Today’s Reading: 1 Peter 4
C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they
have something to forgive.” That was certainly true for Corrie ten Boom.
The story is well-known, but I think it’s a powerful illustration for us. Corrie and her family hid Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis found out and put her entire family into the concentration camps, where they all died except Corrie. After World War II and her release, she traveled extensively, telling her story and sharing the gospel.
In 1947 she was in Munich speaking about God’s forgiveness, and she saw a familiar face. It was one of the cruelest guards from the concentration camp she and her sister had been imprisoned in. Though she recognized him, he did not recognize her.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he told her after the service. “I was a guard there. . . . But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” He thrust his hand out to her.
She stood paralyzed. This man had been a monster; he had filled her with shame and misery every day. How could she preach forgiveness when she was staring into the face of someone she needed to forgive but couldn’t. She did the only thing she knew to do, she prayed right there on the spot. Jesus, help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling, she prayed silently.
“So woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place,” she said. Power surged through her. “I forgive you, brother!” she said and cried.
When you forgive, you don’t change the past, but you sure do change the future. As poet William Blake said, “The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.”
Corrie forgave the man, but there is another part of forgiveness that often gets neglected. That part is what we look at in today’s chapter. Peter’s strategy on forgiving people is one of the most important lessons in relationships: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love covers a multitude of sins.
When I am hurt by someone, I have two choices to resolve that hurt. Since forgiveness is not an option for me as a Christian, I have the choice of how I will forgive: I can confront it, or I can cover it. Remember this about forgiveness: we base it on what God has done for us, not on what another person has done to us. That means another person’s apology, repentance, or admission of wrongdoing is not our motivation. Our forgiveness from God is our motivation. According to Ephesians 4:32, we forgive because we have been forgiven.
Peter wants us to cover the offense. And that fervent love is the prerequisite for that choice. We can’t cover an offense because we don’t want to confront a person, but we can cover a hurt because we fervently love someone. To cover a hurt is very biblical, meaning that not everything that is hurtful has to be an offense. We don’t have to address everything every time we are offended. In fact, I think it’s a sign of maturity to let certain things go. There are some things I think God wants us to absorb to show and extend mercy. Why? Because that is the only way to build our mercy account: As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). There will come a day when we will need to withdraw from our mercy account, and that can only happen if we show mercy, not simply pray for mercy.
Proverbs 19:11, NIV, says there is honor in covering an offense: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
The greatest people I know are not easily offended. Instead, they practice the habit of overlooking offenses. They take the high road and give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and then they move on. They are magnanimous—high-souled, able to overlook an injury or insult, rising above pettiness or meanness.
But what does having fervent love mean? Peter said that’s the way to cover an offense. The word fervent is critical in this verse and means the willingness to be stretched out. This kind of hurts to say it, but the word was used of a torture device that would stretch its victims on the rack. Fervent love stretches you beyond your normal capacity.
Covering an offense is not based on the size of the offense but on the size of our heart. And if there is love there, fervent love. Solomon also talked about the concept of love covering an offense: “Love covers all transgressions” (Proverbs 10:12 ).
There is no chapter that best describes fervent love than 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, TLB)
What is love? It will hardly even notice when others do wrong. In order to cover an offense, we need love, fervent love, the love that stretches us.