At some point in your life, you have probably heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” On paper, that sounds like solid advice. Sometimes people can just be rude or mean, and you should let those words just roll of your back, right? Just don’t let what people say get to. Sounds easy enough, yeah?
Well unfortunately it isn’t always quite that easy. That adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” often proves to be false. Ironically, words actually cause some of the deepest and most hurtful wounds that we bear. They penetrate to the very core of who we are. They can rip us apart. They can sting for years. Despite some of our best attempts to just not let it bug us or weigh on our minds, words have an incredibly powerful affect on us.
Life and Death
God seems to really care about how we use our words. In fact, Scripture puts a major emphasis on the way we use our words, especially the way we use our words towards others.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
~ Proverbs 18:21
It is hard not to hear the iconic saying of Uncle Ben from the Spider-man comics, “With great power, comes great responsibility”, when reflecting on Proverbs 18:21. For so many of us that use words flippantly or without much thought, this Proverb certainly causes us to stop and pause for a moment. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”? That is such a powerful image for how big of deal words can be. What I choose to say to someone today can lead to life or death. Then, “those who love it will eat its fruits”. We need to be very aware of how we use our words. What if the words I use today bring about someone being changed for the good, or left in darkness?
Proverbs 18:21 isn’t the only passage that deals with the power of the tongue. Check out what the book of James has to say about the tongue:
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Woah. Very few of us probably have ever stopped to realize how incredibly impactful our words can be. Yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves we know what the book of James says is spot on. How many times have we been hurt deeply by what someone has said to us. Perhaps still feeling that hurt even to this day. Or the flip side, how many times have we hurt someone be what we have said to them. Just as we just read, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”.
Building Up Others
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
What are we to do with such a powerful tool? If our words have such dynamic potential, how can we use our tongue to yield fresh water rather than salt water? Thankfully, the Bible gives great instruction to how we can use our words for good:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion,
that it may give grace to those who hear.”
~ Ephesians 4:29
I love that image of letting no corrupting talk come out of our mouths. So often I have read this passage in light of swearing and used it as a guide to why we shouldn’t swear. While I still hold to the conviction that we should avoid swearing, I believe this passage is getting to something a bit more deep than just avoiding a behavior. Let no “corrupting talk”. Don’t allow things to exit your mouth that can cause corruption. A crude remark or vindictive sting can be just as vulgar or corrupt as someone swearing up a storm.
Rather, Scripture instructs us to speak words that will build up or encourage each other. Speak words that are going to benefit people. Words that affirms those around, not tear them down. Our words can give grace to those who hear!
A Honeycomb to the Soul
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Have you ever had someone say something to you that just made your day? Something that just lifted your spirits? It wasn’t what you were expecting, but it brought you great joy? This is exactly what this Proverb tells us! Our words can be like a honeycomb to our hearers, it can give refreshing. It can bring true health to our minds, our body, and our soul.
It would do us well to think of another old adage that your mother or guardian probably told you at one point in your life, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then you probably shouldn’t say it”. There is a place for a hard word or corrective word to people, but that certainly shouldn’t be our default mode. Sometimes people just need to have a word that lifts their spirits. A word that encourages them or affirms something in their life.
I cringe and am often embarrassed with the way Christian leaders have used their words for self gain, evil, and divisiveness. God is honored greatly when we use our words to bring encouragement and life. If we can’t control our tongues and use them for the betterment of the world around us, then what use is it? We can’t honor God with our mouth one minute, and then drag others down the next minute.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
I challenge us today make a real effort to use our words to encourage and build up those around us. Let us intentionally thing about how we can bless those around us today with the things we say to them. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. You may just give a word that changes the course of their day, week, or potentially their life.
What are your thoughts on the power of the tongue? Have you experienced your words or the words of others having a profound affect on a situation? I’d love to hear your comments below and hear your thoughts!