If sunscreen filters out the sun’s harmful rays, meditation upon the Scriptures ought to filter out our proclivity to misuse words. The book of Proverbs, in a sense, amplifies what we hear from Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5. In Matthew, Jesus speaks against judgmentalism, against specializing in fault-finding and slander laden conversation. Proverbs draws this out, probing the implications of the power of our speech. The whole book, in part, is a commentary on the power of our words.
The tongue is among the most powerful of tools. The tongue can wound or heal, it can destroy or bring peace. The tongue can spread strife like wildfire (16:27b). With our words we can destroy a neighbor (11:9) or feed someone’s soul (10:21). Our response to the words of others reveals the state of our heart. The wise son feeds on his father’s words (13:1), but a fool despises instruction (1:7). And so on. . .
Think of the role words have played in your life. Who among us can claim that we were not, at least in part, shaped by the words of others? Which of us does not remember a kind word, a comforting compliment, an inappropriate comment or a caustic outburst? A father repeatedly berates his daughter in front of her siblings and she carries the burden into her seventies. A friend tells her classmate she would be a good teacher and the classmate finds herself to be a professor twenty years later. A mother and father use kind words with their children. They encourage and build up their children from infancy and each proceeds into the world with appropriate confidence. A husband repeated abuses his wife with his words. A decade later she leaves him for another man.
Sometimes words are powerful because we don’t use them. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent (17:28). To keep quiet is to keep out of trouble (21:23). Sometimes, in the Proverbs, even a whisper can positively transform another person (18:8).
But generally words need to be spoken to have their power. Proverbs 16:24 reads, Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
The point is obvious: we must take care to speak well about one another and to one another.
A couple of weeks ago, while teaching on Jesus’ concern about the words we use, I finished my teaching with what I called a Sunscreen Song. It was a take-off on the cryptic song, which was popular a few years ago, and received wide radio play. My Sunscreen Song offered several pithy bits of proverbial wisdom about the power of words. I was surprised at the reaction. Many asked me to email them my lyrics. Others asked for a reprint in Community News. Your wish, my command! Read, enjoy, practice.
• Critique others when invited or when absolutely necessary.
• Make it your habit to speak well of other believers.
• If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all. . . but say something nice.
• Cultivate and use words that encourage rather than reactions that tear down.
• Let your smile flow from a heart that wishes others well.
• Speak well of other churches.
• Celebrate what God is doing in those churches, pray for those congregations and tell those you know who are members, that you are doing so.
• Pray especially for those who bug you.
• Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
• Words are powerful . . . Renounce gossip.
• Gossip is a noun. It is hearing something you li like about someone you don’t. (Earl Wilson)
• Gossip needn’t be false to be evil – there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around. (Frank A. Clark)
• Don’t pass it around.
• Be careful with the tweezers you use with the speck in your brother’s eye.
• Make sure they are smooth with no sharp edges.
• And ask for permission before you try to use them.
• Kind words are inexpensive but very valuable. . . spend extravagantly.
• When feelings of your own moral superiority creep in to your soul . . . be quiet, repent.
• Surround yourself with un-judgmental people. . .
• Have to courage to ask your friend if there is a plank in your eye.
• Don’t be offended when that friend says “yes.”
• Ask that friend to help you take it out.
• Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
• For in the same way you judge others you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. . .