“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
The Bible tells us that harsh words create problems rather than solve them. I know you have experienced this in your life! Maybe it’s during a difficult but necessary conversation with your spouse at the end of a stressful day. You think you’re making progress, but they throw in a nasty comment. Your chest tightens, your body temperature rises, and your mind starts racing, searching for an equally ugly retort.
Suddenly, what started as a productive, unity-building conversation has ended in anger, distance, and silence.
Or maybe your child’s selfishness has been revealed, and God, in his rescuing mercy, has given you a divine opportunity to expose the idols of their heart. But sadly, your sin gets in the way, and you use words in a manner that ignores Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”
Your harsh vocabulary selection has escalated hostility and defensiveness rather than producing an atmosphere of receptivity and confession that a gentle correction might have cultivated.
And now, since everyone has a smartphone, YouTube and social media are loaded with videos of complete strangers getting into scary altercations on the road, in supermarkets, or at sports games because of a single harsh word!
But does a soft answer turn away wrath, 100% of the time, unequivocally, without fail? The writer of Proverbs isn’t giving us a guaranteed solution that every time I speak a gentle word to an angry person, I will experience harmony. You know that to be true!
You see, God has not included the Proverbs in Scripture to be used in a mechanical, machine-like way. You can’t turn one cogwheel and expect the rest to rotate in sync. But many of us try to apply the Proverbs to our lives in this way.
It’s similar to what I wrote last week: we treat these verses as isolated, individual nuggets of wisdom in a pile, picking away at them in the hopes of finding something applicable for the moment.
If we study the Proverbs like this, we’ll miss the richness contained in the book. Instead, embedded in each Proverb is the plotline of the whole Biblical story: Creation, Fall, and Redemption.
Creation: The Proverbs points us to the perfect world as God designed it to be. As you read the Proverbs, you ought to marvel at the beauty of God’s original plan while mourning over the loss of that world.
Fall: The Proverbs remind us of the reality that foolishness is everywhere, that temptation exists, and that dark dangers threaten us at every turn. As you read the Proverbs, you ought to be placed on high alert.
Redemption: For the children of God, the Biblical story ends wonderfully. This terribly damaged world will be restored by grace and reconciled by God’s goodness. As you read the Proverbs, you ought to be joyful and hopeful, looking forward to the renewal of all things.
So how would you re-read Proverbs 15:1 in light of this narrative?
In the beginning, words were perfect. God and man spoke freely, and Adam and Eve never uttered a harsh word to each other.
Then the fall happened, and words were used to tempt, blame, and curse.
And then arrived Christ: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Because Christ used words perfectly, we will one day enjoy peace and harmony forever and ever! That’s the redemptive narrative embedded into Proverbs 15:1, and while we aren’t guaranteed to get a favorable reaction today, it will happen someday. And because we’re headed in that direction, we will experience blessing along the way for doing as God commands.
This is how the Proverbs are designed, exploding with more profound meaning and encouragement than any mechanical, isolated nugget could ever provide.
P.S. - if you want to explore the Proverbs in this exciting way, watch my free 5-minute Bible Study series, The Gospel: One Proverb At A Time. In the first ten introductory episodes, I examine additional ways like this to study the Proverbs. Please, join me!
Paul David Tripp
1. When was the last time someone used a harsh word against you? What did they say, and why was it so painful or infuriating? Did it expose any insecurities, unearth buried hurt, or threaten idols?
2. Did you respond sinfully to that harsh word? If so, did you later try and justify your response by blaming the other person as the sole cause of your sin instead of just the occasion? How did this interaction reveal more of your heart than you wanted?
3. When was the last time you used a harsh word with someone you claim to love? Was it a spur-of-the-moment response, or was it calculated? What were you trying to accomplish? Have you repented and sought their forgiveness?
4. How can you use words to win others to Christ? If 1 John 3:18 says, "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth," how can you use your vocabulary to accompany loving deeds with non-believers? Be specific, and think of a way to use encouraging, loving, truthful words this week in an evangelistic way.
5. Identify several of your favorite Proverbs. Then, re-read them through the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. How do these nuggets of wisdom explode with more profound meaning?