Siloam Springs Herald Leader
Don’t fight, but understand
I heard it many times — perhaps hundreds of times — while growing up: “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” That’s Proverbs 15:1, KJV. For those who grew up on a different Bible version, here are three other renditions.
The Amplified Bible: “A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, but harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger.” The New Living Translation puts it this way, “A gentle response diverts anger, but a harsh statement incites fury.” And the New Century Version says, “A gentle answer will calm a person’s anger but an unkind answer will cause more anger.”
Verse 18 tells us, “People with quick tempers cause trouble, but those who control their tempers stop a quarrel.”
Proverbs 16:32 fills it out a little more: “Patience is better than strength. Controlling your temper is better than capturing a city.”
I couldn’t understand why Mom always tried to make me be nice to someone who was being mean. It didn’t make any sense — not to me, anyway. If someone was yelling at me or hurling insults, he deserved to be put in his place! Or so I thought. I guess that’s why I learned how to use words to fight with.
But when I was 12 years old, Dad taught me a lesson that I never forgot. It was a day when I came home from school with a defeated look on my face. “What’s up, Eugene?” “The guys at school said my family wasn’t fit for a pack of wolves.”
“Why are you sulking? Think about it. Just say, ‘You’re right. We can’t stoop down that low’ and see what they do. But don’t yell it or say it angrily. Just say it.”
My thought right then was that dad didn’t understand how I was feeling.
The next day, thinking about how much the wolf statement hurt my feelings, the bullies snarled and said it again. I looked them in the eyes and said in a cheerful voice — at least, I hoped it sounded cheerful — “You’re right. We can’t stoop down that low.”
It surprised me how much Dad’s statement changed the situation. And it surprised me how much I learned by that event. Instead of whining or fighting about the insult, the response agreed with them and told them why they were right. And with no resistance, they walked away.
It also explained another statement Jesus said in Matthew 5:39. “But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.”
A glance into English and American history will help us understand this “slap on the cheek” statement.
The method of challenging someone to a duel was to remove the glove from the hand and, with the glove, hit the cheek of the person you didn’t like. It was considered a high insult. Although not physically damaging, it was a devastating blow to the ego of the one hit! The prideful response was to accept the challenge. And one of them would die.
When the Romans insulted a Jew, they wanted an emotional outburst so they could kill the Jew. But Jesus said to turn the other cheek. That simply meant, don’t take offense. Don’t accept the challenge and get killed. In Jesus’ day, in England and in early America, many were killed because they reacted to the insult but others were saved by understanding and humility.
Don’t react with the “eye for an eye” mentality. Instead, respond with the “love your enemy” concept. It takes the love and grace of God, and the Holy Spirit is ready to help us.
Speaking kindly means responding with gentleness and patience in a way that defuses anger and keeps the situation from escalating. A gentle or soft answer usually neutralizes a potentially tense or explosive situation, but harsh words do the opposite. The verses quoted above help us understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” That means peacemakers will become like God. We won’t become a god, but we’ll manifest the characteristics of God’s nature.
When you are insulted, don’t belittle yourself by reacting negatively. Don’t fight but ask the Lord to help you understand what really is happening. By your response, be kind and show the person a mature way of resolving issues.