Words can be beautiful. Proverbs 25:11 says “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Contrasting that is James 26 which says “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…” This post concerns the harmful use of words.
“Words are like feathers blown in the wind” is a simile whose roots are in a traditional folktale which tells of a gossip who was brought before a wise rabbi. He tells the gossip to bring a pillow to the mountain top cut the pillow and watch as the wind blows the feathers away. This story is told in many versions all of which illustrate the end result of reckless harmful words. It is impossible to take them back.
Consider the following list of ways words are harmful:
- Gossip – Proverbs 20:19 “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore associate not with him who talks too freely.”
- Sexual and ethnic “jokes” – Ephesians 5:3-4 “…neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting”
- Calumny/slander (talking about someone’s faults) – Luke 6:37 “judge not…”
- Sarcasm/backbiting – Proverbs 25:23 “The north wind brings forth rain; so does a backbiting tongue bring forth an angry countenance.”
- Lying – Proverbs 19:16 “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he who breathes forth lies shall perish.”
- Arguing – Philippians 2:15 “do all things without murmuring and disputings”
- Breaking confidences – Proverbs 11:13 “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”
- Nagging – Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”
- Put-downs, name calling – Eph. 4:29a “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up.
Review each of the nine categories of words listed above in light of Proverbs 18:21a “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Do you agree that each of these categories illustrate the use of “lethal” words?
The words we read and hear in the present political climate can spell success or defeat for our neighbors and our nation. Use discernment, and seek truth.
The following situation are given for any of you who might want to use this material for teaching. Or perhaps you would like to comment on one of more here on the blog.
Father One to his six-year-old: “Hey, that’s good stuff. You are getting much better at staying inside the lines. Tell me what the picture means.” In the same situation Father Two might say: “Show me your picture. Let me see if you are still scribbling outside the lines.” Which father is more likely providing the best motivation for the child to improve his coloring skills?
Jane Doe has known John since he was a child. She knows he had a very disturbing childhood and spent several years in a reformatory. John is now 22 years old and appears to be an upstanding citizen, but he is still on parole for past law breaking. Nancy, Jane’s friend, tells Jane that she is going to marry John. Should Jane ask Nancy if she knows about John’s past? Consider the following two scriptures when answering this question.
I Timothy 5:13 “Moreover, as they go about from house to house, they learn to be idlers, and not only idlers, but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say and talking of things they should not mention.”
Leviticus 5:1 “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.”
Proverbs 12:18 “…Reckless words pierce like a sword…” Eight-year-old Timmy is living in a verbally abusive home. Grandfather is aware of what is happening so he tries to console Timmy by telling him the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Will that be of help to Timmy? If it is of help to him, how will he view his own harmful words to others?
Continuing Proverbs 12:18 “…but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Perhaps Grandfather can provide comfort with scripture, prayer, and words of encouragement. Inspire Timmy with Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Will an eight-year-old understand enough to know that they are relying on a “higher power” and that “higher power” will help him? What is Grandfather’s responsibility to act in a manner that will counteract the hurtful words?
Children who have been verbally abused by authority figures often have very poor images of themselves. Proverbs 23:7 “What a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Discuss these statements: 1. This pattern of authority will motivate one to prove his ability. 2. This pattern of authority will crush the spirit and keep one from achieving his potential.
Mary’s parents are careful to only use positive words of reinforcement. Therefore, they continually say things like “You are doing so well…” or “That’s great. You are probably the best in your class.” Refer again to Proverbs 23:7. Is it possible to be too generous with praise and make a child feel so prideful that he is eventually going to face a negative reality that he has not been “armed” for?
Mrs. Brown is uncomfortable associating with various groups of friends. It seems most groups talk negatively about their leaders. Do you think Mrs. Brown herself may be saying anything to start this line of conversation? What can Mrs. Brown do to keep the conversation positive? Proverbs 17:4 “An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.”