At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
Hatred stirreth up strifes: But love covereth all sins.Proverbs 10:12
The second half of this proverb is quite familiar to us. It is quoted two places in the New Testament, and a variation of it is found elsewhere in Proverbs. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; But he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov. 17:9). “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). In all these places, the practice of covering sin is contrasted with an alternative behavior, or amplified by a compatible attitude.
Solomon contrasts this covering of sins with the attitude of hatred, which stirs up strife. Elsewhere in Proverbs, the contrasting behavior is that of talking out of school. And Peter tells us that we are to have fervent love for one another, with the implication that it is this kind of love that is capable of covering a multitude of sins. In James, we are shown that the behavior that actually covers sin is the evangelistic endeavor of turning a sinner away from his wandering path.
If we put all this together, what do we find? We cover a multitude of sins when we refuse the temptations of tale-bearing, when we refuse stir up strife by digging up bones, when we seek to persuade someone away from a pattern of behavior that is destroying him, and when we love one another fervently.
This last item, the one that Peter mentions, is the key to all of it. Without fervent love, refusal to be a tale-bearer can be silent complicity. Refusal to stir up strife can be craven compromise, accompanied by a fearful reluctance to address something that should have been addressed years ago. Without fervent love, evangelistic endeavors are nothing but a hectoring nuisance.
This word is particularly important for pastors, who are called to cover things up for a living, which is obviously a calling that can go badly wrong. Without fervent love for the flock, warning the people about their sins is just being a time-serving hireling, not to mention a pain in the neck. Without fervent love, neglect of the people’s sins is cowardice and compromise masquerading as a judicious pastoral approach.
Fervent love imitates the love of Christ, which provides the only real covering for sin.