“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This saying has been used to encourage children and teach them not to respond when people have called them mean names or teased them. It is given to children as a defense: “You cannot hurt me, and your words have no power over me.” Yet over the course of life, we realize words do hurt; dividing people, families, cities, and nations.
How often words are used quickly and curtly, to put someone in their place. What about the words left unspoken, denying someone a word of encouragement and hope? Whether we are speaking or withholding, what we do with our words matters.
Those who live rightly, who love Jesus, bring life through their words. Proverbs crystalizes this concept: the ones who do not live rightly conceal evil, protecting the violent while victims continue to be victimized. Again, what we do with our mouth matters. It matters for those around us, and it matters for ourselves.
The power of life and death are bound up in the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21) We have watched friends shrivel up when a parent or significant others verbally demeans them. We have been on the receiving end of hurtful jokes, nicknames, and teasing. We have watched children’s spirits diminish after being bullied at school. Harsh words bring death to those made in the image of God. Jesus came to bring life, and life can be found in the words we speak. May we be people who bring life, who bring encouragement, and who elevate the image of God in others!
power to guard
Where does the power to guard our mouths come from? According to James 3:6–12 no one can tame the tongue. We are so desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead us, to teach us, to give us the instinct to speak life rather than death.
This instinct is cultivated over time as we depend on the Spirit to teach us, to train us, and to renew us. He is the great discerner of people, of the moment, and the motivations of our hearts and minds. The Spirit gives us what we need to put on goodness, compassion, humility, kindness, patience, forgiveness, and love (Colossians 3:12–14). These fruits of the Spirit bring life.
Do you have a tendency to keep silent or speak out? When has the choice to keep silent or speak out led to things getting worse (i.e. a relationship being driven further apart, someone being put down and discouraged even more, gossip or slander)? What will it take in your words today, to surrender to the power, work, and discernment of the Spirit?
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