One of the most popular of the biblical proverbs is Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up conflict, / but love covers over all wrongs.” Some translations read, “Love covers all offenses” or “all transgressions.” What does is mean that love covers all wrongs?
This proverb is an example of antithetical parallelism in Hebrew poetry. A close look at the contrast involved helps provide a better understanding. “Hatred” is contrasted with “love.” The “stirring up” is contrasted with a “covering over.” And “conflict” is what hatred is promoting, whereas love seeks to make peace by covering “all wrongs.” To provide an expanded paraphrase: “Hatred looks for a fight and refuses to smooth things over, but love desires peace between warring parties and will not be involved in provoking dissension.”
Love covers all wrongs, but the wicked find motivation from hatred or spite toward others. In contrast, the righteous are motivated by love. Hatred seeks ways to cause trouble, but love looks for ways to forgive.
This same proverb is quoted in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” In this context, the proverb emphasizes that love is expressed through forgiveness of sins.
The idea of love being associated with forgiveness is found frequently in Scripture. One important example is found in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” See also John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16. The work of Christ on the cross—the work of our forgiveness—was an act of divine love.
In our own personal relationships, we also show love in our forgiveness of others. One of love’s characteristics is that “it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Love has no list of how or how often it has been offended. Love forgives.
A related idea from Proverbs 10:12 is the concept of “covering” sins. This concept is communicated elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe God’s forgiveness of sins. For example, Psalm 85:2 reads, “You forgave the iniquity of your people / and covered all their sins.” In the New Testament, Romans 4:7 speaks of the blessedness of knowing God’s love and forgiveness: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”
James 5:19–20 says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” Again, the idea of “covering” many sins communicates the fact of a person’s sins being forgiven.
Our lives are to be characterized by godly love that forgives the sins of others. Our extending of forgiveness is motivated by the truth that God has forgiven our sin through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:32). How many times should we forgive? Up to seven times? That was Peter’s question in Matthew 18:21. Jesus’ answer: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Romans 5:20). Love covers a multitude of sins—and it keeps on covering.