Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

31 May 2012

Harmonizing 1 Peter 4:8 with Matthew 18:15


An argument often raised against the regular practice of church discipline detailed in Matthew 18:15–18 is Peter’s comment in 1 Peter 4:8 that “love covers a multitude of sins.” In so opining, Peter seems to be suggesting that church members should prefer covering to confronting sin. But is this really what Peter is suggesting? Note the following three possible ways of harmonizing 1 Peter 4:8 with Matthew 18:15:

(1) Some suggest that 1 Peter 4:8 is best applied when believers ignore sinful behavior in the body and/or silently endure sins precipitated against them personally. The best way to harmonize Peter with the words of Christ in Matthew, in this case, is to “cover up” sins in the body rather than confronting them.

Response: It is true, of course, that Scripture encourages believers to patiently endure abuse from outsiders (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 2:20; etc.); however, nowhere does Scripture commend a “loving disregard” of sin in the body for the sake of unity. One wonders, in fact, how a believer can possibly allow his brother to remain immersed in sin and describe it as “love.”

(2) Others suggest, more plausibly, that 1 Peter 4:8 is best applied when believers develop a “thick skin” in relationships with fellow church-members, cultivating tolerance so as not to be easily insulted. In this case a believer best harmonizes the message of Peter with the message of Christ by (1) resolving always to assume the best of fellow-believers when they speak or act out of turn, and, as a result, by (2) not rushing to judgment and confronting in haste or for petty reasons.

Response: That Scripture commends such a mindset is surely true—we should not be people who are easily provoked or who are swift to think evil of our brothers. This harmonization of Matthew 18 and 1 Peter 4, however, does not seem to capture the force of either text. Both Matthew and Peter are speaking not to trifling offenses but to sins. So while it is surely true that Christians should not be hasty in accusing one another over petty concerns, this does not seem to be the point in view in either passage.

(3) This leaves us, then, with a third option, which I suggest is the correct one. In this model of harmonization, the believer best obeys Peter when, having being sinned against, confronting his erring brother, and successfully “gaining his brother,” he afterward refuses to “keep a record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5) or to embarrass his repentant brother by divulging the details of the situation to others. As such, believers are called upon to “cover,” whenever possible, sins that have been amicably resolved.

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