Be Wise About Relationships With Others
Sunday School Lesson for February 1, 2004
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. 19 Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment.
This passage has to do with thoughtless speech, or that which is described by the term “rashly.” Verse 18 contrasts speech that is impulsive, reckless, motivated by anger, and ultimately destructive—“like the thrusts of a sword”—against that which is “wise” and results in health and the “healing” of relationships. In other words, a person whose life is characterized by wisdom will use his words for the good of others. From the negative perspective, he will not speak without thought and careful contemplation so that his words will not bring harm to the hearer.
Verse 19 also draws a contrast between speech that is true and that which is false. In the final analysis, only the truth will prevail. It will be “be established,” or will endure “forever” since it has eternal value. The one who wields a “lying tongue,” however, will last “only for a moment.” While it may seem that falsehood and deception have the upper hand at times, truth will finally win. In this regard, the wise person will speak with a view to eternity rather than for the moment.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Here is a key principal regarding the use of the tongue, particularly in times of personal conflict. An “answer” or response that is characterized by tenderness will often defuse the person who is angry or enraged. We might say, then, that the wise person does not “fight fire with fire” because angry or “harsh” words only make matters worse. When angrily confronted, the person of genuine wisdom should graciously respond with words that are true and intended for the good of others. As the previous verses also imply (12:18-19), giving a grace-filled answer to an angry person demands careful consideration and a wise choice of words.
(14:17, 29; 15: 18; 16:32)
Yet another characteristic of wise speech is patience and longsuffering even in the face of mistreatment and verbal abuse. The following passages reveal that being a person who is “slow to anger”—a characteristic of God’s own nature (Ps. 103:8)—reflects great wisdom and spiritual maturity.
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.
He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.
In these verses, the person who speaks out of anger—the “quick-tempered” man—and does not control his words or the tone of his speech, is equated with those who are foolish. Remember, in the context of the book of Proverbs, the foolish person is one who does not know or fear God (1:29; cf. Ps. 14:1). Therefore, those who do not control their anger and, as a consequence, use their words to harm others, are acting as if they have no relationship with the Lord whatsoever.
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention.
Whereas the “hot tempered” or impulsive person is easily provoked to anger and “strife,” the wise person will employ his words in such a way as to foster an atmosphere of peace and unity. Those who are “slow to anger” (like our heavenly Father) have a calming effect on tense interpersonal situations. This prevents the fracture of friendships and other personal relationships, and also helps in the healing process when differences and difficulties do arise.
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
Here we see that the person who has mastery over his emotions, particularly anger, is to be esteemed over the one who rules a great army and conquers cities and nations. Therefore, it is infinitely more praiseworthy to be a person whose life, especially one’s emotions and words, is under the control of the Holy Spirit. Note how this same idea is expressed in the New Testament (Eph. 4:26; Jas. 1:19; cf. Gal. 5:22).
(12:16; 17:17, 19; 22:24-25; 26:21)
A fool's vexation is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor.
This verse indicates that the person who is foolish has no concern about letting others know exactly how he feels. His “vexation,” or anger, is immediately exposed. On the other hand, however, the wise or “prudent” person knows when to be quite and, therefore, “conceals” his feelings that might otherwise be dishonorable either to him, the Lord, or both.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
This passage describes one who is a true friend. He is characterized as one whose love remains constant and does not change with the circumstances. He is also like a “brother” who will be loyal to a relationship even during times of great pain, difficulty and “adversity.” A fried loves with a love that will not fail (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8).
He who loves transgression loves strife; He who raises his door seeks destruction.
Here the love of “transgression,” or acts of outright rebellion, is equated with the love of “strife,” or contention. That is, acts of sin and rebellion against God result in broken and fractured relationships. In addition, the man or woman who seeks to be isolated from others—the probable meaning of “raises his door”—also invites trouble. “Such persons are alone in the world and bring disaster upon themselves” [Garrett, 161]. To have neither friendships nor personal accountability is to exist in an unhealthy and miserable state.
Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, 25 lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself.
This passage indicates that those who would be wise in the biblical sense have a serious responsibility to choose their friends and associates carefully. Friendship with those who do not control their anger is dangerous since they may have unwholesome influence over others. The fact is, the wrong kind of friends can have a profound impact on one’s moral character.
Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.
This is a sober warning regarding the actions of a “contentious man,” one who loves conflict and “strife.” Such a person acts like “charcoal” and “wood”—fuel for fires. The strife-loving man is always looking for a fire to start and finds some sort of twisted pleasure in the disruption and destruction of relationships between others. This, therefore, is the kind of reckless, self-centered, and uncaring person who needs to be avoided at all costs by those who desire to walk in wisdom and love.