Words matter. If there’s anything the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin situation teaches us, it’s that. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is nonsense. Words do far more damage than sticks and stones. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but they can’t kill our spirit like words can.
The Bible talks a lot about the importance of our words. This past year, if someone paid you ten dollars for every kind and helpful word you spoke about others or to others, but also collected ten dollars from you for every unkind word you spoke about or to others, would you be rich or poor? If the New Testament is right, we might all be broke. James writes, “All kinds of animals have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
The words we say create most of the problems we face. Most problems at church or in the workplace are the result of words. Most divorces aren’t caused by adultery or desertion; they’re caused by words. Most conflicts between parents and children aren’t the result of some generation gap; they’re the result of words. Think about your own relationships for a moment. What has been said to you that has stung or crushed your spirit or just took the wind out of your sails for days? It might have been something said to you many years ago, but you remember, and it still hurts. Think about the things you’ve said that had the same impact on others. Once those words were out of your mouth they could never be retrieved. You really can’t take it back, can you? Our words become an enduring part of every relationship we have.
That’s why the Bible says so much about our words. It teaches us the words we speak will make or break the relationships we have. Learn to season your speech with grace and your relationships will grow in depth and in joy and in peace. Leave your tongue unbridled and it will poison your own life and those you love the most. No where is this more clearly stated than in Proverbs 18:20-21:
With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
These verses speak of the power of the tongue to impact our lives and those around us. The tongue has the power to inflict both life and death. Because of its power, we’re encouraged to “love it,” which means to respect it and to use it with care. If we do so the product of our speech will bring satisfaction to our lives. We’ll “eat its fruit” and enjoy the blessing the wise use of our speech brings to our relationships.
The tongue can do great harm or it can do great good. When Daryl Green was being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, he reflected on the impact his father had on him. He said, “Everyone else told me I was too small. But my dad said, ‘You can run the ball.’ Everyone else said, ‘No,’ but my dad said, ‘Go.’” Green was reflecting on the difference words made in his life. Words contain the power of death: “You’re too small.” But they also contain the power of life: “You can run the ball.” What a difference words can make! With your words you can hurt or you can heal, you can build up or you can tear down.
In my next few posts, I’ll get more specific about the kind of words that bring life and the kind that bring death.