Selected Proverbs on Relationships
(12:18) There is one who speaks like the thrust of a sword [speaks rashly]; but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (16:28) A perverse man spreads conflict, and a slanderer separates friends. (15:10) A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (28:23) One who rebukes a person will later find more favor than one who flatters with his tongue. (17:9) Whoever covers a transgression seeks love, but whoever repeats a matter separates friends. (25:15) A ruler can be persuaded through patience, and a soft tongue can break a bone. (12:19) Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue, only a moment.
The Tongue Used Wrongly (12:18, 16:28)
So many of the proverbs deal with the power of the tongue. James, the half-brother of Jesus, states: "No on can tame the tongue" (James 3:8), that is no one in and of himself. Unless the Holy Spirit lives His life through you, you will never be able to master the tongue. Very few of us carry on our bodies the scars and wounds of war; however, many of us carry on the bodies of our souls scars from many years past.
The first proverb warns us about the power of the word. A word can pierce a person's soul like a sword. I've heard parent after parent say that they wished they had never said a certain thing to their children. I've heard adults say that something another adult said to them as a child wounded them. When my sister and her best friend Marilyn Stubbs were in 3rd grade, her teacher pulled them aside and told them that they would never amount to anything in life. I wish that this teacher could see my sister now. She is a radiant Christian who has not only succeeded spiritually but also relationally (she has a wonderful, loving family), financially, etc. Those words left scars; however, God's grace overcame them.
On the other hand, a kind word can bring healing to the soul of a person. I was feeling down in the dumps this past fall. I was not really looking all that forward to my 10th anniversary roasting. I had a really pleasant surprise. I don't think I've laughed that much in such a long time. It was over an hour of good-natured ribbing. Somebody asked me if I was offended by what was said. I said: "Heck, no. Most of it was true!" They were funny stories told by kind hearts. And I was encouraged as a result. The author of Hebrews tells us not simply to encourage one another but to "encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called today lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 4:13). Why should we spend so much time in encouraging one another? Because we need it and will fail miserably if we don't encourage each other.
The second proverb has a parallel in Paul. Paul writes: "Reject a factious person after a first and second warning knowing that such a person is perverted and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). Christ brought this principle home to me in a very vivid way one night. I received a phone call from a person who was never happy in the church. If somebody did them the slightest wrong, they were greatly offended. If the church bent over backwards for them, they continued to "suffer" terribly for the wrong done them. They continually criticized the ministers and other Christians. That same person called me and told me about a Broadway show they had seen. They proceeded to tell me in graphic detail about the pornographic content of the biblical story. I told them I didn't want to hear that. When they continued, I put the phone away from my ear and let them talk on. Finally, when they persisted, I just told them I had to go and hang up. I had felt sorry for them in the past; through this I came to realize that all their conflict sprang from perversity, just like Solomon and Paul had said.
The Tongue Used Properly (15:10, 28:23, 17:9)
In Prov. 15:1 Solomon tells us that a soft answer turns away wrath, while the harsh word promotes anger. (This is a general rule which works generally, not always.) Most people when they are angry are fighting with somebody, normally themselves. When they lash out and you respond in anger, they think that you are their enemy. Whenever you respond in gentleness, you rob them of their opponent. They discover then who their true enemy is--themselves. It helps them deal with the real problem.
Our literature focuses on the person who is rebuked and flattered rather than on the person actually rebuking and flattering. Solomon focuses on the rebuker and flatterer. Although at first the person who rebukes another may not receive honor while the flatterer may, after a period of time people who have any substance at all will value the one who rebuked them more than the one who flattered them. (Of course Solomon is assuming that the person who is rebuking you is doing it out of love, not out of jealousy or hate.)
I am finding this out to be true on a general basis. Twice recently I've been in circumstances in which people felt freely to cuss around me. One was a service repair person, while the other was a customer at a computer store. The first was just trying to be cute, while the second was a customer who was justifiably upset with the store. When they both cursed, I felt a twinge in my heart. I wasn't offended. I just felt like the Lord told me to ask them to stop cursing. It was hard; however, I had to decide if I cared more about what they thought about me or what Jesus thought about me. After I asked them both politely to stop cursing, they both stopped. They didn't get angry. They just stopped cursing. The first person even apologized. What we need are more and more Christians who will stand up for righteous behavior.
It is time for Christians to do this at a national level too. It is unconscionable what the Jews and the media are doing to Mel Gibson over his movie The Passion of the Christ. They are playing the anti-Semitic card--"He hates Jews!" Although I am a fervent supporter of Israel and the Jewish cause, Mel Gibson's movie is not anti-Jew. Otherwise, I wouldn't support it. My goodness, Jesus and the first apostles--the founders of Christianity--were Jews. Gibson and conservative Christians are not being anti-Jewish; the Jews are paranoid about anything which truly promotes Jesus. They need to be rebuked on this issue so that they will have to deal with the real issue--their hatred of Christ.
In 17:9 Solomon speaks of covering a transgression. How do you cover a transgression? Solomon gives us a clue in the second half of this verse--don't repeat a matter which harms another person's reputation. Sometimes you have to stand up for the truth. Sometimes though it just doesn't matter. We are all human and frail. We are ALL going to make mistakes. I loved BF's illustration in his sermon this past Sunday in which he detailed the sins and frailties of God's heroes: Joseph abused, Moses a stutterer, Rahab a prostitute, etc. God uses broken vessels so that His light can shine out through them. Morganna Harwood has a garden in her backyard made up of cracked pots. It's through our brokenness many times that God can magnify Himself through you and me. Love covers these frailties.
The Power of the Tongue (25:15)
How powerful is the tongue? When used properly, it can persuade rulers. It can even break a bone. People like Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin buckle under only to a bomb. Many though respond positively to gentle persistence. Think of the huge tsunami which breaks forth and hits a huge boulder on the shore. It doesn't harm it. Yet let a gentle wave after a gentle wave after a gentle wave over a period of years roll over rocks, and these waves will break down the rocks and convert them to sand. Some people complain because nobody ever listens to them. They are like a radio which has been turned up really loud. When the radio is on that loud, you can't understand the music. All you hear is noise. That's all some people are--just noise. Turn down the volume a bit and you may find people listening to what you are saying.
Truth Endures Forever (12:19)
Finally, Solomon tells us that the truthful lips are forever, while the lying lips are just for a moment. Why? God is truthful and permanent. Moreover, He supports the truth. As a result, the truthful God will support eternally those who are truthful.
(14:17) A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. (14:29) A person slow to anger has great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes folly. (15:18) A hot-tempered man stirs up conflict, but a man slow to anger calms strife. (20:3) It is honorable for a man to keep away from a dispute, but any fool can quarrel. (26:21) As charcoal for embers and wood for fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. (16:32) Slow to anger is better than power, and controlling one's spirit than capturing a city. (19:11) A person's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
The Folly of a Quick-Tempered Person (14:17, 29; 15:18)
Before you jump on the emotion of anger, you need to understand that anger in and of itself is not bad. Paul says: "Be angry and yet do not sin." The main point is that when we are angry, we should not sin. A person who never experiences the emotion of anger will not experience other emotions as well. Moreover, anger drives a person to do something good which he otherwise would not have done. It was good that the North got angry at slavery in the South and rid this nation of that evil institution. It was good that we got angry at Nazi Germany, Imperialist Japan, and Hussein's Iraq so that millions of people would be liberated from the tyranny of these nations. The key though is not to be quick-tempered.
I have experienced the results of being quick tempered. When somebody has wounded me, instead of stopping and praying, I spouted off and said something that, although was right, only made the situation worse. I've seen people do horrible things to others, and yet when that person responded in anger, that person's anger became the focus of the issue--and not the evil the other person had done.
I feel like Chuck McElroy models to a large extent 14:29. Chuck said that when he was younger, he used to respond immediately whenever somebody made him angry. As he has matured, he's learned to back away, let his anger subside, process what his right response should be, and then respond. That's good because sometimes that cooling-off period might change the way you would respond to that situation. Phillip Keltner once said that whenever anybody says something un-Christlike towards him, he steps back and sees if this is a pattern in that person's life or if it is just a blip on the screen of that person's character. If it is a blip, he lets it go. He responds differently though if it is a pattern. Wise words which can only implemented if you don't fly off at the handle whenever something happens you don't like.
Avoiding Disputes (20:3; 26:21)
It is not always necessary to go to war over every issue that crosses our paths. I've learned that in the church if I keep silent on certain issues, the right thing many times still gets accomplished. Not only is the right thing still done, I get to have peace. It is wise for us to pick and choose our battles. Like Chuck McElroy says, "I don't have to fight when I don't have a dog in the fight."
One way to avoid conflict is to keep away from a hot-tempered person or from a person who loves conflicts. Those with a lion disposition need to be careful here because many times lions are energized by conflict. Scripture teaches us that we all have sinful natures. Most of us do not have raging fires burning within us; however, because we do have sinful natures, all different kinds of embers within us are always glowing. Men need to avoid pornography and sensual programs on TV because these things are like gasoline thrown onto the glowing embers. In the same way, throw the gasoline of a person who loves conflict into our midst, and a fire will rage within the church. Dialogue is great. Persistent conflict is not.
This does not mean that I will never enter a dispute. A leader's primary responsibility is to lead. Sometimes that means leading people through the fight; however, being a leader does not mean I always have to enter the fray.
The Glories of a Slow-Tempered Person (19:11)
Just being slow to anger is not enough. Neither is sleeping over an issue good enough. I have found that when somebody has angered me that I need to pull back, give it some time, and pray over the issue. Upon my sister's advice, I pray Col. 1:9-12 whenever a person has wronged me. It helps me put that person and problem into God's perspective. When I pray to the Jesus of love about a person, He naturally changes our hearts towards that person. You can pray to "God" all day long and still hate that person; pray though to Jesus and you'll find your attitude changing towards him/her. How can I remain angry at somebody whenever I pray to the One who forgave those who were killing Him by nailing Him to a cross?
(22:24) Don't associate with an angry man, and don't be a companion of a hot-tempered man. (22:25) or you will learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. (12:16) A fool's displeasure is known at once, but whoever ignores an insult is prudent. (17:14) To start a conflict is to burst a dam; stop the dispute before it breaks out. (17:19) One who loves to offend loves strife; one who builds a high door invites injury. (14:22) Don't those who plan evil go astray? But those who plan good find kindness and truth. (17:17) A friends loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Conflicts Can Spiral out of Control (17:14)
As a youth minister, I saw this principle operate: "to start a conflict is to burst a dam." The pastor's son at the church I was serving had a quick tongue. He always picked on this other kid who wasn't as quick with his tongue. Although this other kid was huge, he would never get into fights. One day I told the pastor's son that he had better quit fighting with his tongue because one day this other kid was going to get his fill of him and start fighting with his fists. I told him that when that day came I was going to stand back and do nothing because he was going to deserve it. I believe that if fighting is wrong, then it is wrong to fight with either your mouth or your fists. On the other hand, if it is OK to fight with your words, then it is OK for somebody else to fight with their fists.
Well, what I had predicted came true. While we were on a mission trip in New England, the pastor's son kept on tormenting this poor soul. They were all supposed to take showers at the YMCA, and the pastor's son made fun of the other kid because he wore his swimming trunks into the showers and wouldn't take them off. Finally, this other kid couldn't take it any longer. He reared back and punched the pastor's son so hard that he was knocked clear across the locker room. Then the kid started chasing the pastor's son. The pastor's son ran around screaming for help. The dam had burst open, and there was no shutting it down. (The wild thing about this episode is that these 2 guys after this became best friends.)
Lower Your Headlights (17:19)
When Nancy, Nathan, Molly, and I went to England in 2001, we toured in Stratford-Upon-Avon the cottage of Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare. That was the first time I came to understand the meaning of the word "threshold." The floor inside the house was lower than the ground or the exit to the outside so that hay (thresh) lying on the ground would stay in the room and not blow out the door. The raised exit would "hold" the "thresh" inside the room. You would have to be careful though not to raise the exit (threshold) too high off the ground; otherwise, people would trip up as they exited the room.
Some of us trip up people quite a lot. Our threshold, our standard is so high that not even we ourselves could reach that level. We are always wearing our feelings on our sleeves. We can't take any kind of good-natured teasing, although we can certainly dish it out. As a result we are always wounded and lashing out at people, all the while wondering why people do not want to be in relationship with us.
One principle that relates to this is that of judging each incident individually. Many times after a person ticks us off, we write that person off. We judge everything he does or says in light of that one incident (or even series of incidents). Scott Motycka has a good saying for this: "You need to lower your headlights." You don't always have to be on high beam whenever that person comes around. Give him or her the opportunity to change. Build upon the good they actually do. It might result in a reconciled relationship.
A Friend Loves at All Times
This proverb can be interpreted in 2 ways. First, it can be used to define what a true friend is. Second, it can instruct us on how a friend should treat others. In the first instance, don't call yourself a friend if you do not love at all times. A friend by his very nature loves. There may come a time whenever we must choose between our friends and something extremely important; however, those days rarely come, if ever. When I was a youth minister, I saw a lot of wonderful relationships destroyed over people's children. Great relationships down the drain. Earlier on Nancy and I made a commitment that we would not let children come between us and other adults. We might have to agree not to discuss our children; however, as much as possible, we were going to avoid letting children destroy adult relationships. Friendships are rare; hold onto them as much as possible.