Years ago, while I was still living in Banská Bystrica, there was a case in the local news about a tragic and yet highly avoidable accident, which took the lives of a father and his sons as they sat in their living room. To this day I don’t know what possessed this particular Dad to bring a hand grenade home to show his children, nor where he got it from but what he most likely intended to be a bit of bravado turned deadly when the hand grenade’s safety pin somehow got removed and the grenade exploded, killing all those present, except his wife who had stepped into the kitchen for a few moments. I cannot begin to imagine her horror, nor the sight which met her eyes, nor how she must have frantically wished to turn back those last foolish moments of her loved ones’ lives and forever prevent this tragic turn of events. I have never forgotten it. For a long time afterwards I found myself playing it over and over in my mind, willing for it not to have happened. I couldn’t understand how anyone could take such a dangerous explosive device and play with it in the presence of his own children. I couldn’t grasp their foolishness, their recklessness and utter naivety while handling something so potentially dangerous. So tragic, so pointless and so preventable if that device had been handled with the respect it deserved.
Yet I find that I handle a different kind of highly explosive device with much less respect, less awareness, and perhaps even more naivety than that particular family displayed. I am talking about words. I think of the verse in James 3:5.
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”
Words are powerful incendiary devices. They can be used for much good or much harm but there is no denying that they are extremely powerful. We have probably all been on the receiving end of words, which have been powerful for good in our lives and of those that have torn us down, ripped us to shreds and left us devastated. We are so careless with words and yet they can lead to tragedy and disaster quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. We probably all know at least one person who, in the name of frankness, uses words like a meat cleaver and leaves you feeling emotionally butchered. They just have the knack of saying something that gets you right in that sensitive place E.V.E.R.Y. S.I.N.G.L.E. T.I.M.E. The trouble is that I am far more aware of how other people’s words can be damaging than of my own propensity to do damage with my tongue. I tend to condone my own hurtful words and yet find myself outraged when someone else lets rip with their tongue. I have experienced firsthand what it is to be harmed by someone else’s poor choice of words. I have experienced the long-term damage that can be done with a few ill-considered sentences. I have been hurt by other people’s words and I have hurt others through my own careless words. I have failed to handle words with care and naively thought it didn’t matter. But it does. What we choose to say matters absolutely. That is why James in his letter encourages us to be quick to hear but slow to speak (James 1:19). Given the right words, a relationship can be healed or barriers can be erected, which no amount of time will take down. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” (Proverbs 18:19.) Years ago, a few poorly chosen words from me to my friend resulted in the sudden and permanent demise of a friendship, which had been precious to me. There was nothing I could do to undo the damage and I could only survey the wreckage and live with the regret that I had lost a good friend due to hasty words which had hit harder than I ever intended. And that wasn’t the only time that I have lived to regret the words I have spoken. Sometimes the damage is irreversible and sometimes God graciously gives us another chance to bring healing through a different kind of words.
James says “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (3:6-8)
The bad news is that our words have the potential to set our lives on a course for disaster.The good news is that even our tongues and our words can be redeemed for good. I might not be able to tame my tongue but I can surely influence the thoughts which feed it. “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Matthew 12:34. So if I find that I am speaking words that are more negative than positive, more hurtful than helpful, it is a good time to spend some time examining the heart which is feeding those words.
I love this:
“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
Not only do our words have the potential to blow up in our faces, they also represent deep waters in which we or someone else might drown if we are not careful. Therefore, we need great wisdom and discernment as we choose words to speak. The fountain of wisdom makes our words like a bubbling brook with clear, refreshing water, with no hidden dangers lurking in the depths, and no potential to drown us. I love this picture and I love the way the Bible paints a picture of good words, powerful for good, with the potential to heal and empower, to give life and to restore hope and courage.I love the hope it gives me to become someone who uses my tongue to build up and not tear down and to speak words that give grace to those who hear, and to give new strength to the weary one with my choice of words (see Ephesians 4:29 and Isaiah 50:4).
Next time we are tempted to give free rein to words that feel good at the time but have more potential to tear down than build someone up, let’s remember to look at the packaging on our word bombs ….
handle with care,
exercise extreme caution !
And let’s remember that sometimes silence is the better option.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21a
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11