A soft answer turns away wrath,This verse is so often quoted as a command that I've had difficulty placing it with any certainty into many New Testament contexts. It is so often quoted that a soft answer is always commanded, that the converse is lost. This proverb is more of a statement of fact than a suggestion for tone and directness.
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Recently I was preaching with a group of students in the middle of a festival. This is without a doubt my least favorite place to preach, and it has gotten me into trouble in the past, and likely will get me into trouble in the future. But there were so many people within earshot, and students to encourage, that I took a moment to expound on the narrow road to life versus the broad road to destruction (I was preaching on Main Street). When I concluded the sermonette two ladies were vocally upset. The first screamed, "What gives you the right to bother everyone?!" I responded in a soft voice, but not at all a soft answer, "Umm, the Constitution?" She quickly ran off to find a police officer (who was totally on our side). To the second lady, who was nearly as upset, I said, "I apologize for disrupting your business, we're through now, thank you for listening." Her demeanor changed quickly and she said almost apologetically, "I don't mind, it was just very loud." And we parted on good terms.
For a while afterwards I felt as though I had sinned in my response to the first lady, because I had done nothing to turn away her wrath. But then I took the time to read this verse and ponder it, and several like it in the rest of Proverbs 15 and in James 3. I am not the first to respond to wrath in less than a soft tone, the chief example is the Lord Christ himself.
On the night before his crucifixion, every manner of anger and lies were directed towards him, he was sold for the price of a slave, a veritable army of soldiers came to arrest him, witnesses lined up to testify against him, his greatest enemies had him right where they wanted him (Read Mark 14). But the Chief Priest realized that he had no legal right to crucify Christ, he had to face the fact that the witnesses against Christ did not agree. Had Christ returned a soft answer, or no answer at all, he would have walked free, so the Chief Priest asked as direct a venomous question as has ever been asked, seeking to trap the man who claimed to be God, he asked,
Art thou the Christ? The Son of the Blessed?Jesus, being truly the Anointed of God, Immanuel, God with Us, the Saviour of mankind, the Son of the Good-Word, answered truthfully, he asserted his divinity with the phrase, Ego Eimi, intending to say literally, I am the God who spoke to Moses on Sinai, I AM. It was received as severely as it was meant, and he was condemned to be crucified.
His answer did everything BUT turn away wrath.
Besides the perfect example of the Perfect Man and God, another quote that has always encouraged me is by Martin Luther, seeking, "Peace if possible, truth at all costs." Our words have the ability to start a fire, they can steer both our body and our congregations into truth or even sin, they are the vessels of faith by which the saving message of the Risen Christ are received (Romans 10:8,14,17). We ought to be speaking softly when peace in Christ is possible, but a harsh word is more than capable of revealing sin.
In an age of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-20), I run into about 98% of people who profess Christ, I find that 98% of those have no part nor lot in Christ. A harsh word brings about their anger, showing an unregenerate spirit, a self-justifying demeanor, and a hatred of God and godly rebuke. The first lady mentioned above wanted to know why the balloons and food services of other churches weren't enough religion at the festival, the second lady professed her Christianity, yet both were against the public proclamation of the gospel. I pray that all of those who claim Christ as Saviour will test their salvation, making their calling and election sure, pondering in themselves why they are angry that the excellencies of Christ are preached. Christ said so unsubtly that you are either with him, or against him; you either gather into his kingdom, or you scatter among the lost.
So beloved, be preaching the full counsel of scripture; through the sharing of your faith may you become effective in when to use soft words, and when to speak harshly, may you never be in sin in your responses, may your tongue proclaim without any error the Word of Eternal Life, the Good Word of whom Christ is the Son, for in the beginning was this Word of Offense, he was with God, and he is God, and he became flesh and he dwelt among us. His words led to his crucifixion, but they also led to the salvation of many, may our words be as powerful, as he speaks through us, and calls his saints home through our ministries.
Are you seeking to please God, or men? If you are seeking to please men, you are not a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10