Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never harm me! Our mothers taught us this to help us to overlook the put downs and downright meanness of other kids. It was an attempt to help us to keep from being damaged by bullies who use words to hurt.
The problem with it is that it’s a lie. Words spoken can do great damage. Words break no bones, but they do break hearts. I've seen children’s lives messed up by carelessly spoken words. I've seen marriages ruined by hateful words.
The plain fact is that we DO care about what others think of us, especially the people we love. Sometimes, those words are designed to injure, sometimes they’re just spoken in anger, and sometimes they’re just spoken carelessly without regard for the effect it has on the hearer. Today I want to post on words, from this portion of scripture.
Romans 14:17-19 (NKJV)
14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things, which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
Words are powerful tools:
- They can be used to describe complex theories
- They can be used to evoke an motional response
- They can be used to express love
- They can be used to bring understanding
- They can be used to create:
The Bible tells us that God used words to speak the universe into existence. Nine times in the first and second chapters of Genesis the Bible says, “Then God said…!” He didn't create the universe with His hands. He didn't use any tool except words. Words can be used to create.
Words definitely have power. You can ask any novelist, politician or lawyer, who use words in their profession. Novelists create a scene and a story through the use of words. Politicians use words to influence people to a course of action. Lawyers use words to persuade and allow innocent men to go free.
These people can testify to the power of words. Words can create but words can also damage. According to Psychology Today:
“…prior to the recent study by Martin Teicher and colleagues at Harvard Medical School, taunting and other verbal abuse experienced by middle school children by their peers was not thought to leave a structural imprint on the developing brain. But it does, according to their new study published on-line in advance of print in the American Journal of Psychiatry.” *
So we can see that words can also be destructive.
There is power in the words you speak. There’s the power to edify, or build up, and there’s the power to destroy. How we use the words we speak to another person determines the direction our relationships take. Our text tells us that the “Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Do the words you’re using reflect that? Are you using words that “make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”? Are you building up or tearing down?
We use words so quickly, don’t we? Listen to a casual conversation, sometime. Our minds work so quickly that we have words to respond in fractions of a second. We don’t even have to think about it. Words just come flowing out of our mouths.
Sometimes, though, I think this is a problem, because we speak through our emotions. We speak through our anger. We speak through our frustration… and we do it instantly, without thinking. Maybe we should take time and think about what we’re going to say.
I don’t think people try to damage their children by speaking words of discouragement to them. It’s just that frustration and irritation come out of our mouths without thinking. We do the same thing in other relationships. We jam our wives or husbands with no thought as to the effect those words will have on them.
“You’re lazy.” “You’re so stupid.” We label each other and those labels can have destructive consequences. Sometimes, the problem is that we speak words that aren't positive or faith affirming.
At our house we’re trying to speak positively. It’s amazing how many times something comes out of people’s mouths that are negative. I’m not saying that we sit around and say hateful things to each other, but we don’t always speak faith-affirming words. For example, someone might say, “We’re not going to have enough money to pay the church rent this month.” The response might be something like, “God will help us. Don’t be so negative.”
Sometimes we use sarcasm as a weapon, or we speak negatively to show how much we think we know. Isn't that an amazing thought? Someone comes to us excited about a possibility, or opportunity and we say, “What do you know about doing that?” Or “that isn’t going to happen, you’re too naïve.” Or, “You don’t understand how it works here, people won’t do that.”
When we pastored in Riverside, California, I wanted to try and reach into the Chinese community there. There are a lot of people from China there. I wanted to get to know some of them, to reach into that community. So, I tried to talk to some other pastors. I was looking for an effective strategy to reach them with the Gospel. They all said the same thing, “That community is too close knit. They won’t let you in. You’ll never get anywhere with them.” It was discouraging; I almost gave up before I started.
On a whim, I put our information on an electronic bulletin board asking for a language exchange or Chinese tutor, so we could learn to speak Mandarin. Within 24 hours I had six or seven offers for teaching or language exchange. This was in August, by Thanksgiving we had thirty Chinese couples over to our house to experience American culture. We were accepted, in fact, we still have close relationships with some of those people.
So we had people who had no idea what they were talking about being negative, only because it made them appear to have knowledge and understanding. They spoke discouragingly, when they could have been encouraging. Is this how we should use our words? Is this how we should use the power that we speak?
As Christians the idea is to be Godly. We want to be Godly men and women. We want to be like Jesus. Jesus used His words to create. He spoke words of edification. What words are you speaking today? Are you building up or tearing down?
Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV)
4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
I want to take some time to digest this scripture. Specifically, I want to focus on two words.
The first word I want to focus on is edify or edification. According to Strong’s Lexicon of Greek and Hebrew, the Greek word translated as edify literally means to be a house builder. This word house is used a lot in the Old Testament to signify one’s family. The House of Abraham refers to his family; the people who lived in his household. It’s the same with the House of Jacob, or the House of David. So, in a sense it means to build your family members; the people who love in your house, like your wife, your husband or your children. I think it also can mean something else, as well.
A few days ago I sent a text to one of the women in our church. I was thanking her for some help she had given us. Her response was, “Don’t mention it, we’re family, right?”
We are family. That’s why we use words like, brother or sister in Christ. The Bible tells us we should be “house builders” but often we’re not we’re just the opposite. It’s really easy to tear each other down through gossip, slander or discouragement. Take a moment and think about the last thing you said to: Your spouse, your children, your church friends, and your pastor and his wife. Think about the attitude you used and see if you were building the house or tearing it down. Now, think about the last thing you said about those same people. Were you building up those people in the eyes of others or are you tearing them down. Were you complaining about them, embarrassing them or speaking badly of them?
The Bible tells us in the story of Balak and Balaam that the words of cursing don’t need to be spoken directly to the people you’re cursing. Balaam only tried to curse Israel before Balak. Look at the moment in scripture.
Balak has hired Balaam to curse Israel. Apparently, Balaam is famous for cursing. God has a different idea and puts words of blessing into Balaam’s mouth. He begins to tell Balak what God has said. This is a personal conversation. He’s not saying this in front of the people of Israel. He’s only speaking to Balak, and instead of cursing Israel he speaks blessing. Look at Balak’s reaction:
Numbers 23:11 (NKJV)
23:11 Then Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!"
He’s beside himself. In fact, he wants Balaam to go with him to where he can see the people of Israel and try to curse them again. Balaam isn't blessing Israel within earshot, but the words still have the power to bless.
In the same way, words that are spoken against someone, whether they are spoken in their presence or not, have the same power to curse. I become concerned, sometimes, when I hear someone talking about things they said to their husband or wife. Things like, “I wish I wasn't married to you.” Or “We should get a divorce…I hate you.” I fear for the future of their marriage, because the words you use will shape your actions.”
I had a friend who always talked about how much he hated his wife. He always told her he was going to divorce her, “As soon as our son is old enough I’m leaving you.” He told other people, “I hate my wife.” He made jokes about it; he humiliated her, thinking she didn’t understand English, so she wouldn’t know what he was saying. For her part she was angry and hostile to him, but maybe it was because he always said those things to her and about her. He spoke words of cursing to her face and to others about her. Remember, she doesn't have to hear the words to be cursed.
Recently, he left her. He did just what he had been speaking. He abandoned her. I wonder what would have happened if he had spoken the opposite way: If he spoke blessing instead of cursing. What could have been the outcome if he used the power of his words to build his house?
This ties into the other word I want to examine and that word is corrupt. According to the Strong’s Lexicon, the word translated as corrupt means rotten or worthless. Do the words you’re speaking to or about someone have power to edify, or are they destructive, corrupt, rotten, worthless words.
Matthew 12:36 (NKJV)
12:36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
That word idle means inactive, or useless. Words that don’t have a positive purpose for the ones they are spoken about are useless words. We will be accountable for them. Evil words cut more deeply than a sword.
My friend destroyed his marriage, because of the corruption that flowed from his mouth: Because he didn't edify or build his house. He did that through idle words.
Some of you may have already spoken like that to your spouse. Some of you may have already torn down your children. Some of you may have already spoken curses on your church family’s lives. We need to understand that our words have power.
Psalms 34:12-13 (NKJV)
34:12 Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit.
Hopefully, damage hasn’t already been done to the point where there’s no chance for redemption and reconciliation. The reason I say that is because we’re all guilty of speaking things that shouldn’t be spoken. We’re all guilty of idle words and corruption.
James 3:7-9 (NKJV)
3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
James includes himself in this: “No man can tame the tongue, with it we bless our God and with it we curse men.” I believe we are all guilty of this. So, what can we do to mend fences that we have torn down?
The first thing we can do is repent before God. When we sin against each other we sin before God. When David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, the prophet Nathan confronted him. In response to that confrontation, he told Nathan, “I have sinned against God.” His sin against Uriah the Hittite was a sin against God. When we sin against each other the sin is against God, so we need to repent before God.
The second thing is to look for forgiveness from that person. Do you know what power is found in two simple words, “I’m sorry.”? Most people have the capacity to forgive. I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor I've heard someone say, “I just want an apology.” “If they’d just say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
The final thing is to stop saying things that are hurtful. You can’t just say, “I’m sorry,” and continue with the same old behavior. It makes the words meaningless. It’s a necessary part of repentance, anyway. There is no repentance without change.
Finally, we can help each other when people speak badly about others. I have a friend that has been loyal for many years. We've been friends for a long time. Someone told this friend something about me that was bad. They took an event and skewed it to make it look like I was saying terrible things about this friend, when I hadn't been. So I came to this person to explain and she told me. “I wasn't worried about it, because I don’t listen to gossip anyway.”
We don’t have to listen to people spewing gossip. We can quickly stop it by saying, “I don’t listen to gossip.” If people speak things to you that are cursing, you don’t have to listen to those words either. Find someone who will edify you and let them encourage you.
I’m not saying you should go to them and say things like, “My husband is such a beast…do you know what he said to me?” Don’t do that because the next words out of your mouth will be gossip. You can ask them to pray for you about your relationship with your husband. You can ask them to speak words of encouragement to you. You can let them care for you.
None of us should allow anyone to tear down our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be here for each other. The world wants to destroy us… The house of God should be there to strengthen us.
* Psychology Today, 10/10 2010; Sticks and Stones Hurtful Words Damage the Brain;