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  • Jim Odens

A Word Fitly Spoken (Proverbs 15:1)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. —Proverbs 15:1

Remember the most recent time you were hurt by someone’s sharp, cutting words? Remember the feelings that experience triggered: piercing pain, sharp anger, the desire for payback?

Now recall the most recent occasion when you were calmed and soothed by the gentle words of a person who was not deterred by your angry outbursts. Remember how those gentle words preserved the relationship and brought you to your senses?

Proverbs 15:1 is an example of the truth of James 3:5, that "the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” The problem is that the “great things” can be either great good or great evil. The power of the tongue is evident. The key is how we wield that power and for what purpose.

Proverbs 15:1 is a proverb, a wisdom saying. It is neither a command nor a promise. Rather, it is a reflection grounded in personal experience and observation. However, it is a reflection on life intended to make us think about what we want to accomplish when we open our mouths.

If we want to deflect and deflate anger, a gentle response to angry words is the best plan. This rules out the inclination to return in kind. It also rules out escalating the situation by hurting the other person more than that person hurt me. Furthermore, it rules out using the tactic of the silent treatment. Soft words are the best comeback to an angry person, when the goal is reconciliation and peace.

On the other hand, if we want to provoke anger, the sword-thrusts of harsh, biting, painful words will accomplish the job with great effectiveness. The question to be asked, however, is, “Who would want to purposefully provoke anger in another person made in the image of God?” The answer: someone who does not care about the glory of God, the good of the other person, or the welfare of his own soul.

The best choice in a tense situation is clearly soft words. It is our privilege and our responsibility to make that choice on a regular basis.


For Reflection

  1. Do I see myself as a steward of my tongue who will give an account to my Creator for how I use it?

  2. How much does my speech promote peace rather than provoke tension?

  3. Why are soft words, rather than the silent treatment, promoted in this Fighter Verse?


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