A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:2)
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
The elementary school playground is hardly a repository for profundity, of this we can be sure. Between the jungle gym and the teeter-totter, we hear inane comments like, “I see Germany, I see France, I see Johnny’s underpants” or the utter falsehood, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Calculated to be the world’s most clever defense for name-calling and other types of verbal abuse, this puerile maxim declares a frighteningly misleading principle.
If there is anything we learn as we grow older, it is that words have serious consequences—wonderful or awful consequences. Many adults hold a self-perception formed by either the loving affirmation or the thoughtlessly cruel words of a parent. Try these: “You can do it!” “We believe in you!” “You are precious to us.” “We love you with all our hearts.”
Or try these: “I wish you hadn’t been born.” “You’re worthless and will never amount to anything.” “Can’t you do anything right?” “You stupid idiot!” Big difference in the impact. Hurtful words driven deep into a child’s heart and psyche contribute to adult depression, aggression, and even violent antisocial behavior.
In the three verses above taken from Proverbs 15, the benefits of well-chosen words are lauded. Gentle ones assuage other people’s anger. Wise words promote knowledge—more light than heat. Healing words feed life into the hearer.
When Jesus said that we would be held accountable for “every idle word,” I think he meant every idle word. To an all-hearing God, nothing is missed, and every word is measured. How wonderful it must be for God to hear His grace and wisdom gushing forth to benefit a world gone mad with evil-speaking.
Principle: The ultimate impact for good you make on others during your life may well be the result of the gentle, wise, healing words you speak.
If our good words can bless others, our hurtful words, even the “unintended ones,” are a curse to them. Solomon describes the consequences of stupid word choices, harsh speech, and deceitful language in the most awful terms. They cause dissension, spoiling unity, fellowship, and team effort. They stir anger in others, with highly unpleasant reactions. They suck the life out of others, draining the spiritual energy out of a family or workplace. They crush the human spirit of the hearers, often leaving them permanently impaired.
Principle: Only eternity will tell how many of the world’s lost and hopeless were pushed into those states of being by someone’s cruel words…including ours.
It seems that the lesson from Proverbs is that a severe physical beating would do less long-term damage to a person than our vicious verbal assaults. Sticks and stones do hurt…really hurt.
Principle: Destructive words are the nuclear “sticks and stones” that reduce human beings to rubble—with an extremely slow rate of fallout.
Watch your words.