Question: "What does it mean that a soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)?"
Answer: Soft is a word that can sometimes have negative connotations associated with weakness. However, that is not the case in Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (ESV). Here, the writer explains that a soft answer is the wiser choice whenever we must respond to a problem.
The word translated as “soft” in the original language can also mean “gentle,” “tenderhearted,” “kindly,” and “having or showing a thoughtful or gentle nature.” Wrath means “fury” or “anger.” The proverb is teaching that a wise person will deal with problems gently. “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare,” says Proverbs 15:1 in the New Living Translation.
The central theme of the book of Proverbs is wisdom. Its purpose is to show young seekers how to gain understanding and insight by developing a disciplined life and choosing to do what is right, just, beneficial, and fair. Wisdom, in essence, is a choice reflected in a person’s basic approach to life. Because of one’s values and commitments, the wise person chooses to live according to godly principles and make the right choices. He or she will pay close attention to the counsel and guidance offered in Scripture, applying God’s truth, and submitting to the Lord’s will.
In Proverbs 15:1, the wise choice is presented first: “a soft answer turns away wrath.” Speaking a soft answer means responding with gentleness and patience in a way that defuses anger and keeps the situation from escalating. By contrast, “a harsh word stirs up anger.” The unwise choice is to respond unkindly, rashly, and in anger. Later, Solomon reiterates the wise and foolish options: “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18).
A gentle or soft answer turns away wrath by neutralizing a potentially tense or explosive situation. A harsh word does the opposite; rather than dissolving anger, it charges it up. James taught believers that operating in “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). According to James, “Wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
Wise Christians keep in mind that God calls us to be peacemakers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Choosing to promote and inspire peace requires other virtues encouraged in the Proverbs. “The plans of the diligent lead to profit,” says Proverbs 21:5. It takes forethought, diligence, and planning to be ready to take on the role of peacemaker in challenging or heated circumstances. We must daily “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14, ESV).
To be ready with a soft answer that turns away wrath, we must make the daily choice to nurture and develop patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Colossians 3:12; Galatians 5:22).