September 7

Conflicts Among Friends, Part 3

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends…A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle… Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” (Proverbs 17:9; 18:19; 22:24-25)

Have you read an instruction manual for a new appliance, device, or tool lately? The brochure usually has a section titled, “Safeguards,” “Quick Start Guide,” or “Warnings?” Next comes a section describing the parts or functions. The last part of the brochure may be a trouble-shooting chart or guide. These verses from Proverbs remind me of an instruction manual for friendships for someone who has difficulty with anger. If we take them in reverse order, the last citation (22:24-25) describes a potential friendship that is to be avoided rather than lead to trouble (warning).  The middles passage (18:19) speaks of an offended “brother” who is unyielding, describing the spiritual hardness that results from quarreling (description). The first verse (17:19) speaks of a friendship in which one friend may cover or hide the other’s sin or offense rather than reminding him of it (troubleshooting guide).

Continuing in this reverse order, Proverbs warns us not to get into trouble with anger ourselves by spending time with an angry friend (22:24-25). We already know that we become like those with whom we spend time. But do we realize that anger is an intensely strong emotion, but is often evidenced by a person’s critical attitude and judgmental spirit? It is much more likely that the angry friend will have a more significant influence than the neutral party, because of anger’s intensity. Irate people frequently find many things to criticize, even mundane things like the weather, or someone’s car, or a slight inconvenience. We are instructed not to make this person our friend, or go anywhere with him or her.

If we do not heed this warning and have a friend who is often angry, we will notice that our friend is also frequently offended and stubbornly so (18:19). He holds onto his offenses tightly–his heart and mind cannot be penetrated, as a guarded city or jail cell cannot be breached. Trying to reconcile with a friend who has become alienated is probably harder than patching things up with a stranger or enemy because we are so much more disappointed or disillusioned by our conflict. The closer we are, the deeper the hurt.

Proverbs 17:9 teaches that if we remind our friends of their sins and offenses against us (after resolving them), they will want to separate from us.* Or, if we mention our friend’s offenses to others in gossip or slander, they will surely not want to remain friends. However, if we love our friend, we will want to resolve the matter and never mention it again. I wonder if this was the case after the apostles Paul and Mark settled their differences, which caused them to split up in the first place (Acts 13:13; 15:38-40; Colossians 4:10).

When we are the Christian friend with the anger problem, we should take the Proverb’s warning and get help before we lose all our friends, and are left alone. When we do become angry, if we hold onto our anger we imprison ourselves, unable to break free. But when Christians sin against a friend, we should love them so much that we cannot bear to be separated from them. So we quickly resolve the issue through honest confession and repentance. If they have offended us, we should try to let an offense go and not talk about it again after addressing and reconciling the matter, if necessary. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Work with your Christian friends on your conflicts since you both have the Holy Spirit, who has overcome the world.

* John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-17.html

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