By Sylvia Schroeder, Crosswalk.com
You likely know the feeling. Somebody says something, and like a volcano prepared to erupt, you’re ready with the response. How can Christians practice “a soft answer turns away wrath” today when society often encourages us to make our voices heard loudly? And often to make ourselves heard with a particular attitude? Once our voices rise, having a balanced conversation becomes challenging.
Does the Bible Really Say ‘A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath’?
The book of Proverbs gives this practical admonition, attributed to Solomon:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV)
An ancient and very wise king penned those words. King Solomon’s counsel still stands as good advice for relationships today.
Proverbs 15:1 deals with two types of communication and two types of answers. The first manner of speaking is soft. The second is harsh. One speech turns away wrath. The other births anger.
Various translations use different words for “soft,” such as “gentle” (NIV), “thoughtful” (AMP), “kind” (CEV), and “mild” (NABRE).
These all express the original Hebrew word, rak, which means “soft of words, gentle, tender, weak, or mild.” Because “soft answer” describes a response, we can assume the advice corresponds with something done or said. It instructs readers to give a measured reply.
“Harsh,” “hot,” or “furious” words quickly stoke angry fires.
The New Living Translation says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
Many Proverbs compare and contrast two elements to help us translate knowledge into action. While “soft” may suggest weakness, and loud, combative words appear strong and forceful, Solomon calls for a different type of communication. His communication begs for strength through both wisdom and discipline.
A gentle answer that does not escalate volume does not mean it is a weak response. However, when a finger is pointed in our face, or something said begs for defense, the easy response is often void of any “softness.” Contention, like a stoked fire, feeds on quick, angry comebacks.
A soft answer does not intensify the situation. It is a practical tool that can change hearts, calm tempers, and deflect disaster.
In the same chapter, Solomon adds, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18 ESV).
When Is It Right to Give a Soft Answer to Turn Away Wrath?
Scripture counsels us to use wise, appropriate, and Spirit-led responses, all part of giving a soft answer to turn away wrath. The Bible often speaks about what comes out of our mouths—and why or how it comes from our mouths.
Ephesians 4:29 tells us our speech should build up, Colossians 4:6 encourages us to speak with grace, and James 1:26 says that if we cannot control our tongues, we deceive our hearts. We are to speak truth in love, without grumbling or complaining, with wisdom and thanksgiving.
A soft answer turns away wrath best before anger starts. When anger meets a heated response, wrath increases. If confrontation can be avoided without hurting testimony or Biblical mandate, a soft answer can deflect anger before it takes root.
Jesus gave the ultimate example in His last hours. Although mistreated and maligned, he responded quietly or not at all.
“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 ESV)
When offended, we must remember the perfect Messiah, mistreated but still loving others. Though physically tortured, verbally abused, and then nailed to a cross, He did not sin with His lips.
Do We Always Need to Give a Soft Answer to Turn Away Wrath?
Hundreds of verses in the Bible deal with the issue of speech. There are also examples when the appropriate response may not have been “soft.” Sometimes, blunt, honest, and even offensive answers were required.
Jesus was loving, but He also spoke the truth. His true words often provoked angry responses from people wishing to test Him. Scripture helps us know when a soft answer to turn away wrath is appropriate.
Jesus called out the Pharisees, Sadducees, and rulers who wanted to twist His words or teach what was untrue. He spoke against the dishonest practices of His day. Jesus, faultless in speech and manner, did not fear to say what needed to be said. However, even if His words could be hard, He wisely chose when to speak and when to remain silent.
We have painful examples in the Bible of contentions between believers. Here are some of the people who experienced times of relational upheaval:
- Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39)
- the disciples,(Luke 22:24)
- the early church (James 4)
- Paul and Peter (Galatians 2:14-16)
Although we aren’t given much detail about the tone, volume, or exact wording in these disputes, we can be sure that many of the arguments were neither soft-spoken nor weak.
Sometimes, God directs confrontation against wrong behavior, sin, or false doctrine.
Paul did not shrink back or allow timidity or fear to hinder him from declaring truth (Acts 20:20, 27). The author of Hebrews (10:37-39) admonishes his readers not to shrink back or throw away confidence, and Ephesians exhorts believers to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Tips for Practicing ‘A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath’ Today
What are wise, biblical principles for moments when we must confront? How can we practice giving a soft answer to turn away wrath today?
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 ESV)
This verse gives us three suggestions that bolster us when we must answer softly to deflect anger. James shows how emotions and actions progress and how following these suggestions diffuses anger. Anger often results when we neglect to follow these suggestions (particularly the first two).
1. Be quick to hear. Listening in today’s world is an act of discipline. Distractions, multi-tasking, and life’s demands infringe and fracture our attention. Listening to understand what someone has to say demonstrates we value them. Through our undivided attention, we communicate appreciation and love. When we hear the heart of what someone says, we give a precious gift. A soft answer needs first a caring listener.
Proverbs 18:2 cites a fool who cares more about expressing his opinion than understanding another’s opinion. Later in the chapter (verse 13), we see it’s foolish and shameful to answer without hearing.
2. Be slow to speak. It follows that if we are listening, naturally, we are not speaking. Pause before answering. If we are already forming our response while someone is still talking, we will not follow with “slow to speak.” A pause allows a moment for emotional control and discernment, helping us respond in the best way. A person who pauses prepares themselves to give a soft answer through discipline.
Proverbs 29:11 tells us that a fool vents his feelings while a wise man quietly holds them back. Too much talk results in sin, according to Proverbs 10:19. A wise person refrains from saying too much. Proverbs 29:20 gives more hope to a fool than someone prone to speak too quickly.
The Apostle Paul offers good advice in these two verses:
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)
“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2 ESV)
3. Be slow to anger. Pause and consider. Use gentleness. Keep the volume from mounting. We’ve all experienced how quickly anger escalates when voices rise. The nasty cycle often moves into harsh words that “stir up anger.”
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:5.
How we respond to people is important. Inserting soft answers when the opposite comes easiest can disperse unneeded tension. As we learn to practice “a soft answer turns away wrath,” we will find Solomon’s ancient wisdom remains wise today.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Jacob Wackerhausen
Sylvia Schroeder loves connecting God’s Word with real life and writing about it. She is a contributing writer for a variety of magazines and online sites. Sylvia is co-author of a devotional book and her writing is included in several book compilations. Mom to four, grandma to 14, and wife to her one and only love, Sylvia enjoys writing about all of them.
Her love for pasta and all things Italian stems from years of ministry abroad. She’d love to tell you about it over a steaming cup of cappuccino. Connect with Sylvia on her blog, When the House is Quiet, her Facebook page, or Twitter.
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