How to Handle a Multitude of Sins

“Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” (Proverbs 10:12)

There is an old familiar cliché to the effect that we should “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” This may sound a bit trite because of overuse, but it is nevertheless both biblical and practical. It is easy and tempting to be critical and condemnatory toward someone who has sinned (especially if the sin has affected us directly), but such an attitude seldom, if ever, produces repentance on the part of the sinner. As the above proverb reminds us, it will more likely generate an angry, defensive response and further strife.

An attitude of loving concern, on the other hand (not of condoning the sin but of personal understanding and sincere interest in the person) will much more likely lead to a genuine change of heart and restoration. Two New Testament writers (Peter and James) cite this Old Testament text in their own advice to Christian believers. Peter says, for example, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “Charity,” of course, is the Greek agape, which is more often translated “love,” even in the King James Version. The translators used “charity” here, no doubt, because “love” might be, in this context, misunderstood as erotic love, or even brotherly love (different Greek words), whereas “charity” (as an attitude toward others) more nearly describes the agape kind of love. Note also that this “charity” is to be fervent charity.

James, like Peter, understands “all sins” in the Proverbs text to imply “a multitude of sins,” and he stresses the true goal in using this kind of love in dealing with a sinner. “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). HMM

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