“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing… A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly… A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 12:18; 15:1-2, 4)
As we come to the end of a cursory study of marriage and move on to parenting, it is good to focus on the power of words again. Solomon uses a word picture to emphasize the destructiveness of rash words (Proverbs 12:18). Quick, emotionally laden words are like the blade of a sword thrust into someone. Whether or not the speaker means to harm, his thoughtless words will have the effect of physical injury, “cutting, wounding, dividing, [and] killing—[they] grieve the innocent, wound their characters, destroy their good name and credit, and separate chief friends.” * We are to compare this to the “tongue of the wise” that brings healing “by clearing and defending the character of those who are falsely accused and wrongfully charged; by making up differences, and reconciling persons at variance through the detracting and lying insinuations of others; and by speaking comfortable, cheerful, and refreshing words to the injured and abused; especially the tongue of a wise minister of the Gospel is health, or healing, to wounded souls, to whom he ministers the Gospel of the grace of God, which directs to Christ for healing, peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life.” * Words have tremendous power in a marriage relationship, to either heal or injure.
We shouldn’t be surprised when problems develop after an outburst of emotion with insensitive words. However, we should always be prepared to offer words of healing, in the strength of Christ, the wisdom of God. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that gentle, soft answers deflect anger while harsh words stir it up. A particularly good example of this is found in Abigail’s words to David when she interceded between him in his rage and her harsh husband, Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Rather than stir up the anger already reaching a pitch in David, she fell at his feet and redirected his anger to herself. But of course, David had no reason to be angry with her–she had brought the food he requested for his men (which Nabal denied) and spoke very wisely to David. In this case, the Lord used a woman who had (apparently) had lots of practice dealing with a hostile husband. But a manservant might have done likewise; I am personally moved by men who are humble, vulnerable, and willing to speak grace into an aggressive encounter.
Not only do the words of the wise provide healing (as they did for David), but they commend knowledge (Proverbs 15:1). Commend can mean praise, complement, or recommend. Where the ESV says “the tongue of the wise commends knowledge,” other Bible translations say “make knowledge acceptable” (NASB), “uses knowledge rightly,” (NKJ), and “adorns knowledge” (NIV). Wise words not only use knowledge appropriately but extend it, exalting biblical wisdom.
Will your wise, thoughtful, gentle words heal, drip knowledge, and be like a tree of life for your spouse and others today? Will you speak grace into a conflicted issue rather than stir up anger?
* Gill, John, Commentary on Proverbs 12:18a. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-12.html