“Oh no you didn’t!”
This expression is typically the start of something ending in something stupid. Even if we’ve not said it, we’ve thought it when someone has said something to us that was definitely “across the line”.
It wasn’t that long ago that situation happened to me. A man accused me of using my influence as a pastor to lead the church down a heretical path. And let’s just say he used “inflammatory language”. I remember feeling my heart rate increase and my adrenaline kick in. In my sinful heart rose the words in my head, “Oh no you didn’t just say that!”
Instead of dialogue, this man was only concerned with being right, yelling, and out-smarting me. Regardless of what I said to him next, he had already beaten me 100 times over in his head. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? The next words out of my mouth would define me in his eyes—after all, I was already a “heretic”. At this point, the only thing left to do is assess my character.
What do you do in those moments when that “zinger” is right on the tip of your tongue and the person across from you really deserves to be put back in their place?
We remember the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
What?!?! You mean that’s in the Bible?! I know. I was as surprised as you. After all, idiots deserve to be whipped into their holes, right? You have the right to defend yourself, right?
A music theory professor (of all people) once gave a great paraphrase of this Proverb: “never answer an emotionally charged comment with an emotionally comment.” It’s stayed with me as much as this Proverb has. And has saved me many verbal fights because of it.
When we respond to someone with a gentle word, we defuse the situation. After all, when someone comes at you with all their emotions raging, they are looking for a fight. They are packed and ready to unload on you. If you give in to what your heart tells you to do, you’ll swing back at their verbal assault and you won’t win. They will. And your testimony before the world will be tarnished.
But here’s where reality sets in. In all likelihood, your gentle answer will only make them angrier. Yes. You read that right. My experience is that a gentle answer will increase their anger. But why? Because they came looking for a fight but you’re not fighting.
Their anger will escalate and they will sink lower.
You take the high road and deflect their wrath with a soft, slow tone.
They will get personal and attack your character (if they weren’t already!).
You take the high road and treat them with respect.
Absolutely, positively, and completely NO.
A wise thing to do? The Christ-like thing to do? Absolutely, positively, and completely YES.
When you feel your blood pressure rising and you feel the need to verbally attack back, take a deep breath, lower your volume, soften your tone, and ask them to talk to you when they’re less emotional.
It’ll save you the character-crushing embarrassment of sinking to their level and might actually demonstrate to them how a Christ-follower practices the spiritual discipline of self-control.