9 He who covers a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates friends.
Are you an archaeologist? Do you love the adventure of finding artifacts and items from the distant past? If so, you are not alone.
I am a fan of Indiana Jones and one of my favorite pastimes is looking for fossils, arrowheads, and relics of the past. My family and I have enjoyed finding fossilized shark’s teeth and other prehistoric bones on the beaches and in the fields near where have lived. It is stunning to pick up a tooth of a giant ocean predator from ancient seas, and discover that it is still as sharp as the day it was lost.
Civil War buttons and bullets are neat to find where troops once camped, as well as silver spoons and pieces of china from the sites of long-gone plantation homes. My two young sons have thrilled to find old bottles and other items, long discarded, but bearing obscure, or even familiar brand names.
My prized possession is a find that came quite by accident. Years ago, driving in a two-wheel drive SUV, I took my wife on a detour down a dirt road. We both love dirt roads and the adventures that they can bring, but this was after a summer rain, and soon we encountered trouble.
A large puddle appeared ahead of us, but it did not look very deep. “Don’t do it,” my wife admonished, knowing by my grin that I was no longer listening to her. I drove into the puddle and we stopped with a muddy splash as my front wheels found a hole as deep as the Marianas Trench.
I instantly regretted my decision to buy a two-wheel drive vehicle (but not my decision to go mud bogging). My wife, I am sure, was regretting other, more life-changing decisions she had made years previously.
While waiting on the tow truck, I spotted treasure. There, in the mud beside the road, lay a large Native American spearpoint. It was carved of native chert, was about three inches long, and still retained its perfectly sharp tip.
Later, a friend with more knowledge than I confirmed the projectile to be a Savannah River point from the "Woodland" Period. The little tip at the point–which is almost never found intact–made it a rare find.
2000-5000 years ago, in the woods near my house, early Americans hunted and lived their lives on the brink of nature. I had found pottery and seen the ancient oyster shell rings in the marsh as proof that they lived here - but never held such dramatic evidence in my hand.
And my wife thought driving down the muddy road was a BAD choice.
However, digging up things from the past is not always a good idea, whether or not mud puddles are involved. The past can be a field of painful memories, deep regrets, and a place where echoes of poor choices can still linger.
To have someone go poking around in that dark cabinet and drag some remembrance of a past sin into the light can be traumatic and embarrassing–especially when done intentionally.
Solomon knows this, and as he instructs the young of Israel, in the wise way to deal with pitfalls of the past–and how to treat one another accordingly when it comes to handling those sins:
9 He who covers a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates friends.–Proverbs 17:9
This proverb is part of a section that Solomon has compiled and known as the “catalog of fools.” The proverbs and passages in chapter 17 read like a litany of disaster and warning–but in them is shining hope. In verse 9, he shares the hope of peace between two people in regards to the sins of the past.
The first line of the verset describes “covering over sins.” A quick, first-impression pass at this can give you the impression that it is a veiled warning against superficiality, or the danger of “hiding sin.” True, there is a time and a place to expose sin in others, or to confess your own, but this is not the case.
Instead, Solomon is describing what is sometimes necessary to restore a broken community, or a broken friendship. Often, to keep the peace, or to simply foster an environment of love and understanding, it is necessary to overlook sin in others.
Think of it this way: a homeless man enters your church. He is perhaps a drug-addict, or maybe he is simply looking for refuge and a friendly face. If you see him and immediately pass judgment verbally or in your mind, you may instantly turn him away from an opportunity to hear the gospel or see the kindness of Jesus in action:
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.–Ephesians 4:32
He is dirty, obviously knows his great need, and possibly is burdened with guilt from a life of poor choices or sinful habits. For you to helpfully recount these to him in a plea for repentance, may turn him off to the one thing he needs to see: the love of God in Christ in you.
This reminds me of a song by country music singer-songwriter Larry Fleet, recently shared with me by an old friend of mine. Fleet comes from a family steeped in bluegrass and Tennessee gospel. He has been recently discovered as an artist and in 2019 released his hit song “Where I Find God.” It is a look back on a life that could have been lost in sin and running from grace, were it not for a kind soul who showed him mercy:
The night I hit rock bottom, sittin' on an old barstool
He paid my tab and put me in a cab, but he didn't have to
But he could see I was hurtin', oh, I wish I'd got his name
'Cause I didn't feel worth savin', but he saved me just the same
As Fleet shares his path of awareness of sin and forgiveness in Christ, his fans are letting him know the impact that the song has had on their lives:
"They're telling their stories. Then other people tell me they fought with addiction. They heard this song and turned their truck around and tried to mend some fences with their family and go to Alcoholics Anonymous," Fleet shares.
"To me, as a songwriter, that's about as good a compliment that you can get: a song you wrote has changed someone's life, for the good," he adds.
There is a time and a place to call for repentance, and a time to show compassion and love. The same thing applies to our friends and fellow believers, for this proverb also deals with digging up past offenses among friends.
Relationships between two sinful people can often break down. You are already damaged by the effects of sin in your life and in the world, as the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden echoes across the ages. To be a believer in Christ and a faithful friend to others, it is important for you to be aware of your sin–and not to take advantage of the sins of others for your own gain.
Do you know someone, a friend, a co-worker, or even a family member who likes to bring up times in the past when you have wronged them? Perhaps this person does so under the guise of jesting, or ribbing you. The effect can feel like the twist of a knife, as he brings up something yet again just to get your goat.
This is sometimes done as a means of power and control, as this person manipulates you. The expression “beating a dead horse” comes to mind, with the net effect of you either losing your temper, or despising their presence. Tim Keller offers more clues:
Some signs that you need relationship restoration for when you begin avoiding each other, or are relatively formal with each other, or when you find that you are irritated when that person says something more than when someone else says it.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating life”
Maybe you have done this to someone in an effort to decisively win an argument, or to show them that you are on higher moral ground than they. Have you ever pulled this “nuclear option” in an argument with your spouse, or with a close friend? If so, you can almost see the light of love in their eyes fade in your moment of “triumph.”
Peter warns you of this as being shortsighted, and even blind to the grace that was shown to you:
9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.–II Peter 1:9
Before you remember the “old sins” of others, remind yourself of your own–and the depth of forgiveness shown to you.
In doing this, Solomon says you will be “seeking love.” This means more than simply forgetting the sins of your brothers and sisters, or refraining from paying them back, you must foster love. As one commentator says, “to still be friends, not merely not enemies.”
This comes from the aggressive, and heartfelt practice of forgiveness. As Paul encourages:
13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.–Colossians 3:13
Jesus instructs you to forgive not just once, but all day long:
3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”–Luke 17:3-4
In the end, true forgiveness in Christ is for God’s sake and not your own. This means that if you are enduring someone who brings up past sins, you must seek to forgive–and be forgiven–for bigger reasons than your own contentment. You must seek a way for you both to be right with God.
And as Jesus commands in Matthew 18, it involves actively going to this person and seeking to reconcile. This is not always easy, but you must remember that this is how God comes to you in the midst of your own sin. When the prophet Elijah was depressed and losing faith in God, the Almighty came to him in gentleness:
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”–I Kings 19:11-13
Oz Guinness reminds you that, like Elijah, God treats you with the same kindness:
Interestingly, God's remedy for Elijah's depression was not a refresher course in theology but food and sleep... Before God spoke to him at all, Elijah was fed twice and given a good chance to sleep. Only then, and very gently, did God confront him with his error. This is always God's way. Having made us as human beings, He respects our humanness and treats us with integrity. That is, He treats us true to the truth of who we are.–Oz Guinness, “God in the Dark”
You are forgiven. Live out this forgiveness by forgiving others of past sins, and seeking forgiveness from them for your own. Put these old things to rest where they belong, for you–and they–have work to do to share the gospel to a future that has yet to hear the glorious good news of Christ.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.