harm or trouble. Never forget what the apostle Peter wrote about the importance of love at this critical time in history: “The end of all things has drawn close,” he said. “Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers. Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Surely we need to exercise intense love now. Our very survival into God’s righteous new system is dependent upon our doing so.—1 Pet. 4:7, 8.
[Picture on page 348]
To help his disciples to overcome a bad trait, Jesus brought a child into their midst and told them that they needed to humble themselves like young children