Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Power of a Soft Answer

"A soft answer turneth away wrath..." Proverbs 15:1

To allow a barb or an insult to remain unchallenged, in many cases, is assumed to be a sign of weakness; yet when you consider the ferocity that wrath can possess, anything that has the ability to stop it in its tracks could hardly be considered weak. It’s much easier to fan a flame than it is to put out a raging blaze.

Notice that the answer is not withheld (though sometimes that is called for [Matt. 27:12]); but, rather, it is to be given in a soft manner. And I don’t think this is only referring to the volume of the voice, but also to the choice of words. Such replies as, “That’s a stupid thing to say,” could not be construed as a soft answer, even if you whispered it! But soft answers need not be weak ones. On the contrary, as Matthew Henry has observed, “Hard arguments do better with soft words.” To refrain from speaking the truth when it is called for reflects a softness of character rather than a softness of speech. Paul, of course, gave us the formula in Ephesians 4:15, when he advised us to speak the truth in love. Truth without love is abrasive; love without truth is anemic. The old Puritan, William Arnot, said it even more eloquently:

“Truth alone may be hated, and love alone may be despised: men will flee from the one and trample on the other; but when truth puts on love, and love leans on truth, in that hallowed partnership lies the maximum of defensive moral power within the reach of man in the present world.”

As wives, if we have nurtured the “meek and quiet spirit” in the “hidden man of the heart”(1 Pet. 3:4), the soft answer should come easier for us than the husband and father in the home (though a soft answer will serve him well, too!). This is by no means a demeaning observation to either. It is just that women have a capacity for gentility, nurturing, and stabilization that can never be duplicated by a man, except in extreme situations. For this reason, the art of the “soft answer” is made to order for a woman, and especially a wife.

Many years ago, I came across a Scripture in Ecclesiastes that brought this idea home to me in a unique way:

“If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.” (Eccl. 10:4)

If we read the text in the light of Genesis 3:16, looking at the “ruler” as a husband in the home, the rest of the verse will give us a wonderful guiding principle. If there is a heated confrontation (“If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee”), don’t step out of your position as a loving and submissive wife (“leave not thy place”), because a soft answer can turn away wrath (“yielding pacifieth great offences”). “Yield what?” you ask. In this case, yield your right to have the last word. And those “great offences” that need to be pacified can be either his or yours. Either way, the principle holds: if we’re willing to remain in the place God has given us, and speak the truth in love, in most cases, wrath can be turned away. If not, God can always step in and take our part. And He will, too.

When God spoke to Elijah, He did so, not in the boisterous wind, the roaring fire, or the thundering earthquake, but, rather, in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12). Truth wrapped in the gaudy, loud apparel of harsh rhetoric is overdressed and under-appreciated. But when it is loosely draped with the garb of love, evidenced by a soft answer, it becomes pleasing and persuasive. And nowhere is it more advantageously displayed than in occasions of fury and rage. Here, says the wise man, it has the ability to send the demon of anger running. Now that’s what I call power! So when you’re faced with the overwhelming force of wrath, make it your first line of defense.

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