The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.
It takes two to fight. You can avoid or end a fight by letting the conflict go. But if both pursue the strife, it will quickly get worse. Wise men try hard to make peace, for the God of peace calls His children to peace unless it is a matter He has said they must fight for.
Great men make peace. Great men are not childish to fight over little things. Only weak men cannot rule their spirits and give in to their pride to respond to provocation. Are you great or weak? Is there any strife in your life you should end before the sun sets?
If an opening is made in an earthen dam or dike, flowing water does not stay a small stream, but it quickly eats away at the opening and violently escapes in a flood of water. In the same way, a fight will grow quickly, if it is not ended at the very beginning.
Wise men withdraw at the first sign of conflict. If you stay and trade facial expressions, words, or blows, a small confrontation can quickly escalate into a major fight or war. A foolish retort is followed by an angry demand, getting a spiteful contradiction, leading to a hasty accusation. Soon both parties foolishly flail at each other with words or blows.
Such fighting is neither wise nor Christian! It is easy to sense or see the beginning of strife, but who can calculate the damage in the end, especially when his emotions are ruling his mind? A wise man avoids the painful consequences of an unnecessary conflict by humbly backing down on the front end. The slight pain to his pride is nothing to him.
The conflicts or fights that wise men avoid are those minor, personal matters that can easily be sacrificed. Wise men do not back down or avoid strife for justice or truth or oppressed victims, though they do always follow the rules of wisdom in any conflict. A wise man knows the difference between things to fight for and those to walk away from.
In Solomon’s day, water was held and directed by the use of levees, dikes, dams, ditches, and aqueducts (II Chr 32:1-4,30; Is 22:9-11). Much of Israel was dry. Being an agrarian society, they depended on water. It was common knowledge that a slight opening in a dam or levee would quickly open wider by the flow of the water itself, which would quickly become a flood, very difficult to reduce or stop. A dam is much more easily preserved than it is repaired. To keep them intact, even minor breaches had to be avoided.
Strife and contention grow the same way – quickly and violently – into major battles. As soon as you sense anger rising or a conflict developing, get away and avoid the person and the matter. As some say, “Just let it go.” Do not let the fight even get started. Do not answer “fighting words” with other strong words (Pr 15:1). Do not reply to strife, unless you use a soft and conciliatory answer to appease the party and end the contention.
Consider Agur’s similar comparison, “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife” (Pr 30:33). Churning milk produces butter; wringing the nose produces a nosebleed; pressing anger in a confrontation produces strife. How many times must God repeat the warning that meddling with contention will cause war? Learn the lesson.
If spouses would learn this rule, there would be no marital quarrels. If church members learned this rule, divisions in the congregation would end. If siblings learned it, you might rightly see what the Bible calls “brotherly love” and “brotherly kindness.” Peace could reign with just a little wise consideration of water escaping from an earthen dam. Every man should avoid strife to be a peacemaker, which the Bible exalts (Matt 5:9).
Wise men, who are honorable and glorious, defer anger and pass over offences (Pr 19:11; 20:3; Ec 10:4), but a fool will stay meddling (Pr 20:3; 18:6). Righteous men know that it is pride that keeps a fight going (Pr 13:10; 21:24; 28:25); they know prudence and understanding will not let anger react quickly (Pr 14:29; 16:32; 25:8; Eccl 7:8-9).
Contentious men or women, those that like to argue, fight, or hold grudges, are like adding gasoline to a fire (Pr 15:18; 26:21; 29:22), so scorners should be cast out to enjoy peace without them (Pr 22:10; Gen 21:9-10). But peace lovers will use soft answers and turn away wrath (Pr 15:1; 25:15). Christian charity refuses to be provoked (I Cor 13:4-7).
David said, “They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long. But I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs” (Ps 38:12-14). Perfect, holy wisdom!
Abraham graciously solved a property dispute with Lot by letting him choose, though he as the elder, the uncle, and God’s friend should have chosen first (Gen 13:8-9). And Gideon solved another difficult situation by gloriously appeasing the men of Ephraim (Judges 8:1-3). But Jephthah’s lack of that wisdom cost many lives (Judges 12:1-6).
In the New Testament, two conflicts were peacefully ended by appointing deacons and holding a council at Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-31). But Paul and Barnabas separated from each other because they could not settle their differences (Acts 15:36-41). Weak brethren are allowed in churches, but they are not permitted to debate their personal opinions and cause strife, for church peace is far more important (Rom 14:1,17).
Jesus taught you to turn the other cheek when hit, which fulfills and expands the wisdom of this proverb (Matt 5:38-42). He did not mean a Christian should not defend his family or home, even with deadly force. He meant that ridiculously small events like being hit on one cheek give you the privilege of ending a fight by offering the other cheek!
Paul applied the Lord’s lesson by teaching you to live peaceably with all men (Rom 12:18-21; I Thess 5:14-15). Even ministers are told to reject foolish and unlearned questions to avoid the strife they cause (I Tim 1:4; 6:3-5; II Tim 2:14-16,23; Tit 3:9), for envy and related strife are from hell and have no part in a Christian’s life (Jas 3:14-18).
In small matters that cause fights, it is much better to suffer being defrauded a little than to press your point, escalate a fight, and never truly win in the end anyway. Paul taught the Corinthians, who had a fighting disposition, to end small matters this very way – to allow yourself to be defrauded (I Cor 6:7-8). Solomon, Jesus, and Paul all agreed!
To please God and obey Solomon’s proverb and follow the example and teaching of Jesus Christ, you must avoid foolish or personal contentions when you sense them rising. The strength and wisdom it takes to leave a fight is far more Christ-like and godly than pushing the issue to help it escalate into sin. It is better to choke a little while swallowing your pride to end a fight than to later choke out an apology after causing much damage.
This wisdom especially applies when a person in authority over you is offended with you. Instead of fighting back to defend yourself, admit your fault or your lower position and end it by yielding (Pr 16:14; 25:15; Eccl 10:4). There is great wisdom in learning to do this, but it takes humble wisdom. Let God’s advice through Solomon give you peace.
End a conflict today by backing down and walking away like a real Christian and wise man. Or better yet, give a gift to an offended person in order to make peace with them (Pr 21:14; 17:8; 18:16; Matt 5:23-26). This is real Christianity and real wisdom, and God will greatly bless such peacemakers (Ps 34:12-16; Matt 5:9; Jas 3:17-18). God bless you.