“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
Words have power. It is also written, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21). The familiar song “Angry Words” admonishes all to be careful with the attitude of anger that can be manifested through speech. Life often brings situations that can disturb the peace of a person and cause rash words to come from the tongue. It is the responsibility of all who follow God to be aware and take care of the use of the tongue. James wrote, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). Consider some thoughts about grievous words and what needs to be understood and applied.
- Grievous Words Can Hurt. The Hebrew word here translated “grievous” literally means “pain, hurt, toil” (Brown, Driver, Briggs, p. 780). Therefore, one can easily use the phrase “hurtful words” to describe this picture. Anyone who has ever lived long enough to interact with the sinfulness of this world knows how hurtful words can be. Jesus said to his disciples, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20). Jesus was preparing them to face the reality of their coming days. While some will be hurtful, such does not mean that the child of God must respond in like manner. Peter wrote, “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:9-11).
- Grievous Words Can Help Fuel Anger’s Fire. The Holy Spirit through Solomon made it clear that grievous words “stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Anger might very well already be present before the hurtful words come out. Letting someone have a “piece of your mind” often adds “fuel to the fire.” “Brutal honesty” and the like are no excuse to cause more problems. Hurtful words do not help solve problems. Abigail saw what her husband almost did to the entire family (cf. 1 Sam. 25:10-11, 14). Rehoboam launched the beginning of the division of the nation when he “answered the people roughly” (1 Kings 12:13). Choosing the right words with the proper approach takes wisdom and a cool head when situations are difficult.
- Grievous Words Can Harm Relationships. It is written in the psalms, “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!” (Ps. 78:40). What that “stubborn and rebellious generation” (Ps. 78:8) did in grieving God is the same term used with grievous words in Proverbs 15:1. There were some very hurtful things said by them. One example is in the words, “Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” (Ps. 78:19). These questioned the goodness of God over and over even though God was merciful unto them (cf. Ps. 78:38-39). They ultimately stirred up God’s anger to bring judgment upon them (cf. Ps. 78:56-64). Hurtful words truly do harm.