The primary purpose of the Bible is to present the story of redemption, how that sinners can be cleansed and changed. It gives the answer to the question posed in Job 25:4 – “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?”
The good news is that unholy, rebellious, undeserving people can enter a holy place like Heaven fully forgiven of their transgressions and sin. This is the result of repenting of your sin and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as your substitute when He died in your place. (For more information on this read Romans chapters 3-4).
There are other parts of the Bible that teach us how we are to live as believers right now on earth. Many of these principles are found in the book of Proverbs. Here is one that deals with our response when we want to retaliate at being mistreated and offended.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger”. (Proverbs 15:1) This is an easy verse to memorize – only twelve words and eight of them are monosyllables. May I recommend it to you to memorize and meditate upon this week? The odds are that you will need it before the week is out.
Let me briefly isolate a few of the terms to make it clear and practical. The word “wrath” speaks of fury, rage, hot anger. All of us have been in incidents when we have been assailed by someone that is very angry and even threatening. (I especially feel sorry for customer service representatives at retail stores. Most of them are trying to do their job and are caught between stingy management and angry customers).
How are we to answer a person that is speaking to us with great anger and passion? The Bible says we are not to retaliate in like kind, but to respond with a “soft answer”. The word “soft” means gentle. God’s wisdom is that we respond the exact opposite way of how we are treated. Sometimes we ought to be quiet and not say a word; sometimes we ought to answer “quietly”; but never are we to respond in anger.
If we answer with angry words or tones it does not quieten the person that threatened us, but only makes the situation worse. It is like pouring gasoline on an fire. The Bible says “grievous words stir up anger”. The word “grievous” means harsh. These are words given with a severe and stern tone of voice.
It is normal to want to defend yourself and fight back when someone attacks you verbally. When people are angry they are not thinking rationally and so they can exaggerate a problem and say hurtful things in stern ways they later regret.
Occasionally I get this right and am quiet when I want to retaliate and when I need to speak, do so quietly. One night after coaching a Little League baseball game I had carried the equipment bag, loaded it in the trunk of the car and was about to get into the driver’s seat. I was hurrying because I had to make a pastoral visit and was short on time.
Before I had even got in the car I was accosted by a very angry parent of one of the players whom I was coaching. His face was red and he was ranting about why his son had not been able to play the entire game. We had twelve players and, of course, only nine can play at one time. Little League rules mandate that each player must play at least two innings in the field and get at least one at bat per game.
This is much simpler than it sounds. I have never been a hyper-competitive coach and while I wanted the kids to win some games it was more important to me that they learned the fundamentals of the game, gave their best, and had fun. I had a weekly newsletter I wrote for them and on the masthead I put the quote, “Winning isn’t everything, but the effort to win is”. I believed it and I coached that way.
This father that was upset about his son’s playing time had a reputation in the league for expressing his displeasure over the smallest things. So, at least I wasn’t surprised by his outburst, though it was unwarranted. I was frustrated because I was having to tolerate his unfair accusation and I had an important visit to make.
Every game I created a list of who would start and who would sit for the first few innings and then those that would come out so the subs could play. I also rotated the list so that every young man started some games, played the full time in games, as well as who would sit for a couple of innings. It was balanced, consistent, and fair. I coached according to the rules and even explained the system to the parents verbally at the beginning of the year and then gave it to them in written form.
So, here I am with this maniac yelling at me about why his son had to sit for part of the game and didn’t get to play the entire time (and I’m really short on time to make an appointment with a family I had made). To be honest, I wanted to verbally light into him.
It would have gone something like this – “You idiot! Didn’t you listen at the parent’s meeting at the beginning of the year? Did you not read the hand outs I gave you that thoroughly explained the substitution patterns? You have caused problems with coaches all over this park everywhere your son has played. You are unbelievably stupid!”
That’s what I wanted to say and, frankly, would have enjoyed saying. He was a jerk and everyone knew it. But, gratefully, that is not what I did. I let him air out his complaints – loud, long and angry. Finally, when he finished his tirade, I quietly asked him a question. “Did you see who was sitting by your son on the bench tonight when he wasn’t playing?” He said, “No”. I replied, “It was my son, Jordan. He wasn’t playing either”.
Do you know what his response was? “I am so sorry. I can’t believe I have embarrassed myself and you over this. I was wrong; please forgive me. It won’t happen again”. That would have been the story tale ending, but it didn’t end that way. He didn’t say anything for about five seconds and just said, “Oh”, and walked off to his car.
I took my son home and on the drive to my appointment I thought about the encounter I had just experienced. First, I felt really bad for his son. If he treated me that way, how much worse must it be like to grow up in a home like that with an angry father. I also told the Lord that I was thankful for His grace in allowing me to give a “soft answer” when a part of me wanted to just let him have it. God had prevented me from making a fool of myself.
We had no more conflicts the rest of the year and I treated him as if it had never happened. He was quieter and more respectful, but never apologized for his angry words and false accusations.
Twelve years later I stand up to speak in one of our morning services at our church and as I am talking and looking out at the congregation I was stunned! There in one of our pews sat this same man. I couldn’t believe it. For all these years I knew I was on his short list of unfavorite people!
Immediately after the service was over he was the first one to come to the front where I was standing. He smiled and said, “I have been listening to your sermons on the internet from your church’s website. I especially enjoyed your message on (and he mentioned the topic) and I just wanted to come and visit your church and hear you speak in person”.
I hugged his neck and introduced him to my friends and church family in the immediate vicinity where we stood. He said, “I’ll be coming back to hear you again”.
I wonder what would have happened if I had answered with an angry tone and words that night over a decade before rather than a soft answer. It wasn’t easy, but it was right and it was worth it.
Our influence is far greater than we realize with not just the choice of our words, but with the tone in which we speak them. Someone has to be the mature person in the conflict and that is the one that gives a soft reply.
I think we would all be amazed at what influence we would have in our homes if we practiced Proverbs 15:1. It is God’s wisdom and it works. May I encourage you to memorize it, ponder it, and practice it. I think I’m going to do the same today.