As we relate with people, we have all, at one time or another, encountered a tense situation of raised voices and sharp words. What we utter in the heat of the moment can mar our Christian witness and even destroy relationships.
It is not easy to defuse a fiery encounter. What should we do in the face of wrath? God’s Word counsels us to resolve conflicts with “a soft answer”:
“A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15: 1a)
Proverbs 15: 1a tells us that it is possible to turn away anger. The word “soft” means “tender” or “gentle”. A mild, gracious and gentle reaction in any conflict helps to appease the offended or angry party.
“If wrath be risen like a threatening cloud, pregnant with storms and thunder, a soft answer will disperse it and turn it away. When men are provoked, speak gently to them, and give them good words, and they will be pacified” (Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary).
But does Proverbs 15: 1a mean that we should whisper our answer? Does it mean that a soft reply is never malicious or hurtful? Harsh words, even when spoken softly, can be provocative if they come from a bitter or vindictive heart. What makes a response gentle is the intent of the heart. A soft answer is always motivated by a spirit of love, meekness and grace.
Kind and gentle words will go a long way to soothe and weaken a man’s passions. This truth is illustrated in the following Biblical examples:
After many years of separation due to Esau’s bitter hatred, Jacob attempted a reconciliation with his angry brother. He endeavoured to make amends for the past by a meek and respectful approach to his elder brother. Jacob sent servants with humble greetings from “thy servant Jacob” to “my lord Esau” (Gen. 32: 4, 20).
To appease his brother, Jacob had also prepared gifts (vv. 13-15). A wealthy man now, Jacob wanted his brother to know that he would not be a burden to him: “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now: I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants” (v. 5a). Humbly, Jacob sought his brother’s favour: “… that I may find grace in thy sight” (v. 5b).
Jacob’s soft approach and reconciliatory gesture won his brother’s heart. Esau kindly offered to provide “some of the folk that are with me” as guides for Jacob and his family (Gen. 33: 15).
The Ephraimites were offended that Gideon had not included them in his battle against the Midianites: “And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply” (Judg. 8: 1).
But Gideon’s mild and tactful answer pacified their anger: “And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? 3 God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you?” (vv. 2-3a). Lauding his Ephraimite brethren for their prowess in overcoming the princes of Midian, Gideon managed to appease them, thus avoiding an ugly confrontation: “Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that” (v. 3b). Gideon’s soft answer had turned away their wrath!
Provoked by Nabal’s rude and churlish conduct, David was on the march to destroy him and his family (I Sam. 25: 10-13). But the gentle and humble pleas of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, deterred David from carrying out his murderous intent. David was grateful for her timely intervention and wise advice “which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (v. 33).
How true is the proverb that states, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone” (Prov. 25: 15)!
Brethren, we do not know when we may face an angry situation. When provoked to wrath, let us respond in a spirit of meekness – with kind, gentle and conciliatory words. Speak words that “minister grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4: 29) and reflect our Christian testimony.
Commentator Charles Bridges aptly remarked: “If others begin, let us forbear from continuing the strife. Soft and healing words gain a double victory — over ourselves and our brother” (Commentary on Proverbs). May the Lord grant us wisdom and grace to deal meekly and peaceably in every difficult situation. (… to be concluded)