Have you ever had someone make a derogatory or unkind remark to you?
Then, when you questioned, “Why are you saying such hurtful words to me?” the person angrily retorted, “What are you getting upset about? You know I was only kidding.”
Perhaps you know someone who habitually expresses negative comments to others in the form of a “joke.” Such speech is a “safe” way for the person to express his aggression or anger toward others because he can quickly disavow any negative motives, and he can even play the role of the victim if the target of his joke attacks back.
Some people speak as if they believe that words don’t really matter. They may even quote the old childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
However, Jesus said that our words reveal what is in our hearts. “‘The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.'” He also stated that someday we will have to give account for “every careless word” we have spoken. “‘By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned'” (Matthew 12:34–37, NIV).
As we ponder that sobering passage, we should consider the following questions.
Do our words build up or tear down?
Gossip, criticism, and backbiting can destroy a person’s reputation, damage his career, harm his family, demoralize him, and even affect his relationship with the Lord. No wonder James says, “Brothers, do not slander one another” (James 4:11, NIV).
Paul reminds Christians, “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV). Surely we can find something positive, complimentary, compassionate, and encouraging to say to each other.
Do our words reveal or hide who we really are?
The Lord detests lying lips, but He “delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22, NIV). According to Proverbs 6, God hates haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a false witness who pours out lies, and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (vv. 16–17, 19, NIV).
The psalmist David knew the betrayal of a close friend. “My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords” (Psalm 55:20–21, NIV).
Ulterior motives do not stay hidden forever.
Flattery may seem genuine and pleasant at the moment, but the flatterer’s insincerity eventually will be revealed.
Do our words accurately reflect who God is, or do they bring reproach to His name?
If we try to share Christ with our neighbor, yet angrily complain if his children accidentally toss their ball into our yard, we should not be surprised if our neighbor shows no interest in hearing about our God.
Paul reminds us to conduct ourselves wisely and to make the most of every opportunity. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5–6, NIV).
Father, help us to be ever mindful of what our words are really saying about You, about others, and about us. May our words never hinder anyone from coming into Your kingdom, or discourage a fellow believer from following You.