1 Peter 4:8
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.—The original is far more vigorous: But before all things keeping intense your charity towards yourselves. St. Peter assumes that the charity is there, but insists on its not being suffered to flag in outward expression. (Comp. the same word in 1Peter 1:22; also in Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5; Acts 26:7.)

Shall cover.—Properly, neither “shall” nor “will,” the right reading being present, covereth. The words are usually said to be a quotation from Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes, but love covereth all sins;” but they are widely different from the LXX. in that passage, and also vary from the Hebrew; and as precisely the same variation occurs in James 5:20, it seems more probable either that St. Peter had the passage of St. James consciously in his mind, or that the proverb was current and familiar to both writers in the form, “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” It is, therefore, unsafe to argue from the exact shade of meaning which the words bear in Proverbs 10:12. To “cover,” in Hebrew, often means to “forgive,” the idea being that of an offensive object which you bury or hide by putting something else over it; see, for examples, Psalm 32:1; Psalm 85:2; and the place in Proverbs seems to mean that whereas a bitter enemy will rake up every old grudge again and again, one who loves will not allow even himself to see the wrongs done to him by a friend. If this sense be accepted here, it will imply that the Christians in Asia had a good deal to put up with from each other; but even so, the argument seems a little strained: “Keep your charity at its full stretch, because charity forgives, however many the wrongs may be.” It far better suits the context to take the proverb in the same sense as in St. James, without any reference to the Old Testament passage. In St. James it is usually taken to mean, “He shall save (the convert’s) soul from death, and shall cover (i.e., procure for him the pardon of) a multitude of sins;” but as the true reading there is “his soul,” it is more natural to suppose that St. James is holding up, as the reward of converting the sinner, that the person who does so shall save his own soul, and procure for himself the pardon of a multitude of sins. So here it seems obvious that St. Peter is urging charity as something which will be found advantageous when the “end of all things” comes; and the advantage he mentions is, “because charity covereth a multitude of sins:” i.e., the exercise of this grace makes up for a great many other shortcomings in the man. A very good case might be made out for a doctrine of Justification by Love.

1 Peter 4:8-9. Above all things — See that you remember the distinguishing badge of your religion and have, maintain, fervent charity, love, among yourselves — One toward another: for love shall cover a multitude of sins — It will cause us to excuse them in others, and will entitle us, through divine mercy to the expectation of forgiveness for our own numberless failings. See on James 5:20. Love covereth all things, 1 Corinthians 13:7. He that loves another covereth his faults, how many soever they be. He turns away his own eyes from them, and, as far as it is possible, hides them from others. And he continually prays that all the sinner’s iniquities may be forgiven, and his sins covered. Meantime the God of love measures to him with the same measure into his bosom. Use hospitality one to another — Ye that are of different towns or countries; without grudging — The expense which may attend the exercise of a virtue, which in present circumstances is important and necessary. Practise it with all cheerfulness.4:7-11 The destruction of the Jewish church and nation, foretold by our Saviour, was very near. And the speedy approach of death and judgment concerns all, to which these words naturally lead our minds. Our approaching end, is a powerful argument to make us sober in all worldly matters, and earnest in religion. There are so many things amiss in all, that unless love covers, excuses, and forgives in others, the mistakes and faults for which every one needs the forbearance of others, Satan will prevail to stir up divisions and discords. But we are not to suppose that charity will cover or make amends for the sins of those who exercise it, so as to induce God to forgive them. The nature of a Christian's work, which is high work and hard work, the goodness of the Master, and the excellence of the reward, all require that our endeavours should be serious and earnest. And in all the duties and services of life, we should aim at the glory of God as our chief end. He is a miserable, unsettled wretch, who cleaves to himself, and forgets God; is only perplexed about his credit, and gain, and base ends, which are often broken, and which, when he attains, both he and they must shortly perish together. But he who has given up himself and his all to God, may say confidently that the Lord is his portion; and nothing but glory through Christ Jesus, is solid and lasting; that abideth for ever.And above all things - More than all things else.

Have fervent charity among yourselves - Warm, ardent love toward each other. On the nature of charity, see the notes at 1 Corinthians 13:1. The word rendered "fervent," means properly extended; then intent, earnest, fervent.

For charity shall cover the multitude of sins - Love to another shall so cover or hide a great many imperfections in him, that you will not notice them. This passage is quoted from Proverbs 10:12; "Love covereth all sins." For the truth of it we have only to appeal to the experience of everyone:

(a) True love to another makes us kind to his imperfections, charitable toward his faults, and often blind even to the existence of faults. We would not see the imperfections of those whom we love; and our attachment for what we esteem their real excellencies, makes us insensible to their errors.

(b) If we love them we are ready to cover over their faults, even those which we may see in them. Of love the Christian poet says:

"Tis gentle, delicate, and kind,

To faults compassionate or blind.

The passage before us is not the same in signification as that in James 5:20, "He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." See the notes at that passage. That passage means, that by the conversion of another the sins of him who is converted shall be covered over, or not brought to judgment for condemnation; that is, they shall be covered over so far as God is concerned: this passage means that, under the influence of love, the sins of another shall be covered over so far as we are concerned; that is, they shall be unobserved or forgiven. The language used here does not mean, as the Romanists maintain, that "charity shall procure us pardon for a multitude of sins;" for, besides that such a doctrine is contrary to the uniform teachings of the Scriptures elsewhere, it is a departure from the obvious meaning of the passage. The subject on which the apostle is treating is the advantage of love in our conduct toward others, and this he enforces by saying that it will make us kind to their imperfections, and lead us to overlook their faults. It is nowhere taught in the Scriptures that our "charity" to others will be an atonement or expiation for our own offences. If it could be so, the atonement made by Christ would have been unnecessary. Love, however, is of inestimable value in the treatment of others; and imperfect as we are, and liable to go astray, we all have occasion to cast ourselves on the charity of our brethren, and to avail ourselves much and often of that "love which covers over a multitude of sins."

8. above all things—not that "charity" or love is placed above "prayer," but because love is the animating spirit, without which all other duties are dead. Translate as Greek, "Having your mutual (literally, 'towards yourselves') charity intense." He presupposes its existence among them; he urges them to make it more fervent.

charity shall cover the multitude, &c.—The oldest manuscripts have "covereth." Quoted from Pr 10:12; compare Pr 17:9. "Covereth" so as not harshly to condemn or expose faults; but forbearingly to bear the other's burdens, forgiving and forgetting past offenses. Perhaps the additional idea is included, By prayer for them, love tries to have them covered by God; and so being the instrument of converting the sinner from his error, "covereth a (not 'the,' as English Version) multitude of sins"; but the former idea from Proverbs is the prominent one. It is not, as Rome teaches, "covereth" his own sins; for then the Greek middle voice would be used; and Pr 10:12; 17:9 support the Protestant view. "As God with His love covers my sins if I believe, so must I also cover the sins of my neighbor" [Luther]. Compare the conduct of Shem and Japheth to Noah (Ge 9:23), in contrast to Ham's exposure of his father's shame. We ought to cover others' sins only where love itself does not require the contrary.

And above all things: see the like expression, Jam 5:12, and on the same occasion, Colossians 3:14.

Have fervent charity; not only labour after charity diligently and carefully, but let it be fervent, intense, strong.

For charity shall cover the multitude of sins; partly by preventing anger, railings, revilings, contentions, that they break not out, and partly by repressing, concealing, pardoning them when they do break out, 1 Corinthians 13:7: see Jam 5:20. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves,.... Not but that charity, or love, is to be exercised towards all men, even towards enemies, but more especially towards the saints, and that under such a consideration in which it cannot be exercised towards others; namely, as their brethren in Christ, and as belonging to him, as the children of God, as redeemed by Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit; and these not only such as are of the same nation, and belong to the same particular church and community, or of the same denomination, but all the saints everywhere, whether Jews or Gentiles, or of whatsoever name, and in whatsoever state and condition: and this love ought to be mutual and reciprocal, and to be warm and fervent, and not lukewarm and indifferent, as it too often is; and should be constant, "continued", and "perpetual", as the Vulgate Latin and Arabic versions here read: and this the apostle exhorts to above all things else; since outward sobriety, and watchings, and prayer, and all other duties, are nothing without this; this is the sum and substance of the law, and the fulfilling of it; and without this a mere knowledge of the Gospel, and a profession of it, are in vain, and therefore in the first place to be attended to. And especially for the following reason,

for charity shall cover the multitude of sins; referring to Proverbs 10:12 not a man's own sins, but the sins of others; and not from the sight of God, for from that only the blood and righteousness of Christ cover sins, even all the sins, the whole multitude of the sins of God's elect; but from the sight of men, both of those against whom they are committed, and others; since charity, or true love, thinks no ill, but puts the best constructions upon the words and actions of fellow Christians, and does not take them up, and improve and exaggerate them, but lets them lie buried in oblivion: it takes no notice of injuries, offences, and affronts, but overlooks them, bears with them, and forgives them, so that they are never raked up, and seen any more; which prevents much scandal, strife, and trouble. The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, read, "covereth", as in Proverbs 10:12.

{6} And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

(6) He commends charity towards one another, because it buries a multitude of sins, and therefore preserves and maintains peace and harmony: for they who love one another easily forgive one another their offences.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Peter 4:8. πρὸ πάντων δέ] cf. Jam 5:12.

τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς (i.e. ἀλλήλους) ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες. The second exhortation. The participle shows that this and the first exhortation belong closely together. Luther translates inexactly: “have … a burning love.” Love one to another, as the characteristic sign (John 13:35) of Christians, is presupposed; the apostle’s exhortation is directed to this, that the love should be ἐκτενής (Bengel: amor jam praesupponitur, ut sit vehemens, praecipitur).

For ἐκτενής, cf. chap. 1 Peter 1:22. There is nothing to show that the apostle gave expression to this exhortation with special reference to the circumstance “that in the case of his readers brotherly love was united with danger and persecution” (Schott).

ὅτι [] ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν] A proverbial saying after Proverbs 10:12 : שִׂנְאָה תְּעֹרֵר מְדָנִים וְעַל בָּל־פְּשָׁעִים תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה (the second half is incorrectly translated by the LXX. πάντας δὲ τοὺς μὴ φιλονεικοῦντας καλύπτει φιλία): “Love covereth (maketh a covering over) all sins.” The sense of the words is evident from the first half of the verse; whilst hatred stirs up strife and contention (by bringing the sins of others to the light of day), love, with forgiving gentleness, covers the sins of others (and thus works concord).[247]

In its original meaning, accordingly, the proverb has reference to what love does as regards the sins of others; love in its essential nature is forgiveness, and that not of some, but of many sins; 1 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Corinthians 13:7; Matthew 18:21-22. In this sense Estius, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Piscator, Steiger, Wiesinger, Weiss (p. 337 f.), Schott, Fronmüller, etc., have rightly interpreted the passage, which then, serving as the basis of the preceding exhortation,[248] is intended to set forth the blessed influence of love on life in the church. Hofmann unjustly denies this (Beza: caritatem mutuam commendat ex eo, quod innumerabilia peccata veluti sepeliat, ac proinde pacis ac concordiae sit fautrix et conservatrix. Wiesinger: “Only by the forgiving, reconciling influence of love, can the destructive power of sin be kept away from church life”). Steiger (with whom Weiss and Fronmüller agree) explains: “the apostle recommends the Christians to extend the limits of brotherly love and to strengthen themselves in it, because true love covers a multitude of sins;” but this is not to the point, inasmuch as the covering of many sins is peculiar to the ἀγάπη itself, and constitutes the reason why it should be ἐκτενής. Several expositors (Grotius, etc.) understand the words to have the same meaning here as in Jam 5:20 (see Comment. in loc.), that is, that love in effecting the sinner’s conversion, procures the divine forgiveness for his many sins; but, on the one hand, “the apostle does not here regard his readers as erring brethren, of whom it might be the duty of some to convert the others” (Wiesinger); and, on the other, “there is here not the slightest indication that the expression is not to be understood directly of the covering of sins as such, but of reclaiming labours” (Weiss).

Oecumenius already (ὁ μὲν γὰρ εἰς τὸν πλησίον ἔλεος, τὸν Θεὸν ἡμῖν ἵλεων ποιεῖ), and after him many Catholic expositors (Salmeron, Cornelius a Lapide, Lorinus, etc.), and several Protestants also (the latter sometimes, whilst distinctly defending the Protestant principle against Catholic applications of the passage[249]), understand the maxim of the blessing which love brings to him who puts it into practice. But if Peter had wished to express a thought similar to that uttered by Christ, Matthew 6:14-15, he would assuredly not have made use of words such as these, which in the nature of them bear not upon personal sins, but on those of others.[250]

[247] As opposed to the view that Peter had this passage in his mind, de Wette asserts, that in “that case the apostle must have translated from the Hebrew the passage incorrectly rendered by the LXX. This, however, is in itself improbable, as he would then have written πάσας τὰς ἁμαρτίας, or rather, πάντα τὰ ἀδικήματα (cf. Proverbs 17:9).” But though it may be questioned whether Peter quoted directly from it, there can be no doubt, as even Brückner, Wiesinger, and Weiss admit, that the proverbial phrase arose out of that passage.

[248] Hottinger: ὅτι indicare videtur (better: indicat) incitamentum aliquod, quo christianis amor iste commendatur.

[249] Vorstius: intelligit Ap. caritatem in causa esse, ut non tantum proximi nostri peccata humaniter tegamus, verum etiam ut Deus nobis ex pacto gratuito nostra peccata condonet, non quod propter meritum seu dignitatem caritatis id fiat, sed quia caritas erga fratres conditio est, sine qua Deus nobis ignoscere non vult.

[250] De Wette gives a peculiar combination of the various interpretations: “As the love which is required of us is a common love, so the writer refers to the common sins still defacing the whole of Christian social life, but which, as single blemishes(!), are overshone, and made pardonable in God’s eye, by the light of that love which penetrates all; that is, in that this love produces mutual reconciliation and improvement.” On this Brückner remarks, that what is true here is the thought that reciprocalness is a characteristic not of love only, but of all her actions, i.e. “He whose love covers the sins of others, sees in like manner his own sins covered by the love of others.” But this makes “the interpretation only more artificial, and removes it still farther from the simple phraseology of our passage “(Weiss).—Clemens Al. and Bernhard of Clairvaux (Sermo 23 in Cant.) understand ἀγάπη to mean the love of Christ(!).1 Peter 4:8. πρὸπάντων, St. Peter emphasises the pre-eminent importance of love of man as much as St. cf. John 1:22.—ἑαυτούς put for ἀλλήλους in accordance with the saying thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself as much as with the contemporary practice.—ὅτιἁμαρτιῶν, quotation of Proverbs 10:12, love hides all transgressions which was adduced by Jesus (Luke 7:47). The plain sense of the aphorism has been evaded by the LXX (πάντας τοὺς μὴ φιλονεικοῦντας καλύπτει φιλία) and Syriac translators substitutes shame for love. The currency of the true version is attested by Jam 5:20, he that converted a sinner … καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν.8. And above all things have fervent charity] It is to be regretted that the unintelligent desire for variation which the translators of 1611 took almost as their guiding principle, and in this instance, perhaps, their fondness for current theological terms, should have led them to obscure the unity of Apostolic teaching by using the word “charity” instead of “love.” The use of the same word in 1 Corinthians 13. helps us indeed to perceive the agreement of St Peter and St Paul, but we lose sight of the harmony between their teaching and that of St John. On the general precept and on the word “fervent” see note on chapter 1 Peter 1:22.

for charity shall cover the multitude of sins] The words are probably a quotation from Proverbs 10:12, where our English version, following the Hebrew, gives “Hatred stirreth up strife, but love covereth all sins.” It may be noted, however, that the LXX. version gives here an entirely different rendering, “Friendship covers all those who are not lovers of contention,” and that St Peter, though he commonly uses the LXX., must, in this instance, either have translated from the Hebrew, or, as seems more probable, have quoted the maxim as a current proverb The use of the same phrase in James 5:20, “He that converteth the sinner.… shall hide a multitude of sins,” shews that the thought and the language were common to the two teachers. There remains the question, What is the meaning of the proverb? Whose are the sins that fervent love or charity will cover? (1) As the words meet us in Proverbs 10:12, the context determines its meaning, “Love covers (i.e. forgives and does not expose) the sins of others,” and so it is contrasted with the “hatred which stirs up strife.” (2) This may be the meaning here, “Love one another, for so only can you forgive freely as you are taught to do.” If we adopt this view, or so far as we adopt it, we can scarcely fail to connect it with the lesson which St Peter had once needed, as to the limit, or rather the non-limitation, of forgiveness His “multitude of sins” is the equivalent of the “seventy times seven” of our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 18:22). (3) It lies in the nature of the case, however, that a maxim such as this should present different aspects. In James 5:20, e.g., the words “hide a multitude of sins” are equivalent not to forgiving sins ourselves, but to winning God’s forgiveness for them. And looking to the connexion between loving and being forgiven in Luke 7:47, we shall not be far wrong if we include that thought also as within the scope of the Apostle’s words, “Love above all things, for that will enable you to forgive others, and in so doing ye will fulfil the condition of being forgiven yourselves.” So taken, the proverb reminds us in its width of the familiar,

“The quality of mercy … is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”1 Peter 4:8. Τὴνἀγάπην, love) Love is already presupposed to exist: the injunction is, that it be more vehement.—ὄτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν, because love covers a multitude of sins) Proverbs 10:12, Septuagint, πάντας δὲ τοὺς μὴ φιλονεικοῦντας καλύψει φιλία, friendship shall cover all that are not contentious. Comp. Proverbs 17:9. He who greatly loves, covers the faults of him whom he loves, as many as they are: he turns away his own eyes from them, and, as far as is lawful, blinds others respecting them, and makes them the subject of prayer to God. And the Divine love attends such a love as this with aid and approbation, and rewards with a like return him also who loves: Matthew 6:14. Love also is especially necessary on this account, because the Judge is at hand: Jam 5:9. And they are blessed whom the end of all things finds without sins, except such as are covered.Verse 8. - And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; more literally, before all things, having your love towards one another intense. The existence of charity is taken for granted. Christians must love one another; love is the very badge of their profession. The apostle urges his readers to keep that love intense, and that before all things; for charity is the first of Christian graces. (On the word "intense" (ἐκτενής), see note on 1 Peter 1:22.) For charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Read and translate, with the Revised Version, for love covereth a multitude of sins. If St. Peter is directly quoting Proverbs 10:12, he is not using the Septuagint, as he commonly does, but translating from the Hebrew. The Septuagint rendering is quite different, Πάντας δὲ τοὺς μὴ φιλονεικοῦντας καλύπτει φιλία. But it may be that the words had become proverbial. We find them also in James 5:20, "He which converteth the sinner... shall hide a multitude of sins." St. James means that he will obtain God's forgiveness for the converted sinner; but in Proverbs 10:12 the meaning (as is plain from the context) is that love covers the sins of others; does not stir up strifes, as hatred does, but promotes concord by concealing and forgiving sins. This is probably St. Peter's meaning here: "Take care that your charity is intense, for only thus can you forgive as you are bidden to forgive, as you hope to be forgiven." Perhaps he was thinking of the "seventy times seven," to which the Lord had told him that forgiveness was to extend. But his words may well be understood as implying more than this. Love shown in forgiving others will win forgiveness for yourselves: "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." Love manifested in converting others will cover their sins, and obtain God's forgiveness for them. In the deepest sense, it is only the love of Christ energizing in his atoning work which can cover sin; but true charity, Christian love, flows from that holiest love. "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." Therefore in some sense Christian love, flowing from the love of Christ, and bringing the Christian very near to Christ, covers sins; for it keeps the Christian close to the cross, within the immediate sphere of the blessed influences of the atonement, so that he becomes a center of grace, a light kindled from the true Light, a well of living waters fed by the one fountain which is opened for sin and for uncleanness. The mutual love of Christians, their kindly words and deeds, check the work of sin; their prayers, their intercessions, call down the forgiveness of God. Therefore, in the view of the approaching end, charity is before all things precious for our own souls and for the souls of others. Fervent (ἐκτενῆ)

See, on the kindred adverb fervently, notes on 1 Peter 1:22.

Love covereth, etc

Compare James 5:20; Proverbs 10:12.

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