The story is told of a man who called the phone company to complain about how his name was listed in the directory. He angrily insisted, “My name is Sweady, but this is the second time you’ve mistakenly spelled it Cyirwu.” “I’m sorry,” the customer service representative said, “I will make sure to fix that right away. So that I’m sure to do it correctly, will you please spell your name for me, sir,” she requested. “Yes,” the man said. “It is “S” as in sea, “W” as in why, “E” as in eye, “A” as in are, “D” as in double-u, and “Y” as in you.”
No wonder the man was misunderstood. No wonder the man struggled to convey his message? He was choosing the wrong words. We are reminded that our words matter and that our words have power. The book of Proverbs warns, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). The question is, are we thinking about the words we choose when we speak to others?
Are we choosing good words? Again, the book of Proverbs teaches us, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (12:25). In other words, we can make the hearts of the anxious glad with “good words.” On another occasion, the book of Proverbs reminds us, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (16:24). Have you ever had someone offer you a kind word of encouragement, praise, or a compliment that just lifted your spirits and kept you going?
While good words can build up, harsh words can tear down. We are told, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Also, we are reminded, “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword…” (Prov. 12:18). Maybe it’s criticism, or sarcasm, or teasing, or belittling, or slander, or backbiting that one uses like a weapon piercing to the heart of their victim.
One of the tallest orders, I believe, regarding choosing our words is found in the book of Ephesians. Paul instructs, “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (4:29). Another tall order when it comes to choosing our words is in the book of Colossians. “Let your speech always be with grace” (4:6). I believe the key words in these two passages are “no” and “always.” Let “no,” not one single word be spoken that is not meant to build up, and “always” speak graciously toward others.
Our words offer the opportunity to tear down or build up others. So, the question is, are we choosing our words wisely?
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).
Pulaski St. church of Christ