Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!"
How many of us remember saying those words when our school mates would poke fun of us on the playground? I do.
In my experience those words would be then followed by me making a rude face before walking away to go play somewhere else. However, that schoolyard saying is a lie. In fact if you remember the experience of uttering that tired cliché you realized it was a lie then as you do now. The sting of an insult about how you look, what you do or say cuts deeply and try as we might to ignore the pain, the words still hurt. Words are powerful things and as the truism states: "The pen (or the words that the pen produces) is mightier than the sword." And so we must wield them very carefully.
What we say and how we say it, whether it is verbal or electronic communication, is something we must pay attention to. Now I am not advocating the extreme political correctness that is so prevalent today by which every word of disagreement is offensive. What I am saying, however, is that if communication is such an integral part of how we exist as humans (actually an evidence of the Image of God in people) then let us use it to build one another up and edify people.
There is a verse in the book of Proverbs that reveals the power that words have. Proverbs 18:21 says "Death and life are in the power of the tongue..." In everything we say our words and our communications can do one of two things. Either we give life or we bring death.
In other words, what we say can either lift people up or bring them down. It's true is it not? Think about your own life and how being around certain people and what they say can either be an encouragement or a discouragement to you. Tragically, we can even take this a step further and recall how many teenagers end their life because of what classmates have said in the halls and on the internet.
I know that this may evoke some strong feelings and perhaps even as you are reading this, words that people have said are surfacing and along with it the hurt, but stay with me. There is a point in all of this.
Especially as Christians, we of all people must take seriously the exhortation found in Proverbs as well as other places within the Scripture.
James wrote about the tongue that it is a "fire, a world of unrighteousness" (Jas. 3:6) and a "restless evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas. 3:8) but then he goes on to say this, "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people are made in the likeness of God."(Jas. 3:9).
Do you see what he did there, exposing that we can so easily talk out of both sides of our mouths?
In one moment we are singing and saying how great God is and then the next we are tearing down and insulting fellow image bears around us. I would be the first to admit that I am guilty in this area and that is why remembering past hurts helps us right our perspective.
However let's move toward the positive that is found in Proverbs 18. It isn't only that we need to be careful about what we say as to not bring hurt on someone, but also that our words afford us a great opportunity to bless.
We can actually impact people for the good by the words we say and this is ever truer for the Christian believer.
As Christians we possess a message that is so good that the great promise of Scripture is when that message is proclaimed "the LORD reigns" will cause both heaven and the earth to be glad and rejoice (Ps. 96:10-11). Furthermore, because the news is so good that it gives such an effect on our words so that we can actually bring life eternal and life abundant in Christ to those who are in need of both.
I want to invite you to start listening to yourself and see how your words match up with this verse, "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."(Prov. 16:24). Does this describe how you speak and would those around you agree with you?