A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.Proverbs 15:1(NASB)
Many verses in the book of Proverbs are contrasting couplets that stand-alone as a wise piece of advice for men and women of every generation. But like this first verse in chapter 15 which says, "a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger," it is also linked to a much wider body of teaching that could impact the lives of all who take note of its intrinsic wisdom and apply it in their lives.
The verse in question not only deals with the immense power of speech, for good or ill, but also touches on the issue of ones controlled actions or unguarded reactions to the words, behaviour, language, and speech of others.
Words can be helpful and healing. They can provide hope and encouragement. Wise and gracious words are a powerful tool in 'pouring oil on troubled waters' or diffusing a situation that could quickly escalate into a serious conflict.
However, the words we speak and the messages from our lips should also be spoken in spirit and in truth... in grace and in love. For just as a gentle, controlled, thoughtful, or caring word can calm the troubled breast, bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the injured, or grace to an offender, so a harsh, hateful, cruel, or careless comment, can as easily be used to wound or discourage, hurt or hinder, harm or handicap, or speedily stir up strife and anger.
Although this proverb is applicable to every category of humankind, and if used in the corridors of power, the interactions of everyday life, or the privacy of our own homes, would impact our local community and the wider world for good... its target audience are the redeemed of God. How much influence for good this proverb would command if it were applied within the churches of Christendom and practiced in the individual lives and homes of Christians?
Not only does this first verse highlight the need for good, gracious, and gentle answers, but five further verses in the same chapter give greater insight into the need for godly interactions and wise words rather than ungodly speech or careless remarks.
Verse 2 explains that, "the tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly," while verse 4 suggests that, "a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perverse speech, crushes the spirit." Verse 7 is an important reminder that, "the lips of the wise spread knowledge, but this is not so from the hearts of fools."
The chapter concludes with three further wise sayings connected with words and language. Verse 23, "A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!" Verse 26, "Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, but pleasant words are pure." And verse 28, "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things."
Every verse in this Psalm and every reference in Scripture on the correct use of gracious speech and wise language encourages us to give thoughtful questions and circumspect answers... timely words and godly interactions, controlled comments and a refusal to engage in unnecessary chit-chat and unwholesome gossip.
What a difference the Church would make in the world, if the simple message that, "a soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words incites anger," were applied in lives of all who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ. What a change could be wrought if we simply followed Christ's example - Who only said and did those things He heard from His Father in heaven. No surprise that the people, "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Dear Father in heaven, I pray that I may take note of the godly and gracious way to speak to others and apply it in my life. Help me to be careful when responding to the words of others so that I do not promote anger. Help me to turn away any bitterness or wrath with a soft and gentle answer. May my speech be a tree of life to others and prevent me from ever crushing the heart or soul of another, through careless speech. I pray that my lips spread wisdom and knowledge, and keep me from foolish reactions or from spouting folly in some unguarded moment. May my speech and language reflect the gracious words that fell from the lips of the Lord Jesus during His sojourn on earth, and may I only say and do those things that honour Your name. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.