Sticks and Stones
By Dot Bowen
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We’ve all heard this old adage but know it’s not true. I don’t believe the person who first said it could hear! Words have power. And God has plenty to say about the power of words in the Bible.
I remember a time when my husband Howard and I were sitting in the food court at the Atlanta airport when I heard a man at the table next to ours shout at his teenage daughter saying, You make me sick! I would leave you here but no one would take you! Why aren’t you like your brother? Just shut-up and give me a break from hearing your sorry voice! I wish I was making this story up, but it’s true. With tears running down my face, I glanced over to see the teenage girl crying while her mother sat next to her looking down at the floor. Can you imagine what I wanted to do to that man? I refrained from sinning against God and the man, but told Howard we had to change tables or I was going to use the power of my words and find myself in jail. As we moved to a new table, I prayed for that young girl with every ounce of passion in me. I still pray for her when this terrible memory comes to mind. We can only imagine the damage her father’s words caused? We also know God alone can bring healing to her damaged heart!
Words can cause destruction. Someone is destroyed by words everyday. The book of Proverbs addresses the importance of our words. In fact, 150 of the 915 verses in Proverbs discuss the use of our words; that’s one-sixth of the book! One of the reasons hurtful words are so damaging is they cannot be taken back once spoken. We may apologize for what we said—and we should—but we can’t click “undo” and take back our spoken words.
Our words can indeed hurt and damage others, but if chosen carefully, our words can encourage and build up others. Proverbs 31:26 tells us a Godly woman speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. We can either tear our homes down or build our homes upon wisdom and Godly instruction. Proverbs 12:25 also reminds us that an anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Never underestimate the power of a kind word! I feel loved when someone encourages me with words. Encouraging words may not speak love to everyone, but kind words bring encouragement to everyone.
In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Our words expose what’s in our heart. If we want to speak encouraging, kind, and loving words, we must first deal with our heart. And the only One who can change our heart is God. To control our tongue, we must let Jesus examine our hearts and control our tongues. How would your conversations change if you knew Jesus was sitting in on your discussion? David said in Psalm 139:4: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” Ask God to reveal what’s in your heart before you open your mouth. God is faithful to answer us when we ask. Pray and speak to God before speaking unkind words to someone else!
Let’s use our words for building up others, and check our hearts before we open our mouths! We often hear, “I really put my foot in my mouth,” and sometimes I think I literally need to put my foot in my mouth! Maybe my foot would prevent me from saying something I don’t really mean—or if I do mean it—help me to keep those thoughts to myself. When I am sensitive to the feelings of others, I’m more aware of how painful harsh words can be. Would you like to join me in working on speaking only words of encouragement? How would your life look like if you were quick to listen and slow to speak? If you know me, you know I’ll have to trust Jesus to do this in me because I love to talk. But hopefully, you also know my heart’s desire is to speak words that are kind even if I’m not feeling kind. Will you join me in this challenge of only speaking words that build up? The truth is stick and stones can hurt, but words can destroy. So let’s not throw harsh words around and hurt the people we truly love! We can love others by keeping our mouths shut and our opinions to ourselves. Forget the foot—I need the power of the Holy Spirit to do this!
Further Reading 2 Timothy 2:14-2 Timothy 3; Psalm 139