Proverbs has a lot to say about being wise in our speech, and we see a lot of it here.
It starts with verse 1.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (1)
Often times when someone is upset with us, they can say some harsh things. And it’s easy to return harsh word for harsh word. But by doing so we only escalate the situation, generating a great deal of heat, but very little light in trying to resolve the situation.
Most of the time, a lot of the anger can be defused by two words. “I’m sorry.”
“But why should I apologize if I’ve done nothing wrong?” many people ask.
I’m not saying that you should admit to doing something wrong if you haven’t. But often times we do things or say things that hurt others whether we intended to or not. Sometimes we may feel they’re being too sensitive, and there probably are times when they are being too sensitive.
In that kind of situation, I often say, “I’m sorry that I made you feel that way. I certainly didn’t mean to hurt you but I did. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
In wording it this way, I can apologize with complete sincerity because I can truly say that I never intended to hurt them.
Moreover, I do make it a point in the future to try to avoid making the same mistake. I may not feel like I was wrong per se, but I do acknowledge the other person’s feelings when I act that way, and for the love of Christ and the other person, I try to avoid doing so again.
Some time ago, I sent an email where I made a joke that really upset a friend of mine. She blew up and sent me a really nasty email back. To this day, I feel it was a harmless joke, and that she massively overreacted.
But to me, our relationship was much more important than whether I felt the joke was harmless or not. The point was that she felt offended, and so I quickly apologized. She immediately calmed down, and we’ve remained good friends ever since. Since then, however, I have made sure to be very careful about the kinds of “jokes” that I make around her.
I’ve also learned to be very careful in general about who I can make these “jokes” with.
Solomon goes on to say in verse 4,
A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (NASB)
What kinds of words come out of our mouth? Are they words that soothe others’ hurts and wounds? Or are they perverse words that crush their spirits?
One reason I responded to my friend the way I did was because she had shared with me before how her father had treated her and her mom. Namely, he would verbally abuse them, and when they got hurt, he would say, “You’re just too sensitive.”
But by doing so, he crushed their spirits and I wanted no part in crushing my friend’s spirit further.
On a more positive note, Solomon says,
A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word! (23)
This is the kind of people we should be. Finding joy not in tearing people down, but in having the timely word that encourages them when they’re feeling down.
Solomon adds one more note concerning our words in verse 28, saying,
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
How about you? Do you weigh the words that you speak? Do you make sure that they are words of healing and life to everyone you meet? Or does evil and perverse speech gush out of your mouth?
What’s coming out of your mouth?