A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Lucy Worsley is a British historian and TV presenter. Like most people in the public eye, she sometimes receives nasty mail—in her case, over a mild speech impediment that makes her r’s sound like w’s. One person wrote this: “Lucy, I’ll be blunt: Please try harder to correct your lazy speech or remove r’s from your scripts—I couldn’t sit through your TV series because it made me so annoyed. Regards, Darren.”
For some people, an insensitive comment like this might trigger an equally rude reply. But here’s how Lucy responded: “Oh Darren, I think you’ve used the anonymity of the internet to say something you probably wouldn’t say to my face. Please reconsider your unkind words! Lucy.”
Lucy’s measured response worked. Darren apologized and vowed not to send anyone such an email again.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,” Proverbs says, “but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1). While the hot-tempered person stirs things up, the patient person calms them down (v. 18). When we get a critical comment from a colleague, a snide remark from a family member, or a nasty reply from a stranger, we have a choice: to speak angry words that fuel the flames or gentle words that douse them.
May God help us to speak words that turn away wrath—and perhaps even help difficult people to change.
Think of a time you got defensive with someone. Why do you think you reacted that way? How could you respond differently in God’s power?
Loving God, give me the ability to respond to quarrelsome people with patient, gentle words.
Proverbs 15 falls in the section of the book (chs. 10–29) that uses two-line poetic couplets. These couplets dispense sound wisdom and guidance for those who want to live in ways that honor God and people. This literary device is called parallelism and is one of the major features of Hebrew poetry. Parallelism is in play when several truths are laid down in a side-by-side fashion to drive home a major point. When the two couplets are joined by the conjunction and, it’s known as synonymous parallelism. When coupled by but, these arrangements are examples of antithetical parallelism, where the truth is emphasized through contrast. Antithetical parallelism is what we find almost exclusively in Proverbs 15. The repeated use of the word but alerts the reader that truths are being emphasized by highlighting differences.