Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Anyone who was ever told this old adage by a well-intentioned person after hearing some really hurtful words knows that they are just a tiny bandage on a gushing wound. Words do indeed hurt, hurt right to our heart most times, and God has a lot to say about them and how we should use them.
I. Proverbs 15:1 says this about the nature of words, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” After David and his men had helped to look after Nabal’s sheep while in the wilderness, Nabal’s insulting refusal to allow them to attend the festivities at shearing time caused David to order his men to strap on weapons to seek this fool’s life (1 Samuel 25:10-13). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, however, prepared food and quieted David’s anger with her words (23-31).
II. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, “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.” This same passage gives us great examples of what God means by “unwholesome talk,” and we all struggle to control our tongues (James 3:3-9). But, this verse is a great guide for the Christian: say it if and only if it will build the person up according to his needs, benefitting him in some way.
III. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus gives us this harsh reality, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” Like most sins, speaking careless words that cut people down, gossip about them, are shouted at them, or are coarse or foolish, make us temporarily feel better but have a devastating eternal consequence. If we choose to live by faith like so many recorded in the Bible, we too will receive what is promised (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Aside from praying for others who may hurt us with their words and seeking opportunities to teach them God’s way from His Word so that their hearts might change, there’s not much we can do to stop them. We can, however, control ourselves and our responses to such people. And if we do, we not only show that Christians live differently than the world does, but we have the promise of eternal life.