“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Proverbs 15:18).
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
A fruitful habit of the heart is pondering before speaking. That this has always been an issue with humanity is evident from the fact that Proverbs was written many centuries ago – every heart born into this world today is like every heart born into this world when Proverbs was written, a heart alienated from God. While we were created in the image of God, that image was desecrated by Adam and Eve and we have been desecrated children ever since then with desecrated hearts. Hearts once in the image of God are now hearts that need to be transformed into the image of God.
The path to heart transformation, after we have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, is the submission of our hearts to the Lord Jesus. Our hearts are to ponder not what we think is best, but are rather to ponder how we are to submit to the Word of God and our Lord Jesus in any and all situations – including situations in which others are coming at us with anger, including situations in which we are being unjustly treated.
The promiscuous hot-tempered person creates an atmosphere of anger, vitriol, and intimidation. There are three responses to such a person: to become subservient to the tyrant, to respond in kind, or to ponder and answer reflectively, gently, and firmly. The first response, which is the norm, is that the anger is not questioned, or if questioned submitted to, and hence we have the herd mentality – we allow the biggest mouth to drive us off a cliff. The second response, responding in kind, is often the equivalent of a military term – “mutual assured destruction”, also known by the acronym MAD. Someone may win for the moment, but only for the moment; both may lose and in their losing inflict loss on those around them.
The third response, for the follower of Jesus Christ, does not have either ourselves or the other person as the primary focus – it has Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ first, the redemption of the other person second, and our transformation into the image of Jesus Christ, as the outworking of our obedience to Jesus, third. We would do well to ponder Jesus before the high priest and other religious leaders on the night of His betrayal, then we should ponder Him before Pilate and Herod, and we should then behold Him on the Cross – there was not a word of anger, not a word of vitriol, not a word of self-defense – not a word of self-assertion. Jesus Christ was in submission to His Father as He listened to lies, lies, and then more lies spoken about Him – and when He was offered the opportunity to assert Himself before Pilate He said little. To be sure the Holy Spirit gave Paul wisdom before his false accusers during his long imprisonment, but the words that Paul spoke were words in submission to our Lord Jesus and not the words of a spiritual or moral anarchist.
Pondering how to answer is a habit and discipline not easily developed or maintained in a world in which communication is conducted with the speed of email, text messages, tweets, and cell phones. Pondering goes against the grain of Western culture. Our political leaders do not generally ponder but react, our business leaders generally do not ponder but react, and sadly our religious leaders often appear to cater to the whims of the masses rather than ponder and challenge them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pondering and sharing reflective answers often brings peace to troubled relationships, diffuses confrontations, and at the very least for the Christian centers our hearts in Jesus Christ. We are not called to perpetuate anger and discord, we are called to be peacemakers.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”