“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). This verse became more real to me recently after I spoke in a harsh tone to my wife. There was no need for such a response. I was simply frustrated. In its footnotes, the NET Bible gives an alternative translation as “a soft answer.” “The adjective ‘soft; tender; gentle’ is more than a mild response; it is conciliatory, an answer that restores good temper and reasonableness.” I definitely was not conciliatory toward my bride. I was ill-tempered and unreasonable.
By all accounts I had blown it with my attitude and especially with my tone of voice. It was harsh and condescending. I confessed my fault to my wife. That is spiritual progress for me. Usually, I would simply brush off my remark with an insincere “I’m sorry.” But this time I was aware of the tone in my voice. I was deeply convicted when my bride expressed “fear” that I might regress to giving her the old silent treatment. My wife’s expression of “fear” was frankly shocking to me.
Men, it has taken me a lot of years to get to where I can confess to you my shameful attitude when I get frustrated. I pride myself in being a caring guy. I am not harsh and judgmental in my outward behavior toward others. Yet my own wife can become fearful because of my harsh attitude. That makes me a hypocrite.
“Gentleness” is a new watchword for me at home. There are six references to gentleness in scripture (NIV). Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). In Col. 3:12 there is the challenge to clothe “yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Paul appeals to believers “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1). In Phil. 4:5, Paul exhorts us to “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil 4:5). In I Peter 3:15, we are told to answer “with gentleness and respect.”
According to The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, “Gentleness is an image of God’s ultimate subversive power that undercuts the power structures of the world.” Jesus tells us to take his yoke and learn from him because he was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29). By doing so we would “find rest” for our souls. Men, we can be subversive by being gentle and humble in relation to our wives.
Paul urges us to live a life worthy of our calling as a follower of Jesus. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). The first place I can practice being gentle is with my wife, since Paul tells us “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:28). My harshness only shows how far I still have to go in loving my wife as my own flesh.
So how am I going to become gentler as a husband, father, or man – one who desires to give a gentle answer in an attitude of love and caring? I know I will not succeed in every situation. But I hope to improve in showing gentleness. Many of you could feel the same way.
Here are three things I challenge us all to do, as we ask for grace to improve. First, become aware of our attitude and tone of voice as we sincerely pray for a sensitive and gentler spirit. Second, confess on the spot when we detect a lack of gentleness. Third, seek forgiveness when we fail, while asking our wives to pray for us. We’re in this together!