Discerning Rebuke

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”

- Proverbs 17:9-10

All of us have gotten into trouble at one time or another because of something we said. Sometimes the fault is not entirely our own—people misinterpret us just as we often misinterpret others. More often than not, however, we find ourself in hot water because what we have said has been heard correctly. Words are powerful, and they can destroy reputations and ruin friendships. When spoken rightly and at the appropriate time, however, they can have a powerful influence for good on those who are seeking wisdom.

Little wonder, then, that our Creator—who Himself uses words to communicate with us—spends so much time in His Word on the power of our speech and the importance of speaking judiciously and with discernment. Today’s passage helps us understand the power of words by showing us how they can promote love and bring greater wisdom to a person who already has understanding. First, we read in Proverbs 17:9 that “whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Here the concern is gossip as well as our propensity to bring up the ways that our friends and families have hurt us in the past when we are talking to them. The Hebrew term translated “repeats” has the sense of repeating something only once. Thus, the person who covers an offense is not merely the person who brings up the misdeed only on rare occasions but rather the individual who never says anything about it. A friend who seeks to strengthen the love between himself and another never brings up an offense again. The one who seeks to encourage others to love his friend will not be spreading news of the friend’s sins to others. Obviously, the proverb is not saying that it is always wrong to bring up a past offense. Things such as background checks and the selection of church leaders demand investigating whether there are past offenses that would disqualify individuals from particular jobs or church offices. What the proverb is concerned with are those minor peccadilloes that we must endure from those around us. Covering an offense by not recounting it is evidence of that love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Proverbs 17:10 speaks of the rebuke that a wise man will receive. Individuals who are wise can discern whether the rebuke spoken to them is appropriate, and they will hear and heed it. Unlike the stubborn fool who will not learn even after being punished one hundred times, the wise man can be trusted to receive a rightly timed rebuke.

Coram Deo

Love and wisdom must govern our speech and how we hear the words of others. We are to speak the truth in love, not seeking to crush sensitive souls but to build them up in Christ. This requires discernment. Understanding a rebuke given to us takes discernment as well, for sometimes rebuke comes to us from a fool. Pursuing wisdom involves discerning whether the words spoken to us are appropriate. Seeking counsel from many wise people is one way to gain this discernment.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 13:1
Ecclesiastes 7:5
2 Corinthians 12:20
1 Timothy 5:20

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