So is a grenade...
So is a grenade…

We may not live in the Wild West but sometimes we sure do act like it. We become gunslingers, looking to take down our enemy at high noon. Instead of six-shooters, though, we use words. Words have power. With our words we can cut people down. With our words we can cripple another. With our words we can destroy a reputation or even cripple a business. Words have power. You may have found yourself on the wrong end of someone’s words  – what they say to you or about you is terrible and difficult, like looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum. Perhaps you’ve already faced the destruction that comes from someone’s harsh and hurtful words and now you’re trying to recover as best you can. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

Too many fail to see how powerful their words are. The tongue can be an ugly thing. We throw around terms and phrases without thinking about the consequences of those power weapons. In the Army every warfighter has to qualify with their rifle. When we go to the range to shoot the instructors are clear to remind Soldiers that they have the responsibility to know where their targets are and what lies beyond. Every time a bullet comes out of the rifle the Soldier is responsible for what happens on the other end. What would happen if we started treating our words in a similar fashion? Stop speaking so quickly and think about your intended target and what happens beyond. Where do the words go? Who might the words hit? Human speech has an enormous capacity for harm or for good. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

The Bible has some practical advice on how we should behave when it comes to our mouths. Not merely some abstract thoughts here – concrete steps on what we can do to gain control of our mouths, to stop tearing people down, and to start building people up. It’s not difficult at all – just three things to remember:

~ Listen up, shut up, and calm down. I don’t know about you, but every time I’m told to “do something” there is a part of me that wants to rebel and do the exact opposite. I remember one time when my wife thought I was driving too fast and told me so. Rather than admit that I might be going a little too fast I punched the gas. Not smart, but that seems to be a human response. When God tells us to listen up, shut up, and calm down there’s part of us that wants to say, “WHAT?!? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” Of course, the Bible doesn’t phrase it so coarsely. It says:

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Yeah, that’s much nicer. But the point is the same. We too often fly off at the handle and speak without listening, embracing rage and anger. I don’t want to beat a dead horse but we’ve seen just this thing happen in response to the Zimmerman/Martin issue. God says, “Listen first, speak second, and hold back on the anger.” But we’re doing just the opposite! An entire nation is quick to speak, slow to listen, and fanning the flames of rage and anger. In all fairness, it’s both sides of the fence that are behaving this way – not merely one party.

We forget that words have power. Racist words. Sexist words. Slander & Gossip. Manipulation. There are many ways that we use language to cut each other down. And we let our rage fuel our pet issues. But the Bible is clear that human anger may bring about vengeance or payback but it does not bring about divine justice. It doesn’t reflect the character of God nor does it accomplish that which God would regard as true righteousness.

It’s hard even to imagine our world filled with people who are listen first, take their time to respond, and stay calm. But it will never happen if we don’t start to imagine it. Imagine a world where people actually lived out watching what they said and using words wisely. This means we need use our words to build up and not tear down. Like a little spider or a hand grenade – the tongue isn’t so big, but is capable of great damage.

Be careful, little mouth, what you say….

How about you? How have you been hurt by words? How have you hurt others with your words?