In Proverbs 17 there are some shady characters who exhibit shady characteristics in the way they live their life. Some of these folks, who evidently were alive and well in Solomon’s day, are still with us. We read about them in Newsweek, People, and in our local newspapers. We see their lives portrayed in movies at the local movie theater. We know these folks; they live on our block, work in our offices, and roam the hall at our schools. As a matter of fact, some of the destructive behaviors that I read about in Proverbs 17 are present in some of our own lives. They are, without question, a constant threat to each of our lives.

In Proverbs 17 we run into those who are arrogant. They look down their nose at others as they amble through life minding their own business. They are willing to use and abuse others because they think that they are superior to others. There are other folks found in this chapter who are looking to use their financial resources to bribe others, to get what they want. There are also those who are more than willing to lend an open hand to those who want to gain a favor under the table. The James-Dean-rebel-without-a-cause is roaming the lines of Proverbs 17 with a scowl on his face and a defiant air about him. These folks are still with us today and they are bent on rebelling against anything and everything in society. Lurking in the shadows of this chapter are the deceitful and deceptive. They are living a lie and they must deceive to try and continue their scam. Their entire lives are a ruse, a mirage, and you never know if what you get is what you bargained for with these folks.

Proverbs 17 is dotted with the underside of life, those who will smile and put their arm around you while doing you in without giving it a thought. Beware my friends. Live life with your eyes wide open and know that their traps are set and you are their potential prey.

I want to warn you not to stereotype those who will try to get over on you. They aren’t just crack heads, scam artists, and those you would picture as “low lifes.” Those who choose to walk in deception and defiance, those who plot and plan how to get over on others and take advantage of the unsuspecting are dressed in expensive business suits, sitting on corporate Boards and serving in political office as well sitting in homeless shelters and serving time in prison cells. They are cheerleaders, star athletes, and class officers dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch, D&G, and Adidas attire as well as scraggly looking kids whom society suspects as malcontents and deviants.

You can’t identify a certain segment of society that populates the masses of the immoral because these kinds of folks are found in every race, every socio-economic bracket, every profession, and every neighborhood. They are found among the educated and uneducated. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Most people look at an Ivy League education as a sure sign of success, the epitome of accomplishment for the young, and yet Dan Wakefield writes in an article he has written about Harvey Cox’s book, “When Jesus Came To Harvard.”

Cox explains in “When Jesus Came to Harvard” that the faculty realized in the early ’80s that students were being well educated in the humanities and sciences, but “we began to see that we were giving them virtually no preparation for how to apply their educations in a morally responsible manner.” (Dan Wakefield, Jesus at Harvard,

You can earn a Ph.D. in Humanities or the Sciences and be the most devious person who has ever walked the planet. You can have the IQ of a genius and yet live immorally. Let me give you an example.

Ted Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, and grew up in Evergreen Park, a working-class suburb of Chicago. He has the IQ of a genius. He attended Harvard University and then the University of Michigan, where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1967. The same year, Dr. Kaczynski worked as an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was widely recognized as a teacher who would gain tenure. He abruptly resigned in 1969. Dr. Kaczynski was a mathematics whiz, but he took his genius and spent his time and abundant gray matter on devising ways to terrorize people with homemade bombs. Now he is spending his time doing time…for the rest of his time on earth. Maybe you’ve heard of the Unabomber.

Ted Kaczynski is living proof that you can have a high IQ, gain a great education, come from a promising or prominent family background, and yet absolutely ruin your life and the lives of those around you.

You may say, “Well, I’m no Unabomber.” No, maybe not, but let me caution each of us. We are vulnerable and susceptible to each of these devious and devilish characteristics that are mentioned by Solomon to his son in Proverbs 17. We are more than vulnerable if we choose to refuse to live in godly wisdom. You may never target the homes of others with bombs, but eventually, someday, when you find yourself in a jam, you will find yourself resorting to means that you can’t even imagine to get what you want if you refuse to pursue and live in godly wisdom. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Proverbs 17:9. We will spend all of our time this morning focusing on this one nugget of godly wisdom.

9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9 NIV)

There is so much wisdom in this chapter that it makes it really difficult to narrow our focus for our time together. As I prepare these lessons I spend time each week in study and prayer seeking what the Lord would desire to teach me and then have me share with you. I don’t go through this process in a vacuum. I study God’s Word and pray in the midst of life. I study God’s Word in the context of broken lives and shattered dreams. I pray about the Scripture I’m studying with funerals, fragmented marriages, people fired from their jobs, drug addiction, extended hospital stays, financial stresses, and rebellious kids on my mind and heart. I always pray and study with what is going on at the forefront of my heart and mind.

I’ve been studying this verse this past week with all of this on my heart and mind. Let me assure you that this verse gives us godly wisdom that will greatly enhance your quality of life. This is wise living. We see in this verse both a positive action that we should put into practice and a negative action and attitude that we are to avoid. Let’s take a look. In verse 9 we read, “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9 NIV) The positive action that we are to emulate is to cover over an offense. The Hebrew word for “cover” means to “cover, conceal, or hide.” The word is used 151 times in the Old Testament, but I only want us to take a look at three instances where the same word is used. In Psalm 32:1 we read,

Of David. A maskil. Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Psalm 32:1 NIV)

God’s Word teaches us that when we confess our sins to God then He in turn covers our sin and never brings them up again. What a blessing! We see the same idea shared with us in Psalm 85:2.

You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. Selah (Psalm 85:2 NIV)

In the second part of Proverbs 17:9 we read, “…but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” This section of verse 9 is referring to the normal way that we deal with the sins of others, especially when their sins hurt us. We won’t let it go; we store them up to be used at a later date when we need them. If a husband forgets to get his wife a gift or card for Valentine’s Day then you can bet that he will hear about it for years to come. If someone says something about one of their friends and it gets back to them then the friendship is damaged. If the person who hurt their friend asks for forgiveness then they will probably hear that their sin is forgiven, but you can bet that it will not be forgotten. If a child has irresponsible parents or parents who are not what they should be as parents that is a tragedy. God desires for kids to have the benefit of parents who love them and raise them with love. At the same time if a child has an irresponsible parent who is more devoted to taking care of their wants than raising their child then the child can hold that against their parent for the rest of their life. Even if the parent “grows up” and recognizes the error of their ways, confesses their sin to their kids, and asks for forgiveness–their kid doesn’t have to forgive. He or she can hold it over their head for the rest of their life. The child, when he or she becomes an adult, can blame their own foolish decisions on their parents and what they did or didn’t do while they were growing up. These are all examples of how we deal with one another’s sin, but I am so grateful that the way we deal with one another’s sin is not the way that God deals with your sin and mine. In Micah 7:18-19 we read,

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. (Micah 7:18-19 NIV)

You and I may store up all of the hurt that others hurl our way, we may keep a record of the wrongs done to us so that we can use them against those who hurt us, but God is not like us–praise God! Scripture says that He casts our sins into the depths of the sea never to be brought up again. Aren’t you glad that when you are broken, worn out by your sin, and you realize that you need to go to God to confess your sin that He doesn’t roll His eyes and say, “Oh, here you come again. Do you really expect me to take you seriously?” God welcomes you and me like the father welcomed the Prodigal Son when he came walking down the road with his head hanging down. Jesus told the story in Luke 15. Let’s read this beautiful parable together.

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11-24 NIV)

The father saw his son coming down the lane and he ran to him. He wrapped the boy in his arms of forgiveness and he welcomed him home. The boy had rehearsed what he would say, he was going to lay it all out for his dad, and propose that he spend his time working like a hired hand, but his dad would have none of it. The boy was lost, but he had been found. Let the celebration begin! That’s the way God deals with our sin when we come to Him in confession of our sin. “He who covers over an offense promotes love.”

There is another place where the Hebrew word for “cover” appears that I want us to look at this morning. Turn with me to Proverbs 10:12 and let’s read together.

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12 NIV)

“Love covers over all wrongs.” Does the word, “all,” really mean “all?” Whoa! Wait just a minute. You can’t imagine how hard that is for me. No, it’s not hard, it is impossible! I can forgive some wrongs that have been done to me, but all wrongs? You’ve got to be kidding! Solomon says, “Love covers over all wrongs.” This verse reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 when he wrote,

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

This passage of Scripture is often read at weddings even though it is about the relationship of those who are in the Body of Christ. It’s interesting that so many young couples who are getting married choose this passage of Scripture because it sets the bar so high. Just think with me for a moment. “Love is patient?” I have no doubt that God’s love is patient because I’ve experienced His patience in my life over and over again, but how patient are we in our relationship with our spouse? Uh oh! I’m meddling aren’t I? You say, “Well, Mike if you just knew what I’ve dealt with for the past ten years. I’m convinced that he does things just to get me going. He doesn’t get on my last nerve; he stays on my last nerve.” Let’s move on.

“Love is not rude?” Once again, if we are talking about God then I can’t argue with you, but if we are talking about marriages then I’ve got something to say. I’ve met with couples who want to get some advice about their marriage, a little outside perspective on something that keeps plaguing them, and when certain topics come up all manner of sophistication, civility, and decorum are thrown out the window. I’ve been with some sharp couples who acted like they were guests on the Jerry Springer Show. “Love is not rude.”

Paul also says that “love always perseveres.” God loves us with an everlasting love, His love never fails, and He has promised never to abandon you or me. That’s amazing isn’t it? We can’t say the same things about our relationships with our husband or wife, can we? Most of us say things like, “I will love you as long as you do right, as long as you don’t take advantage of our relationship. I will never abandon you as long as you don’t abandon me.”

Last of all, in verse 5, Paul writes, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” David wrote in Psalm 130:3, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3 NIV) For those who are in Christ your books are clear. God doesn’t keep records, but do you have a list of the times you’ve been hurt by your husband or wife? A list, how about a library! My friend, God doesn’t deal with you and me the way that we deal with one another. Husbands and wives, parents and kids, brothers and sisters, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, teammates, preachers and parishioners, business people and clients, and the list could go on and on listing the relationships that fray, frazzle, and unravel.

I mentioned to you earlier that the second part of Proverbs 17:9 says, “…but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” When you read this verse for the first time you can get several different ideas about what it is talking about, but if you take a closer look you can see that Solomon is talking about digging up the past, harping on the same thing over and over again. The Hebrew word for “repeats” means, “to repeat, do again, change, or alter.” In the TWOT Hebrew Workbook they write,

The verb “sh1n” is used of the repetition of an action such as in Elijah’s command to repeat the pouring of water on the wood and sacrifice on the in altar in 1 Kings 18:34. Proverbs 26:11 compares a fool who repeats his folly with the dog returning to his vomit, while in Proverbs 17:9 it is used of one who repeats or broadcasts a mistake or falling of another. (The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

The whole idea of the verse is that you and I have a choice. The two ways of living life are set right next to one another. We can either walk in godly wisdom or we can live just as we are. We don’t have to learn how to harbor unforgiveness. We don’t need anyone to teach us how to hold a grudge. We don’t enroll in a class on digging up the past. We know how to do those things. We already have our Ph.D. and have been awarded the “golden shovel” for our proficiency in digging up the past. Wouldn’t you agree?

The real question for us today is, “How can I forgive so that I can promote love?” That’s a great question. Before we look into God’s Word for an answer let me address something else. I was talking to a friend of mine this past week about what I was studying when she said, “Well, we’re not supposed to let people walk on us are we?” What she was referring to are those relationships where someone takes advantage, willingly takes advantage of someone else repeatedly. Is the person supposed to just grin and bear it? In John 2:24 we read that Jesus knew the hearts of the people, the religious leaders were out to get Him, so He would not entrust Himself to any of them. Jesus knew that these folks were looking for an opportunity to get Him and He didn’t give in to their plots and plans, He didn’t reveal who He really was, He didn’t have an intimate relationship with them–neither should we.

There is a difference between being human and being intent on hurting others. Ever since the Fall, in Genesis 3, all of humanity has suffered from a sin nature. We make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are by choice, we are intent on getting what we want regardless of what we have to do to get it or who it hurts, and sometimes we just mess up. It is imperative that we forgive those who sin against us or we will find our lives growing more and more bitter by the day. For those who are trying to repeatedly get over on us, those who willingly and knowingly try to use us, then we are to follow in Jesus’ steps and not give ourselves to them. We must still forgive them, but we should be very careful about how we “entrust” ourselves to them. At the same time we should be very prayerful and make sure that we aren’t bailing out because we don’t want to be bothered with a difficult person.

Now, how do we forgive with an uncommon forgiveness? That’s a great question. The only way to experience this kind of forgiveness is to allow the Lord to come into our hearts and live through us. When I personally experience the forgiveness that God has made available to me then it is impossible for me to withhold forgiveness from others. God has forgiven me for all of my sin, He has cast it into the depths of the sea never to bring it up again, so how can I freely accept this uncommon forgiveness and not offer it to others? That is impossible!

I know some of us here this morning are struggling with forgiveness in our relationships. It may be a spouse who has hurt you, a child who has disowned you, a parent who has turned their back on you, or a friend who turned out to be an enemy–we must allow the Lord to so work His forgiveness in us so that it will flow through us to the lives of others. If God’s work of forgiveness doesn’t first work within me and you then we have absolutely no reason to let it go and forgive, but if God has forgiven you then He has set the precedent. That is why Paul wrote to the Colossians and said,

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:12-13 NIV)

This is an uncommon forgiveness, godly forgiveness. Have you been forgiven? Have you asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins? Why not ask Him today? If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then this is the first step. Won’t you invite Him in?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 5, 2005

Uncommon Forgiveness
Proverbs 17:9