A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Ever had a close encounter with a rattlesnake? If so, you might have noticed that the sound of the rattle seemed to get more intense as you moved nearer to the viper. Research in the scientific journal Current Biology reveals that the snakes do increase their rattling rate when a threat is approaching. This “high-frequency mode” can cause us to think they’re closer than they are. As one researcher put it, “The misinterpretation of distance by the listener . . . creates a distance safety margin.”
People can sometimes use increasing volume with harsh words that push others away during a conflict—exhibiting anger and resorting to shouting. The writer of Proverbs shares some wise advice for times like these: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). He goes on to say that “soothing” and “wise” words can be “a tree of life” and a source of “knowledge” (vv. 4, 7).
Jesus provided the ultimate reasons for gently appealing to those with whom we enter into conflict: extending love that reveals us to be His children (Matthew 5:43–45) and seeking reconciliation—“[winning] them over” (18:15). Instead of raising our voice or using unkind words during conflicts, may we show civility, wisdom, and love to others as God guides us by His Spirit.
Why can it be difficult to be gentle and loving in a conflict? How can the Holy Spirit help you carefully choose your words and actions?
Heavenly Father, help me to lovingly address issues with those with whom I disagree.
The power of our words is a common theme of Scripture. Four of today’s seven proverbs (Proverbs 15:1–7) address the importance of how we use our tongues. Many of the statements contrast the positive and negative use of words. Solomon noted that our words reflect what’s in our hearts: words of knowledge reveal that a person is wise, but a “fool gushes folly” (v. 2).
Jesus repeated this wisdom in Matthew 15:1–20. In discussing what makes a person unclean, He said it isn’t what goes into a person but rather what comes out of the mouth that makes one unclean, for that which comes out of the mouth reveals what’s in the heart. Defiled speech reveals a defiled heart (vv. 11, 18–20).