by: FCC Staff
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
When we think about how we interact with others, a lot of time we embrace the point of view that we need to give as good as we get. Which may seem fair, but when what you give is harsh and negative, that’s what you’ll get in return. What our proverb shows us today, is that when you’re tired of the drama, it’s in your hands to take another path, choose a gentle, kind response.
Yes, we should always do our best to be generous and kind with everyone, but when we are in conflict with someone, we can be sorely tempted to see them as an exception to that norm. It may seem counter intuitive, but it is the winning move every time. Loving those who are our enemies is a noble choice, allowing us to set the tone for how we will interact. No, not as doormats, allowing anyone to say whatever they like or treat us however they want. We can speak the truth in love, and still demand our boundaries be respected.
We seek Jesus do this in Matthew 11:16-24:
““But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
We can read those words, and maybe to us, they don’t sound loving and gentle at all. There’s a lot of talk of judgment and hell and being worse than even the most notoriously evil city in the neighborhood... that God destroyed with fire.
But ask yourself this: How would you respond if someone called YOU a demon-possessed drunk whose only friends are the most despicable members of society? Probably you’d have a thing or two to call them back. Jesus states the truth; You’re lying about me, and you’ll have nothing to do with me, so in the end it’s going to be you who suffers for it.
In Jesus, that is a kindness, because AS God he’d be fully justified to just smite them all on the spot and send them to hell. But he offers them space for repentance, telling them his boundaries, and what the end result will be if they do not honor them. Jesus’ kind words in this instance, are literally turning away the wrath of God and the fires of hell, IF those who hear them can respect him.
Now, we are not the Son of God, so when people reject us, they aren’t endangering their souls to the fires of hell. But they may be jeopardizing their ability to be in a close relationship with us. So our kind words can tell others that we aren’t happy with how they are acting, and they need to respect either us, or our boundaries. Much more productive than simply calling them an idiot, and to get out of your face.
Jesus teaches us this path of peaceful conflict resolution in Matthew 18. Starting in verse 15, It goes like this:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
You don’t call them out in public, or on social media. You don’t slander them behind their back. You don’t cast them out of your life without so much as a word. Talk to them, one on one. If they listen, great. If not…
“But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
Involve others who can tell how they have witnessed how you have been treated unjustly. In biblical culture this was necessary to publicly accuse someone of something. For us, it’s helpful to have others who can tell us "yes this sounds unfair, we’ll talk to them with you, or no, this isn’t what’s happening." They can help mediate the issue between the two of you. And if that’s not effective the next step is:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
This isn’t standing in worship on Sunday, calling them out. Instead, it is involving trusted leadership in the church to help mediate between the two of you. If they are not believers, they may agree to this mediation, and if not, you can still benefit from the counsel of your spiritual elders in how to proceed yourself. And if that fails: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Which doesn’t mean writing them off, saying they are hopeless, never going to change. Remember Jesus was accused of being friends with those unbelievers and tax collectors. He would come to them with his message of peace, hope and the kingdom of God. But he wouldn’t engage in their lifestyles, their conflicts, their politics or their schemes. We love our enemies by leaving the door open to reconciliation, and accepting the idea that your relationship can be restored.
Yes, sometimes there are times when people have violent intentions towards us, and its not safe or wise to be around them. In the 4th chapter of Luke’s gospel, after Jesus successfully fends off the temptations of the devil, his next stop is a gathering of believers. He read a prophecy about the messiah, the promised righteous king of Israel. People aren’t too happy when Jesus says in no uncertain terms, yes, that’s me. (v 21)
People are furious, and drive him out of town, trying to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus doesn’t just let them exercise this unjust punishment upon him. No, “he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”(v30) He physically got away from them. But he continued to speak the truth in love, to anyone who would listen, turning away his Father’s wrath that could so easily have fallen on those who would try to throw his beloved Son off a cliff.
And that’s what our proverb for today tells us. Where a well phrased comeback, or even a left hook, may seem justified in the face of conflict, a softer answer, a gentler approach, can turn away wrath. If not from those with whom we may disagree, then from God, as we humbly emulate the example of his Son.
Prayer for Today
Father, thank you for your kindness and mercy towards me. Sometimes your words convict me, but they do not condemn me. Help me to have similar strength and dignity when someone sins against me. Jesus, thank you for your example and teaching on how to deal with conflict. By your Holy Spirit, give me wisdom to be a peacemaker, to know what to say and do to turn away wrath from my life. Help me to choose a softer response when I feel like I am being treated unjustly, so I can bear your light and truth in the world. Amen.
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