WORDS. They have the potential to do great good. But when spoken unwisely, they can cause terrible hurt.

When the apostle James wrote in his letter about the power of the tongue, this was before the era of social media. 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 (James 3:5). His epistle is worth a read.

Jesus also challenges 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 an incredibly sobering thought – that one day, we will all give account for our words (conversations, tweets, statuses, instagram posts etc), even the thoughtless ones. That’s why it’s better to use words to build up rather than pull down.

Thing is, once they’re spoken (or written), we can never get our words back.

There’s a 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 or fair. Many years later, the perpetrator of the slanderous rumour found out that he had a terminal illness. Wanting to make amends before his passing, 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 word leaves your mouth, 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. You can never get your words back. 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 long term damage is usually felt just at the time when you regret having spoken it. How many relationships have been undermined by careless words? 

It’s always better to talk well of people. To speak faithfully and loyally of others is to build trust and confidence. Speak kindly. Speak generously. Speak lovingly. Speak graciously. Speak honourably. You’ll never regret it.