The last five messages I have shared have been based upon a single verse of scripture: Prov.18:19. We need to understand the picture we are given of what happens to the person who holds on to and nurtures an offence. It is that of a person locked away behind bars, totally disconnected relationally, lonely, bitter, fearful, filled with shame – and more than anything else unable to ever trust.
That inability to trust is related to the fact that our trust has been violated. Usually that violation takes place in childhood and usually it involves an authority figure. Finally, the wounding of the heart can actually begin while in the womb.
Here is where I want to pick it up this morning. The choice of that person who violated our trust may have put us in that locked down citadel of Proverbs 18:19, but the thing that keeps us there is the choice we make. There is a choice that will free me from that prison of the offended heart and at core that choice is to forgive.
The choice to not forgive is the same as drinking poison and waiting for your offender to die.
Prov.12:16 A fool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor.
Prov.17:9He who conceals a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
Prov.19:11 A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
Essentially these three proverbs deal with the same issue: the response of wisdom to an offence, insult, sin or violation. I want to work through the first of these three proverbs: Prov.12:16.
First let’s go to the words of Jesus. Here is the first point of wisdom regarding this matter of offense. Matt.18:7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! There are a couple of things we need to take away from this. 1) There is presently no such thing as an offense-free zone. 2) The spiritual formation of our heart is taking place not in the absence of offenses but in the presence of offenses. 3) God will judge and deal with the person by whom the offense comes.
Since I cannot live free of the presence of offenses I need to know how to respond to those offenses when they arrive. And that brings us back to this: Prov.12:16 Afool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor.
The proverb is contrasting the reactions of the fool and the wise man to the same issue – the issue of dishonour, insult, or offense. The problem with the fool is not the issue of anger. Not all anger is wrong; there is a righteous anger. The problem with the fool is that he is not in control of his anger – in fact he is not in control of his feelings or emotions at all. When he meets an offense or a perceived offense he explodes and boils over; no restraint, control, measure or discipline. Such is the way of the fool.
In contrast to this we have the ‘prudent man’. The word ‘prudent’ comes from a Hebrew root that carries both a positive and negativeconnotation. The negative meaning is: to be subtle, shrewd, crafty, and wary, to take crafty counsel. When we come over to the New Testament we arrive at this: ‘pertaining to being tricky and cunning, with a focus on evil treachery.’ The ultimate expression of its negative connotation is found in: Gen 3:1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild creature which the Lord God had made.”
The positive connotation of this same root word from which we get the word ‘prudent’ is expressed in the following:‘To be skilful or wise; to be ready or prepared to do a thing.’ Proverbs describes the prudent or wise person this way: The prudent one does not vaunt his knowledge (Prov 12:23). He ignores an insult (Prov 12:16). He acts with knowledge (Prov 14:8). He looks where he is going (Prov 14:15). He sees danger and acts appropriately (Prov 22:3; 27:12). He is crowned with knowledge (Prov 14:18).
I hope you see the difference here. This is not a man living out of his emotions and feelings. This man’s soul is stable, measured, disciplined, governed and controlled. The issue that both the fool and the prudent are faced with is expressed in the word ‘dishonour’. Here is its definition from the original languages of the scripture: the use of insult particularly against one’s position or place; to disgrace, be lightly esteemed, be dishonoured, be despised; to treat with contempt, to treat shamefully; to be classified as a nobody, to be degraded, to be considered of very low status or priority; to be overlooked or ignored.
According to Christ we cannot live in this world and escape this culture of offense. It will touch our souls to one degree or another. This means that the ultimate issue is not – How am I going to create a world free of this, but rather, how am I going to respond to it when I meet it?
The answer to that from our Prov.12:16 text is: But a prudent man conceals dishonor. The key word is ‘conceals’ which is defined by the following words:‘cover, hide, overwhelm, close, clothe, to spread over.’ We must be careful to understand that this is not about denial. It is not about pretending we were not violated when in fact we were. This is not a call to self-deception.
This whole idea of covering or to spread over is very close to the same idea of atonement which means to cover or to overwhelm by spreading a covering over a thing.By virtue of this ‘overwhelming by covering’ there is a blotting out (the removal from view) of the thing being covered. This is very different from denial– this is dealing with a thing by blotting it out. And when it is blotted out it no longer has negative influence over you.
But here is the twist in all of this – the final point. In any significant research on the definition of this word you will find the word forgive or forgiveness many times. There is the heart of it. I cannot stop the insult, the sin, the offense and the violation of those who choose to do that to me. But I can choose to forgive, and when I do that offense is overwhelmed by the overspreading cover of love, grace and forgiveness.Thus the insult is blotted out and no longer has any power to keep my soul – my heart– in that locked up citadel described in Proverbs 18:19.
As long as I choose not to forgive, I remain the victim of the offender who victimized me.
What is it that makes forgiveness such a powerful and freeing reality in the lives of those who choose to forgive?Forgiveness is not so much for or about the offender as it is the offended. Here’s why. In choosing not to forgive I am assuming the right to judge the offender and to exact retribution and vengeance. This keeps me tied to the offender and the offense. The Bible makes it clear that this right belongs exclusively to God. And for me to assume that right I am assuming the place of God.
When I choose to forgive I am releasing the offender to the justice and judgement of God, but far more importantly for me I am submitting myself to God and giving Him the supreme place of ruler-ship in my heart. This is always liberating.