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“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15: 1)

In our article last week, we learnt that a soft and gentle answer helps to soothe tension in a conflict: “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15: 1a). Words that are kind and conciliatory go a long way to restore peace in a fiery situation and win over a hardened heart.

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “wrath” (“hamiya”) here denotes anger in the highest degree. It has several meanings – “fury”, “rage”, “hot displeasure” and “poison”. But a meek and mild response to one who is raging can avert a heated and unpleasant encounter. This truth was demonstrated in the examples of Jacob, Gideon and Abigail whose soft and meek approach turned away the wrath of the contending parties.


“Grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15: 1b)

But while “a soft answer turneth away wrath”, “grievous words stir up anger”. When provoked, it is natural for us to vent our frustration with angry words. We make caustic remarks and lash out at the offending party. These grievous words often inflict pain and hurt, and aggravate a sensitive and difficult situation.

Grievous words are sharp, contentious, harsh and malicious. These words fan the flame of anger, causing it to burn uncontrollably. Fierce passions, if unrestrained, can cause irreparable damage and deadly wounds.

“Nothing stirs up anger, and sows discord, like grievous words, calling foul names, as Raca, and Thou fool, upbraiding men with their infirmities and infelicities, their extraction or education, or any thing that lessens them and makes them mean; scornful spiteful reflections, by which men affect to show their wit and malice, stir up the anger of others, which does but increase and inflame their own anger” (Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary).

Grievous words can lead to disastrous consequences. This is clearly illustrated in the rough response of Rehoboam to his oppressed subjects. When Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king, the people requested a remission of the heavy burdens imposed by his father (I Ki. 12: 4). Rejecting the advice of his father’s counsellors, the king foolishly followed his young peers’ counsel and returned a provocative answer to his subjects: “And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (v 14). The king’s harsh response led to an open rebellion and he was compelled to flee to Jerusalem (vv 16-19).

Managing strife

How do we, as Christians, manage situations which may engender strife? As we have learnt from God’s Word, we are to respond in a meek and mild manner. Remember that “soft and healing words gain a double victory over ourselves and our brother” (Commentary on Proverbs – Charles Bridges).

In a tense situation, let us humble ourselves and make peace: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12: 18). This is particularly important when we are in a conflict situation with a non-Christian.

Learn to look at our part in the conflict. Am I stubbornly holding on to my views? Am I upset because someone disagrees with me? Am I a contributing factor to the problem? Am I too proud to admit my wrongs? Am I being defensive? Am I open to considering and understanding the other party’s point of view? Can the issue be resolved in a loving and gracious way?

Albert Barnes aptly comments: “We are not to begin or to originate a quarrel. So far as we are concerned, we are to seek peace. But then it does not always depend on us. Others may oppose and persecute us; they will hate religion, and may slander, revile, and otherwise injure us; or they may commence an assault on our persons or property. For their assaults we are not answerable; but we are answerable for our conduct towards them; and on no occasion are we to commence warfare with them” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).

One way to defuse a heated situation is to stay calm. As exhorted by the apostle James, “… let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1: 19). Take time to analyse the issues at stake before we speak, lest we show our folly and lack of understanding: “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 29: 20). Never forget that we cannot retract our rash words in a negative situation. It is better to restrain ourselves and speak wisely and discreetly, rather than regret our swift and foolish response.

Brethren, let us speak and act from a heart of love and grace. May our words and actions be gentle, kind and meek in all of life’s situations. Let us not stir up anger by speaking sharp or grievous words that hurt, and aggravate tension. May the Lord help us to apply the truth of this proverb in our daily lives.

– Pastor