A 19th century children’s rhyme boasts: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names [or words] will never hurt me!” Although encouraging a resolute spirit that refrains from retaliation, the reality is that names and words have the power to affirm or leave deep, lasting wounds and scars.
The Bible warns, “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:5-6). Some reading this blog have been haunted for decades by the taunts, names and words of childhood peers. Some shy from opportunities of advancement, fearing the prophecy of naysayers will come to pass in their lives.
The power of the tongue is the topic of Solomon’s instruction to his son in the opening verses of Proverbs 15.
Proverbs 15:1-2 – “A soft [tenderhearted] answer [reply] turneth away wrath [rage]: but grievous words [bringing sorrow] stir up [give rise to] anger [flaring the nostrils; huffing and puffing]. 2 The tongue of the wise useth [skilled in the use of] knowledge aright [to do good; pleasing]: but the mouth of fools [silly; dull of hearing] poureth out foolishness [folly; silliness].”
Allow me to make some simple, practical applications from these two verses.
Solomon advises his son in verse 1 that a soft, gracious response to a man’s rage can defuse his wrath, but angry words provoke and escalate a disagreement. In verse 2, Solomon encourages his son that “the wise” are discreet in their conversation, using words like a surgeon uses a scalpel. While the wise weigh their word choices and how they respond to others, the fool’s mouth pours out folly like a geyser belches steam (15:2b). The fool speaks before he thinks and continues to speak when he has nothing to say!
Do you struggle with right words and responses? Do you find yourself frequently in arguments and conflicts that escalate because you lack the discipline to “bite your tongue”? If so, I urge you to accept responsibility for your sinful words and responses. Ask God’s forgiveness and go to those you sin against and ask their forgiveness. Pray David’s prayer: “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).