(Proverbs 11:17 KJV) The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.
A recurring theme in this chapter as well as much of Proverbs it the contrast of good and evil. Different expressions are used. Verse one contrasts the cheating businessman with the honest. Here it is “merciful” (2617a) [chesed] and “cruel” (394). As I skim through the different commentaries I have on my computer there seems to be a misunderstanding of the word “merciful”. Often they interpret it as someone being merciful to themselves but the Hebrew word is much grander than that. To me it is the Old Testament equivalent of agape. It is expressing the love of God in everyday life.
The point being made here is that being First Corinthians loving to other people has a side effect that cannot be achieved if personal benefit is the goal. Doing good to others has a pay-back, but it can only be received when it is not planned. Kindness is not calculation. Consider actor Sidney Poitier in the movie Lilies of the Field. If my memory serves me correctly, the owner of a bar was donating the money for a beautiful object. He had previously said he was not a believer. Poitier asked him why he was giving the money. “Insurance,” he answered. God does not sell insurance He offers salvation.
So? We are to be different. The difference is to be heartfelt, not crafted to get benefits for ourselves.