by Ken Cooper
There is great power in words. Words can cause great pain or great joy. Words can ignite a fight, even a war, or words can bring about peace. Words can make friends or words can make enemies. Words can build others up or words can tear others down. Words can wound or heal. Too often we don’t think about the effect of our words on others. A careless comment can wound deeply. A thoughtful praise can encourage greatly. We need to be very conscious of our words and their impact on others. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Obviously the word spoken here brings a blessing. Now, contrast that with James 3:5-6, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” No doubt the words referred to in these verses are words that are harmful and damaging. Most often we think of damaging words as deliberate. However, I am convinced that most harmful words are spoken carelessly without evil intention. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
Careless comments about our spouse or our spouse’s family members or friends can cut deeply. Careless comments at work about coworkers can have devastating consequences. Careless words spoken in anger or frustration or because we’ve been hurt are most often very hurtful.
Let’s face it, we are fragile people. We are all aware of our weaknesses and don’t need anyone to point out our shortcomings, either real or imagined. Neither are we so spiritually mature that we have the right to be critical of others. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5 that we must take the plank out of our own eye before we can help our brother take the speck of sawdust out of his eye. And watch out for gossip. Just because something negative about a person is true, doesn’t mean we should tell others about it. We must watch our casual conversations and be careful that what we say won’t be hurtful, even if that wasn’t our intention. And we should never deliberately say something hurtful. Remember, Proverbs 25:11, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” “Aptly spoken” is “a word spoken in season” – a timely, opportune word.
Admittedly none of us is so perfect that we can without fail speak in a manner that is appropriate
for the occasion and free of critical overtones. But we can learn to stop and think before we open our
mouths. James 1:19-20 is good advice, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick
to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous
life that God desires.”
So, stop and think before you respond to a cutting remark, an angry word, a critical comment
and take a moment to frame your response in a manner that isn’t retaliatory or vengeful. Think for a
moment about how you can “Speak the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15) before you respond.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11.