We’ve all been quoted proverbs before – throughout childhood, and even to this present day.
‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’
‘An apple doesn’t fall far from its tree.’
Any of these sound familiar?
One of the earliest sayings that I remember hearing is, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ At the time, it seemed to make sense. After all, harsh words can’t hurt us physically, and as far as I could see, it left no wounds.
But as I grew up and started to interact and talk with more people (such as my teachers, friends, classmates, and even random strangers), I began to realise that words could indeed hurt. And perhaps, hurt even more than any physical wound.
The Bible addresses this truth several times, discussing it in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Unlike the saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’, the Bible warns about the danger a careless tongue poses to both its owner and surroundings.
Ironically, the book which addresses this topic the most throughout its chapters is the book of Proverbs, written by the renowned king of Israel, King Solomon.
If we flick to Proverbs 12:18, we are able to read that
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Later on, it’s added that,
“The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”(Proverbs 15:4)
Speaking is such an everyday occurrence that we don’t often think of how our words affect those around us. Sure, in public, we know to ‘think before we speak’, and we remember the usual common courtesy rules that apply to speech. But what about the times we’ve made hurtful jokes about others? Or when we snap at our siblings or parents for no good reason? Just like how our actions and desires have been corrupted by sin, it’s inevitable that our words, too, have been corrupted.
Last week, during my school’s weekly Bible study, we discussed chapter 3 of the book of James. What stood out to me about the chapter was how the author used analogies to describe just how dangerous our tongue was.
In verses 3 to 6 in the chapter, the way the tongue directs the rest of our actions is described in three ways: how a bit in a horse’s mouth leads where the horse runs, how the rudder in a ship changes the course the vessel sails, and finally, how a tiny spark can set the entire forest aflame. We may argue that it was only a small insult, or it was only a few swear words, but we can’t stop the inevitable.
What comes out of our mouths came originally from our sinful hearts. As it says in Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them”.
But does it have to stay that way?
If we have been saved by Christ, it means that we have received a new life and a renewed heart —meaning, our words, too, have to change.And yet, as we have all discovered, it’s not that easy. The Bible has never promised that the process of sanctification (especially of our words) will be a simple journey.
However, in Christ, it is possible.
Being a Christian means that our speech should reflect Christ, as that is who our hearts belong to. If we continue in using words that defile ourselves and those around us while at the same time claiming to be a Christian at church, what message are we sharing with those around us? We end up being hypocrites, and as a result, we cannot be a blessing to others. When we are sanctified by Him, all aspects of our lives must be given to Him — especially our tongue.
So what words should come out of our mouth? Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to speak graciously and encouragingly, saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. Our speech needs to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, not tear down.
Perhaps, when you meet up with your school friends, instead of continuously complaining about teachers you could remind them about the positive things as well. Maybe, when your siblings are getting on your nerves, you could opt for a more patient and peaceful reply. Or, when you see a friend struggling through something, you could encourage them and most importantly, pray for them.
Whatever your struggle is, it’s important to continuously study His Word and ask for His guidance. Even though we’re continuously reminded, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t alone in this fight.
Sticks and stones may break our bones, while words are able to hurt those around us. But our speech was made for much more than that: our words are meant to be a blessing for others.
How will you use your words today?