“A soft answer turns away wrath” Prov 15:1

by Steven Chan

In Luke 4:16-22, the Bible tells us about how our Lord read the Scriptures in the assembly and how it impacted those who heard Him:

“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;  19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.

Jesus knew the Scriptures well for He opened the Scriptures to the appropriate passage of Scriptures and read it to those who were assembled there. He then expounded the passage to them and explaining to them the fulfilment of that prophetic text.  The Bible tells us that the people who heard Him “marvelled at the gracious words” spoken by Him. He did not perform any miracle; He did not do any extraordinary thing in their midst at that assembly. He merely chose the appropriate passage of the Scriptures and gave grace to the hearers.

The Bible teaches us to use our words wisely so as to give grace to those who hear us: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”(Eph 4:29) We should be using the gift of our tongue to edify, encourage and build up those who hear us – ad not to let our words “corrupt”, “discourage” or undermine their faith.

In order to be able to speak “words that may impart grace to the hearers”, the Bible tells us in Col 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” We are required to “know HOW” we ought to answer each one! This implies that we are not to just simply “shoot out whatever” we feel like saying without due consideration on how it may impact the hearer. We need to “season” our speech. By that is meant that the speech should be “carefully considered” so that it is properly seasoned with “God’s Word of grace” (Acts 20:32) before it is spoken.

So, in Eph 5:18-21, the Bible exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.”  We “speak” to one another the gracious word of God, or words “seasoned” with the gracious word of God. We speak as “oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11) not just doctrinal accuracies but the very words of God that bring grace to the hearers.

We should not use our words to curse others. In James 3:9-10, the Bible speaks of the tongue: “With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” God does not permit us to use our tongue to “bless as well as to curse”: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”(Rom 12:14)

In Isa 50:4, the prophet wrote thus: “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”  Have we gone to our Lord to ask for wisdom so that we may learn HOW to Speak a word in “season” (i.e. appropriate word seasoned by God’s wisdom) so that the wearied ones may be encouraged?  According to Prov 15:23, “a man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Again in Prov 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” The phrases “a word spoken in due season” and “a word fitly spoken” revealed to us that we need to be speak words that are appropriate and fit for the occasion.

Sometimes, well-meaning brethren say the wrong things or in the wrong way or in the wrong tone.

In Prov 27:14, the Bible says: “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.”  How we say things is important. The afore-stated passage refers to “speaking with a loud voice early in the morning” – even if it is meant to be a ‘blessing’, will be viewed or “counted as a curse” – something that is disdained by the hearer. We need to watch WHAT we say as well as HOW we say things to one another.

In Prov 15:1-2, the Bible says: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.”  The first part of the passage refers to the TONE of our voice. It ought to be “soft” or “gentle” and NOT “harsh, loud, coarse or rude”.   If we do not answer with a gentle tone, we should not be surprised if what we say “stirs up anger”! It has been observed that “the simplest way to ascertain respect is the tone of voice; the most corrosive tone is the dominant tone indicative of less concern and more disrespect”. We are to “submit to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21) Are you aware of the tone of your voice when you speak? Do we show disrespect to our brethren by the tone of our voice?

Let’s not be negligent in WHAT we speak and HOW we speak to one another. May we learn to speak graciously so as to edify or give grace to those who hear us – that’s what God expects of us. This is not a suggestion from God. It is God’s expectation of us. So we need to make every effort to comply and thereby glorify Him.