A Soft Answer
1. Chapter 15 speaks often about speaking. (vs.1,2,4,7,14, 23, 28)
2. This particular verse teaches us how to keep an argument going OR how to end it.
1. Soft: tender; soft; delicate; gentle words; pertaining to an attitude or behavior which is not harsh; a positive moral quality of kindness or responsiveness.
a. II Kings 22:19 – Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD…
• Soft answers are soft in the sense that our hearts are to be soft and tender in dealing with people… humility.
• If our hearts are soft and tender then that which comes out of our heart (words) will be too.
• A corrupted fountain does not bring forth sweet water but bitter.
b. Gen. 18:7 – Meat that is tender—as opposed to tough. Tender meat is easy to swallow. Tough meat is hard to swallow…
• Here the term is used of soft, tender meat… the kind that you can cut with a fork and melts in your mouth.
• That kind of meat is easy to chew, to swallow, and to digest.
• The same is true with our words. When they are soft answers, they are easy to swallow and digest.
2. Answer: answer; response; reply.
a. Solomon is speaking about a confrontation of some sort… and the way we RESPOND to the confrontation.
b. What is our response to criticism… to unkind words… to someone who is obviously trying to stir us up and get us mad… how do we answer such a person?
c. When confronted, we are often forced to respond. We have to answer the question or respond in some way.
d. The WAY we answer will determine which way this confrontation progresses.
e. Solomon notes that when someone is trying to pick a fight with us… our first response is vital. It can either cause the confrontation to be diffused or explode.
3. Solomon suggests a SOFT answer.
a. A gentle, tender, cool, calm, and collected answer… a delicate answer…
b. Note that he doesn’t recommend:
• A brilliant answer…
• A snappy answer…
• A put down of an answer…
• A “setting the record straight” kind of an answer…
• A long and convoluted answer…
• An answer that includes the entire history of the problem… including 1001 details…
• Getting in a little dig…
• An answer that demonstrates the folly of the one making the confrontation… and the intellectual weakness of his/her argument…
c. It is NOT unmanly to use a soft answer.
• It takes strength of character to do so.
• Any fool can shout back.
• Prov. 16:32 – this man is more valiant than a mighty warrior!
d. In fact, Solomon says NOTHING about the content of the answer.
• This verse doesn’t tell us WHAT to say.
• Rather, it tells us HOW to say it: gently, tenderly, softly, and with a cool head and heart.
• When an argument is in the process of erupting… the other party will be reading your emotional response as much if not more than your verbal response.
• If someone is out to pick a fight with you, he is out for the challenge… to conquer… to win… to defeat you…
• If you respond with equal antagonism and hostility… (and you are also trying to win… to conquer), then the opposing party will be further psyched for the battle.
• But if you respond with meekness and gentleness… then you have let the air out of his/her balloon… you have removed the “challenge”…
• A person will get psyched up for a battle and their adrenalin will start flowing when confronted by an aggressive bear. But when confronted by a meek and mild lamb… the adrenalin stops flowing…
e. Solomon’s advice speaks more of the heart attitude to manifest rather than the correct words to say.
• Matt. 15:18-19 – that which comes out of our mouths proceeds from the heart.
• The soft answer for which Solomon appeals is in essence an appeal for a soft and tender heart.
• Prov. 4:23 – Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are ALL the issues of life… including this issue — the issue of interpersonal relationships.
• The only way for our speech to be soft and tender towards men is for our heart to be soft and tender before the Lord.
• Love is not easily provoked. Love is the fruit of the Spirit.
4. Turneth away: cause to return; bring back; to bring back; allow to return; turn around; reverse.
a. Solomon states that a gentle response to confrontation has the power to turn that rage and anger away.
b. We have no control over whether we will FACE confrontation. That could happen at any moment.
c. However, we DO have control or power over its progress.
d. WE have the power to diffuse potential arguments.
e. A soft answer turns away wrath…
• Remember, this is a proverb.
• This is the way things NORMALLY progress or occur.
• There are always exceptions…
• Sometimes we could be confronted by someone so enraged that NOTHING will turn away their wrath.
• But normally, a soft answer will.
• Be conciliatory. Be gentle. Of course, this requires self control… the fruit of the Spirit.
• This requires putting self aside… Self wants to strike back… and twice as hard and even more viciously.
• But we should have some foresight too. KNOW that a soft answer turns away wrath. Is that really what you want to do? Do you really want to go down that road? Haven’t you been there before?
a. Strong’s: heat, rage, hot displeasure, indignation, anger, venom, poison, burning anger.
b. Dict. of Biblical Languages: hostility, and antagonism, usually in relation to a wrong, real or imagined, as an extension of the heat and burning feeling one can have when one is emotionally worked up and in strife and turmoil/
c. Translated: “the poison of serpents”… the “poison of dragons”… “hot displeasure”
d. Our soft answer can SAVE us from the burning anger, rage, hostility, and poisonous venom which is about to poured out upon us.
e. An argument that starts out relatively mildly COULD quickly escalate into uncontrolled rage… with venomous, poison words being cast like darts…
f. When that occurs, reason, truth, and common sense go right out the window.
g. From that point on, it is no longer cool minds reasoning together.
h. Emotion takes over and it becomes a battle to the death… survival of the fittest… a quest to hurt and conquer.
6. Thus, the BEGINNING of an argument is critical.
a. When someone approaches you with criticism, a problem, or a failure… your FIRST response is vital…
b. Prov. 17:14 – “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.”
• When water begins to be let out (say a crack in a dam), it is easily fixed if dealt with right away.
• The beginning is the time to be most concerned about. It is relatively easy to deal with a little leak.
• It is nearly impossible to deal with a broken dam.
• When someone is attempting to “begin strife” with you (pick a fight!) leave off contention right away…
• Respond with a soft answer right away… before you start meddling with something that will soon burst out of control… like a broken dam.
1. Grievous words:
a. Defined: pain; hurt; toil; sorrow; labour; hardship; offensive.
b. Grievous words could include words that put down our opponent… pointing out his failures… his sins… weaknesses in his argument.
c. That only fans the flames. That only incites his defense mechanisms… and causes him to defend his character and his argument more vehemently… with more force and aggression…
2. Stir up:
a. Defined: spring up; cause to ascend; to rouse, stir up.
b. Like a smoldering fire—leave it alone, and it will probably die out on its own. Stir it up… and it can burn out of control again.
c. By adding grievous words, we stir up wrath… causing the argument (which was ready to die out) to ascend and spring up again…
d. Adding those grievous words is like adding fuel to the fire.
e. Prov. 30:33 – if you stop churning the milk, it won’t turn into butter! If you stop wringing the nose, it will stop bleeding. If you stop adding grievous words… the argument will die down too. It takes two to argue.
f. Prov. 15:18 –
• It is a heart of wrath that spits out those grievous words!
• Being slow to anger appeases strife.
• But this requires being slow to anger on our part. For it is natural to want to strike back!
3. In a sense, Solomon has empowered us. He has given us the power to incite an argument… or to diffuse an argument.
a. This is like teaching your son to drive a car.
b. By learning how to operate the steering wheel, he has the power to control the direction of the vehicle.
c. By learning how to respond to an argument, we have the power to control the direction of the conversation.
d. This is a fabulous tool God has given us. Let’s use it!