Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 21, 2016


Words can be lethal weapons


            “Sticks and Stones,” an old children’s rhyme, was composed with good intentions. Its purpose was to help a child ignore a taunt and refrain from physical retaliation. No doubt you remember how it goes: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

            The problem with the rhyme is that it is not true. Words can hurt us. Words can be lethal weapons. Vicious words can pierce the heart and cause unbelievable pain.  

            Grace Ketterman, a child psychiatrist, wrote a book on this subject, shattering the myth that verbal abuse “isn’t so bad.” In her book Ketterman describes the lethal power of careless words spoken at home, at work, in school or even at church. Words can kill, she says. They can wound a marriage, destroy a career or pierce the heart of a child.

Most of us can recall being “cut to pieces” by a verbal assault. Harsh words can suck the life out of you. A Jewish proverb says “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.” Even more chilling is the observation of some wounded soul who said, “The tongue is like a sharp knife: it kills without drawing blood.”

            When it comes to verbal abuse, none of us is guiltless. We are all careless with words. The Bible confirms this. James reminds us that even devout believers make “many mistakes” in speaking. In his New Testament Letter, James writes bluntly about the unruly tongue. It is an uncontrollable “fire” that can corrupt the whole body. The tongue’s fire has its origin in hell and is a tool of Satan. The devil uses the fire of the tongue to separate us from one another and from God. Divisiveness can lead to anger and hatred. Words from a loose tongue can destroy people, ruining reputations and relationships.

The tongue is so powerful, James says, that no human can tame or control it. The bewildering truth is that one day the tongue will praise God and the next day curse someone. So James laments, “Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so”!

            Is there a remedy for this problem? Yes there is, James says. The answer is wisdom – God’s wisdom. We can obtain it by asking God for it. Earthly wisdom is insufficient. Reading a hundred “self-help” books will not tame the tongue. Only God can give us the strength to tame the tongue.

            The key to taming the tongue is to invite the Holy Spirit to take over. The Spirit can tame the tongue; we cannot. When the Spirit is given control of the mind and the heart, he guides us to know when to be silent and when to speak. He gives us the power to resist gossiping or to speak cruelly to others and the power to speak words of love and peace. God can use words of loving encouragement to heal wounded souls. Words of affirmation can restore those whose self-esteem has been crushed by hurtful words.

John Wesley tells of crossing a narrow bridge on horseback and finding his path blocked by another man on horseback, a man who had no use for Wesley. The man refused to back up or allow Wesley to pass, and said, “I shall not give way to a fool.” Wesley replied, “Then I shall,” and pulled his horse aside so the man could pass.

Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was often a wise steward of words. The Spirit helped him discern when to “yield to others” and when to speak the truth in love so that his words could produce what he called “a harvest of righteousness.” With the Lord’s help, we can do that also.

Though we may never become perfect in speaking, we can improve. We can invite the Spirit to inject our minds with God’s wisdom so that our words are less hurtful and more pleasing to the Lord. We can learn the skill of planting seeds of peace with our words.

We can make it our heart’s desire for our lips to speak words of blessing and not cursing. We can pray with the Psalmist, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  +  +  +