Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
Our passage comes from the Book of Proverbs. There is definitely a great message here for us … however hard it might be to implement. Although I read this verse on Wednesday morning, I did not have time to write any commentary – thinking that I would do so later in the day. As it turned out, later in the day, I found myself listening to one of my employees recount a telephone conversation with a client who was “in a rage” and berating some of our employees as well as verbally assaulting me to this subordinate. Needless to say, I became quite incensed. I simmered (no probably boiled is a better description) the rest of the day … repeating the matter to others (mostly immediate family) and then prayed about the matter that night … wondering what had happened to my relationship with this client that I and a couple of my devoted employees would be so denigrated. I will share more in a moment about my prayer time; but to finish, I was rushed to get ready and off to the office on Thursday morning for an all-day staff meeting … and then I worked at the office afterwards until about 7:00 p.m. Yesterday, I had a tooth extracted, so I am just now getting back to this particular Verse of the Day.
As I read this verse again today … I was reminded how my emotions and attitude had gotten the best of me earlier this week. Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Although this client and I are not “close” friends, we have known each other for 25 years. And regardless of the level of affinity, I always want to consider myself someone who would endeavor to “foster love” toward anyone … someone who would always strive to demonstrate Christian character in all circumstances … someone who would endeavor to cover over an offense of any magnitude. But I have to confess, this circumstance has taken me a couple of days to get there, and I regret that my immediate attitude was not more Christ-like. Pondering this verse again reminded me of the convictions I felt during my prayer time Wednesday night while the incident was still fresh in my mind. And I am “repeating the matter” here only to share the spiritual lessons I learned through this experience:
Sometimes it is best to remain silent when we become charged with emotion. Unfortunately, in my “anger” over what had transpired with my employee, I called the client an “explicative” that describes the hind side of a donkey. I regret the lapse of character in front of an employee who has otherwise seen a more noble display of leadership. I was ashamed because it felt no different to me than if I had done so in front of my children. Yes, we are adults. Yes, we are humans. Yes, the employee most likely overlooked my indiscretion in the heat of the moment. But NO; I should be mindful not to bring the slightest potential reproach to our Lord Jesus nor be flippant about a seemingly harmless, understandable show of emotion. In truth, I was the opposite of what Jesus expected me to be. I was out of character. Though Spirit-filled … that was my character none the less in that moment. So I had to question the inclinations of my own heart. Why was I so quick to anger … when it should have been slow to anger? (Cf. Proverbs 15:18; 16:32; 19:11) And, besides, we had just reviewed this passage from Matthew 5 a week or so ago:
Matthew 5:38-45 (ESV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
As I prayed Wednesday night and “repeated the matter” to God, He reminded me of my need for repentance. The Lord reminded me of His faithfulness to me my entire life. I thought about His Word: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Cf. Psalm 103:8) I felt convicted and realized that I have been called to be merciful, gracious, and long-suffering towards others. I am expected to “foster” or promote love. Yes, someone I had expected to respect me for my faithful service to them had hurt me. Yet, in my complaint, God showed me a greater truth – the hurt that I felt in that moment was no different than the hurt or disappointment God feels when I fail to be faithful to Him and His Word.
In his epistles, Paul often reminds us of how we should conduct ourselves with others. And notice in the following passage how our failures to conduct ourselves in a right manner causes us to “grieve the Holy Spirit” who dwells within us. Perhaps the conviction I felt Wednesday night was the expression of grief by the Holy Spirit:
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
So in my prayer time, forgiveness was the recurrent theme. God has forgiven me … I need to forgive others. If I want to facilitate love in and through my life, forgiveness is a great place to start. Forgiveness does not dismiss what happened. It does not condone the hurt caused. Rather, forgiveness simply releases the person from any debt. Jesus paid my sin debt. I should choose to do the same with others who wrong me. As Paul instructed us: “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5)
Dr. David Jeremiah of Turning Point wrote: “The hardest part of forgiving another person is acting like the offense never occurred. But that is what forgiving someone means – restoring relationships to the status they had before the offense took place. It’s one thing to say, “I forgive you,” but it’s another to act like all the effects of an offense are completely erased.” Yet, we need to realize that is how God has forgiven us. (Cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:16-18) The offense I felt from the lips of a friend absolutely pales in comparison to the offenses and transgressions I have committed against the One who created me, loved me, and saved me according to His great love.
Micah 7:18-19 (ESV)
18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
So I pray that each of us would consider the depth of forgiveness we have received in Christ Jesus … and remember that we have been called to forgive others in the same manner as the Lord forgave each of us. However difficult to put into practice, we have to remember that forgiveness is the foundation of our relationship with God. Without His forgiveness, we would have no life within us at all. As Paul wrote: “When we were dead in our sins and under the power of our flesh, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it (our legal indebtedness) away, nailing it to the cross. (Cf. Colossians 2:13-14)
It might sound strange, but I am somewhat grateful that this offense and a slip of my tongue has jolted me with a greater truth – there is no offense committed against me that could be greater that the offense of my own sin before God. The sins of mankind required a sacrifice no one but God Himself could offer to atone for it. (Cf. 1 John 4:10-11) So I am thankful for this reminder as I continue to learn how to “foster” love as Jesus taught us to do. Again, as Paul wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Cf. Colossians 3:12-14)