Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Lifelong bad habits are so hard to break. I should know, for I definitely have some. Perhaps that’s because they come so naturally to me. They are things that feel good or seem good at first, but I’ve found out later they aren’t good for me at all.
The book of Proverbs speaks to this in so many ways. Short, pithy statements that are designed to give wisdom to fools. They’re no help to someone who is “wise in his own eyes? (for) There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12). An example of this is given in the verse above. How often have you heard someone say “Well, I told him/her . . .!“ or “I gave him/her a piece of my mind!”? Usually when we hear (or say) such words, they have been spoken in a proud tone, one that says “Well, I showed him!” Proverbs shows us the folly of such pride and such words.
Harsh words are a natural response to harsh words, but they are definitely not a supernatural response. God’s direction to us is that if we want to defeat harshness in others, a soft answer is a surefire weapon. Harsh words just stir up more angry and harsh words, providing more fuel to the fire, while soft words throw water on the flames and turn away wrath. But oh, how difficult this is to practice.
You’ve heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” But perhaps an even better truth is that “REACTIONS speak louder than words.” It is the reactions we have to the actions of others that really reveal what’s deep in our hearts. Jesus said this in so many words with the following teaching: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:32-35).”
Harsh responses to harshness – that’s just the natural way. It comes naturally to just about everyone on the face of the earth. But a soft response to harshness, a kind response to unkindness, and a loving response to an enemy – those are so unnatural that they take divine strength to do. May God give us the strength to react to ungodly actions in a godly way, rather than to just keep doing the ungodly things that come so naturally to us.