Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Parents recite this saying to their children to help shape their perspective and develop resiliency concerning insults and unsavory speech that is directed toward them. The saying has merit, but is it entirely true? Are words harmless?
Scripture speaks about the power of our words in James 3:2-10 by likening our words to a fire that originates from hell. The power of our words is further illustrated by James’s comparison of our words to a rudder that turns a big ship or a bit that turns a horse. His point is that while our mouth is small, it can have a big effect on others.
Words might not break bones, but it is incorrect to say they can’t hurt others and cause great damage to our relationships, our church, and our witness. Our words can hurt others, bring shame on ourselves, our family, our church, and even give the world an unfavorable view of God. Think of it: if I am a representative for Christ in this world, and my words are profane, perverted, condescending, untrue, complaint-filled, negative, or any other example of sinful speech, then why would people think my God is any different? Words can ruin relationships, destroy homes, and split churches. Words are powerful and dangerous if not controlled. Please don’t misunderstand me. There are times when situations need corrected and improved, and that might require you to go directly to someone and have an honest, and even tough conversation with them. But even in those instances, our words should be measured to prevent them from degrading to the point of gossip, condescension, ad hominem attacks, and so on. As James says, “My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (3:10). Jesus says in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We are to be known by love. Take this moment to consider how you talk to and about your family, fellow Christians, co-workers, church leaders, people with philosophies or politics you disagree with, and anyone else. Christians are to be known by love, but so often our words don’t reflect love. Unfortunately, it is difficult to have our words reflect love, though, isn’t it? When we encounter a difficult person or situation, we find someone who will listen and say do you know what bothers me? These types of words are said in back corners of offices about bosses and co-workers, in get-togethers about spouses, and even after worship services about church members and church leaders. As we all know, phrases like “do you know what bothers me” are often followed by words that do the exact opposite of helping us to be known by love. Christians, since we know the destructive power of our words, let us measure them carefully before allowing fire to escape from our lips. Before speaking, consider whether or not your words represent yourself, your family, your church, and your God well. Consider whether they build someone up or tear them down. Consider whether they are fair, true, and helpful. Make these same considerations before posting your words to social media. The tongue will not be tamed on its own. We must be intentional. Out of the mouth that we praise God, we ought not curse man who was made in His image (James 3:9).
So I ask, do you know what bothers me? No? You don’t? And unless it’s helpful, maybe you shouldn’t.
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