Posted by: glorifyhim1 | August 29, 2010

A Gentle Answer

I love kindergartners! Today in Sunday School we were talking about prayer. We used magnetic letters and spelled names of people we could pray for. We printed the Bible phrase Pray for one another on colored strips of construction paper. Then I opened my Bible to James 5:16 to read the verse. One little girl eagerly exclaimed, “I know a Bible verse.” And then she recited: “A gentle answer turns away wrath!” Surprised that she knew this verse, I said: “That verse is in the Bible. It is in the book of Proverbs.” “I know,” she replied, “Proverbs 15:1.”

I discovered that this kindergartner had learned this Bible verse at school (she attends a private school). And as we talked about the verse, I learned that not only could she recite it, but she knew what it meant. Later as I thought about this incident, it occurred to me that in this simple verse, this child was learning two very important lessons. First of all, she is learning that the Bible has something to say about how she lives her life and how she treats others. Secondly, she is learning a valuable lesson about how to talk to someone with respect even when we may disagree with one another.

As I consider our world today, I think most of us could use a refresher course in these two lessons. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that the Bible is our guide book for living. In its pages we learn about God’s laws, His testimonies, commandments, judgments, and revelations. These teachings not only reveal much about the kind of God we serve, but also about the kind of life God expects us to live as His people. Within its pages we can find direction and help for our problems and daily struggles. Yet how many times when we face trouble, do we actually turn to God’s Word for direction? We may not look in the Bible because we may actually be unfamiliar with it and not know where to look. Or we may refuse to look in the Bible because we know what God’s answer would be to our particular situation and it’s not the answer we want to hear. Either way, we reject God’s Word as our ultimate authority and look for answers from worldly sources.

Secondly, I cannot help but think of how different our world would be today if we heeded the proverb about offering a gentle answer. The second part of Proverbs 15:1 states: “but a harsh word stirs up anger.” An old idiom says, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In other words, it is easier to get someone on your side by being nice than it is by being angry or confrontational. Angry or harsh words stir us up. We become defensive and often retaliate with our own venomous retorts. There is little room for understanding when we are intent on attacking the other person.

A gentle answer, on the other hand, tends to placate rather than stir up. It doesn’t put down, tear down, or attack, but shows respect for the other person. Kind words can build up and encourage one another. In other words, it is not always what we say that promotes strife and anger, but how we say it.

When we think about the controversies in our world today, something as simple as giving a gentle answer seems ineffective. Yet just think for a minute. What if both sides to every issue practiced what the Bible teaches and talked to one another peaceably? What if both sides concentrated on the issue itself rather than attacking the other’s position? What if both sides genuinely tried to work together rather than defending and blaming? While this may seem like an impossibility in our world today, I cannot help but wonder what kind of difference it would make if just all of us who say we are Christians truly offered a soft answer and talked peaceably with all men. The Bible reminds us in Romans 12:18-19: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” While we cannot control the actions of others, we can control our responses and we have the assurance that the Lord is in the battle with us.  

I can remember singing as a child, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But over the years I’ve learned that words do hurt. I have cried into my pillow over hurtful words from a childhood friend. I have retorted with harsh words of my own when someone made me angry over something they said. Harsh words inflict pain. They inflict pain when they are received, but they also inflict pain when they are given. Proverbs 15:4 states: “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” I don’t want to be a spirit breaker. I pray that I will watch my words and be ready to give a gentle answer that can bless and encourage others.

“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”

(Romans 14:19)

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