Sooner or later we all must speak hard words to another human. Whether disciplining our children, evaluating an employee, speaking truth to a friend, or correcting the property line with the guy next door, life circumstances often demand tough, straight-forward, on-point language. Communicating truth to another person will always be difficult, more so when the other person is wandering through a la-la land of error. We must exercise genuine caution and wisdom here, however. There's a thin line of discernment when hard words are necessary. It's that vague, usually invisible marker that separates hard words from harsh words. How often we cross it and inflict injury rather than understanding. And, of course, harsh words seem to be the order of the day right now.
Solomon was inspired to give his sons wise counsel in their use of language. As a sinful man he had no doubt heard and used many harsh words. His personal conduct was a source of dismay to the people around him. In addition, his rule of Israel often departed from God's purpose and direction. Again, he heard many critical and abrasive comments about his governance of the nation. From personal experience and God's instruction he learned the counterpoint of truthful language, words that produced results far from understanding and reason. So, he wrote---
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15: 1, ESV
What are these harsh words? Many other Bible versions translate harsh as grievous. They are words that are severe, provocative, mean-spirited, sorrowful, and oppressive. Harsh words demean the person receiving them, usually inflame the situation under question, and rarely communicate truth regarding the circumstances that occasioned the conversation in the first place. In most cases this language swerves around the discipline, evaluation, truth, or correction needed and attacks the person instead. It aggravates rather than solves.
And, that's pretty much the deal right now. This uncertain and unpredictable virus has forced government officials to issue edicts thought to be in the best interest of our citizens, decisions for the common good. Churches, athletic events, group meetings, retail establishments, and even medical facilities have realigned their hours and work procedures in submission to the recommended standards. And, they're being bombarded by the harsh words of many among us.
In the broadest manner Solomon always advised words of wisdom and forethought, words empty of wrath, anger, and severe criticism. Sure, everybody has an opinion and we usually express it without hesitancy. Our opinions, however, are often unschooled in the realities of the situation. Our answers are often harsh. We should know, however, that even the worst things can be communicated with generosity and kindness.
The truth is, hard words don't have to be harsh. And, that's a spiritual discipline so often missing in contemporary communication, the ability to speak truth without being nasty about it. Far too often secularism produces this kind of uncaring, inconsiderate, and disgusting language. It's even worse when transmitted by professing believers in church activity. What a shame!
Yes, every one of us will have to speak hard words to someone. But, they don't have to be harsh. When they are harsh, the say more about the speaker than any error evident in the receiver.
Hard should never be harsh.