A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
If there’s one quality in our day that so many people long for and pursue, it’s power. Millions of dollars will be spent by Republicans and Democrats in the next few weeks to elect a president and to either gain or hold onto power. Corporations will fund this operation in order to have a stake in the power. Even individuals spend years of their lives and thousands of dollars in order to gain it.
But the Bible talks about a different type of power; one that can’t be purchased. The power of words. The tongue is portrayed in Prov 15 as having immense power. Consider what it takes to turn away the wrath of an angry man or, for that matter, to stir up the wrath of a man. It only takes a few words.
As is typical in the Proverbs, we see contrasts. We see one quality commended and another discouraged. In this case, God is commending soft words. Consider what that means. It refers primarily to the tone of our words. Do you ever give thought, not just to what you say, but to the way you say it? You should because studies show—for that matter, common sense shows—that people pay as much or more attention to the tone of our words than to the content of them. In other words, tone carries as much or more weight than actual words.
Consider what a monotone, half-hearted “I love you” communicates compared to a compassionate glance accompanied by the same words. The tone of words carries as much power as their meaning. And v.1 and 4 commend soft answers and gentle words, particularly when engaged in conflict. Soft means kind and gentle, not short and pointed. Soft words may also mean fewer words. It occurs to me that if we rattle on and on to someone and multiply words, a soft tone can quickly become a monotone.
In a world trained to think of power as communicated in sharp, dominant tones, Prov 15 says the opposite. You can exercise power over people by listening to them, encouraging them, and doing so in a way that turns away their wrath and anger.
But, as we see in the second half of v.1, harsh tones have the opposite effect: they tempt to anger. Harsh words are little more than anger expressed in communication. It’s very easy to be harsh with a spouse, children, and even friends. Harshness can quickly become the most common communication form in families and other places where people come together. It displays a lack of power; a lack of control.
As you go about your day, consider what you’re modelling in not only your words, but your tones. Speak to your children, spouse, or friends in such a way that will make what you say easy to receive. May the Holy Spirit bear the fruit of kindness and gentleness in your words and tones!