Words have the potential to do great good. For example, a word of encouragement can build up a person’s confidence and be like oxygen to the soul. However they can also do great damage too. When spoken unwisely, words can feed insecurity and cause great hurt.
When the apostle James wrote in his letter about the power of the tongue, this was obviously pre the social media era. But no doubt the same principle applies to the words we write as well as speak. James urges us to think carefully before we use words. He says ‘ It only takes a spark to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word can do that too.” (James 3:5)
Jesus urged us to take care in our use of words. He says in Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” This is a very sobering thought – that one day, we will all give account for our words (conversations, tweets, statuses, instagram posts, snapchats etc), even the careless ones. That’s why it’s better to use words to build rather than destroy.
Once they’re spoken (or written), we can never get our words back. There’s an old story about a rabbi who slandered another rabbi because he was jealous of his apparent ‘success’. This resulted in his colleague having to leave town over something which simply wasn’t true. Many years later, the perpetrator of the slanderous rumour found out that he had a terminal illness. Wanting to make amends for the wrongs he’d done in his life, he confessed to a senior rabbi the untruth he’d said about his colleague. Asked what he should now do, the senior rabbi took a feather pillow case, opened the window and proceeded to rip it outside the room. He then asked his junior colleague to go and retrieve all the feathers. ‘It’s impossible. You know I can’t’ said the junior rabbi. “Yes,” said the senior rabbi, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never get it back” He then strongly encouraged the junior rabbi to urgently seek the forgiveness of his former colleague.
It’s an old story…but the principle is true. Words are powerful. That’s why it’s always better to use them in a way that builds up rather than pulls down. An unwise word spoken (or written) in the heat of a moment might make you feel better in the short term – but it’s damage is often seen in the long term, just at the time when you regret having spoken it. How many relationships have been destroyed by foolish words?
It’s always better to talk well of people. To speak faithfully and loyally of others is to build trust and confidence. Be a blesser with your words – whether this is reciprocated or not. Speak kindly. Speak generously. Speak lovingly. Speak graciously. Speak honourably. You’ll never regret it.