"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
If you hang around with church folk very long, you will hear them speak about "covering." I remember when I first heard this phrase, I assumed they were talking about covering up. But there is a huge difference between covering and covering up.
There is only one time in the New Testament that the word "cover" is used in that context, and that is in I Peter 4:8 - "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (NIV). Sometimes this passage is misinterpreted to mean that our love for each other blots out our sin. Make no mistake: The only love that can cancel out sin is the love of Jesus manifested in his death on the cross. What Peter is talking about here is the unconditional love and acceptance that should be present in the Body of Christ creating an environment where we feel safe and secure to confess our sins to one another and repent.
James also painted this picture of how the church ought to function in his epistle: "...confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:16, NIV)
Sadly, in most church fellowships that love and acceptance is not present. This results in an environment where we dare not confess our faults to each other for fear we will become fodder for the gossip mill. Here's another way to look at it: When we don't have the love covering, we have a cover up. So we come to the one place on earth where we should be able to be real and we put a mask on and hide what we are feeling, what we are thinking, and what we are struggling with.
There is no doubt in my mind that the epidemic we are currently seeing in moral failures, divorces and scandals among pastors and church leaders has it's roots in the lack of "covering love" present in the church. In most cases, these Pastors were too proud or too isolated to seek out accountability partners.
For every high profile leader who fails, there are scores of deacons, elders, teachers and others in the church who suffer the same fate out of the spotlight. This is why the divorce rate is higher in the church than outside the church! You don't dare come to church and admit you and your spouse are struggling and need prayer, help and support, so you suffer in silence while your marriage and family crumbles around you.
This lack of "covering love" in the church is the spirit of the Pharisees, not that of Jesus! When Jesus encountered those struggling with sin He responded with compassion and understanding, saying "I don't condemn you." This in spite of the fact that He is the only person who has the right to condemn sinners. You and I don't have that right. We are like the Pharisees with rocks in their hands waiting to throw them and the sinful woman; When Jesus reminded them of their own sin, one by one they dropped their stones and walked away, knowing they were every bit as guilty as she.
If your church, Sunday School class, or small group doesn't provide this atmosphere of acceptance, you need to seek out accountability and covering for your life. Covering up your sin will only result in repeating the same behavior. So, find a group of people that you can be totally transparent with and hold each other accountable. I am not exaggerating to say that failure to find accountability in your life can result in at best stagnation and at worst ruin for your spiritual life and your reputation.
Seeking out and taking advantage of an environment where love covers will be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you will ever do. You cannot put a price on a clear conscience, and the knowledge that there are people who know you completely yet love you anyway. It is in this environment that you can begin to understand the unconditional love that God loves you with. And you realize that you aren't the "Lone Ranger." Your brothers and sisters are struggling in the same areas that you are struggling in!