You shall not murder. – Exodus 20:13(NIV)
Most of the memories of my college days are not ones I remember with fondness. I learned some hard lessons of life during those pressure-filled academic years.
One incident in particular I still recall with pain. My friends and I had planned a surprise birthday party on our dormitory floor for our friend Penny (names have been changed). Since we had to wait for her to return from some contrived errand, I decided to spend a few quiet moments with my boyfriend in the downstairs social room.
About the time Penny was to have come back, Tammy, one of the party planners, approached me.
“Penny isn’t back yet,” she said, “but I’ll let you know as soon as she comes.”
Then she went upstairs and told the girls, including Penny, who had returned, that I said I didn’t want to come. After that I had no friends.
Murder by mouth. With her lie, Tammy destroyed precious friendships, my reputation, and what little joy I found in college.
The tongue, James wrote, “is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. . . . It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. . . . It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5–8).
The tongue is sharper than any knife, slicing into the aorta of someone’s character with malicious gossip and causing a reputation to bleed to death. And we hone our skills of verbal cruelty. Maybe that story we’re repeating is true, however unkind. But does it build up or tear down?
“With his mouth,” the writer of Proverbs notes, “the godless destroys his neighbor” (Proverbs 11:9).
But lies, slander, and gossip aren’t the only ways we murder with our mouths. We are adept at destroying dreams, too.
We tell our kids to “aim for the stars,” then shoot them down when they do. A high school athlete dreams of being a major league ballplayer. A young girl aspires to be an astronaut. A want-to-be writer wrestles with putting a sentence together. A learning- disabled student dreams of becoming a teacher. Do we support them in their pursuits, unlikely as their dreams may seem to us? Or do we “bring them down to reality” with words that are meant to “soften the landing”?
Who knows, maybe that aspiring ballplayer will be the one in 10,000 who will make it to the big leagues. Perhaps that young woman will walk on the moon someday – or discover another star. Or that aspiring writer will win a Pulitzer Prize. And the student who struggles will become the best teacher because he understands and knows how to help.
Words can kill joy, too. Have you ever said something to someone and watched the light die out of their eyes? Maybe your husband did the laundry and you complain that the clothes aren’t folded right. Or perhaps your daughter cleaned the kitchen or your son washed your car, and instead of telling them you appreciate their efforts, you find the places they missed. Or maybe your wife went out of her way and took time, in spite of a busy schedule, to cook your favorite meal and you comment that the meat is a “little tough.”
“Do to others what you would have them do to you,” Jesus commanded us (Matthew 7:12). That includes our speech: “Say to others what you would have them say to you.” Framing our words in a positive manner means applying the Philippians 4:8 rule to our speech: Say only the words that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Words can bring death or life. The choice is ours.
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. – Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
Let me always be an encourager, Lord. Amen.
Read and meditate on James 3:2–12; Psalm 119:81–96
(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.