A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools pours out folly.

Shut it

If I had nothing good to say, I was always told to shut it because as as most people know, if you’ve got nothing positive to say it’s better to say nothing at all. But sometimes silence can be worse than a response, silence can be interpreted in so may ways, is it silent agreement or are you silently thinking I’m an idiot? We’ve been told that the best option sometimes is to say nothing, and while I agree with the sentiment of nothing is better than something mean or hurtful, saying nothing is not the best option. Not according to the writer of the proverbs.

A wise tongue

It does not say a wise tongue is silent, but rather a wise tongue commends knowledge. Interesting right? The Amplified Bible renders it a bit different,

The tongue of the wise utters knowledge rightly…

There is a big difference in saying what you know, and speaking knowledge rightly. What you know may be true and it may even be permanent to the topic of conversation, most gossip is, but just because you know something doesn’t mean it needs to be said. Gossip is knowledge spoken wrongly. A wise tongue however, speaks rightly, with poise and tact, with a sense of protection and nurture, it’s gentle and soothing; it’s soft. But don’t mistake soft for weak, Jesus was the meekest and wisest man to ever live, yet you would hardly call him weak! When others condemned with their words, he forgave (Jn 8:1-11) . When others spoke fear, he declared words of faith (Mt 8:23-27). When people hurled insults and heaped verbal abuse upon his already physically beaten body he used his words in the most powerful way and cried out Father forgive them for they know not what they do. 

So easy even a fool can do it

Part of what makes wisdom so profound is that anyone can be a fool without trying, but to be wise one must be self controlled and disciplined. Anyone can be a fool. Anyone can speak foolishly, anyone can stir up trouble or say dumb things out of anger and frustration, I’ve done it and I know you have too. Anyone can. Everyone does. James puts like this;

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (Ja 3:1-2)

It’s in our fallen, sinful, flesh nature to speak poorly. Like a wild horse that runs wherever it wants to, our tongue is wild. It’s a loose cannon that needs to be controlled, it needs to be bridled. No fool can do it, but only the wise who commit themselves to taming their tongue.

5 ways to be a tongue tamer

Here are few thoughts on developing wisdom in your life through the practice of taming the tongue;

  • 1. Don’t accuse. Ever. Even if you know, ask instead of accuse, invite a person into a conversation and into an opportunity to confess or repent. The Devil is described at the accuser and the Holy Spirit is described as the advocate, who do you want to be more like? Jesus commends us in the scriptures, speak the truth in love.
  • 2. Let go of the need to defend. As I just said above, the Holy Spirit is your advocate, so you don’t need to represent yourself. Jesus never fired back at the critics as he was being led to the cross, he never tried to convince them of his innocence or expose his traitors sin. He simply reminded himself, and Pilate, that if need be a whole legion of angels could be dispersed in the blink of an eye. God is and will always be on the throne, He is your advocate. He is fighting for you. Plead you case to him and him alone, stop defending yourself all the time.
  • 3. Don’t assume. Ever. The proverb says that a wise tongue commends knowledge. If your discourse is based on an assumption then it is not based on certain knowledge. Either you know or you don’t. Wisdom is found in holding your tongue when knowledge is not present, not in filling in the blanks with logical conclusions… aka assumptions.
  • 4. Turn, don’t stir. A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. The goal should always be to turn not to stir. In the heat of the moment, take a deep breath, count to 5 if you need to and ask yourself, how can I turn this instead of stir it? What is the higher path here? What would the voice of wisdom say?
  • 5. Less is more. The fool pours out folly. Other proverbs tell us that where words are many, fools are present. A soft answer is most likely one with very few words. When a person is arguing and shouting, they are often using a lot of words, bringing up the past, adding hyperbole, filling in the blanks and colouring outside the lines. A soft answer is simple, short and compassionate. Again, at a time when Jesus could have said a great deal, all he said was ‘father forgive them they know not what they do’.

Leave a comment & tell me, what’s one thing you would add to the list?