Perhaps you’ve heard of that saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. It’s a common saying in school playgrounds. Whilst it’s memorable, it’s not accurate. The saying should go, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can hurt, wound, and scar me’. Our words matter and have incredible power to inflict damage.
All of us have seen first-hand the devastating effects of words. It may be in a toxic culture in your workplace: the difficult politics and rivalries; words spoken which don’t just seek to undermine someone, but destroy their reputation. It could be words spoken within the home: a flippant comment about how your spouse looks, the constant teasing by a sibling, the snide feedback from an in-law.
Nowadays, we increasingly see the abrasiveness of words online. Social media doesn’t come with the constraints of physical context (body language, tone of voice), nor does it always come in the framework of established relationships. Our words online can be less filtered, less inclined to nuance and sensitivity, and thus more easily misunderstood or prone to offense.
This Sunday, in our continuing study of the Book of James, we’ll be thinking about our words. James says, ‘no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison’ (3:8). Real faith will be seen in our desire to tame our words, to use our words for good rather than for harm.
Like many aspects of the Christian walk, controlling our speech is a life-long battle. Maybe in reflecting on a conversation you’ve thought, ‘Why did I say that? I can see why she was upset by what I said. I wish I could unsay those words.’ As James says, ‘We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check’ (3:2).
As you prepare for this Sunday’s teaching, perhaps you can reflect on your use of words. Ask yourself some diagnostic questions. In what situations are your words more likely to be hurtful? How can you filter your words more effectively so that you can speak ‘the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15) to others? How do your words show what’s in your heart?