When to cover, when to confront

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Love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

Rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine.  Titus 1:9

When should we cover another Christian, and when should we confront another Christian?  The categories that guide me are 1 Peter 4:8 and Titus 1:9.

Love, for the sake of the friendship, covers, ignores, blows off, makes light of, a multitude of sins when those sins are of the nature of a shortcoming.  We all fall short all the time in all ways (Romans 3:23).  Everything we do fails to attain to “the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  He is magnificent.  We never fully represent him.  And that multitude of sins should be gently covered and never brought up.

But the same love will risk the friendship with a bold rebuke when the behavior contradicts sound doctrine, when it denies the gospel, when it misrepresents the magnificence of Christ as something ugly and inhumane.  It is one thing to fall short, but it is another thing to behave in a way that is opposite to Christ, that is the photographic negative of Christ.  For example, when the conduct of Peter and the others “was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14), Paul confronted Peter publicly.  Peter’s behavior was denying the gospel — not in its doctrine but in its culture, by forcing people to conform to merely human expectations.  Peter’s influence communicated the opposite of gospel freedom and dignity and inclusion.  Paul would have been wrong to cover Peter’s behavior.  He was right to rebuke it openly, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).

An impulsive rebuke, when covering is called for, scars the Body of Christ.  A cowardly covering, when a rebuke is called for, weakens the Body of Christ.  But our gentle covering of a multitude of shortcomings, with rare but brave rebukes for betrayals of the gospel, strengthens the Body of Christ.

May all Christian leaders be able honestly to say, “I do not nullify the grace of God” (Galatians 2:21).

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