"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." So goes the schoolyard chant. I beg to differ. While it may be true that sticks and stones may break bones, it is equally true that words can hurt, often in ways far worse than physical damage.
Now I don't agree with the current way of thinking that wants "trigger warnings," "safe places," and other means of shielding people from speech and ideas that might challenge their own thinking. The desire to only see and hear what agrees with your presuppositions is a fast track to fear and ignorance. The lack of civil discourse is a growing problem in our society, even in the church.
I would agree that there is a point where we can become too careful with our words, walking on verbal eggshells in order to avoid making anyone feel bad. At the same time, I believe that those of us who follow Jesus are called to be careful with our speech. While we are to speak truth, we are called to do so in love. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that using terms of contempt is equal to murder. Ephesians 4:29 tells us we are to not let any corrupting or unwholesome talk come out of our mouths but only say things that build one another up. I believe this goes beyond just an admonition to avoid cussing and dirty jokes.
In his letter, James tells us that our tongues should be instruments of blessing rather than cursing. Paul says that our words should be gracious and add "flavor" to others. All through Scripture we are commanded to guard our speech, to say things that build others up rather than tearing them down.
Most of can remember times when the words of another cut us to the quick and caused long lasting damage. If we're honest, we can also remember times when we have done the same. Churches have split over things that have been said, as have whole denominations. Hateful, evil speech is not just a problem outside the church.
Jesus said that the world would know we are his by our love to one another. May we follow our Master and King by being careful and gracious with our words, and also being gracious and forgiving toward those who blow it, because we all will.
Let us grow more and more into the likeness of Christ Jesus in everything, including how we use our tongues.
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