“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”—Proverbs 15:1
Reading through the Proverbs has reminded me that God cares a great deal about our speech. This is not a new concept to many, I am sure. But it has convicted me greatly as I have been reading. Every harsh word in response to a family member or friend is reminding me how imperfect I am, and how perfect Christ is. He knew when to speak and when to be silent. And his words stirred up anger because they were saturated with truth, not filled with revenge, as my words so often are.
Not only do harsh words reveal our sin, but they also reveal our sinful beliefs about the person to whom we are speaking. When we snap at a roommate, or make a snide comment towards a husband, we are fundamentally saying that we are superior to that person. Our speech reveals, in that moment, that we deem ourselves (and our feelings) better than theirs. If we really believed in our hearts that we were dying sinners speaking to other dying sinners then the playing field would be leveled. It would make it easier to respond gently because we would know that maybe, just maybe, there is truth in what is being told to us. God uses correction and conflict to conform us more into the image of his Son, even if we are partially right in the conflict. And the same would be true for the other person. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the great leveler. Not only are we created equal in the image of God, but we are all equally sinners in need of much grace every second of the day.
So when I feel compelled to speak a harsh word (which, to my shame, is far too often) I need to remember that the person on the other end of the conversation is created in the image of the God I claim to love. Our tongues and our speech matter a great deal to God. And the Proverbs are a reminder of that. With our words we have the power to tear down, or build up. I pray that, by God’s abundant grace, I do more building than tearing.